I recently acquired three albums by Tangerine Dream. Prior to these three albums I had already owned four other albums by these German prog/ambient/film score dudes. What does this mean about me as a human being? As a man? In my head it means I’m a well-rounded lover of music. It seems, though, that when discussing “prog-rock” in certain circles you get that look like you should be wearing a wizard cap, glittered robe, and a copy of 2112 under one arm and Lamb Lies Down On Broadway under the other. I agree that certain bands got a little heavy-handed with the narratives and themes with their concept records, culminating in the great concept album catastrophe of 1983, known simply as Kilroy Was Here. That album pretty much maligned the idea of progressive rock and concept albums for a long time. There were still bands doing concept albums and well, though more under the radar and not so blatantly. Saga, Marillion, and yes even Rush could still write themed albums but make them feel more like just a rock record. I think concept albums have since been redeemed, with Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs being one of the most well received and reviewed albums of 2010 being proof of that(in case you aren’t aware, that was a concept album.)
So what does all of this have to do with Tangerine Dream? Well, I happen to love early-mid 70s Tangerine Dream as well as their 80s film scores. Their albums in the 70s were these long instrumental excursions that felt like you were falling into this endless void. There wasn’t anything cutesy or tongue-in-cheek about their albums. There were no overwrought lyrics about space odysseys or battles of good and evil. Just these synth drones and electronic pulses that were completely open to interpretation. Without lyrics to push you in a certain direction their albums are completely open to take you wherever your big dumb head would allow them to. I think that’s why over the last couple years I’ve drifted more towards instrumental albums. Away from the confines of pop music and story-based songs and towards atmospheric, instrumental-based music. Tangerine Dream was the start of that for me I think.
The first Tangerine Dream record I ever bought was Tangram back probably 4 or 5 years ago. I snagged it for $1 at a Half Price Books. My only real experience before that with them was their soundtrack for the 80s movie Firestarter, based on Stephen King’s book and starring the cute and adorable Drew Barrymore(prior to being a coke-addled Hollywood starlet.) I remember even as a kid that the music affected me. It was soothing and disturbing at the same time. So since I was looking to find something different on that trip to HPB and it was only $1 I figured why not? Glad I did as that album really appealed to something in me. It was the beginning of a new musical path for me. This led to getting into bands like Explosions in The Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Zombi, all those great Italian Horror soundtracks by Walter Rizzati and Fabio Frizzi, and my ultimate obsession, Boards of Canada. I feel like with these albums I can think clearer. If there is something called being “in the zone”, then I feel these synth-driven albums put me there. As of late, albums by Jakob Skott, Jonas Munk, as well as their collaborative band Causa Sui have allowed for further mind-expanding excursions. Skott’s Doppler and Amor Fati and Munk’s Pan albums are very much in the spirit of Tangerine Dream, as well as a hefty chunk of BoC, NEU!, and Kraftwerk thrown in for good measure.
But without that purchase of Tangram, I don’t think I would’ve followed the rabbit down the rabbit hole.
Since Tangram, I’ve expanded my Tangerine Dream collection to include Stratosfear, Cyclone, Force Majeure; with this week’s additions being Ricochet, Rubycon, and Phaedra. I have to say, these last three are their masterpieces, with Phaedra and Rubycon being the ultimate examples of their musical power. Exquisite nuggets of progressive and ambient electronic music. You really can’t go wrong with them. While not original pressings, they are 1981 Virgin International represses and they sound amazing. My buddy John at Karma Records of Warsaw hooked me up.
Stop saying prog-rock, people. When you say “prog-rock” it sounds ridiculous. When you say “progressive rock”, then it sounds like something. It’s all in a word. Change those prog rock nightmares into Tangerine Dreams.