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Tantra “The Double Album” (Importe/12, 1980)

R-52217-1173438602.jpeg Much Euro disco is simply progressive music given an abundance of party drugs and guided by stricter adherence to steady 4/4 kickdrums, the better to grease dancers’ libidinous movements. I mean, just look at the track lengths on Italian group Tantra’s most easily obtainable release, The Double Album, which compiles 1979′s Hills Of Katmandu and 1980′s Tantra. The record’s peaks, “Hills Of Katmandu” and “Wishbone,” clock in at 16:20 and 15:40, respectively. And contrary to the common perception that disco is soulless machine music, the eight tracks on The Double Album—composed and arranged by leader Celso Valli—abound with moving male and female vocals and the passionate instrumental virtuosity reminiscent of the most revered prog-rock groups.

Case in point is the epic opener, “Hills Of Katmandu.” It’s a speedy space-disco gallop, powered by swift congas and bongos, heroic guitar flourishes, diaphanous female vocals (uncredited, unfortunately), and a synthesizer dialed into an exotic Eastern timbre and formulating a sinuous melody that augments the lyrics’ persuasive escapist theme. This deceptively complex, multi-part piece was obviously geared to eradicate all of your cares while helping you to lose a few pounds on the dance floor. It may not be as famous as Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder’s “I Feel Love” or Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover,” but it deserves to be.

The six shorter cuts don’t come close to the greatness of the epic bookends here, but they mostly transcend boilerplate happy-happy disco shenanigans. “Top Shot” radiates suspenseful, cop-show rhythmic urgency and features an absurdly upful melody and vocal line that contrast with the lyrics, which deal with spiritually hollow excess: “I get my kicks daily/I’m friends with most of the big shots/I’m full of dope mainly/To cut out most of the stage flops/Don’t really know what to do/I think I’ll kill myself.” At one point there appears an intricately fiery guitar solo that would make Deep Purple or Van Halen fans snap their heads around and say, “DAMN.”

The supremely ebullient dance jam “Mother Africa” unsurprisingly bears a heavy African influence in the chanted vocals with Anthony Taylor’s soulful vocals and those beguiling women singers extolling Africa’s “Tempting and inviting/beautiful, exciting” enticements. LP finale “Wishbone” contains one of the most tensile and sinewy bass lines in disco history, but the plangent sitar flourishes elevate the track to a higher spiritual level, while brash brass charts thrust it into pulse-racing, action-film territory. This is how you end an album, y’all.

When an American electronic label called Italians Do It Better sprouted in 2006, the owners surely had artists like Tantra in mind. They’re not wrong. -Buckley Mayfield

16th Anniversary Sale!

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SAVE THIS DATE: Join us on SATURDAY NOVEMBER 12th, 10-9, for our 16th Anniversary Sale! All used vinyl & CD’s 25% off. All new vinyl 10-20% off! Plus: receive a FREE hand-screened, glow-in-the-dark poster with any purchase. Spend $100 or more and get a special glow-in the dark T-shirt! (While supplies last.)

Gary Wilson Trio- “Another Galaxy” (Feeding Tube, 2016; orig. released 1974)

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This fantastic album’s going to surprise all but the most clued-in Gary Wilson fans. For those only familiar with the Endicott, New York cult musician’s mildly obsessive new-wave lounge funk, they’ll be taken aback—in a good way!—with the avant-garde jazz moves Gary and company bust on this long-unheard 1974 date. Seeing as Wilson is literally a John Cage disciple (at age 14, he visited the great man at his home to discuss music), Gary’s quest for far-out concepts and sounds should come as no surprise, and that spirit pervades Another Galaxy.

Absent Wilson’s regular-guy romantic vocals and featuring Wilson on standup bass and piano and Garry Iacovelli on drums and percussion, Another Galaxy strives to reach said far-flung galaxy with a sound that’s in the vicinity of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band, Alice Coltrane’s piano/organ-centric Warner Bros. phase, and Sun Ra’s intergalactic strangeness. The opening title track leads you into febrile, funky jazz territory, bolstered by Wilson’s tensile flights of fancy on the bass and Natale (Chris) Putrino’s flaring wah-wah guitar, which will please Larry Coryell fans. The askew, oblong “Study For Three” triggers those John Cage and Sun Ra comparison reflexes… and, hell, even Wolfgang Dauner’s Et Cetera; it’s a baffling amalgam of frenetic drum splutters, extended bass groans, and atonal piano runs—guaranteed to make any gathering extremely uncomfortable. And that’s one reason why I love it.

“Softly The Water Flows” tones down the hyperkinetic sonic puzzles and eases into a lovely 90-second piano-led meditation. The 14-minute “Hate And Depression” blasts off with Iacovelli’s frantic, subtly powerful drum solo and then Wilson solos methodically and stoically on bass. Four minutes in, tenor saxophonist Tyrone Parks III and Iacovelli join in and the group explodes into a swerving free-jazz cauldron. Artful chaos ensues… and keeps shooting off sparks into all directions in a serious endurance test of nerves. But you’re tough—you can handle it.

This reissue is limited to 500 copies. It would be a strategic error to hesitate grabbing one before they’re gone again. -Buckley Mayfield

Jon Hassell/Brian Eno “Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics” (Editions EG, 1980)

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This album is the dream that keeps on giving. It is mainly the work of trumpeter Jon Hassell, a student of both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pandit Pran Nath. On this LP, Hassell pioneered a unique brand of ambient, subliminally rhythmic music he dubbed “Fourth World.” Brian Eno added his discreet production touches and conceptual suggestions, but it’s Hassell who stirs the sound into its timeless placelessness. Attentive listeners will notice Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics‘ influence on Eno and David Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, which came out a year later.

Throughout Fourth World Vol. 1, Hassell makes his trumpet utter exotic avian and animalistic cries, sighs, and murmurs; it really is like nothing else I’ve ever heard. The five tracks on the first side—“Chemistry,” “Delta Rain Dream,” “Griot (Over ‘Contagious Magic’),” “Ba Benzélé,” “Rising Thermal”—could be Plutonian jazz or ritual music for a prehistoric race… or for accompanying whatever ceremonies humans will hold in the 31st-century. These tracks are at once unsettling and calming, alien and poignant. They make you feel bizarre emotions that seem outside of human experience. “Delta Rain Dream” is the zenith of the LP’s hazy oneiric drift, with Nana Vasconcelos and Ayibe Dieng’s congas enhancing that feeling by tumbling in an uncannily off-kilter cadence. The sidelong “Charm (Over ‘Burundi Cloud’)”—bear with me here—could’ve soundtracked those slow row-boat rides in Apocalypse Now… if the film had swapped out its hellish milieu for a heavenly one. The trance-inducing “Charm” is the perfect finale to an album that gently launches you out of reality into an imaginary environment that only a genius of Hassell’s caliber can conjure.

In 2014, Glitterbeat Records (run by ex-Seattle musician Chris Eckman of the Walkabouts) reissued Fourth World Vol. 1 with liner notes by Pat Thomas, which include an interview with Hassell. -Buckley Mayfield

James Ferraro “Skid Row” (Break World, 2015)

james-ferraro-announces-new-album-skid-row-body-image-1443106476Take in a steady dose of William Freidkin and John Carpenter flicks. Wash it down with a Starbucks latte. Browse Rodney King and Malcom X clips on the YouTube. Look out your high-rise condo window. Future R&B bass rattles your bones as infomercials play muted in the dark. Ads promote the safe use of fracking while Lockheed Martin toils away at work, unseen.

The audio aural equivalent? James Ferraro’s “Skid Row.” The always prolific, cynical electronic artist has been slowly asserting himself more and more into public consciousness, even recording his own vocals as of late. If his last album was a commentary on 9/11 and it’s New York aftermath, then this is the aftershock here and now in Los Angeles. And while that city is the perfect place to Snapchat police brutality, economic disparity and general moral ruin, we can still hear the crashing of a nation he’s arranging in sound collage for us anywhere.

Despite it’s interview clips, sirens, macbook text speak and Wang Chung samples, “Skid Row” is Ferraro’s most formed work to date. Nothing is wafting, every element is meticulously placed. He’s been on it that way at least since his “Far Side Virtual” release. But if that was mock-ideal of our global State, then this is a stare down at America’s dark heart. -Wade

The Raincoats “Odyshape” (Rough Trade, 1981)

homepage_large.963abbe0The Raincoats hold it together just as much as their Delta 5/Au Pairs contemporaries, but the atmosphere provided by The Raincoats is much more melancholic and spacious. Known to many Americans as one of those bands to check off their Kurt Cobain-faves list, this London post-punk group was really one of the most adventurous bands emerging in their day.

While the other popular, predominantly girl bands had punk and funk flair to match or better Gang Of Four, The Raincoats instead went an alternate route, swapping many little instruments that enfolded tentative, folky vocals. The centerpiece is probably “Only Loved At Night,” all chimes, percussion, thumb piano and tinny guitar occasionally punctuated by bass tones.

Each song offers new sounds, new instruments, guest musicians including Robert Wyatt… This is the idea of post-punk as sound-on-record with little regard for continuity. Are you a fan of PiL, early Scritti Politti, the jazz of Art Ensemble Of Chicago and Don Cherry, far-out dub? If that sounds good, and you aren’t a Raincoats yet, this one will do the trick. -Wade

Popol Vuh “Hosianna Mantra” (Pilz, 1972)

MI0002982480Florian Fricke pioneered the use of synthesizers in German rock, but by the time of Hosianna Mantra he had abandoned them (eventually selling his famous Moog to Klaus Schulze). While In den Gärten Pharaos had blended synths with piano and African and Turkish percussion, Hosianna Mantra focuses on organic instrumentation. Conny Veit contributes electric guitar, but other than that, Fricke pulls the plug and builds the album around violin, tamboura, piano, oboe, cembalo, and Veit’s 12-string, often with Korean soprano Djong Yun’s haunting voice hovering above the arrangements.

As the album’s title suggests, Fricke conceived of Hosianna Mantra as a musical reconciliation of East and West, a harmonization of seemingly opposed terms, combining two devotional music traditions. That notion of cultural hybridity resonates throughout. On “Kyrie” droning tamboura, simple piano patterns, ethereal, gull-like guitars, and yearning oboe ebb and flow before coalescing in a passage of intensity and release. The epic title track adds another dimension to the fusion, emphasizing a Western rock sound with Veit’s spectacular playing to the fore, simultaneously smoldering and liquid, occasionally yielding to Djong Yun’s celestial vocals. Above all, Fricke envisioned this as sacred music, intimately linked to religious experience; however, as his musical synthesis of disparate religious traditions indicates, he was seeking to foment a spiritual experience beyond the specificity of any particular faith.

Indeed, Fricke called this album a “mass for the heart” and that aspect can be heard most succinctly on the melancholy “Abschied” and the gossamer-fragile “Segnung,” which blend an austere hymnal sensibility with a more mystical vibe. Julian Cope has said that Hosianna Mantra sounds like it was made in a “cosmic convalescent home” — an excellent description underscoring the timeless, healing quality of this music, which is far removed from the everyday world and yet at one with it. -Wilson

James “Blood” Ulmer “Free Lancing” (Columbia, 1981)

303362After releasing his solo work “Are You Glad To Be In America?” through Rough Trade instead of say, ECM, the direction of his work grew more technical but remained engaging after his jump to Columbia. And he didn’t lose what he had going on with the post-punk label: innovation and a feeling of warmth throughout despite his unique brand of guitar flaying.

If you see live clips of Chick Corea in 1986 with his “Elektric” band, or other fusion bands of that time headed by Miles, and your only major turn off is the electric keyboards sounding like the audio equivalent of stale cheese, then “Free Lancing” will work for you. Ulmer’s band is electric, but it operates how a crack jazz/funk/rock outfit should. The heavy bass pops and acts as the main rhythmic component, James sings over his precise scratching and scrambling, and the drums embellish when they don’t drive the most memorable track, “High Time,” to the conclusion of the first side.

Loved by Ornette, post-punk art schoolers, rock enthusiasts and fans of Hendrix’s cross-town traffic music in general… well let’s put it this way, the material you hear on “Free Lancing” was the same stuff they would flaunt in front of Captain Beefheart and PiL. You can consider it a treasure of the era that occupies it’s own space. -Wade

Guided By Voices “Fast Japanese Spin Cycle” (Engine, 1994)

Fast_Japanese_Spin_Cycle_EPReleased the same year as “Bee Thousand” and about a thousand other EPs, “Fast Japanese Spin Cycle” represents a time when Guided By Voices were often on point with their prolific output and produced more hits than misses.

Clocking in at just more than ten minutes, this EP contains some of Robert Pollard’s best pop fragments. Opener “3rd World Bird Watching” begins with only piano and vocal accompaniment of the most perplexing variety. Strangely or maybe logically, the near esoteric quality of Pollards lyrics work fine the more condensed and punchy he keeps his numbers. This continues whether the songs have pop hooks such as with “My Impression Now,” or simply attack in bits like “Snowman.” Repeated listens are easier with shorter track times, so these ditties seem to create pathways in your brain that worm Pollard’s bizarre statements into your mind.

The B-side is even more interesting, with radically altered versions of previously released material. “Marchers in Orange” is less hazy, more rocking, while “Dusted” sounds much more improved in about every way. “Kisses to the Crying Cooks,” part of the medley that opens GBV album “Propeller,” is also acoustic and more poignant.

If there was any time to mine GBV material, most releases from 1994 are still a sure bet. “Fast Japanese Spin Cycle” is the cream of their pop-rock collage crop. – Wade

 

 

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Seattle’s Helix Magazine

View covers from our growing collection of Helix, Seattle’s first underground newspaper.

Helix was founded and edited by Paul Dorpat in 1967. Many of the covers were illustrated by Walt Crowley who also served as a writer and co-editor. Its articles were wide-ranging featuring anti-war stories, philosophical ramblings, poetry and artwork. The paper didn’t just cover the scene, it also organized and promoted concerts including the legendary, three-day Sky River Rock Festival in Snohomish County. A total of 125 issues were published before the the paper folded in 1970.

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