Journey Through A Burning Brain

The room is dark and humid. The only light I see in front of me seems hundreds of feet away. With each step I take the floor beneath me feels as if it’s getting softer and softer, limiting my stride as I make my way forward into the abyss. Where am I? How did I get here? I can’t remember where I was prior to this black hole I find myself in. In the distance I hear noises; an organ, what appears to be drums, and garbled electronic bleeps and blips. It sounds like a hippie love-in in Hell. There’s a feeling of being on the edge of sanity with the music I hear. Like it’s building to something, but what I can’t tell. It’s like some radio frequency that keeps going from John Cage to Morton Subotnick to Jefferson Airplane to the early sound experiments of Pauline Oliveros with no rhyme or reason. 

Is that something burning that I smell? 

Is that someone yelling in the distance? 

Just when I think I’m getting closer to the light at the end of this endless tunnel I can feel myself being pulled backwards as my feet rise from the spongy floor and I feel weightless. In my mind I imagine myself as a helium balloon, rising from the ground and making my way through a cloud-filled night sky. No way to gauge where I am or how far I’ve risen into the atmosphere. The light I once thought I was gaining traction with is but a dust speck beneath me. Wherever I have entered, I don’t foresee myself leaving any time soon. There’s still music in the distance. It’s like some acid-burnt guitar jam with flute and feedback coalescing in this galactic womb I feel myself floating in. My skin moist from the humidity and aged air I’m surrounded by, it’s as if I’m beginning to melt into my surroundings. I can’t tell where my flesh ends and the blackness begins, all the while still rising into the atmosphere. 

Is that a voice I hear? It sounds like it’s talking in reverse. Am I still wearing pants?

I think I see another way out. The noise is deafening around me. I need to find an exit to this madness before I succumb to the insanity that surrounds me. I keep hearing “Genesis, Genesis” over and over. Is it a message from whatever exists in this darkness? What does it want with me? And how did I get here?

And where are my goddamn pants?

Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Komische Theater with your host, J Hübner. Tonight we brought you the one act play, Electronic Meditation, written by Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze, and Conrad Schnitzer. It’s the story of one man’s madness taking the form of an existential crisis inside his own subconscious. He grapples with the confines of adulthood and maturity as he becomes a father for the 5th time in 6 years and wonders how life would have been different had he sold his father’s Schnauzer farm and left the Leipzig countryside for the leather bars of Munich. Spanking was always his passion, but a traditional lifestyle is what he found himself in. It ends with our Schnauzer farmer-in-crisis finding himself dissipating in the wet heat of his own crumbling subconscious.

NEIN!


Hey there, J. Hubner here. No, not the host of Komische Theater, just the boring Midwestern clod you know and love(you love me? You don’t even know me, fella.) I’m coming to the end of a lovely week off from work. Lots of cleaning projects and lots of cerveza was enjoyed. Movies and shows were watched ,shopping was done, and on Friday, November 25th I hit up Karma Records of Warsaw and saw my pal John V in honor of Black Friday Record Store Day. I hadn’t even looked at the lists of what was coming out, and frankly I didn’t really give a holy hoot about it. But earlier in the week John posted some of the goods that were going to be sold on that consumers-be-damned day of days and I saw Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation was being reissued. Well shit, that’s one I didn’t have and hadn’t yet bought an OG pressing. I guess that means I need to buy that bastard.

So yesterday I jumped in the van, the boy and I got some groceries and before we headed home we stopped into Karma and I snagged the TD record, as well as Future Island’s Singles. It was 10% off everything in the store and I’d wanted that one for a long time now(it’s brilliant, btw.) I almost bought Slayer’s Christ Illusion, too. Alas, that will be for another time.

I’ve now listened to Electronic Meditation twice and I have to say I’m pretty underwhelmed. Here’s the thing, Froese was in his artistic infancy, man. He was feeling his way through the darkness and figuring out how to expand minds. In order to expand minds, you’ve gotta learn to expand your own. Edgar Froese was still figuring that shit out with that first record. I had high hopes with both Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzer on this with him, but alas with the exception of a little aural weirdness, this one just comes off as just overreaching. There’s a lot of free noise and electronic warbling, but Froese had yet to find that existential vein he would eventually tap into with Alpha Centauri, Zeit, Atem, and then the masterpiece Phaedra. Froese hooked up with Christopher Franke after this record and things seemed to start to come together quickly. There’s too much of that dated “jamming” noise on this record for my taste. Too much Jefferson Airplane and Doors vibes for me. I mean, we’ve gotta start somewhere, right? It’s not a complete loss, but once Froese found his footing there was no stopping him.

But for all my bellyaching, I’m glad I snagged this one. I love seeing where prolific musical geniuses start. It only took Tangerine Dream two years to get from Electronic Meditation to Zeit, and then two more years to get to Phaedra.

That’s one hell of an evolution of the mind and spirit.

From 1970 to 2000, Tangerine Dream put a record out a year, with some years having two records a year(usually a film soundtrack followed by a studio record.) Honestly, there’s nearly one TD album released every year up to this year if you count live albums and reissued older stuff. It’s pretty fucking impressive, man. I think you can forgive “Journey Through A Burning Brain” and “Resurrection” with that kind of track record.

Let the brains burn, man.

For Whom The Blue Bell Knolls

It wasn’t always easy being able to admit my love for Cocteau Twins. Now that I’m in my 40s, middle-aged with an odd-shaped balding head it doesn’t really matter what I admit freely. No one is listening, nor do they care even if they’re in earshot of my incessant Midwest groaning. But being a metal head in Yuckety Yuk, Indiana in the late 80s/early 90s was a balancing act of testosterone ragin’ while keeping your sensitive side neatly tucked away. Maybe you’d keep that soft side of you in some old shoe box under your bed with a pair of your baby shoes, or buried in the backyard with a signed head shot of Soleil Moon Frye and a Popeye t-shirt your mom bought you when you were 8. You couldn’t show weakness in front of other sweaty, over-nourished metalheads or you were likely to be shunned from the group. You’d be sent to the woods to be eaten by wolves. Or worse, Pentecostals.

Point is, a band like Cocteau Twins was about as alien in my adolescent stomping grounds as ,well, aliens. You know, like Hanger 18 aliens. But there was something about Elizabeth Fraser’s voice that dug right into my freakish, greasy teen soul. It was haunting, ghostly, and ethereal like some divine whisper from the universe itself. Of course at 16-years old I would’ve said something more like “What the fuck? This is weird…but good weird like Brazil or potato chips on my bologna sandwich.” I can distinctly remember sitting over at my best friend Jason’s house on a Saturday night re-watching the previous week’s episode of 120 Minutes. We’d dig into Concrete Blonde, My Bloody Valentine, and whatever other 4AD band was the “it” alternative flavor of the week. Then Cocteau Twins’ “Heaven Or Las Vegas” came on and I sort of felt stunned. Like, what was happening? Is this what it feels like to be touched by an angel? Or groped by a ghost? As Jason started to fast forward the video I say to him “Hey man. Let’s just let this one play, you know for shits and giggles? We could just sit here silently and make fun of it in our minds without words. Or something.” Fortunately, Jason was thinking those same thoughts I was thinking about these Scottish dream poppers. We couldn’t put it into words, but we both knew there was something special going on. Of course we immediately threw on some Suicidal Tendencies or Faith No More and pretended we didn’t just have a moment.

I moved on, 120 Minutes was cancelled, Matt Pinfield got a new job, and I sort of forgot about Cocteau Twins for a couple years until The Crow came out and that soundtrack ruled my brain for most of 1994. One song in-particular got my attention. Medicine’s “Time Baby III”. It was a really cool song, but what really stuck out was the guest vocals of Elizabeth Fraser. It was a voice I hadn’t heard in a long time and it reminded me that I needed to go back to Cocteau Twins and investigate further.

Then about 20 years went by.

Back in 2014 I started up on Cocteau Twins. Having gone “full vinyl”, I knew I had to find some of their albums on the big, black circle. The first album I bought was Heaven Or Las Vegas. It had to be that. That was the album that broke through my big dumb brain in the first place. “Cherry-Coloured Funk” and “Heaven Or Las Vegas” were in my DNA. But the the second one I bought was Blue Bell Knoll. On a streaming binge I happened across the album and was pretty much floored by the whole thing. “Carolyn’s Fingers” felt like a chill going down my spine. Once I heard that I was done.

There are better albums by Cocteau Twins than Blue Bell Knoll. I’m a big fan of Garlands. I love the post-punk vibe and that I can hear where The Cure got their sound from on a song like “Wax and Wane”. Treasure was the first album that saw that truly mesmerizingly beautiful tone they would go on to perfect on Heaven Or Las Vegas. So where does that leave an album like Blue Bell Knoll? Well, to my ears, it’s the last Cocteau Twins album where they still sounded like a small band with very big ideas.

“Blue Bell Knoll” starts out with some of those dark, ominous tones of the early records but quickly adds some synth flourishes and stacks Fraser’s beautiful vocals on top to give the song a much welcomed dreaminess. “Athol-brose” is just absolute brilliance. It’s the moment Dorothy steps from her black and white farmhouse to soak in the technicolor beauty of Oz. It’s dizzying and an overload of the senses. No band sounds like this. Just Cocteau Twins. That’s it. “For Phoebe Still A Baby” feels like some alien lullaby. The bass puts me in mind of mid-80s Cure. I think there’s a thru-line between the two bands. It’s like they both drank from the same Gothic well and somehow worked through whatever demons they were struggling with. This track sounds like contentment with an overcast day.

I have to admit that for years I thought Cocteau Twins were Swedish or French or Finnish. There was something in Fraser’s vocals that made me think what she was singing was not English. I thought it was a very foreign language that was being sung. I was wrong. Cocteau Twins are a Scottish band, but I still think there’s a very alien lean to the words sung by Elizabeth Fraser. She sings beautifully, but it sounds like a language made up by Fraser. The magic in Cocteau Twins, besides the dream-like clouds of flangered bass, guitar, and walls of synth created by Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde, was that voice. It got me every time I heard it. Elizabeth Fraser had a voice like no other. For my money no one has yet to top it.

Every song on Blue Bell Knoll carried some sort of strange magic. “Cico Buff”, “Spooning Good Singing Gum”, “A Kissed Out Red Floatboat”, and “Ella Megalast Burls Forever” all contain some bit of melancholy genius. There’s absolute pop perfection contained on every track here. If it was a fair and just world, Cocteau Twins would’ve been played on pop radio stations worldwide instead of Debbie Gibson, Taylor Dayne, and NKOTB. Of course the population at large couldn’t take this kind of beauty on their commute to work or bus ride to school. There would’ve been massive existential crisis, love-ins in every county courthouse, and the world as we know it would’ve changed exponentially for the better. We couldn’t have that.

Come to think of it, this actually might be their best album.

I guess it’s better this way. A band like Cocteau Twins will live on forever, allowing future generations to discover their timeless dream pop. Their ghostly songs can fill earbuds in the future and maybe shine a little ethereal light on whatever shit show we may be enduring in 10, 20, or 30 years. And hopefully by then, no matter a metal head in the Midwest or a goat herder in Afghanistan, the Cocteau Twins can be enjoyed openly, freely, and without shame.

I love you Soleil Moon Frye. I always have.

 

 

Impetus

I’m looking down the barrel of a 3-day weekend. What better way to celebrate that than partaking in a couple libations? Founders’ ‘Backwoods Bastard’ was my first delight. 11.2% of barrel-aged loveliness. It’s sweet, syrup-y, and just enough kick on the low end to let you know you’re not drinking something mass-produced. I’m currently enjoying a Samuel Adams’ ‘Maple Red’, which is part of their fall sampler collection. This is probably the best seasonal collection old Sammy Adams has put out, at least since that Winter Sampler from like six years ago where they had ‘Ol’ Fezziwig’ and their delicious ‘Chocolate Bock’. Good stuff, guys. Seriously.

Anyways, I took tomorrow off because I’m taking the two-hour drive south to pick up my oldest from school. She wanted to come home to see us(actually, she wanted to come home and see her friend but a dad can dream.) Mom usually makes the trek to pick our girl up, but my wife started a new job so she wouldn’t be able to head down till late. I have plenty of vacation time left for the year so I said what the hell and took the day off.

I’m sitting in the living room, enjoying the beers, and thinking about music. I thought I had my music year pretty much summed up, but then I hear Causa Sui’s brand new mini-album Vibraciones Doradas  and now all bets are off, people. Holy moly what a monster that is. You’ll be hearing more about that album from me next week. Right now, we’re going back to last year.

Impetus – the force or energy with which a body moves

If you’re lucky enough to jump on Causa Sui’s releases early, occasionally those Danish mind melters offer a bonus 10″ record with a couple bonus nuggets of psych rock heaven that don’t end up on the album. They did it in 2014 with their Pewt’r Sessions 3, and they did it with Return To Sky last year. Of course I devoured it when it hit the front porch, but then it gets situated among the other LPs for a later listen. Well, in honor of Vibraciones Dorados, I thought I’d pull Return To Sky‘s bonus 10″ out and give it a re-listen.

So here’s the thing, just because these tracks don’t make it on the official LP doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of that official release. I’ve got a feeling that Causa Sui go into the studio with lots of lagers and candles lit and vibes for miles and just let things flow. With four cats like Jonas Munk, Jess Kahr, Rasmus Rasmussen, and Jakob Skott the mojo must get flowing pretty quick. They’re all more than proficient at their instruments, and their solo output only proves they are one hell of a creative lot. So I’m sure everything they put to tape(or hard drive) is worthy of our ears. But albums, at least the great ones, need to flow in a certain manner in order for the right vibes to bubble to the surface. Return To Sky is perfect just the way it is. Any more or less and it would’ve been an entirely different beast altogether. So that goodness that doesn’t get used still deserves to be heard and devoured, hence the bonus 10″.

Side one is a 12-minute scorcher. Skott pushes the song along on a jazzy, breezy rhythm while Jonas Munk pushes a psychedelic trip with phaser-infused guitar. Kahr holds down the fort with some incredible bass lines while Rasmussen adds some Ray Manzarek-like keys to give the whole jam a grounded feel. The beauty of Causa Sui is that they sound so much larger than their 4-piece should. They create this universe of noise within the context of a 12-minute jam. Even with a song that doesn’t end up on an album, there’s more than enough mojo to go around.

Side two opens like Sleep, with Munk’s guitar getting as scuzzy as it gets(Matt Pike is smiling somewhere right now.) The track keeps the doom vibe up while Skott and Kahr lay a foundation the Empire State Building would be comfortable standing on. Rasmus adds to the psychedelic vibes with his keys that are like a mix of Moody Blues and King Crimson. Pretty soon Munk lays down some heavy blues licks down while the rest of the band continue to keep the psych fires burning. The track keeps that up through another 10 or so mind-melting minutes.

So sure, these two tracks were better left off the album. Return To Sky is a perfect entity the way it is. But with a bonus 10″ like this I feel like we’re given this inside look into the process of Causa Sui. There is this wide open space where the band let loose and jam on instincts and feel and it’s pretty fucking amazing. For my money, this is more along the lines of the great jazz greats. You have cues and keys and time signatures, but within those general lines you let the spirit take you where it may. Causa Sui amaze me every time I listen to them. There’s something new to explore and something new to discover on each of their records. And knowing their solo work very well I can say quite confidently that they’re pulling from all corners of the universe(how many corners are in the universe, anyways?) to create that all-immersive, all-encompassing sound that they create in their tiny corner of Odense, Denmark.

Enjoy the weekend. See you on the flip side. And keep an eye out for Vibraciones Dorados. It hits in two weeks. My review hits next week.

El Supremo : For The Love of Steely Dan’s ‘Countdown To Ecstasy’

It’s sad that only when someone dies do we feel driven to talk about them. I guess its only natural that after someone you admire passes that you want to explore their past work and see if maybe you’d missed something. For me, with Steely Dan’s Walter Becker passing away last week I wasn’t going back to see what I’d missed about the Dan while the guy was alive. I’ve loved the duo of Becker/Fagen for over 20 years now and have dug into the Dan discography more times than I can shake a stick at. I’ve never got tired of the Steely Dan discography. Never. Not once. I can’t even say that about the Beatles, the Kinks, or even JHubner73 stalwarts Wilco. Steely Dan have always intrigued me(once I “got em”.) The mixture of sci fi-meets-beatnik-meets-downtown derelict lyrics, subtle funky rhythms, and intricate jazz breakdowns were the things of late night drives, young man contemplation, and stoned conversations. Theirs was a confection of William Burroughs, 50 years of jazz history, and burnt out 60s disillusionment turned into sardonic 70s pessimism.

It was a biting and beautiful thing.

No, what I was going after this past week was digging through that decade of Dan and finding what I might’ve overlooked. I hadn’t really overlooked things, but I never truly appreciated Steely Dan as a “band”. I was always drawn to the later records that were Becker/Fagen- conducted affairs. The revolving doors of wizard-like studio musicians that Don and Walter would direct into meticulous solos and takes. Records like Katy Lied, The Royal Scam, and Aja were my jams. They felt like these alternate universes where lowlifes and degenerates ruled the city streets. Each song felt like stories half written by Jim Thompson and half written by Philip K. Dick with the music arranged in the spirit of Wayne Shorter’s Juju. That was what initially brought me in. But the last few years I’ve been drawn to the first half of their career. Can’t Buy A Thrill isn’t played a whole lot by me, though it does have its charms(“Turn That Heartbeat Over Again”, “Only A Fool Would Say That”, and “Fire In The Hole” are standouts.) For me, Countdown To Ecstasy is the record that truly introduced the world to Steely Dan. It led to the excellent Pretzel Logic which was the last album to feature the original 5-piece band of Becker, Fagen, Denny Dias, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, and Jim Hodder. Countdown To Ecstasy was their most rock and roll record. It’s gritty, out there, and holds within it a cast of characters Robert Altman would be thrilled to put on screen.

When you open an album with a hyper speed boogie number called “Bodhisattva”, a track that boast serious guitar solos, keyboard solos, and lyrics like “Can you show me the shine of your Japan/The sparkle of your china, can you show me“, you’re not just laying down the grooves just to jam. The definition of Bodhisattva, for those that don’t know it, simply states: “(in Mahayana Buddhism) a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings.” Fagen was never one to write simple lyrics. He was out to tell a story each time out, and throw his literate lyrics over top a serious jam like this and you’re bound for greatness.

Then they follow that with the excellent “Razor Boy”. “Will you still have a song to sing, when the Razor Boy comes and takes your fancy things away/Will you still be singing it on that cold and windy day?” Put to to jazzy vibes and Baxter’s beautiful pedal steel playing, this song is the perfect example of how well Steely Dan could create these subversive songs and make them fluffy radio friendly. Look at a hit like “Peg” which subtly refers to the business of the porn industry(“done up in blueprint blue/it sure looks good on you“) or their biggest hit “Hey Nineteen” referring to “the fine Columbian“(I’m sure they were referring to a cup of coffee.) “Razor Boy” is a nod to drug addiction under the guise of some street punk carrying a blade. It’s really quite genius.

“The Boston Rag” is another stellar track that showcases Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s guitar wizardry, courtesy of his pedal steel. There’s an ominous vibe here that Fagen lays on it with his vocals. “You were Lady Bayside/There was nothing that I could do/So I pointed my car down/Seventh Avenue“, Fagen sings over a seriously tight groove. There’s a grimy downtown vibe in this track. For an album that was recorded in Colorado and Los Angeles there’s some serious New York vibes here.

One of my favorite jams is “Your Gold Teeth”. It’s just an all out barn burner. I never truly appreciated this song till many years later. Fagen’s keyboard work on this is absolutely brilliant. Victor Feldman’s percussion work also makes this song burn brightly. Absolutely brilliant.

One of the most biting tracks opens side two. “Show Biz Kids” is Fagen’s ode to stuck up LA kids blowing mom and dad’s money and generally not giving a shit about anyone else but themselves. He says as much in one of the lines, “Showbiz Kids making movies of themselves, you know they don’t give a fuck about anybody else.” There’s talk of a “Steely Dan t-shirt” and “shapely bods”, and one of my personal bits of favorite lyrical gold “After closing time/At the Guernsey Fair/I detect the El Supremo/From the room at the top of the stairs”. You can almost see Fagen’s smirk as you listen to this track.

“My Old School” was I think the only long lasting radio track, something you still hear on classic rock radio from time to time. It’s another great story song about a drug bust at Bard College when Becker and Fagen were students. I seriously don’t know how this wasn’t a hit song back in 1973. It’s a great tune with a earworm of a melody and excellent storytelling.

“Pearl of the Quarter” for years was one of my favorite Steely Dan songs. The story of a prostitute and the “John” that fell for her. “I walked alone down the miracle mile/I met my baby by the shine of the martyr/She stole my heart with her Cajun smile/Singing voulez vous“, Fagen sings over some beautiful pedal steel and melancholy piano chords. I remember being in a dive bar in town 20+ years ago and going to the jukebox and seeing Countdown to Ecstasy in it. I happily dropped an abundance of coin in the slot and played this track more than a few times. I got plenty of jeers, but the one guy sitting by himself singing along to his bottle of Micheloeb was enough to make it all worth it.

“King of the World”, an ode to the last man on earth is a sci fi rocker that closes the record on a uptempo groove. Complete with synthesizers, jazzy drums, Becker’s excellent bass playing, and more of Baxter’s great slide playing. Lyrically Fagen paints a portrait of a dead world with the guy that pulled the shortest straw, aka the King of the world. “No marigolds in the promised land/There’s a hole in the ground, Where they used to grow/Any man left on the Rio Grande, Is the king of the world/As far as I know“. I think these are probably some of the best lyrics on Countdown To Ecstasy.

Surprisingly(to me, anyways), while this album was highly regarded by critics and fans it didn’t yield much in the hits department and was seen as a disappointment by the record label. Of course they’d follow this up with the monster that is Pretzel Logic only a mere 7 months later and from that point on they would put out one stellar record after another until 1980 when they would take a 20 year hiatus until 2000s Two Against Nature.

Though they would inevitably go on to make better albums, there’s something about Countdown To Ecstasy that makes it stand out in the Dan canon. Maybe because it’s a “live” album, written for a rock and roll band to perform. Maybe because there’s a heavier sci fi slant here that makes the record seem like more of an outlier. Or maybe it’s the grittier, street-sweaty manor of the songs here that makes Countdown To Ecstasy a record I find myself going to as of late. I guess it doesn’t really matter what it is that keeps me coming back.

If the Razor Boy approves, then that’s what matters.

Proggy Bottom Boys : Zombi’s ‘Surface To Air’

I can’t remember when I first discovered Zombi. I think it was back in 2013. Back when things were simpler and the imminent destruction of existence as we know wasn’t just one North Korean missile launch or Donald Trump tweet away. This was really ground zero for me as far as my deep fall into the synth well. Somehow or another I happened upon their 2011 album Escape Velocity and never looked back(maybe it was the naked chick running on the cover.) That album introduced me to the one-two punch of Steve Moore and AJ Paterra. Moore is this maestro on the synth and bass, while Paterra could easily sit in for the now retired Neil Peart and give new life to Rush. While these guys have been given the label of “synthwave”, I’d have to completely disagree with that assessment. These guys are prog as f*ck. Space rock on the next level. Just listen to those drum fills and bass lines. Listen to those synths oscillating into some musical worm hole.

No disrespect to the synthwave crews, but Zombi are on another level musically.

Steve Moore and AJ Paterra write hard and lean musical epics. Listen to records like Shape Shift, Spirit Animal, or the aforementioned Escape Velocity. These two are pulling from bands like Rush just as much as they are Goblin. They’re also coming in from a horror/sci fi slant(they’re named after a Lucio Fulci classic after all…and they hail from Romero’s stomping grounds of Pittsburgh.) I recently picked up their 2006 album Surface To Air and I have to say it’s been eating up some serious platter time. It has all the things Zombi are known for: killer drums, aggressive bass lines, and plenty of mind-melting synths. You know, something for everyone.

It opens with the excellent “Challenger Deep”. It almost sounds like the opening of Genesis’ “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” before an almost “Subdivisions” by Rush vibe crashes in. The interplay between Moore’s synth and bass parts and Paterra’s killer drums pushes the track into the stratosphere. I imagine some bizarre space scene happening with this track. Like intergalactic forces battling it out over an ever growing black hole.

“Digitalis” starts out with an arpeggiated synth line that is accompanied by some serious Edgar Froese sonics. Let the Tangerine Dream vibes wash over you. If you’re at all familiar with Pinkish Black(their Brown Rainbow is a hell of an album), then you’ll recognize some of the synth tones here(both bands are on Relapse Records as well.) Steve Moore’s synth work here works in some great melodrama adding to the epic vibe.

The nine minute “Legacy” lays on a heavy robo-groove. Besides the amazing synth work, Moore and Paterra are one hell of a rhythm section. They lock in hard and lay on some airtight rhythms. The synth is the icing on the cake.

End side one.

When I’m listening to Zombi I’m reminded of all the great Rush instrumentals there have been over the years. With this album in particular I get a real Signals vibe. How everything works together to give both the feeling of virtuosity and of a feeling of emotional heft. There’s probably not much room for improvisation as I’m sure there’s some very specific programming in the synthesizer department. But it never comes across as stiff with these guys. It feels like there’s room to move around, despite those robo-grooves.

“Surface To Air” sounds like what would happen if Goblin and Tangerine Dream took on Rush’ “YYZ”. That may sound like a pretty out there comparison, but trust me. It’ll feel kind of weird at first, but just go with it.

Closing track “Night Rhythms” is over 18 minutes of proggy synth machismo. This one definitely hints at Moore’s later film score work. There’s a looming doom that hangs over the first few minutes of the track. It brings to mind both Goblin’s work for Dawn of the Dead and Fabio Frizzi’s score for City of the Living Dead. Soon enough the track kicks into gear and we’re treated to some serious prog rock tendencies courtesy of Mr. Paterra’s incredible drumming.

Zombi are a band that seem to get better each time out. This being only their second record there was a lot to live up to. I think they’ve done a good job of keeping an upward flow going, but if this record was released two years ago instead of 11 it would still be pretty damn impressive. If you like heavy synth music, or progressive rock, or late 70s-early 80s Rush(right after the heavy concept albums and before the 80s washed-out synth pop) then I don’t see any reason as to why you’re not buying up Zombi records left and right.

Surface To Air is a great place to start.

Persian Dervish Salad Surgery

Every year that we have a family vacation down in Brown County and get back with nature(in an air-conditioned cabin with game room and hot tub) I always try to bring one or two records back from our stay. On one of the days we head 25 minutes west to Bloomington where I put my family through a tortuous 45 minute visit to Landlocked Music. It’s tortuous for them, for me it’s heaven. When I’m at Landlocked I always try to bring home something I can’t find in a 45 minute drive from my house. Landlocked has the most amazing electronic/experimental/avante garde section I’ve seen in any brick and mortar. In years past I’ve brought home gems from Karlheinz Stockhausen, Klaus Schulze, Wire, and Tom Verlaine. In 2014 I brought home Terry Riley’s A Rainbow In Curved Air. This past June Landlocked had the brand new reissue of Riley’s Persian Surgery Dervishes. How could I say no to that? I couldn’t. 

So here’s the scene:

It’s 1971 in a warm Los Angeles music hall. There’s something in the air that hangs low. A smog of breath, heat, and re-purposed smoke that leaves the lungs of waiting listeners. Soon the looping and loping organ lines of avante composer Terry Riley make their way out into a crowd wanting to expand their minds, both musically and chemically. There’s a hypnotic quality to Terry Riley’s organ work. Phrases seem to repeat over and over, but if you listen closely you can tell there are small shifts in the music lines. The music feels like individual puzzle pieces that eventually create spots to fit into each other, right before your eyes.

So here’s the scene:

It’s 1972 in a warm Parisian music hall. There’s something in the air that hangs low. A smog of breath, heat, and re-purposed smoke that leaves the lungs of waiting listeners. Soon the looping and loping organ lines of avante composer Terry Riley make their way out into a crowd wanting to expand their minds, both musically and chemically. There’s a hypnotic quality to Terry Riley’s organ work. Phrases seem to repeat over and over, but if you listen closely you can tell there are small shifts in the music lines. The music feels like individual puzzle pieces that eventually create spots to fit into each other, right before your eyes.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Terry Riley’s Persian Surgery Dervishes.

I don’t think I can adequately describe this record. It’s improvised music done by the genius Terry Riley. One record was recorded in Los Angeles in 1971, while the other record was the same piece improvised again and significantly different in Paris in 1972. This is totally zone out music. You put it on, close your eyes, and try to transcend your surroundings. For some of my readers this may sound boring or tedious, and I understand that. But if you let the music work its magic you could possibly psychically work some stuff out.

Maybe.

I first came into contact with Terry Riley through his A Rainbow In Curved Air back in 2013 or early 2014. I’d discovered Steve Reich and was on the hunt for like-minded cats that went about creating music in a unique and heady way. I listened to A Rainbow In Curved Air an incredible amount of times. I eventually picked up a reissue of it the summer of 2014. I also found a first pressing of Riley’s In C, which influenced me to improvise a song with my Cambodia Highball partner entitled “In D” in the cold harsh winter of 2014.

Riley seemed(and still seems) like a guy that wanted more out of a piece of music than just the satisfaction of composing. He seemed to be searching for enlightenment through music. His performances were more like a gathering of tribes. He looked more like a Yogi than he did a beat generation music composer. Each successive music project got closer and closer to what he arrived at with Persian Surgery Dervishes. And what he got to was another state of mind. It’s a trance-inducing musical piece that improvises on organ(which is specially tuned to just intonation). It works to put you into a free-floating spot in your own little universe. I think it works in the same way Indian music does or Middle Eastern music. It serves a purpose to enlighten the listener, and in Riley’s case the creator as well.

This isn’t the record you’re going to throw on when company is over and you’re playing a few rounds of euchre. It’s also not one you put on when the kids have friends over as you’ll certainly scare them away by the trance-like sound that will emanate from the speakers. I think Terry Riley is an acquired taste, but he’s a taste I have certainly acquired. Bands as heavy as Om, Sunn O))), and Sleep have taken the simple ideas of transcendence through repetition that Riley perfected way back in the late 60s and early 70s to new, crushing heights. Terry Riley is in his 80s now and still playing live. I think there may be something to his spiritual style of improvisational composition. He connects with an audience on an existential level and gives that connection back through the organ. In these times I think we need all the help we can get in connecting back to the universe.  It’s a beautiful thing, really.

So is Persian Surgery Dervishes.

Gut Reaction – The Fragile : Deviations 1

I don’t often start vomiting out words of praise on a first run of an album, but since the album is from Nine Inch Nails and that album is a bizarro world take on the classic The Fragile called The Fragile : Deviations 1 I felt it was okay to do so. So here’s a few thoughts upon dropping the needle.

I knew what I was getting into when I handed over my money card digits back in December and preordered what was being touted as an instrumental version of Trent Reznor’s ode to nervous breakdowns and substance abuse, 1999s The Fragile. Even when The Fragile was released way back before we could ever imagine a world where Donald Trump could be voted in as the leader of the free world, I wasn’t all that into NIN. I got my copy of The Fragile for free by calling in and answering a question on the local alternative radio station during a lunch time program. I drove an hour to the tiny radio station in September of 1999 and got my winnings in the form of a double CD and listened to it on the way home. This was the first time I ever really liked something from NIN. But still, it didn’t really sink in for me till 2005s With Teeth(my best friend and I did get stoned and watch scenes from Star Wars with “The Wretched” soundtracking it, so that was cool.) But with With Teeth, that’s when the teen angst that was supposed to fuel my NIN love was replaced with adult angst and I found myself screaming “Don’t You Fucking Know What You Are!!!” on my way to work in the mornings. Year Zero was another favorite as well, with Reznor making an intimate and angry electronic record for all to enjoy. But it wasn’t until Ghosts I-IV came out in 2008 that I found myself head over heals for this guy that was so angry in my youth. Instrumental pieces that felt like mini-suites of anger and desolation, I thought to myself I’d love to hear Reznor start scoring films. Two years later him and Atticus Ross began a fruitful scoring career with David Fincher, and so began my love of everything Trent Reznor.

This brings me to The Fragile : Deviations 1. For the person that absolutely LOVES Reznor’s film work this record is for you(meaning me, but it could be you, too.) There was always something very cinematic about The Fragile. At times I felt that beautiful and ugly melodrama was wasted on words and screaming, so with the vocals removed the record takes on a whole new meaning and feel. Instead of hearing a man’s descent into lovelorn, chemically induced madness it sounds as if we’re hearing the score to a faintly familiar film that we can’t quite place. I’m currently finishing side 4(there are 8 sides here, guys) and it’s probably one of the cleanest, crisp mixes I’ve heard in a long time. Reznor and Ross have gone back and tweaked the original songs to accentuate certain parts that may have gotten lost in the mix the first time. The buzzsaw guitars are even more biting(as on “Somewhat Damaged” and “We’re In This Together”.) There are also unreleased pieces strewn throughout as well that add a whole other dimension to this record.

I think having a few years of film work under their belts, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have learned how to build mood and create aural scenes in the studio. I truly feel that they’re in their element scoring for film. I loved Hesitation Marks and dug Not The Actual Events, but I’m finding myself drawn to records that talk through the music and not lyrics these days. Reznor’s songs resonated with so many not only because of the music but because he was speaking to the disenfranchised with his lyrics. These days Reznor isn’t really the disaffected, pained guy that he once was. Hearing him sing “Head Like A Hole” these days seems a bit much. But hearing him re-imagine that youthful angst and pain into something new and refreshing is quite the thing. What he’s doing here is nothing short of brilliant.

And I’m not even half way through.

These are just gut reactions, folks. There will be a proper review. But for now I’m giving a resounding JHubner73 thumbs up. This record is absolutely stunning. If any of this kind of interests you, grab a copy while you still can. It will only be available on vinyl, with no digital release at all. Maybe he’ll drop some flash drives in various dirty men’s toilets throughout North America and Europe for shits and giggles with the album on it, but that’s it.

Time for another rum and coke and see what else awaits.