Kraftwerk – Techno Pop – Album In The Month

Kraftwerk – Techno Pop – Album In The Month

Kraftwerk is a German band formed in Düsseldorf in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, who both produced Techno Pop with Karl Bartos in 1986. Techno Pop was Kraftwerk’s 9th studio album. Originally released as Electric Cafe, Techno Pop is the original working title of this album, re-released in 2009. Techno Pop was my album of November and December 2020 but required its own separate post to highlight just how enjoyable it is. This is the album which has seen me at my most productive. My usual revision album would be Tour De France by Kraftwerk while I was in school, however, this has now been superseded and with good reason. The only difference in the 2009 re-issue is that there is an additional track, House Phone, previously released as the B-Side of “The Telephone Call” or “Der Telefon-Anruf” 12-inch single in 1987.

Ralf Hütter – voice, vocoder, keyboards, electronics, mixing engineer

Florian Schneider – vocoder, speech synthesis, sound design

Karl Bartos – electronic percussion (and voice on “The Telephone Call”)

Henning Schmitz – sound engineer (Kling Klang Studio)

 

This was the first album Kraftwerk released in the three years since Tour De France. The possible reason for this is below. Listening to this now without the pressure of the years of waiting  Most of the album was recorded using the same instrument as Tour De France, an Emu-Emulator, which is a digital sampling synthesizers using floppy disk storage, if you can believe it. This is pictured below. As you’ll be aware I am a big fan of synth of all descriptions so this was a great discovery. From the opening notes of the first track, above, you can see this wonderful instrument at work.

When Electric Cafe was reissued on CD in 2004 with the name Techno Pop it put an end to such speculations and confirmed the sorry truth: Techno Pop had been recorded and slated for release in 1983, but a crisis of confidence – as well as a serious cycling injury sustained by Ralf Hütter – had seen its release postponed. After the album had been mixed in New York none of the band was happy with it, and the decision was taken to scrap it and start again. The change of name to Electric Cafe was presumably born of embarrassment that even as fastidious a group as Kraftwerk had taken the best part of five years to produce 35 minutes of music. And not very good music at that. Or so went the critical judgement of the time as far as the last point is concerned. Drowned In Sound

The first three tracks on this album are variations on the same theme, described as a masterpiece of “monomaniacal rhythmical development” by Drowned In Sound. Transitions between tracks are sublime and barely noticeable. The final part of the second track is a superb low end synth line which moves beneath synthesised marimba and xylophone patterns quite deftly. The band continue with the intensity of the end of track 2 into Musique Non Stop. This was a sparse rhythm track which is impressive seen alone but uniquely so seen as part of the album as a whole.

 

The final four tracks always fly by for me. House Phone was added to the re-release for reasons I am not fully clear on. The Telephone Call is a wonderful track and is the only Kraftwerk song which features Bartos as lead vocalist. This track on the Kraftwerk live album Minimum Maximum is one of my favourites on that album. Sex Object is a bit more divisive and certainly not what one would expect given the previous Kraftwerk Catalogue.

If techno, according to Derrick May’s famous definition, was the sound of Kraftwerk and George Clinton trapped in an elevator with nothing but a sequencer to occupy them, then ‘Sex Object’ is what happened when Clinton got swapped out for Mark King. Drowned In Sound

Ending with Electric Cafe, a sort of Franco Germanic techno meld, the album always leaves me feeling satisfied. It is balanced, has some wicked and novel synth work, and is a remarkably fully realised vision. It spurns me on and has been at my side through some of my best work. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Rest in peace Florian Schneider-Esleben (7 April 1947 – 21 April 2020), immortal of pop.

 

Rush – Permanent Waves – Album of the Year 2020

Rush – Permanent Waves – Album of the Year 2020

Rush were the true ‘find’ of this year for me. No other band or composer has succeeded in moving me so completely and so consistently as Rush. It just so happens that 2020 is the 40th anniversary of the release of this album, which adds some meaningless pomp to the occasion. Geddy Lee himself stated “I’ll be honest, I’m fed up that every time I turn around that it’s the fortieth anniversary of something we’ve done.”. Oh to have been alive in the heyday of Rush. As this album comprises of six tracks only, I shall discuss each in turn below.

– Alex Lifeson / 6- & 12-strings electric & acoustic guitars, Taurus bass pedals
– Geddy Lee / basses, bass pedals, synthesizers (Oberheim polyphonic, OB-1, Minimoog), vocals
– Neil Peart / drums, tympani, orchestral & tubular bells, timbales, wind chimes, crotales, triangle

 

(Speaking of Hemispheres, the preceding album) “We were falling into these patterns of writing — the repetition of these thematic things that occur over a 20-minute span,” bassist Geddy Lee told Rolling Stone in 2018. “They were starting to feel too comfortably organized in a way, like we weren’t thinking originally enough. That’s kind of a prog pattern. People associate prog-rock with a challenging style of music, and it certainly can be that. But if you’re starting to fall into past habits and develop a methodology that’s too comfortable, it’s not progressive. I think we started to feel that way by the time we finished that record.”

So for their seventh LP, Permanent Waves, the Canadian power-trio — Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, drummer Neil Peart — consciously trimmed their track lengths, embraced more personal subject matter and nodded to the sleeker sounds of the New Wave scene. (The album title is, fittingly, a playful “poke” at the genre, as Peart told the Chicago Tribune. “There are many New Wave groups we enjoy and respect, like Talking Heads and Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson,” he said. “Really, the joke was aimed more at the press, especially the English rock press that is inclined to write off any band that was around last week and go for whatever’s happening this week.”) Ultimate Classic Rock

The Spirit of Radio

My father and I were discussing this recently and he told me he was first introduced to Rush while listening to this track on the radio which I can only imagine must have been electrifying. This was his first purchase. I’ve had this album on vinyl since I inherited father’s collection when I was 14 but did not fully appreciate it’s beauty until now.

One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity, yeah
Invisible airwaves crackle with life
Bright antenna bristle with the energy
Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free
The above lyrics, written by Neil Peart as a love letter to the magic of radio, have and continue to give me goosebumps whenever I listen to this record. The track itself crackles with life and energy. The late great Neil Peart’s drumming and lyricism skills are on fine form here. The track moves from jazzy drumming and cymbals to reggae and back to prog rock effortlessly. The snippet of the live show after the lyric “concert halls” is electrifying. The Geddy Lee guitar solo is absolutely show stopping. And this is just the first track.
Freewill
 This track is humanist and anti organised religion. While I disagree philosophically with the lyrics, I often find myself humming them to Matthew’s annoyance. This track is one of the strongest on the album and the symbiosis between the “three virtuosos” as Nick calls them, is as evident as ever. Lee, Lifeson and Peart are as one in this track and the result is staggering. The guitar and bass solos give me goosebumps. The drumming is mathematical and precise and the whole track is a phenomenon.
You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear;

I will choose free will

Jacob’s Ladder
The bass at the beginning of this track is foreboding. The symbiosis between Peart and Lifeson is exemplary. Geddy Lee’s entry and early solo – just superb. The low ebb towards the middle of the track followed by a staggering final phase made me feel as though I were climbing the ladder with Jacob. The transitions between phases of this song are excellent.
Entres Nous
Translated from the actual French as ‘between us’, this wonderful track is about individuality, loneliness and isolation which has spoken to me in this tumultuous year. The virtuoso trio (quote, St Nick) have wowed me again with the French Canadian connection, first showed in Circumstances on their previous album. The lyrics are just great:
We are planets to each other
Drifting in our orbits
To a brief eclipse
Each of us a world apart
Alone and yet together
Like two passing ships
Just between us
I think it’s time for us to recognize
The differences we sometimes feared to show
Just between us
I think it’s time for us to realize
The spaces in between
Leave room
For you and I to grow
The riffs throughout are exceptional and I was particularly impressed by the bass around the 2.44 mark.
Different Strings 

This is my favourite Rush track. Out of their prolific catalogue this stands out as one of the most finely arranged, musically perfect and deeply felt tracks. I would say this is one of their crowning masterpieces. The symbiosis again is so clear here. The isolated guitar work at the beginning gives goosebumps, followed by the drums and piano, heard for the first time in the album. It speaks to unity and solitude in a deeply moving lyrical feast.

All there really is
The two of us
And we both know why we’ve come along
Nothing to explain
It’s a part of us
To be found within a song
What happened to our innocence
Did it go out of style?
Along with our naivety?
No longer a child
Different eyes see different things
Different hearts
Beat on different strings
Natural Science
After Different Strings, one is bound to be disappointed. The beginning of this track, I argue, panders to this theory. The beginning is intentionally weaker for you to recover somewhat from the previous track. But then, from the guitar solo 2 minutes in, it picks up beautifully. There are clear movements, for what of a better expression, in this track.
Wheel within wheels in a spiral array
A pattern so grand and complex
Time after time we lose sight of the way
Our causes can’t see their effects
The most endangered species, the honest man
Will still survive annihilation
Forming a world, a state of integrity
Sensitive, open, and strong
This track sums up the brilliance of this album very well, showing the three virtuosos on top form and displaying a musicianship bordering on the divine.
A seminal bit of Rushness – Pater
My overall impressions of Permanent Waves are as follows:
  1. Three uniquely talented virtuosos
  2. Symbiotic and united musicianship displayed at all times
  3. I could listen to the isolated tracks for each instrument at any point in this album and be as impressed
This is a staggering album which has its correct place in my personal pantheon of perfect albums. I hope it will find its way to yours.

Almost Album of the Month 2020

Almost Album of the Month 2020

The time has come again for Almost Album of the month, a collation of the albums which have marked me this year but for a number of reasons could not hold the title of album of the month. See below 6 albums (as I no longer have enough time to write 12 like last year) which I consider to be uniquely splendid.

Headspace – Levitation Room 2019

 

The above was my most played track of 2020 and it is not difficult to see why. This album is one which I played over and over and over throughout the year. It is wonderfully inventive, cohesive and offers a very strong sound. This is the height of ‘nondescript modern’ pop.

Marillion – Clutching at Straws 1987

 

Marillion are a powerhouse British punk/progressive rock band to which my father introduced me while I went to France in the summer, in between quarantines.  You will be aware that Misplaced Childhood was album of the month in July and with good reason. I could have chosen any of Marillion’s other albums with Fish as lead singer as well as FEAR with the new singer Steve Hogarth. Fugazi, Script For a Jester’s Tear, or FEAR could have been chosen but I listened to Clutching at Straws most. It is a masterpiece. Please do listen to it.

Steve Harley – Timeless Flight 1976

 

This album is one which would fit into the album of the year category. I have not in my possession words to describe the masterful work of beauty that is Timeless Flight. It is only not album of the year because the album I have picked this year shook my musical foundations and I have been listening to Timeless Flight since I was 14 and got my first record player. Nothing is Sacred is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.

Nina Hagen – NunSexMonkRock 1982

 

This marvellous 1982 offering is a splendid and oftentimes confusing album can be categorised as psycho-germanic experimental pop. Rolling Stone called it the “most unlistenable” album ever made, while others praised its experimental nature and Hagen’s theatrical vocals. If you can get past the gauche title, I highly recommend this album which has brought me much joy over the last year.

UB40 Live – 1983

 

UB40 Live is another excellent example of Birmingham brilliance in pop. This album sees the Brummy band perform songs from its first three studio albums, Signing Off, Present Arms and UB44. I am a fan of UB40 so this album really appeals to me. Nick, Louise and I tried to visit their bar, The Garden Lounge in Zadar, Croatia (in the Before Time) but it was closed at the time. Watch out for tracks such as One In Ten, Folitician, Tyler and the mega Sardonicus, which gives me goosebumps still.

Telekon Live – 2008

 

2020 was the year of the live album for me. Peter Gabriel’s Plays Live being the crowning jewel of live albums. I have also enjoyed The Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East, B.B. King’s Live in Cook County Jail, Peter Framton Comes Alive (wonderful), Kiss! Alive, Sparks Live at the Record Plant 1974 (mega for Sparks fans) and recently both of Thomas Dolby’s live albums. But none have knocked me over quite so conclusively as Telekon Live. I am a huge fan of Gary Numan and must have about ten of his records on vinyl. This album was released in 2008 by Mortal Records and is a recording of Numan’s 9 December 2006 Telekon concert at the London Forum, 26 years after it was first released. Critics have argued that Numan himself is the only weak link in the album and I am minded to agree. However, together, it is a wonderful contribution to the musical gene pool, as it were. The last track in particular blows me away every time.

Overall these are a few of the albums which have made my year more bearable. I hope they bring you some joy also.

Moon Duo – Stars Are the Light – Album in the Month

Moon Duo – Stars Are the Light – Album in the Month

Moon Duo is a group formed in 2009 and comprises of San Francisco-based guitarist Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips) and keyboardist Sanae Yamada. The result of this fortuitous combination is a heady mix of swirling psychedelic space rock. Interestingly Moon Duo’s members are married. Perhaps this chemistry is what makes the sound so rich and consistent.

This post is in part a gift to my father on his birthday. I won’t tell you how old he is as this would breach parent doctor confidentiality. So thank you father, for introducing me to this wonderful album. I trust this review is to your standards. And happy birthday.

While Stars Are the Light is completely different than other Moon Duo albums, it is by no means a disappointment. It is a very groovy record, full of disco and funk beats. It was also brought to life with the help of Sonic Boom, a former member of Spaceman 3, who has also worked with Beach House. Any fan of Moon Duo or psych-rock will not be let down by Stars Are the Light. Glide

Moon Duo is split into eight tracks. The first of which is Flying. The bossanova beats and funky grooves throughout mark the opening track as quite singular in the Moon Duo cannon. Its driving bass marks the generally impressive consistency of all the tracks in this album.

The titular track follows which, for me, demonstrates the lighter more airy side of Moon Duo without compromising on the integrity or quality of the central sound. The sound is refined, positive and consuming. It envelops the listener, in part thanks to the wonderful synth stylings of Yamada.

 

By using splashes of guitar as punctuation points, synth work is pushed to the forefront, this works wonders on “The World And The Sun” which takes a funky but meandering electronic track which goes nowhere, albeit pleasantly until washes of atmospheric synth work elevates the track into glorious synthesised euphoria. Even better, “Lost Heads” has the duo’s vocals intertwining sweetly over the monotonous structure of electronica and nagging keyboard riffs, the otherworldy nature is akin to being awake in a dream. The Line of Best Fit

Eternal Shore is delightful and upbeat. The guitar work, as seen in Wooden Shjips, is wonderful and complex. Once again the drive in this track is consistent with the rest of those in this album.

Finally, Fever Night is a suitably grand ending to this album. It encapsulates the enveloping sound of Moon Duo and is a track very much in line with the musical aesthetic of the band.

My final three reflections on this album are as follows:

  1. Stars Are the Light provides a precise, enveloping synth sound
  2. Moon Duo have provided a wonderfully idiosyncratic album
  3. This album is a big concept with excellent execution

Overall I remain impressed by this album and listen to it often, especially when I have to concentrate on complex legal texts. I hope you do too, though I hope you do not have to be subject to legal analysis while listening to any music.

Beverly Glenn Copeland – Keyboard Fantasies – AOTM November 2020

Beverly Glenn Copeland – Keyboard Fantasies – AOTM November 2020

This is an album which has so surprised and delighted me that I have not been able to stop listening to it for the last two months and felt I needed to share with you. This was an album released in 1986 and largely commercially ignored until the artist was 72 (2016).

The artist responsible is Beverly Glenn-Copeland, a man endowed with such rare fortune that he remained more or less a non-entity to the music-curious public until the age of 72 when a particularly influential record collector from Japan sent him a life-altering email asking for any remaining physical copies of his early music. Deep into a peaceful, years-long toil in the Canadian hinterlands with his wife, Copeland was suddenly faced with the task of living his way out of a placid, relatively private existence, and into one in which documentarians tour his home like a museum and take seriously his thoughts on the intersection between science and the divine. Pitchfork

Copeland bought an Atari computer and two synthesizers—the Roland TR-707 and the Yamaha DX7 to create Keyboard Fantasies, a work of, I believe, supreme and simple beauty. Pitchfork describes the album as “a sextet of chuggy, spare, somnambulant pieces built by some of the most basic preset tones from the DX7.” I am inclined to agree. The opening track, Ever New, is serene and peaceful as well as beautifully composed. Copeland’s vocal talent is the icing on the cake.

Winter Astral is a wonderfully sparse synthesizer journey which pulled me straight in. Let Us Dance may be my favourite piece on the album. The drum work and synthesized bells just blow me away. To think this is all programmed in a computer and played on a keyboard baffles me. There is a great energy and progression to Let Us Dance which borders on hypnotic.

 

Old Melody is almost oriental in feel and superlatively dreamy in delivery. Sunset Village is considered by many an exceptional piece and is certainly an excellent way to close this wonderful collection of songs. The final piece of Keyboard Fantasies is otherworldly in a way I struggle to describe. It treads the line between familiarity and a feeling truly alien in a beautiful way. Like so many retirement villages of the same name, the track is in a way a peaceful resting place.

I could not describe this album better than Pitchfork have in their closing paragraph:

Stare at that window long enough and you can start to imagine everything—the sea, the sky, the sand, even Copeland—in a state of total suspension, deepened by the light of a sun that seems like it takes forever to set. He has never really needed much to grant him fullness. We’re so obviously the ones that do.

I would also like to bring your attention to Glenn Copeland’s debut album which is self titled:

The folk is freaky. The riffs are seraphic. With all the leider residue in his arias and tremolos, these albums feel like songbooks of spirituals for the unspiritual. There have been obvious parallels made to Joni Mitchell in the music’s blueness and timbre—especially in how Copeland warbles like god has just asked him a difficult favor—but a more fitting comparison would be to Judee Sill, an artist who shares with him an alloy of Christian folklore, Bach-indebted chord progressions, and a sense of servitude to a quiet, inarticulable secret. “By and large, the early music was looking at death, love and the difficulty of love,” he once indifferently summed, though I would argue that a track like “Untitled (Make the Answer Yes),” is the sort of song that one could sensibly choose to be buried to. Pitchfork

I hope both these albums bring to you as profound a joy as they brought me.

 

Wamono A To Z Vol. I – Japanese Jazz Funk & Rare Groove 1968-1980 – AOTM September 2020

Wamono A To Z Vol. I – Japanese Jazz Funk & Rare Groove 1968-1980 – AOTM September 2020

Would you believe I purchased this wonderful album pre-release, on vinyl in July, some two months before it was due for release. I had forgotten my impulse buy until I received an email confirming the record was on its way. Wamono A-Z Vol. I consists of a collection of Japanese funk fusion tunes compiled masterfully by DJ Yoshizawa Dynamite & Chintam. Yoshizawa is a renowned remixer compiler and producer. His career spans over three decades. DJ Chintam worked as a record buyer before opening his Blow Up shop in Tokyo’s Shibuya district in 2018. He is. specialist of soul, funk and rare grooves. Together, they wrote the Wamono A-Z record guide in 2015, which sold out instantly. This record focusses on rare funk fusion tunes between 1968 and 1980. It is not available on digital format which makes it all the more special to me.

A1 –Toshiko Yonekawa – Sōran Bushi

A2 –Takeo Yamashita – A Touch Of Japanese Tone

A3 –Tadaaki Misago & Tokyo Cuban Boys – Jongara Reggae

A4 –Chikara Ueda & The Power Station – Cloudy

A5 –Chumei Watanabe – Downtown Blues

B1 –Kifu Mitsuhashi – Hanagasa Ondo

B2 –Monica Lassen & The Sounds – Incitation

B3 –Norio Maeda, Jiro Inagaki & The All-Stars – Go Go A Go Go

B4 –Akira Ishikawa & Count Buffalo & The Jazz Rock Band – The Sidewinder

B5 –Masahiko Sato*, Jiro Inagaki & Big Soul Media – Sniper’s Snooze

Wamono means Japanese made or in the Japanese style. If you have ever been within a one mile radius of me, you will be keenly aware that I have visited Japan. Alas I did not have the time or desire then to explore Japanese music in any depth. So I was most pleased, years later, to find this album advertised on BandCamp quite by chance. Sadly I cannot embed any videos of this vinyl so you will have to take my word for it.

In light of the above, I shall condense this review to three standout tracks for me, the first being the opening number. With a genre as rare as obscure Japanese funk fusion, it stands to reason they should open with a showstopper. Soran Bushi is an amazing opener, beginning as an almost generic funk piece before being turbo charged by wonderful shamisen playing. The shamisen is a three stringed Japanese guitar. For reference, please see the video below. Overall the track is a terrific fresh take on the funk genre and took me completely by surprise.

 

My second highlight is also on side one of the record but is the last track. Downtown Blues promotes another traditional instrument, the fue or shinobue flute. This is a flute which emits a high pitched sound, integral to noh and kabuki theatre music. Please find a lovely performance below. The track itself is a beautifully structured, engaging and energetic funk fusion piece, which, once again, totally took me by surprise.

 

Hanagasa Ondo deserves a special mention. This track features a vibraphone which I came to love listening to early Lionel Hampton records when I was younger. This combined with the fue and outstanding drumming and a terrific groove, then catapulted by electric guitar make for a truly spectacular track. One is severely tempted to stand up and boogie. Also, by some miracle, I have managed to find a youtube video of the second track on side two, which is really outstanding. Please see it embedded below. This was the fifth track on the 1970 Japan release only album Woman! by Monica Lassen and the Sounds and was designed to be a study of female behaviour. To this end, I would ask you to ignore the vulgar sounds in the middle of the track and focus on the excellent groovy sound! This track is demonstrative of the overall excellence of this compilation.

 

Sidewinder is my final highlight of this album. I should like to say each track is uniquely joyous in it’s own way and really very cool. The sidewinder is a track I have been familiar with for some time. This reimagined Japanese funk fusion version by Akira Ishikawa & Count Buffalo & The Jazz Rock Band somehow manages to enhance an already excellent tune. The Sidewinder was originally a 10 1/2 minute whopping track by Lee Morgan, Jazz trumpeter, on the excellent 1964 album by the same name. This version is just excellent, lively, driven and funky.

Ultimately, this compilation is a whirlwind album which took me to all sorts of places, many of them new. I would ask you to buy it but I do not make a penny from this blog so I shall let you make the decision for yourselves. I for one have been bowled over by the originality and newness of this album. This will certainly be prime listening at my next dinner party, whenever that may be…