Psych and Prog

Stomu Yamash’ta, Steve Winwood & Michael Shrieve “Go” (1976)

This is the album through which Stomu Yamash’ta finally gained international recognition, not least because of Traffic’s Steve Winwood’s presence. Among the other stars are Michael Shrieve (ex-Santana and you can hear a bit of this influence at times on this album) and not mentioned on the album cover, Al DiMeola and Klaus Schulze.

Slowly rising from naught, first with space whispers, soon transformed into a beautiful melancholic symphonic movement, “Solitude” is a logical introduction to the first sung passage “Nature,” here Winwood’s voice is at it’s best. The first side is a succession of structured songs linked with instrumental passages, be they calm or more heroic/dramatic. While the strings can approach the cheesy, some of the songs can be Santana-esque (courtesy of DiMeola and Shrieve) with a funky touch (much more prominent a feature on next year’s Go Too album), the whole thing works quite well. The flipside gets even better, with the same spacey Schulze intro, later on a slightly dissonant movement including the orchestra and again later a wild funk track Time Is Here with the orchestra playing the rhythm.

Go is one outstanding album that should really be heard by everyone and certainly progheads around the world. —Sean

The Move “Message From The Country” (1971)

The final album by the Move, Message From the Country, has a scattered feel, in terms of genre, but has seemingly perfect unity. The band shed bassist Rick Price, reducing it to the core trio of Roy Wood, Bev Bevan, and Jeff Lynne: the first lineup of the forthcoming Electric Light Orchestra. The band were rendered a studio-only act, and their newfound sense of freedom and willingness to experiment in the studio are readily apparent here, making this album also not unlike Sgt. Pepper, at least in essence. However, “The Move” was no longer their primary concern, as they were focusing more on making a bold artistic statement with the first ELO album- which was supposedly recorded at the same time. The result is The Move’s most ambitious and comedic record, simultaneously.

This album, quite simply, could have never been re-created onstage by this lineup. This is mostly because Roy Wood essentially would have had to be a band of musicians unto himself, due to his tendencies to overdub a wide variety of instruments. This problem plagued the initial lineup of ELO as a touring entity, but on record, it only helped, especially here. Without Rick Price, Wood even had to take up bass guitar duties. Veterans Ace Kefford and Rick Price were solid, but surprisingly, Roy Wood blows them away on this album. His bass playing is some of the most throbbing, pulsating, and mind-blowing of its time. Even Paul McCartney’s so-called “lead bass” couldn’t hold a candle to Wood’s playing on several of this album’s tracks, especially the chugging “Until Your Mama’s Gone”.

Interestingly, “The Move” and “The Electric Light Orchestra” were two distinct concepts, and though they were one in the same at this time, they sounded quite different. This album has a more rocky sound, featuring jazzy textures, brass, flutes, and Lynne’s honky tonk-ish electric piano. The first ELO album, on the other hand, focuses on stringed instruments, particularly Wood’s grinding take on the cello, with French and hunting horns by Bill Hunt, giving it a murky, almost medieval feel. There is little overlap, as this album has little to no strings, and that album has no brass or jazzy inclinations. This disparity points to the ultimate split between Wood and Lynne after one ELO album. Lynne wanted to use the orchestral approach, and Wood wanted to incorporate a jazzier, early rock & roll element, as he later did in his own group Wizzard. This immense gulf between the band’s two creative geniuses, however, is only obvious in hindsight, and this album is a celebration of their brief but rich partnership.

The song selection is a rich palette of varied genres, only hinted at in the band’s previous album Looking On . Rather than jamming extensively around a smaller set of compositions, the band sets out to make fascinating musical and lyrical vignettes in a relatively short time span per song. This leads to a fuller list of songs, and ultimately, even greater diversity, which is no doubt the basis of the White Album comparisons. The comedic doo wop of “Don’t Mess Me Up”, the riff-laden “Ella James”, the country-tinged Johnny Cash sendup “The Ben Crawly Steel Company” (another fine lead vocal outing for Bev “Bullfrog” Bevan), the alluringly Middle Eastern “It Wasn’t My Idea to Dance”, the goofy, McCartney-esque “My Marge” are all songs that rightfully shouldn’t be on the same record, yet somehow, feed off each other perfectly. The more serious progressive inclinations of Jeff Lynne’s songwriting, as heard on tracks like “Message From the Country”, “No Time”, “The Minister”, and “The Words of Aaron”, keep the album from straying too far into self-parody.

Simply put, this is an unusual album for The Move, and, in many ways, the polar opposite of the first Electric Light Orchestra album… yet it is the absolute perfect missing link between the two groups. It’s dense and experimental, yet loose and fun- definitely a rarity in prog rock, and serves as a testament to why these three brilliant musicians coming together was such a beautiful thing. —Tommy

Magma “Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh” (1973)

Dear God, how epic can one album get?! The Kobaïan war marches are some of the most gloriously powerful music ever created. And Magma is a great name for the band, since the combination of Christian Vander’s phenomenal Drums and Jannick Top’s thunderous Bass is simply and biblically volcanic in it’s grandeur.

Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh is the apex of French Progressive Rock band Magma’s career. And it is one of the most powerful Progressive Rock albums ever released due in no small part to the ferocious Drumming thunder of founder and bandleader Christian Vander. One of the things that really sets Magma apart from the run of other Progressive Rock bands is their sheer thematic greatness. Magma’s albums center around a mythology Vander himself created about a fictional dystopian future. and all of Magma’s songs and albums are sung in Kobian, a fictitious language created just for the Kobian mythology of the Magma albums. Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh is the climax of the entire cycle of Kobian mythology and the pinnacle of Magma’s career. Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh is simply one of the greatest albums of all time, period. —Karl

Demon Fuzz “Afreaka!” (1970)

Progressive rock in the ’70s was traditionally recognised as being the realm of white, occasionally nerdy, hippy-types. However, challenging such notions was the all black Demon Fuzz, who signed to Pye’s prog label, Dawn, in 1970.

Afreaka!, released in the same year was there one and only album. Five tracks pitch Demon Fuzz somewhere between prog rock and psychedelic soul-laced jazz excursions, with a threadwork of world music, tribal beats and the ever-trusty wah-wah pedal weaving its spell somewhere beneath. The opening instrumental of ‘Past, Present and Future’ begins in purest progressive rock style with the meandering showmanship of a grinding bass, prior to some sultry horns kicking in and the song taking on a psychedelic jazz /soul feel that wouldn’t sound out a place on the backing track to a 70s blaxploitation flick. It continues to blend styles for just shy of ten minutes, and amazingly, for a song that is both instrumental and of a jazz-influence, doesn’t get boring. The first of three vocal tracks, ‘Disillusioned’, keeps the jazz infusion ball rolling, through the faster paced ‘Another Country’, and leading to the eight minute long ’Hymn to Mother Earth’, a gently drifting paean to the ecosphere that bursts with dramatic interludes and is underscored by the prog rock weapons of choice, the organ (sounds like a Hammond) and flute.

Demon Fuzz’s blend is just right and succeeds in cooking up an appetising dish of progressive rock/soul/jazz/world fusion. One that’s well worth the more traditional progressive rock fan dipping their finger into. —Nick/Head Full of Snow

Os Mutantes “A Divina Comedia Ou Ando Desligado” (1970)

Mutantes reached their apex with the release of “A Divina Comedia Ou Ando Desligado” which translates to A Divine Comedy or I walk Disconnected. This is a flawless record. Rita Lee is at the top of her game when she sings “Meu refrigeradora noa funciona” (my refrigerator doesn’t function). The track which precedes it, “Desculpe, baby” (I’m sorry baby) is one of the most sexy and beautiful songs ever sung. It reminds me of Wong Kar-Wai’s movies (he made Chungking Express and Happy Together). These are incredible pop tunes, but they (as some of the other reviews show) aren’t for everyone. Os Mutantes emerged from the Tropicalia movement of 60’s Brazil. If you enjoy this cd you may want to check out other tropicalist’s: Gilberto Gil, Caetono Veloso, Gal Costa, Tom Ze, Maria Bethania. Jorge Ben is not considered tropicalia, but he is very incredible and sang a song on the first Os Mutantes album. Mutantes have more of a western flavor than some of the contemporaries. If you like them more for the apparent influence of the beatles and the rolling stones, you may want to check out the Peruvian band, We All Together.

This album is essential stock for a healthy record collection, its like eating broccoli! —fossilfrolic

Stomu Yamash’ta “Freedom Is Frightening” (1973)

Japanese percussionist/composer Stomu Yamash’ta settled in England in 1972, after studying music in his native country and later in the USA. He worked mainly as a composer for theatre music, but his signing as a recording artist for the Island label brought his work to the attention of a wider audience, which later led to him forming the group East Wind, which recorded this exceptional album. Combining forces with some of the best British musicians at the time, the band included Yamash’ta on drums and percussion, his wife Hisako on violin, guitarist Gary Boyle (Isotope), keyboardist Brian Gascoigne, and bassist Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine). The music is a wonderful fusion of Western and Far Eastern elements as well as many cross genre excursions, from atmospheric ambient to high spirited Jazz-Rock Fusion. Although Yamash’ta became mostly known for the “Go” recordings featuring Traffic’s Steve Winwood, a few years later, this is truly his most remarkable album recorded for Island and the one that withstands the test of time most adamantly. Wholeheartedly recommended! —Adam

Bruce Palmer “The Cycle is Complete” (1971)

Bruce Palmer came to (brief) fame as one fifth of Buffalo Springfield, from which his frequent deportations often negatively affected the group’s touring schedule. Prior to this he reached almost-fame in The Mynah Birds, which also included Rick “Super Freak” James and fellow Canadian Neil Young. Following his return to Canada in 1968, Palmer began playing locally in Toronto again, and eventually he was offered a record deal with Verve, the result of which is The Cycle Is Complete. Sounding like early Krautrock efforts in a similar vein to Tangerine Dream and Can, the album is nonetheless structured far more loosely than it’s German cousins. It will quite likely come as a total surprise to fans of Buffalo Springfield, even if they’ve enjoyed the band’s occasional branching out into Psychedelia. —Anajondas

This obscure solo release by one-time Buffalo Springfield bassist, Bruce Palmer is one of my all-time favorite records. The album features free-flowing, trippy jazz-rock in the vein of Can “Future Days” or David Axelrod’s “Song of Innocence.” Neither of these comparisons really do it justice though as this LP is utterly unique and truly defies genre. It also possesses a mysterious charm and reveals itself slowly and begs repeated listening. Palmer passed away in ’04 but the spirit and magic of this album will always remain for those of us lucky enough to discover it. —David

Magma “Üdü Ẁüdü” (1976)

I’ve always had a love/hate affair with Magma, a French prog-rock band, due to the inconsistent nature of their albums. On one hand they invented their own language, Kobaian, for use in their songs, but on the other hand they invented their own language for use in their songs. Amazing musicianship and innovation abound in half of their work and amazing musicianship and fucking ridiculous concepts mar the other half. However, I admire Christian Vander, Magma’s founder, for his willingness to create an entire musical universe and terminology from scratch and stick to it for over thrity years. Yes, it is downright silly at times, but the passion and intricacy of their work always wins me over in the end.

I picked Üdü Ẁüdü because I picked it up as a cut-out cassette in the mid-90s and it rarely left my walkman for many a moon. Most of my affection for Üdü Ẁüdü is solely derived from the utter madness and complexity of the title track. I used to get absolutely blazed and walk thirty minutes up the road to my record store gig with Üdü Ẁüdü as my absurd guide. There were many occasions where I tried to convert friends to Üdü Ẁüdü by describing the title track as the soundtrack to Space Invaders complicated by a factor of a thousand. The weed is gone, but that statement still holds true. I can still imagine myself as the sole gun defending the planet while armies of pixellated aliens march in lockstep towards my location. I guess this is one of the few times where my flights of fancy match my sobriety.

The rest of the album surely is not an afterthought. You get Kobaian verses, jazzy interludes, insane solos and proggy synths aplenty. Plus, the whole album still reminds me of some alien celebration with a lounge act serving as the entertainment. —magicistragic

Small Faces “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” (1968)

Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake is a work of pure genius, from the title of the album, through the seemingly mish-mash blend of rock, psychedelia, music-hall and ridiculous fairy tale back to the music of the title track. Side one knits together some classic rock songs, my favourites being “Afterglow” (which manages to give me goose bumps) and “Song Of A Baker” (as close to a pastoral song as East End boys are going to get) – two great rock songs, with the instrumental title track, psychedelia and music-hall (“Rene”). All good pieces. An unlikely mix, but they pull it off. The genius is that they manage to mirror this strange mix of styles on side two, while incorporating it into a fairy tale told part in song and part in gobbledegook by a narrator. And it works well (contrast the artistically less successful Beach Boys’ fairy tale EP Mt. Vernon And Fairway). It works because they don’t take themselves too seriously. A masterpiece! –Jim

Premiata Forneria Marconi “The World Became the World” (1974)

The World Became The World opens with a prehistoric monster in the 10 minute apocalyptic epic “The Mountain”, a chilling choral intro giving way to the menace of the main riff before proceeding to explore PFM’s penchant for constant development and change over the course of a song. The fact that the vocals (sung from the point of view of a mountain on a dying planet) are sung in English through a thick Italian accent, and have been mixed low and soaked in reverb, makes them nearly unintelligible, yet it only serves to heighten the otherworldly tension. The vibe of this song sets the template for this album – toning down the wide scope of their earlier work, with tracks that feature more repetition and have a foggy sonic character, notably featuring a fair amount of coarse mellotron chords. “The Mountain”‘s shadow looms over the delicate ballad “Just Look Away”, and the title track, which closes the first side recalling early King Crimson in it’s marriage of soft passages with a doomy, mellotron infused chorus. Side two opens with a bang, again, in the form of “Four Holes in the Ground” and follow up track “Is My Face on Straight”, two intense, rhythmically complex, yet occasionally playful tracks that keep moving in new directions throughout their duration. Great stuff. A bass solo opens the instrumental “Have Your Cake and Beat It”, a track that wanders around in jazz fusion territory before out of nowhere, a huge cathedral organ emerges, with a beautiful, simple guitar melody on top closing out the album on a grand scale. —Ben

Captain Beyond “Captain Beyond” (1972)

Psychedelic rock emerging from its Technicolor cocoon as a decidedly more metallic butterfly. This is one of the first metal albums and still one of the best. It runs through a quick half hour of seriously kick-ass riffs and tricky rhythms that would suffice to leave some of us sufficiently breathless were it not also for the stoner imagery and a general atmosphere of stoopid awesomeness that I find transporting—despite myself. Sure, it gets overly dopey towards the end, but most of its listeners are doped up by that point, anyway. Guitar, bass, and drums manna for those of us who like that sort of thing. As for the rest of you… well, who asked you, anyway? Highly recommended late-night listening. –Ben

Roky Erickson and the Aliens “The Evil One” (1981)

After serving some time in a mental institution, Roky Erickson, gifted vocalist of the prolific psych outfit 13th Floor Elevators, pheonixed into a paranoid messiah of rock, shedding any traces of campiness from his 60’s catalog in the proccess. “The Evil One” is a raging slab of psychedelic punk driven by Roky’s wonderful Texas fried and acid fed voice. He shrieks in terror as if to warn world of the demons in his mind. Although the lyrical subject matter is almost comical; vampires, a two headed dog, the devil, etc…, it’s delivered with a sincerity comparable to Syd Barrett’s solo albums or even a homeless person in the street raving on about something out to get them. But aside from any side stories of mental breakdown or heavy drug intake, the record is a cold cut ripper. Full speed 70’s hard rock with out any filler or forced attitude and killer guitar runs throughout. A must have for rock, punk, or psychellic heads. Just make sure your mind is together before dropping the needle, it might not come back. -Alex