Electronic

Telex “This Is Telex” (Mute, 2021)

I’m not in the habit of reviewing greatest-hits and best-of releases for this blog, but sometimes the curation is so strong and the discography of the artist diffuse enough in quality that it makes sense to do so. Such is the case with This Is Telex, a 14-song overview of the influential Brussels trio Telex.

Belgium’s answer to Yellow Magic Orchestra and Yello, Telex consisted of of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman, and Michel Moers. Before he formed Telex, Moulin was a prog-jazz genius in the group Placebo, whom crate-diggers/hip-hop producers worship with a reverence usually reserved for the likes of Melvin Bliss and Incredible Bongo Band. Few musicians from Moulin’s realm made the transition to synthwave-pop/cult status, which in itself is innately fascinating. (Rainbow keyboardist Tony Carey comes to mind, but even that’s a stretch; Kraftwerk obviously were influential on synthwave, but were never of it.)

Telex come across as arch keyboard/drum-machine virtuosos slumming it in the nascent synth-pop scene (they even entered that bastion of fromage overload, the Eurovision contest) and then realized that, “Hey, we’re enjoying this more than we thought and the hipsters are slurping it up.” It seems like this comp should’ve come out 10-12 years ago, the better to capitalize on the renewed interest in minimal/synthwave, but better late than never—Mute probably had to cut through thickets of record-company red tape to seal the deal.

This Is Telex begins grandly with a a radical reinvention of Sonny Bono’s ubiquitous 1967 hit “The Beat Goes On,” turning the groovy pop nugget into a chunky, bleepy slab of electro-funk, its rhythm uncannily foreshadowing Soul II Soul’s 1989 hit, “Back To Life.” (This album’s the only place you can find “The Beat Goes On/Off.”) The interpretation establishes Telex as masters of transformative covers. Another excellent example of this is “Dance To The Music,” in which the trio transform Sly &The Family Stone’s 1968 hit into silver-lamé’d robo-disco with diseased talkbox vocals. Telex excised the soul and funk from the original, but their makeover is still a riot that’ll have crowds laughing as much as they’re dancing. They’ve reproduced the absurdist, poker-faced effect that Flying Lizards had with “Money” and Devo had with “Satisfaction.”

More alchemy occurs on “La Bamba,” as Telex convert this traditional Mexican folk song into laggard trip-hop—no easy feat. On “The Number One Song In Heaven,” they bring a dash of poignancy to Sparks’ ebullient, Giorgio Moroder-produced original while slowing the tempo to an elegant shuffle. Speaking of Sparks, this comp features two collabs with the Mael brothers: “Drama Drama” and “ Exercise Is Good For You.” This joint venture—the Maels wrote the lyrics, Moers composed the music—makes sense as both groups revel in camp and humor, flamboyant melodies, and sly dance beats. Trivia: ZZ Top, of all people, used to cover “Exercise” live, often using it to close out their shows. One diversion from Telex’s usual tongue-in-cheekiness is “Dear Prudence” (which is exclusive to this compilation). Telex appear to be playing it straight, exhibiting authentic love for one of the Beatles’ most sublime psychedelic ballads. Their version’s synthetic to the core yet still hits deeply in the heart.

As for Telex’s original tunes, “L’amour Toujours” sounds at once like a parody and a genuine specimen of suave continental disco; Yello pulled the same trick. It exemplifies Telex’s penchant for creating music of artful ambiguity, as does “Eurovision,” a sincere-seeming stab at trying to win the titular songwriting contest in 1980. The result is more like a saccharine homage to Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights,” though, and it nearly came in last place—which was the group’s goal. The wonky electro-funk of “Radio-Radio” slaps hard, proving itself to be a Belgian counterpart to Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce.” Telex’s best-known song is “Moskow Diskow” from 1979’s Looking For Saint Tropez. An influence on techno, it zips through the club like a speedier “Trans-Europe Express,” replete with a synth mimicking a train whistle and percussion emulating said vehicle’s rhythmic chug. No wonder Detroit techno great Carl Craig jumped at the chance to remix it on the 1998 remix album of Telex cuts, I Don’t Like Music.

A cursory listen to Telex may lead some to regard them as a quasi-novelty band, but the impact that their deceptively advanced and detailed music had on electronic music from the ’80s onward is no joke. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Doug McKechnie “San Francisco Moog 1968-72: Vol. 2” (VG+ Records, 2023)

Better late than never, the 2020 archival release San Francisco Moog 1968-72: Vol. 1 introduced a lot of people to Bay Area synthesist/composer Doug McKechnie. Now 80, McKechnie somehow had gone barely noticed as a Moog pioneer, despite opening for the Rolling Stones at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in 1969 and appearing in the Maysles brothers’ documentary of said tragic event, Gimme Shelter. Although McKechnie performed often during the years outlined by the title of this second collection of his largely improvised electronic works, he only released a couple of cassettes back then. The Moog craze of those days somehow did not sweep up Mr. McKechnie.

Perhaps Doug’s music didn’t draw much attention in those days because it lacked a gimmicky concept, which was typical of vintage Moog-centric records. Plus, he didn’t have the academic imprimatur that some of his peers enjoyed. Rather, McKechnie was a lone-wolf hippie, relying on his instincts to create extraordinary sounds on the Moog Modular Series III synth, to which he fortuitously gained access because his audiophile/electronics wiz roommate, Bruce Hatch, owned one. McKechnie became so adept with the new instrument, he gave lectures about it and demonstrations of it in colleges and other schools.

San Francisco Moog 1968-72: Vol. 2 further delves into McKechnie’s vaults from that heady era. The first volume’s rippling drones, grand melodies, ominous throbs, and eerie drifts predated and resembled some of the things happening with the work of German artists such as Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, and Ashra. The second one skews a bit weirder and more introspective. “Search For An Honest Man” recalls Moog superstar Mort Garson’s peak-era winsome melodiousness and bleak chirpiness. “Live At The Family Dog” offers a premonition of minimal techno, with its pinprick percussion and spaciousness, before it shifts into a wickedly warped k-hole of Doppler-effected “wow”s and “whoa”s.

If you’re a fan of Keith Emerson’s flamboyant flourishes in ELP, you’ll dig the bold, spasmodic piece “Moving.” “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” is a wildly oscillating excursion, like Tonto’s Expanding Head Band experiencing an anxiety attack while “Rumble Ramp Explosion,” as the title helpfully discloses, is an extreme display of tone dispersion and simulated rocket ascension and explosion. True mindfuckery. The best track here is also the longest: over its 11-plus minutes, the meticulously designed “Glide” features a main Moog motif that icily radiates over insistent pulsations, and thus enters the massive pantheon of intense sci-fi-film suspense-builders.

The VG+ label has compiled both San Francisco Moog LPs onto one CD, if you prefer that format. One way or another, you should get this music into your ears for easy transport out of this mundane reality. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections

Cluster “Cluster II” (Brain, 1972)

Cluster 71—German geniuses Dieter Moebius, Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ first album without Conrad Schnitzler, with whom they formed Kluster in 1969—stands as an important landmark in the formation of industrial ambient music, forging forbidding expanses of desolation and agitation. Similar to Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation, 71 did not rock at all, although it often got categorized as “krautrock.” Rather, it sprawled and glowered in dank space like a malignant satellite. This was head music par excellence, but only for the headstrong who can deal with no beats or hooks whatsoever.

Moebius and Roedelius’ follow-up, Cluster II (produced by Conny Plank with his usual magically maniacal touch), found the ever-questing duo bringing in guitar to their synth-heavy miasmas, but still not rocking in any conventional way. In some regards, it’s a bit less alien and alienating than 71, but still kilometers beyond the concise, melodious synth songs on their next full-length, 1974’s Zuckerzeit.

“Plas” begins 71 with a series of grainy synth throbs and billows that accumulate mass and ominousness, before strange pulsations and shrill, panicky fanfares enter the frame, like a deflated trumpet blurt arcing across the night sky. It’s a precarious, hallucinogenic trip and a helluva bold way to open an album. On “Im Süden,” Moebius’ crispy-fried guitar riff pierces through Roedelius’ bassy synth borborygmus for nearly 13 minutes, and the effect is both hypnotic and fraught as hell. Everything intensifies and gets denser as the track progresses, until you feel as if you’re churning in the guts of a massive cement mixer, with Moebius’ chiming guitar motif tolling like a farewell message… imminent-catastrophe vibes for days. You can definitely hear this track’s influence on Austrian guitarist/laptop composer Fennesz’s early releases.

After this incredible 1-2 punch, the quality dips slightly, but the material is still deeply dissonant. “Für Die Katz” is subtly turbulent space musik for imperiled astronauts while “Live In Der Fabrik” is the sound of infinity in a circuit board or maybe the world’s most sinister video game going on the fritz… or simply mad scientists going rogue in the lab. “Georgel” consists of an enveloping drone that’s pregnant with menace and “Nabitte” ushers us to the exits with chaotic keyboard clusters, distressing groans, and slamming of unknown metal objects.

These Übermenschen didn’t let up for one second on II. Their motto seemed to be “if you’re not overcome by paranoia, we’re doing something wrong.” Truly, an unsettling bleakness pervades the entire album, one entirely at odds with the brilliant constellation cover art. You have to respect such relentless journeying to the heart of darkness.

Bureau B reissued Cluster II in 2022 and Superior Viaduct did so in 2023, so the album should be easy to find and to afford. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Fifty Foot Hose “Cauldron” (Limelight, 1968)

Cauldron by Bay Area freaks Fifty Foot Hose exists in that minuscule niche of far-out ’60s albums that fused electronics with psychedelic rock: The United States Of America’s self-titled LP, the Silver Apples’ self-titled album, Lothar And The Hand People’s Presenting… and Space Hymn, and Spoils Of War. Recorded in 1967, Cauldron may have predated them all. Even in that lysergic-friendly era, most heads could not grok Fifty Foot Hose. And though it’s been reissued many times, the album still flies under most music fans’ radar.

Mainly the brainchild of electronics wizard/inventor Cork Marcheschi, Cauldron is split between semi-conventional songs riddled with DIY sound-FX tomfoolery (and even a bleep-augmented cover of Billie Holiday’s 1942 jazz standard “God Bless The Child”) and form-busting experiments geared to blow minds. In the former category, “If Not This Time” is a midtempo slice of Jefferson Airplane-style songcraft that transcends Grace Slick & company’s popular psychedelic machinations, thanks to an unconventionally tuned guitar intro/motif that alerts you to the weirdness that lies ahead. Nancy Blossom may not be as powerful a vocalist as Slick, but her enigmatic delivery and defiant demeanor suit Fifty Foot Hose’s skewed compositions and improvs.

In the rather conventional love song “The Things That Concern You,” guitarist Larry Evans sings, “I love you I love you I love you you/Please love me, too” with surprising sincerity and banality. But thankfully, the track possesses the loopy aura of the United States Of America’s “I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar,” complete with zonked electronics that sound like a Moog suffering a nervous breakdown. “Rose” is essentially a more psychedelic variation on Classic IV’s “Spooky”—lounge pop embellished with all manner of electronic frippery that would impress Beaver & Krause. The album’s ominous psych-rock zenith is “Red The Sign Post,” whose marauding, fuzz-toned guitar riff prefigures Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’.” Add in some 13th Floor Elevators-esque bass mesmerism and Nancy Blossom’s strident declarations and swirling-down-the-vortex screams, and you have a classic that’s too heavy and traumatic for a Nuggets comp.

Side two is where things get really crazy. “Fantasy” starts with obsessive guitar riffing, tom-tom-hitting, and frittering bleeps, then shifts into a groovy hippy-rock jam of the sort that you’ve heard in a dozen psychsploitation movies—so it fucking rules. Then the song shifts into a creepy Nancy-sung ballad before evolving into a seriously horrific, occult-rock march. It’s a helluva trip, any way you cut it. The aforementioned “God Bless The Child” provides a little respite before “Cauldron” assaults the senses with some mushroom-trip-gone-horribly-awry rock. This witchy nightmare makes just about everything else that was touted as “psychedelic” in the SF’s ’60s psych scene sound as buttoned-up as William F. Buckley. Only White Noise’s “The Black Mass: An Electric Storm In Hell” comes close to “Cauldron”’s disturbing disorientation.

Fifty Foot Hose came back in 1998 with a shockingly good LP, Sing Like Scaffold, but even if they’d only released Cauldron, they’d be underground stars worthy of lifelong devotion. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Heldon “Interface” (Cobra, 1977)

When someone opines that “French music is weak” or some such uninformed blather, you should drop a dose of Heldon on them—specifically Interface, guitar/synth master Richard Pinhas and company’s most devastating platter. There are many other such records from France with which you could hit said ignorami, but Interface‘s payload might be the most effective. The album’s dominated by Moog synthesizer emissions, but there’s nothing trendy or whimsical about these tracks. Interface might be the mother of all bombs from the fecund ’70s French underground.

Pinhas helmed a nearly flawless seven-album run from 1974 to 1978, moving from cosmique Fripp-ian guitar drones and pensive pastoralism to futuristic electronic brutality, peaking in the latter mode on 1977’s Interface—although 1976’s Un Rêve Sans Conséquence Spéciale gives it a run for its laser beams. With their later LPs, Heldon, according to The Stranger, “invented a kind of end-times proto-techno that the French military should’ve enlisted for defense purposes.” Can’t argue with that.

“Les Soucoupes Volantes Vertes”—which was written by drummer François Auger—instantly tingles your nerves and puts you on your toes, prepping you for combat with aliens as it fades in with a throbbing Moog bass, skewed beats, and elasticated Moog III and Moog B riffs. “Which freakin’ planet am I on?” you’ll wonder, as your adrenaline dangerously spikes. On the two-part “Jet Girl,” Pinhas’ obsession with Robert Fripp resurfaces in the form of elephantine guitar wails amid rolling and thumping drums and ominously oscillating Moog bass. The track’s an approximation of a chaotic, cyborgian King Crimson, as cold and terrifying as an Antarctic ice storm.

Bandleader Pinhas lets bassist Patrick Gauthier take the reins for “Le Retour Des Soucoupes Volanes”; it’s some rugged man-machine shit, powered by Moog bass and drums, but with radiant ostinatos around the edges—a weird blend of contrasts. Another showcase for Auger, “Bal-A-Fou” is a spacey tantalizer with unusual percussion timbres and accents that recall Herbie Hancock’s early-’70s groups at their farthest out. When Auger’s drums enter, things build to a momentous tumult. By song’s end, you’re convinced that Heldon should’ve been scoring blockbuster interstellar-war movies instead of John Williams and his ilk. “Le Fils Des Soucoupes Volantes (Vertes)” reprises the opening track’s steamrolling menace, but is even more intense.

All of this great stuff is but a prelude for the pièce de résistance, “Interface.” The mother(fucker) of all dystopian, automatons-dueling-to-the-death epics, it’s a 19-minute ordeal of panned, flanged, and deranged drums, airlock synthesized percussion, pitched-down cymbal splashes, strident guitar anguish, and a Moog bass part so springy it makes you think of trampolines the size of football fields. The way the bass interacts with Auger’s slanted martial beats and manic fills is utterly hypnotic. Every element’s geared to make you feel as if the walls are closing in, the heat is rising, the end is near. Seemingly no one here gets out alive, until… Pinhas ruins the doom-laden vibe with a glammed-up, ’50s-vintage guitar riff in the final 10 seconds. I get the joke, but resent how it disrupts the riveting spell the preceding 18 minutes had cast. “Interface”’s relentless terminal march found an analog in Billy Cobham’s “Inner Conflicts,” even though the legendary fusion drummer claims not to have heard it. Whatever the case, if you crave more of that infernal Heldon vibe, check out Cobham’s unintentional tribute.

Thankfully, Interface rarely falls out of print. The excellent German label Bureau B most recently reissued it in 2020. -Buckley Mayfield

Doris Norton “Personal Computer” (Durium, 1984)

Whether it’s down to sexism or her Italian nationality (or perhaps both), composer/musician Doris Norton has gone largely overlooked as a major figure in the computer-based electronic-music world. (Before her solo career, Norton played in the gothic prog-rock group Jacula.) Thankfully, in 2018, Mannequin Records reissued three of Norton’s ’80s albums: 1983’s Norton Computer For Peace, 1984’s Personal Computer, and 1985’s Artificial Intelligence. I bought them all and instantly wondered how they’d escaped my radar, as I’m an avid fan of avant-garde European electronic music. But somehow I’d read nary a word nor heard a note of Norton’s music till three years ago. I’ve been making up for lost time ever since.

My favorite of that trilogy is Personal Computer, her fifth LP overall. During the ’80s, Norton was sponsored by Apple Computer, and made a music program for IBM USA, so the title is no mere superficial signifier. Personal Computer is a wonderful entry point for the Norton novice, although if you’re expecting it to hit with the paradigm-shifting impact of Kraftwerk’s similarly titled 1981 classic Computer World, you’ll be disappointed. Nevertheless, Personal Computer is tonally and melodically sophisticated, with rhythms that can get a floor humming. Created with assistance from Antonius Rex, the record’s a rare blend of heady academia and dance-floor decadence, with a dash of neon-sprayed synth-pop ebullience.

The title track rollicks out of the gate like a dance anthem for video-game geeks, a serious kick-drum pummel propelling everything toward a starry grid in the matrix. The warped, femme-android vocals add a layer of otherness to the storming Yellow Magic Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark hullabaloo happening. “Norton Apple Software” flaunts a sproingy, robotic rhythm that punctuates a swarming and sputtering synth attack, foreshadowing the stardusted turbulence of Detroit electro unit Drexciya. The bombastic synth symphony “Binary Love” creates a huge impression with punishing 4/4 beats, scything hi-hats, and fake wind howls. Forget the noble aim of soundtracking video games; Norton sounds like she’s shooting for Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters. Similarly reaching for the stars is “Parallel Interface,” with its madly hectic riffs spiraling skyward in contrast with elasticated 303 bass palpitations and brutal, methodical beats.

It may not be the most extravagant cut here, but “Caution Radiation Norton” is my favorite on the album. Its beats and hysterically bleepy synths ripple in an odd meter, while sampled male chants serve as both drones and punctuation, showcasing Norton at her most idiosyncratic. “A.D.A. Converter” is an ominous squelcher that marches to battle with a grim, majestic finality, closing the album with an aptly somber mood for the Mutually Assured Destruction vibes that haunted the year 1984. You might say that Norton captured the spirit of George Orwell’s dystopian novel in a novel way, too. -Buckley Mayfield

Ciccone Youth “The Whitey Album” (Enigma/Blast First, 1988)

When The Whitey Album came out, many Sonic Youth fans and critics treated it as a trifling post-modern prank. And yes, it does have its share of shtick, starting with the project name and nudge-wink title. You wondered if Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley were trolling their underground-rock fan base with two Madonna covers, a karaoke take on Robert Palmer’s MTV smash “Addicted To Love,” a clever-clever homage to John Cage’s “4′ 33”,” and an embarrassing rap fiasco. But while at the time those moments dominated the discourse around The Whitey Album, the record actually contains some of the Youth’s most interesting anomalies.

Remember, the recording of The Whitey Album occurred between 1986’s EVOL and 1987’s Sister—Sonic Youth’s peak period. So even if they were just screwing around, they couldn’t not create fascinating shit. Plus, they had fIREHOSE bassist/vocalist Mike Watt in the studio with them. Back then, Watt was depressed about the tragic vehicular death of long-time Minutemen bandmate D. Boon. When Watt traveled to the East Coast with girlfriend/Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler, who was headed to Yale for an internship, he stayed with Sonic Youth for a bit and ended up recording two songs with them destined for EVOL. The Ciccone Youth side project was part of an effort to inspire Watt to start playing music again and lift him out of his funk. It worked, and in the process SY fans got a nice little curio.

As for the Madonna and Palmer covers, they inspired yuks back in the day, but did Ciccone Youth do it for the lulz or because they genuinely loved the songs? With 20/20 hindsight, I’ll say both. Another goof, the self-explanatory “Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening To Neu,” finds Gordon and Suzanne Sasic talking about managing Dinosaur Jr. while listening to “Negativland.” Near the end, there’s a short burst of grandiose noise rock with what sounds like guitar god J Mascis going the fuck off on his axe. But “Tuff Titty Rap” [insert Beavis & Butthead laugh] is the group’s nadir, with Moore “rapping” over clunky, rudimentary drum-machine beats. 40 seconds of it is too long.

Now let’s move on to the good parts that compose the majority of The Whitey Album. “G-Force” pits Kim Gordon freestyling a spoken-word story about a brash woman up for adventure against oneiric, slow-motion psychedelia with subliminally funky drum-machine beats. “Platoon II” offers more basic, funky beats, which are swathed with ice-cold guitar feedback and gently delayed klang. It’s a real low-key head-nodder that foreshadows Dälek, who are the only hip-hop crew ever to collaborate with krautrock legends Faust. “Macbeth” is rugged, ruthless funky rock that stands among Sonic Youth’s best songs. “Children Of Satan/Third Fig” excellent hypnotic rock with a pseudo-robotic beat that augments the sonorous clangor and chiming of the guitars, until a bass riff ruptures the mesmerism at song’s end. The revelation here is how damned groovy this unintentional (?) funk comes across.

Some other highlights include “Moby-Dik,” a minute of Dieter Moebius-like electronic weirdness; “March Of The Ciccone Robots,” which sounds like a cover of PiL’s “Chant” with a ton of sludge caked on it and powered by pummeling, quasi-techno beats; and “Making The Nature Scene,” a scouring, beat-heavy rework of a harrowing Confusion Is Sex song that sounds like Big Stick.

So, look beyond the gimmicks and you have a fascinating oddity from an underground band who, when The Whitey Album received its delayed release, were ascending to alt-rock-mainstream success. More than 30 years later, the record stands out not as wry meta-commentary, but as a brilliant lark/tangent in Sonic Youth’s sprawling catalog. -Buckley Mayfield

Seesselberg “Synthetik 1.” (self-released, 1973)

I’m fascinated by artists who release one amazing album and then go quiet, for whatever reason. Examples? Skip Spence, the United States Of America, Tomorrow, Friendsound, Ibliss, McDonald & Giles, Kendra Smith, Young Marble Giants. German brother duo Seesselberg belong in this pantheon, too.

In the early ’70s, Wolf (b. 1941) and Eckhart (b. 1952) Seesselberg self-released some of the most innovative electronic music this side of Conrad Schnitzler and Morton Subotnick, and then vanished in a puff of fried synth circuitry. If you own one of original 1,000 copies pressed, however, you could sell it and travel the world on the earnings.

Thankfully, golden-eared curators have kept the nine precious cuts on Synthetik 1. in circulation over the decades, preserving what sounds like the birth of certain strains of IDM and techno, over 10-20 years before those styles emerged. The Seesselberg bros were clever electronics boffins who built their own synths, which obviously added special sauce to their distinctive sound. These 46 minutes reveal two nerds reveling in the temperamental strangeness of their gear, testing its parameters, and thereby drawing a blueprint for future synth iconoclasts to emulate—assuming they had the keen instincts to find Synthetik 1. and the maverick talent to fuck with its DNA. It is indeed an exclusive cult who have done so.

Synthetik 1. starts spectacularly with “Overture (If Somebody Survives We Will Have A Return Match),” a compendium of burbling, zapping, and oscillating sounds that sets a disorienting tone and warns the listener that Seesselberg are serious about sending you to the craziest quadrants of the omniverse. The 62-second “Eintrachtkreis-Paranoia” is a staccato panic-inducer that resembles the Ronald Frangipane-composed “Fuck Machine” sequence in The Holy Mountain. The equally brief “Verhütungsfreudenwalzer (Kontinenzmusik Für Eine Akademie)” sounds like a computer stuttering a disturbing mantra. These two snippets come off like the brothers playfully fucking about with their equipment. The more focused “Speedy Achmed (Verhaltensanweisung)” offers low-key, sinister pulsations and eldritch screeches that foreshadow Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey. The A-side closes with a nearly 11-minute track bearing an absurdly long German title. Its ominous whirs, distant abattoir emissions, and eerie avian whistles make it a close cousin of Tonto’s Expanding Head Band‘s “Jetsex.”

The flip side begins with Synthetik 1.‘s highlight, “Phönix,” a 10-minute piece Wolf composed for a 1972 film of the same name. It’s a dazzling menagerie of high-pitched synth discombobulations ruptured by pulsating spaceship-door percussion, emergency-warning bleeps, and weaponized drones. I imagine the track scoring the movie’s climactic scenes in which astronauts meet terminal doom. There’s no way anyone gets out of this piece alive. The last two tracks (both with long German titles you’ll instantly forget) reiterate Synthetik 1.‘s m.o.: creating bizarre electronic abstractions that “go nowhere” in the traditional sense that dull people expect them to venture to. Essentially, Seesselberg are all about generating an interesting array of tones for its own sake—escapism with a sense of danger about it.

Some will complain that Synthetik 1. lacks “humanity” or “warmth,” but sometimes it feels great simply to immerse oneself in the alien sonography of custom-built synthesizers and lose all sense of reality. Seesselberg made that scenario a breathtaking certainty nearly 50 years ago. Enter their secret society.

[Synthetik 1. has been reissued officially on CD by Plate Lunch (2001) and on LP by Wah Wah (2013). Both are pricey imports, but totally worth it.] -Buckley Mayfield

Ned Lagin “Seastones” (Round, 1975)

Seastones might be the strangest document to emerge out of the vast Grateful Dead diaspora. From 1970-1976, Ned Lagin was the psych-rock figureheads’ modular-synth guru, a computer-savvy maverick who generated bizarre subliminal electronics onstage and in the studio. Outside of those actions, Lagin composed Seastones from 1971-1974 with help from a lot of the same crew who contributed to David Crosby’s 1971 cult classic, If I Could Only Remember My Name: Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Grace Slick, David Freiberg, and Croz himself. But aside from Garcia and Slick’s distorted voices, it’s nearly impossible to detect these prominent musicians’ personalities amid the microcosmic mysteriousness of Seastones.

Lagin classified this record as “Electronic Cybernetic biomusic,” and superficially it resembles the ambient excursions that Brian Eno purveyed in the ’70s and ’80s, Morton Subotnick’s disorienting Buchla synth parabolas, and Gil Mellé’s unsettling Moog miasmas in The Andromeda Strain soundtrack. But parts of Seastones also point ahead to the mercurial glitchtronics of ’90s IDM. Whether artists such as Markus Popp or Alva Noto ever heard Lagin’s arcane opus remains unknown, but the similarities are remarkable.

Seastones is divided into 10 tracks, but the album seems like one organism—or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it flows like a lysergic dream, with subtly changing episodes. Lagin keeps the sonic activity submerged near the ocean’s floor, with most of the vocals appearing to ripple from underwater. While the credits list Garcia’s guitar, Lesh’s bass, Hart’s gong and Spencer Dryden’s cymbals, they’re hard to discern among the synths (ARP, E-mu, Buchla), prepared piano, clavichord, and Interdata 7/16 processor that Lagin deployed to manifest these microbial movements. But you don’t need to know how this sausage was made to enjoy its peculiar flavors.

If you’re the type of Dead fan who thinks American Beauty represents the pinnacle of their career, you’ll likely find Seastones impenetrable, and you can keep on “Truckin’” without it. But if you dig, say, “What’s Become Of The Baby” and adventurous electronic music that nudges your mind to strange, subaquatic realms, you’ll find Seastones an engrossing enigma. Just be prepared to give it many listens—preferably on quality headphones—in order to grasp its crab-like maneuvers.

Important Records reissued a remastered version of Seastones on LP and CD in 2020. -Buckley Mayfield

Terry Riley “Shri Camel” (CBS, 1980)

As we round into the most stressful week of the most stressful year in recent memory, we need frequent immersions into the transcendent sonic world of Terry Riley, the greatest living American composer/improviser… if I may be so bold (and I may).

Now, the great thing about this master of minimalism and mesmerism is that you can dip into almost any record in his discography and find succor. I’m partial to anything Riley’s done from the ’60s to the ’80s. And that’s where Shri Camel falls. Commissioned by West Germany’s Radio Bremen in 1975, Riley started composing it that year and performed an early version of Shri Camel in Bremen the following year. In 1977, Riley cut a different iteration of the work, dividing it into four suites at a San Francisco studio. For some reason, CBS didn’t issue the recording until 1980. Better late than never, he understated.

Using a modified Yamaha YC-45D combo organ tuned in just intonation and augmented with digital delay, Riley applied lessons learned from Indian raga guru Pandit Pran Nath, especially regarding “singing in search of swara, or ‘the knowledge of profound pitch relationships which reigns supreme,’” as Hugh Gardner put it in the liner notes. Suffice it to say, Riley synthesized Nath’s ancient wisdom with modern technology and his own spontaneous creativity to summon a zoner for the (s)ages.

Seemingly sputtering out of a golden spigot in the holiest temple, album-opener “Anthem Of The Trinity” is a fanfare for a benevolent god who only wants you to feel buoyant, warm, and loved for eternity. Throughout most of Shri Camel, Riley dazzles up a momentous motif—a bass-y three-chord figure (da da DAAA)—that sounds as if it could be a sperm whale’s mating call. The track ebbs and flows from elation to sternness, with moments of warped turbulence. “Celestial Valley” unspools more introverted fractals of organ drones, spiraling inward to massage all of your chakras. At times, Riley’s organ swells to revelatory dimensions (no double entendre, sorry), generating flurries of vamps geared to excite and exalt your every atom. You wonder how much pleasure your head can endure under such an onslaught of heavenliness.

Obviously, there’s no way to maintain that level of highness, so Riley downshifts on “Across The Lake Of The Ancient Word” into a more somber feel, like the entrance music for the funeral of a benevolent cult leader. Riley embroiders that aforementioned bass-y three-chord motif with frantic bubbles of keyboard spume. It feels like you’re floating in an ocean of champagne. “Desert Of Ice” starts where “Ancient Word” left off, and then intensifies and embellishes it. Riley appears to be playing a vibraphone made out of said ice with an elegant swiftness that seems supra-human, à la Conlon Nancarrow’s player-piano works. The bass-y three-chord pattern’s urgency keeps surging into the increasingly ebullient organ carbonation, and Riley begins to improvise variations on the spacey theme, with every tonality contoured to levitate you light years from earthbound reality. This is how you close an album. Bow down to the master of aural transcendence. -Buckley Mayfield

Kraftwerk “Kraftwerk” (Philips, 1970)

Musicians sometimes have very poor insight into what constitutes their best work. Bob Seger and Alex Chilton come to mind. One of the most extreme cases of this unfortunate phenomenon is Kraftwerk. The legendary German group’s founders—Ralf Hütter and the late Florian Schneider-Esleben—are/were undoubtedly intelligent people, but for baffling reasons, they refuse(d) to acknowledge the existence of their pre-Autobahn releases. It’s a shame, because Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk II, and Ralf & Florian represent some of their greatest, most adventurous creations.

Like many of their early ’70s Deutschland compatriots (Can, Tangerine Dream, Neu!, Faust, Popol Vuh, Et Cetera, etc.), Kraftwerk were both striving to distinguish themselves from post-WWII German culture and not simply imitate the era’s dominant Anglo-American rock paradigms. Operating under this liberating notion, Kraftwerk created some of the most revolutionary experimental rock and electronic music of all time. Most heads still aren’t ready to absorb the genius percolating on these early records (plus that of Tone Float by Organisation, Ralf and Florian’s pre-Kraftwerk band).

The sounds on Kraftwerk et al. diametrically oppose the precise, linear driving musik and robotic electro-funk that marked their work from the mid-’70s onward. No doubt, all of that stuff should be revered, too, and its influence is staggering. But it’s so frustrating that the creators of those early releases disown them, making the LPs ripe for bootlegging and gray-area reissues. I normally don’t condone buying those, but in this case, do what you gotta do to get ’em.

So, finally, to Kraftwerk’s debut album. Produced by the studio wizard Conny Plank, it consists of four long tracks, each a mind-blower. Opener “Ruckzuck” (translation: Right Now) is the pinnacle of flute-centric avant-rock. Schneider’s electronically treated instrument stutters and splutters with contrapuntal ingenuity, forming a mesmerizing motif over Andreas Hohmann’s motorik drums and Hütter’s guitar stabs and organ whorls. An interlude of cymbal and warped-to-hell flute crescendos will shock you with a horror-film force. That rupture is indicative of a piece that keeps regenerating, changing tempo, accruing strange textures, ebbing and flowing, and throwing surprises at your ears at a frantic rate. “Ruckzuck” is nightmarish yet euphoric psychedelic music as you’ve never heard it before. Schneider proves himself to be the Sonny Sharrock of the flute, a mad genius who took his instrument’s timbres to heretofore unexplored and untamed realms..

Stratovarius” (Schneider plays violin, too) resembles Can’s “Aumgn,” emitting several minutes of maleficent squall and alienating drones. Eventually, a slack, quasi-funky rhythm emerges along with cantankerous guitar feedback and squawks. When the song shifts into a freak-rock rave-up à la Can’s “Outside My Door,” it reveals Kraftwerk deconstructing rock into fascinating shapes while ratcheting up the intensity to horrifying dimensions. “Megaherz” is an electronic experiment in extreme dynamics and tonalities, but it’s not without its tender, beautiful passages. The one in which Schneider’s flute and Hütter’s organ and triangle cohere into a meditative respite is exemplary.

Von Himmel Hoch” (From Heaven Above in English) remains one of history’s maddest album-finales. It begins with a series of otherworldly aircraft noises, explosions, and alarms. Gradually, a menagerie of bizarre animal growls generated with a modified organ called a “tubon” coheres into a powerful rhythm, underscored by future Neu! member Klaus Dinger’s pugilistic drums. As some of the most fucked-up borborygmus/stomach gurgles ever laid to tape ensue, you think, “It’s too bad Roger Waters and Ron Geesin didn’t conceive these sounds for their Music From The Body LP.” Unexpectedly, the track gets urgently funky near the end, before finishing with a bass frequency explosion. WOWOW.

To reiterate, it’s shameful that Kraftwerk is out-of-print. Instead, it deserves a reissue with liner notes, previously unseen photos, bonus tracks, the works. Come on, Ralf. Quit being such a Scheisskopf. -Buckley Mayfield

A.C. Marias “One Of Our Girls (Has Gone Missing)” (Mute, 1989)

A.C. is Angela Conway, the mysterious chanteuse who cowrote the 10 songs on One Of Our Girls (Has Gone Missing) with Wire/Dome guitarist Bruce Gilbert. She’s also appeared on Wire bassist Graham Lewis’ He Said records and Gilbert’s The Shivering Man LP, as well as these Wire dudes’ Dome and P’o projects. Clearly, Conway was a key figure in the Wire diaspora throughout the ’80s, so it makes sense that she would cut her own full-length with those in their orbit. And what a quiet little treasure One Of Our Girls is.

With a voice pitched somewhere between the Dream Syndicate/Opal’s Kendra Smith and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, Conway radiated an ethereal gravity with A.C. Marias. The group included Paul Kendall (studio wiz who’s worked with Gilbert and Loop and Main’s Robert Hampson), John Fryer (producer of This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins, Nine Inch Nails, etc.), and Gareth Jones (producer of Depeche Mode, Wire, Diamanda Galás, Einstürzende Neubauten, etc.). Conway’s singing may not be technically extraordinary, but she optimizes her narrow range with an intriguing delivery and glazed timbre. She keeps her emotions close to the vest, forcing you to lean in to try to discern the details.

Case in point is the opener, “Trilby’s Couch.” It begins with a melancholy woodwind melody redolent of seaside desolation. Then a stealthy walking bass line and woodblock taps appear as Conway sings about a hypnosis session. When the avian synth twitters surface, you can’t help getting chills. “Just Talk” furthers the hypnotic quotient with a simple yet transporting guitar riff that cycles over a high-pitched, majestic drone. Conway croons in hushed tones about an enigmatic scenario featuring two lovers and a gun, while meditating on the nature of language and time.

“There’s A Scent Of Rain In The Air” might be the album’s oddest highlight, a mix of pneumatic beats, gaseous gusts, faraway airplane-engine drones, and spidery, glinting guitar accents, like if the Edge had shown more restraint on The Joshua Tree. Another highlight and an outlier is “Give Me,” a serious stab at dance-floor domination, similar to the propulsive yet cool-browed cover of Lou Reed’s “Vicious” from a previous A.C. Marias single. The warped, spiraling guitar filigrees and punchy drum-machine beats form a foxy foundation for Conway to request a “stolen kiss” and a “little bliss.” Hell, she’s earned it.

One Of Our Girls (Has Gone Missing) climaxes on the title track, one of the greatest songs of the ’80s. Powered by a valiantly galloping rhythm and buoyed by softly stroked guitar and sighing synth undulations, the song bears a melody as sublime as that of Wire’s “Map Ref. 41ºN 93ºW.” After playing “One Of Our Girls” hundreds of times, I can attest that it’s one of the most satisfying syntheses of happiness and sadness in songform.

Following Conway’s sole album as a songwriter, she went on to direct several music videos, including those by Wire, Nick Cave, and Bryan Ferry. We’re fortunate that she dropped One Of Our Girls before finding her more lucrative calling in film. This album is one of those cult artifacts that make aficionados feel as if they’re in on a special secret. Unlike you and me, it never gets old. -Buckley Mayfield