Thomas Dolby / The Flat Earth / 1984: Synth Pop Heaven or New Romantic Nightmare?

With the release of his 2nd full-length album in the summer of 1984, Thomas Dolby created the rarest of musical gems; The Flat Earth being a off-beat, complex and overlooked treasure that’s sitting in dollar-bins everywhere from Detroit to London. An album that weaves together the sounds of synth and electronica with acoustic instrumention to create a unexpected symphony mood and atmosphere. Combining elements of lounge, folk and world music into a flowing interlace of contemporary organtic innovation. Admittedly, Dolby seems an unlikely artist to lavish with such praise; his nerdy, bookish style and image rooted in the short-lived, synth-pop / New Romantic movement. An era that feels profoundly out-of step in 2022. Nevertheless.

The Flat Earth was issued to great commercial expectation at the time; after the surprise success of Dolby’s first album, The Golden Age of Wireless, issued just two years prior. The runaway MTV success of the video for She Blinded Me With Science had caught everyone a bit off guard. And now the label executives were demanding Dolby provide another hit to prove himself. Those were strange times at the dawn of the 24-hour music television; it seemed any semi-watchable video could launch a band into the (temporary) realm of mainstream stardom. MTV launching the careers of many synth-pop wonders from the period; A Flock Of Seagulls, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and Eurythmics all receiving their moment or two of commercial success. (And it’s worth noting that all three of these bands have elements of experimental music laced throughout their discographies; lots of nervous, synthetic energy worth investigating, if you are inclined).

As for Dolby, his hit single, She Blinded Me With Science sounded right at home in the synth-heaven that dominated MTV and the pop radio during the first half of the eighties. Peaking in the Top Ten, She Blinded Me, was nothing more then a novelty or comedy hit. Exactly the kind of new music MTV encouraged for their playlist; deposable music that was devoid of meaning or substance. And the She Blinded Me video (directed by Dolby) perfectly captured the (meaningless) kinetic energy of the period; with scientist Magnus Pyke, shouting “Science!” repeatedly over the simple, bouncing rhythm of the song. Along with other “mad scientist” lines such as “Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto, you’re beautiful!”. The video employing an overt orientalist depiction of the sexy, female assistant. Let’s just say that there was nothing within the entire presentation to suggest that Dolby was capable producing one the the best synth-pop albums of the period. (A few interesting tracks on his first album, not with standing).

But before we get the Dolby‘s achievement, let us have a word or two about the follow-up single, Hyperactive; to the song’s credit, there is a hard, keyboard-driven groove that isn’t without merit. And the entire track is marginally better than She Blinded Me With Science. But let’s not get carried aways; again, there is just not much to recommendation. Dolby making the same mistake on Hyperactive as She Blinded Me; using comedy and novelty over the complex music he was capable of creating.

Fortunately, the disappointing Hyperactive was only tacked onto the tailend of the American version of the full length album. Making the song easy to avoid. This placement also suggests that Dolby was well aware that his novelty single had little to do with tthe rest of the album. The record company got their single but that’s were the compromise ended. Dolby now setting his sights well beyond the label’s commercial necessities. Because minus Hyperactive, The Flat Earth is a journey into the cinematic pathologies and ambiguities at play inside the artist head. Each track building a nourish humidity of emotional impulses, paranoia and desire. The album starts with the should-have-been single Dissidents. The song synchronizes a thick bass and synth riff that strikes hard and fast into the resistance of the censored artist. Exposing the cultural damage produced when silencing the artists, writers and innovators of society.

One more young writer slid away in the night / Over the border he will drown in light / Hold it, wait a minute / I can’t read my writing, my own writing / Like tiny insects in the palm of history / A domino effect in a cloud of mystery / My writing is an iron fist / In a glove full of Vaseline / But dip the fuse in the kerosene / I too become a dissident

At nearly seven minutes in length, the albums title track creeps out slowly from the aggression of Dissidents. It’s a contrast that never blurs or obscures the album’s overall flow. And the ethereal bass line from Matthew Seligman deserves independent recognition as it introduces us to one of the album’s key components; a slow-burn, art-funk that blends the tracks together without losing the individual songs. With each additional piece of music, The Flat Earth unfolds before us like smoldering blades of thick smoke; the music rolling out with a detailed and lyrical precision that remains human and emotional. The enviroment is personal but abstract; a daydream or a nightmare. The voice never hinting at the sincerity of the song’s intent. Sharp bursts of rhythm guitar jump into the ambient stew of noises. The track pushing forward with nervous tension and doubt. Creating a fascinating fluid environment that is always changing yet remains visceral.

Side two saves the best for last. Combining the last two tracks, Mulu the Rain Forest and I Scare Myself, into an epic, seamless whole. The icy synthetic keyboard gradually giving way to the albums softest but most sinister vocal. Dolby using the limitation of his voice to the songs advantage; his strained pitch showing us just how close to the edge he has gotten. Oddly, Mulu plays like call for spiritual fullfilment. A demand or call-out to a distant past that he has forgotten but remains a part of his soul. A memory that fades slowly into nothingness; just as I Scare Myself comes clicking into the foreground. But unlike Mulu, I Scare Myself feel lighter despite the lyrics fear and doubt; providing a refreshing cocktail jazziness and acoustic guitar that somehow manages to pull us further into the dark-magic of Dolby’s loneliness.

For years I had considered The Flat Earth a hidden treasure. An album that nobody could or would understand or flatter with the written words. Mostly overlooked and ignored since it’s original release, the time has come to acknowledge Dolby’s achievement. The musician creating an album of complex and rewarding thinking music that is reaches well beyond the image or style of any era.

Talking Heads / Fear of Music / 1980: Music in the age of D.R.E.A.D.

There was no doubt about it; if you wanted to listen to rock-radio in Detroit during the late 1970s, W.R.I.F. were your call-letters. The RIF (as it was commonly known) was the go-to spot on the FM radio dial for the “home of rock n’ roll”. The station played a significant role in the community; hosting outdoor concerts, club shows and late night parties throughout the city. And their roster of celebrity DJ’s kept the rock n’ roll party moving during those long, cold mid-western winters. An important public service in the hard working, blue-collar city of Detroit. At least on the surface, the station was fully dedicated to the pursuit of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

Of course, like so many things in this life; the truth about WRIF was different than the narrative that had been sold to the public. Despite the surface-level accommodations to the rock n’ roll life-style, The RIF had actually become a reactionist institution by 1979/80. Beneath the veneer of the endless party was a conservative business organization the was openly collaborating with those forces which sought to overturn the progressivism that had been a benchmark of the rock-era. And it was part of a neo-right backlash that was rising quickly across the country. Economically, politically and culturally the United States was a nation struggling with it’s own identity. Increasingly looking toward the past for answers about an uncertain future.

It’s important to remember that the post- Great Depression period had been a remarkable time of reform. The country embracing retirement benefits and public education for the working-class. And there was even some effort made to curtail or at least address the systematic racism and imperialism that has always been the original sin of American empire. But these changes sparked a cultural and political backlash at the end of the 70s. For a significant portion of the public those reforms were viewed with suspicion. Change can scare people even when they benefit from the progress being made. And the wealthy and privileged will use that fear to stir resentment, anger and instability. Using issues of class, race and gender to divide the forces of reform and revolution.

And because music and culture are important in any society, WRIF was uniquely positioned at the center of this cultural storm. The station’s competing values becoming a microcosm of the struggle brewing in the broader society. What had begun as a bold experiment of underground rock music infiltrating the mainstream radio business. Soon became corrupted by a re-activated ideological corporatism that nobody saw growing. (Philosopher Karl Marx would likely have said this struggle was inevitable). Even if the audience didn’t know it, The RIF was transitioning from the themes of sex and drugs and rock n’ roll to the more traditional call for profit, profit, profit. And that goal of profit above every other value would be achieved by cultivating the most base and ugly elements within the audience.

D.R.E.A.D ( or Detroit Rockers Engaged in the Abolition of Disco) wasn’t a real organization, per se. In January 1979, The RIF started passing out the (free) gold-laminated DREAD membership cards at concerts and community event. And these plastic cards were happily gobbled-up by the hordes of denim-clad rock music fans. There was even a code of conduct written on the back. In reality, the faux membership cards were a promotional gimmick hatched by the station’s management to galvanize their mostly white, mostly male, mostly affluent audience into venting a growing hate of disco and the culture the music represented. But maybe a bit of history would help put this disco-hating attitude into context; by 1977 / 1978 disco music was well on the way to replacing rock music at the top half of the billboard charts. Music charts that had once been dominated by rock music; the bread-and-butter for a stations like The RIF. But there was something else happening just under the surface. This collective hate for disco and everything associated with it had become a nationwide phenomenon. With anti-disco rallies and demonstrations breaking out in many major cities. Rallies and demonstrations that often turned violent. And these hateful attitudes were inflamed by the very institutions that would most benefit from this madness. As foolish as this anti-disco sentiment may seem today, there was a ugly subtext that was never stated out loud; a pushback against the economic and cultural progress that minorities and working-class people had made in the U.S.

The DREAD promotion was a cynical manipulation of an unspoken racism that always seem to be lurking near the surface of social progress. The anti-disco movement was a convenient mask or proxy for the reactionary element of the country. A way to organize and fight against change without identifying the true nature of the hate. More importantly, the anti-disco movement was part of a much larger upheaval that would soon deliver Ronald Reagan into the White House in 1980. He was the American Presidents who promised to restore the country to a mythological past. Or does that sound familiar?

In addition to the DREAD card, other changes were afoot inside the rock-radio industry. For example, the sudden adoption of extremely tight playlists. Any remnants of the adventurous music that gave birth to underground radio was ruthlessly eliminated. Even in the Detroit market, the MC5, the Stooges and SRC vanished from the airwaves. As did any music associated with punk and new wave. Bands like the Clash or Public Image Limited found that their music no longer fit into the new red, white and blue radio marketplace. These new voices in rock music were every bit as unwelcome as disco. The audience was put on a strict diet of bland, commercial hard-rock that poised no threat to the prevailing order. Music that satisfied the commercial needs of the industry but doomed rock music to a creative death.

As far as WRIF was concerned, these new restrictions were dealt with decisively. Not only did they limit the songs played on the station. They reshaped the criteria of what was considered real rock music. For a genre that had once prided itself on a distinct lack of definition, rock music was now the new orthodoxy. Instead of a platform for artistic expression, rock music was sold as a commodity for the affluent. Only musicians who brandished the rock n’ business attitude were promoted. Rock stars with crisp haircuts, big smiles and squeaky clean suits: Foreigner, Kansas, Journey, REO, Styx…These bands were the new template for what would be tolerated on commercial radio. And the DREAD card-holders where there on the ground to ensure this new orthodoxy was enforced and obeyed.

The Talking Heads formed in 1975 as part of the burgeoning punk scene of New York City. The band playing gigs with the Ramones, Blondie and the Heartbreakers at club’s gigs at CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City. It was a music scene that was producing some of the most vibrant and important music of the decade. And the Talking Heads would become one of the most popular and commercially successful bands to emerge; mixing art-school punk with funk and world music. An unusual sound but one that made a commercial impact outside the New York orbit.

By the time the band’s new album, Fear of Music, was released in the summer of 79, the Talking Heads were for national success. The album’s first single Life During Wartime slowly built momentum. The song slipping onto one playlist after another; Miami, Denver and San Francisco. And then managing the near impossible; become a hit on Detroit’s The RIF. It was a significant breakthrough for the band. The song gaining airplay in every time slot on the station. And for many listeners the track was a godsend.

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go
Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance,
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in a ghetto,
I’ve lived all over this town

The songs driving guitars and hard-angular rhythms seemed like a surgical strike against every cool-kid, jock-rock band that now dominated radio. David Brynes’ smart lyric shouting the urgency of the situation. In every way, Life During Wartime shouldn’t have stood a chance of making it past the self-censorship on commercial radio. Hearing the track blasting through the car radio was too good to be true. A rare glimpse of hope; a sign that there where still those within the radio establishment that believed in music. Perhaps rock music could exist outside the wasn’t manipulated and manufactured?

I had initially discovering the Talking Heads through their great cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River. And when I realizing that the band was produced by former Roxy Music member Brian Eno, that was enough. But Life During Wartime was so much more than anyone expected. Those hard tribal beats felt like a late night call from Fifty-third and Third; The song’s cinematic energy playing like an alternative soundtrack to the 1979 classic film, The Warriors. An end of the world celebration with wild, out-of-control punks ruling the street and subways. The music was full of images from my favorite fever dream. A raging war-prophecy with hostility and venom toward the world I distrusted. Said another way, Life During Wartime was the call for revolution that my friends and I had been looking for.

The celebration was short lived. Whatever internal forces had conspired to play Life During Wartime on The RIF ultimately failed to push the door open. In truth, there was never really a chance. The game had been rigged by forces far beyond the listener’s control. And music was only a small part of the defeat. And that’s no conspiracy theory.

The project of changing the cultural direction of the U.S. is a well documented fact that took decades to manifest. In affect, there was a corporate coup in 1979. But the planning for the takeover dated back to the fifties and sixties when conservative thinkers began writing about the need for America’s billionaires to finance a counter-revolution against the economic progress of the the New Deal. And the cultural revolution of the sixties. Ultimately right-wing intellectual and writers Russell Kirk encouraged the US Chamber of Commerce to commission Lewis F. Powell Jr (a future Supreme Court Justice) to write a legal memorandum outlining how a counter-revolution could be implemented. The Powell Memorandum: The Attack on the American Free Enterprise System is a blueprint showing corporate interests how to retake control of a country that was suffering from an “excessive of democracy”. The plan called for corporations and wealthy individuals to aggressively finance a cultural and political remodel (coup) of the United States. In direct response to the Powell memorandum, several billionaires (including Joseph Coors) organized the Heritage Foundation think-tank in 1973 to advise conservative politicians on possible laws that would deregulate business and industry. And ensure that the country moves towards a pro-business, pro-growth fundamentalism.

As of 2022, the Heritage Foundation is one the most prestigious and influential organization in U.S. politics. And that model of influence was replicated again and again; creating thousands of think-tanks, foundations, organizations and NGOs in every sector of the country. These institutions were then given the money needed to reshape and retool the mechanism of government and culture. But do your own research. Find the truth.

Jerry Lee Lewis / September 29, 1935 – October 28, 2022

JERRY LEE LEWIS died on Friday, October 28th. And while there are those who will remember him only for the scandal of marrying Myra Lewis Williams, his 13 year old cousin in 1957; Lewis was a true pioneer of rock n’roll music. His influence and style can be heard and seen across the music spectrum; from punk and garage to glam and heavy metal. Lewis’ pounding (often violent) piano style is at the bedrock of a music genre that once prided itself on the primal and true instinct of a performance. It’s fair to say that bands like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and the New York Dolls wouldn’t exist as we know them today without the attitude and showmanship that Lewis brought to the music.

So a flawed but extraordinary man has past from the world; a man with many noteworthy shortcomings. And a musical icon of the first order. Let us take a moment for “The Killer” (as Lewis was affectionately known) and wish him safe passage on his journey. Below is a link to Lewis performing “Whole Lota Shakin’ Goin’ On” on the Steve Allen show in 1957. No lip-singing or pyrotechnics. Just three musicians on stage at the height of their magicus.

I don’t know if Lewis should be labeled a poet; let’s leave that description to those schooled in such important matters. But watching Jerry Lee Lewis perform, I’m struck by the thought that his music was as close to the essence of artistic creation as rock n’ roll ever came. His performance is nothing short of a ritual between the musician and the audience; an act of communion. Lewis walking the hallowed hallway’s of legend and myth whenever he strutted onto the stage. RIP

The Proletariat’s Guide to the Music of David Sylvian

The sun shines high above / The sounds of laughter / The birds swoop down upon / The crosses of old grey churches / We say that we’re in love / While secretly wishing for rain / Sipping Coke and playing games / September’s here again / September’s here again

David Sylvian’s catalog has always been shrouded by a generous amounts of mystery and complexity. After all, the man approaches music as a serious matter and, in turn, that effort should be approached in a manner suitable to the process of creation. In other words, there’s a lot happening in the darker corridors of his songs. And a full appreciation of the music requires a certain amount of understanding and effort. Sylvian’s music is intentionally subversive; his instincts often questioning the very form and structure of composition; a radical intention that has been the common-thread throughout his many songs, albums and collaborations. Always resisting any outside commercial temptation that would compromise his artistic vision for marketplace acceptance. On the contrary, David Sylvian expects more from himself than commercial success. And he is asking us, the listener, to give him the space needed for the music to grow and prosper. For Sylvian, his art is a reflection of the deepest and most complicated nature of his own consciousness. And any less of an effort would not be honest or true to the music he wants to shared with the world.

David Sylvian first came onto the public’s radar in 1978 as the vocalist for the (then) glam-rock band, Japan from South London; David Sylvian (vocal); Steve Jansen (drums), Mick Karn (bass),Richard Barbieri (keyboards) and Rob Dean (guitar). Their first album, Adolescent Sex is a good (but not great) mixture of the member’s favorite music of the day; Roxy Music, T. Rex and David Bowie. In other words, Glam Rock with touches of the punk/new wave astatic that was raging across the London underground in the late seventies. Fortunately for us, the group wasn’t content to mimic the commercial success contemporaries. And the band experimenting and developed their sound with each subsequent release; moving from glam to synth-pop to electronic post-punk with each new album. Arriving at a sound on their final album that was clearly and uniquely their own. (Let’s just say, for better or worse, there would be no Girls On Film without Japan).

By 1981 Japan’s music and style had started a firestorm. The band well on their way to becoming the most important pop-group in Europe. And probably the most important pop-group in the world. Only the Yellow Magic Orchestra could rival Japan in terms of innovative influence. The artistry and style on the band’s final two records, Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980) and Tin Drum (1981) set a new standard for what a commercially successful band could achieve in terms of sound and fashion; influencing everyone from Depeche Mode to Duran Duran to Lady GaGa. And with their final release, Japan had outgrown the limitations of pop and rock music; weaving dance-music electronics sound and experimental innovations within the context of a western pop/rock band. So what did the band do in response to their unpresident sucess? They did what every self-respecting band should do; Japan decided to leave the audience wanting more. Disbanding the band Bre to pursue solo projects just as their commercial star was peaking across the globe. For his part, David Sylvian took nearly two years to produce his first solo album, Brillant Trees in 1984. (Choosing to complete a side project with YMO member, Ryuichi Sakamoto before beginning work on his own solo album. A pattern of rejecting commercial concerns that would be seen again and again). Nevertheless, Brilliant Trees was an important artistic and commercial success upon it’s release. The album signaling the beginning of a career that would consistently challenge conventional thinking.

Sylvain has continued to pushed the boundaries of music making; using his esoteric musical palette to fuel his artistic vision(s); mixing his unique brand of pop-music with a need to explore the farthest outposts of experimental and avant-garde sounds. Centering the core of his musical output around the electronic / ambient / tribalist sounds that are well outside the mainstream. Eventually, the singer striping away even these traditions from his songs; striving towards a more minimalist / free improvisation approach to the music. The Proletariat’s Guide to David Sylvian is our not-so-humble recommendations to navigate the many releases and collaborations. A few helpful hints for those willing to venturing into this thoughtful but difficult discography. Be prepared for a journey through a rich catolog of music that will prove highly rewarding to the listener who takes the time to understand treasures you will find. Enjoy.

10) Nine Horses / Snow Borne Sorrow / 2005: Nine Horse is one of Sylvian‘s collaborative efforts that often gets overlooked. Featuring Sylvian with fellow Japan member Steve Jansen (Sylvian‘s brother) and German electronic music producer Burnt Friedman. The album also features important contributions from the Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen, Swedish vocalist Stina Nordenstam and Sylvian‘s old friend and collaborator Ryuichi Sakamoto. Collectively the musicans have develop a series of dense sonic-landscapes from which Sylvian uses to project his vocal. The result is a stunning but difficult listen. But don’t let that scare you off. As a whole, Snow Borne Sorrow is an amazingly textural event that uses trip-hop beats to warm the overall sound. Pulling the listener into these thick, ghostly storytelling environments. Some will struggle with the dedication to a sober tone. But that should come as no suprise; that stoic atmosphere has always been an important aspect of Sylvian‘s palette. This album also functions as an interesting companion to the singer’s later-day masterpiece Blemish. Both albums being created during the same time frame. Don’t miss this one.

9) Everything And Nothing / 2000: Everything and Nothing is more than a great compilation of songs taken from throughout Sylvian‘s long career.   The tracks are presented uniquely; often using remixes/edits that add a new favor to the music without destroying the original intention of the song.  These alternative ideas move the original music in unexpected directions. Uniquely curated by Sylvian, Everything and Nothing never feels like a retrospective collection from different sources; it feels like a completed work. With David’s rich voice pulling the songs together; as if Sylvian is giving us a private tour of his music and art.  Showing us all the aspects of his career in a casual but intriguing game of show-and-tell. Taking the listener through his song ideas that we may have overlooked. A perfect starting point! (Camphor (2002) is another compilation released as a companion to Everything and Nothing that focuses on Sylvian‘s worthwhile instrumental work).

8) Sylvian & Fripp / Damage: Live / 1994: A live recording by David Sylvian and Robert Fripp from the Road to Graceland tour in 1993.  This is the rare live album that actually outshines the full studio collaboration, The First Day (1993). Damage is full of hidden treasures; the songs Damage and The First Day were only released on this album. And both are excellent. Each performance is largely improvised. The musicians walking on stage together with very few set ideas. And it’s Sylvian’s ability to communicate and project himself unto the audience that provides the personality and warmth of the performance. The same is true of the usually stoic (but brilliant) Robert Fripp. His sometimes academic playing is loose and spirited. Showing an aggressive fire and playfulness missing from The First Day album. On stage, the two musicans find a balance between the complexity of the music and the glowing personality of a performance that is rich with detail and intimacy.

7) Rain Tree Crow / Self-Titled / 1990: After 10 years apart the member’s of Japan decide to give it another try.  Primary songwriters David Sylvian and Mick Karn joining together with Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri to reform the orginal four-piece band. Only they decide not to call the project a “reunion” of Japan. And Rain Tree Crow almost picks up were the band left off with Tin Drum in 1982. Almost. Rain Tree Crow could never be the band the audience wanted; ten years had passed and the musicans were no longer those fresh faced boys. The music reflects this maturity; the songs growing from deep, mellow soundscapes. And the music has the feel of a collaboration of equals. A heartfelt reunion of musicans and friends; as it should be.

6) Sleepwalker / David Sylvian / 2010: Sleepwalker is a compilations of stray tracks from various side-projects and one-offs that could almost function as an alternative restospective for the later half of David Sylvian‘s catolog. In recent years, Sylvian’s music has moved further and further away from the hard-form of compostition that defines most western music. The process has been an intentional reduction in the form of the songs. Let us be clear; this is an intentional pursuit of a minimalism or reductionalism that hasn’t always been embraced by Sylvian‘s audience. Nevertheless, David Sylvian seeks to challenge his audience to grow their perception and expectations of his music. By selecting individual tracks from throughout his period, Sleepwalker gives us an interesting look at the overlooked corners of a very interesting career. And there are many highlights; the effort made by Japan’s Steve Jansen and Flanger‘s Burnt Friedmanon on the The Day the Earth Stole Heaven should not be over looked. Instrumentially, the song’s simple, tunefullness will suprise anyone expecting an emotionally cold atmosphere. Of course, the lyric tells another story. And the album is full of these unique collaborations; Ryuichi Sakamoto, classical composer Dai Fujikura, electronic musican Fennesz, Nine Horses, Steve Jansen and Arve Henriksen. It’s a fasinating look at some of the more avant-garde tracks in Sylvian‘s catalog. Recently reissued on vinyl and CD.

5) Japan / Exorcising Ghosts / 1984: In 1979 Japan collaborated with producer Giorgio Moroder for a stand alone single, Life in Tokyo. The track showcased a major shift aways from the glam-pop found on the first two Japan albums. Moving the band’s sound toward the more electronic and experimental dance style. And it’s that new style that is (beautifully) reflected on this brilliant compilation. Rather than giving a complete overview of Japan, EG focuses on material from the last tewo albums; Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980) and Tin Drum (1981). While cherry-picking a few worthwhile songs from the rest of the catolog.

4) David Sylvian / Brilliant Trees / 1984: After leaving Japan in 1982, Sylvian released a solo collaborative effort with Ryuichi Sakamoto called Bamboo House/Bamboo. It would take another 2 years for Sylvian to get busy and release his first full-length album, Brilliant Trees. And in many ways the record is exactly what we needed from the vocalist of Japan; a record full of brilliant, moody ambient tracks that pull (stylisticly) from pop, rock, jazz and funk. Staying true to form, Sylvian uses many of the musicans that he most admired on the record; the opiod-ambience of Brian Eno; the punchy world-music of Jon Hassell; and the funky free-style of Can’s Holger Czukay. Look for the CD version with the (extremely) worthwhile, Words With the Shaman, added as a bonus.

3) David Sylvian / Secrets of the Beehive / 1987: Recorded directly after the propmo tour for Gone to Earth, Beehive came about much quicker then most of Sylvian’s albums. Musically the sound moves away from the more electronic side. Focusing the music on the folkier, jazzier end of the spectrum. With elegant string arrangements provide by Ryuichi Sakamoto. In many ways, this album is Sylvian‘s most commercial and straightforward record. The sound places Sylvian‘s vocal performance upfront and center stage.These (relatively) simple songs dealing with the more personal concerns of every day life. In 2003, a remastered CD version of Beehive was released with the bonus track, Promise (The Cult of Eurydice) replacing the original CD bonus track Forbidden Colours; a Sakamoto/Sylvian collaboration. Keep an eye out for the original CD. Forbibben Colors is excellent.

2) David Sylvian / Blemish / 2003: Both lyrically and musically Blemish stands out as an amazing accomplishment in Sylvian‘s eclectic catolog. The music mostly inspired by the break-up of Sylvian’s marriage to Ingrid Chavez. And it’s the loneliness and heartache of this disintegrating relationship that can be heard throughout this unique album. The raw visceral anguish convade shows the singer struggling to cope with the loss of value and love; How little we need to be really happy / They removed his voice / And the silence overwhelmed him / How little it takes. The words and sound of Sylvian’s voice dominating the audio presentation. In contrast, the background music is pulled back to a near silent hum; the arrangements are not just sparse.They are almost nonexistent. The non-linear sonic background only occasionally touch the ear with a noise that is surreal and unsettling; echoing the feeling of alienation found within the story-telling vocal style. This moving sound-spectrum of non-musical noise moves from a textured, glitchy rhythm to noisy clusters of sonic debris. It is difficult to call these structureless, earthy enviroments “songs” in any traditional sense. Sylvian has completely abandoned that form communicating. Blemish is David Sylvian at his most radical and most vulnerable. Creating an album full of difficult and important music. Don’t miss this album; a must hear if you are reading this.

1) David Sylvian / Gone to Earth / 1986: In every way, Gone to Earth is the follow-up effort to Sylvian‘s debut record, Brilliant Trees. The album gathering together all the finest points of Sylvian‘s career thus far; there is a lush, ambient experimentialism that permeates the entire recording. The record is presented in two distinctive halves; the first is filled with the singer’s amazingly communicative vocal and brilliant compositions skills. While the second disc introduces long ambient instrumental soundscapes of repetitive noise that extend the overall emotional impact of the vocal half of the record. The music ranging from the gothic ballardry of Silver Moon to the more pop orientation of Taking the Veil. Although, “pop music” may be overstating the case. Veil is a gorgeous, electronic / piano driven track that sounds like everything dream-pop thought possible. Gone To Earth is the defining moment in David Sylvian long career. (CD version includes more of the original instrumental track. A must).

Tristan Perich / Drift Multiply / 2020

“You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . . We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil – Hunter S. Thompson / Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 

As the winter of 2022 approaches, perhaps we should takes some time to reflect on music, art and politics.  Maybe even slow down, converse with a friend or family member about the important topics to life.  You understand, a chance to share and exchange thoughts about the complex matters of life and the ideas that both inspire and frighten us.  Or at least those were my thoughts before I got the look from a close friend.  Maybe you know this look? That sad, discouraged face on the other side of the table as you allow your imagination run free in a conversation. Your thoughts running wild in an ocean of free-thought and (percieved) kinship. And suddenly, your enthusiasm is paralyzed by the look on the face of the other person. So it seems to go with most conversations that steps outside the mudane; as if you have engaged in some strange topic forbidden by the authorities.

I’m sure these are all citizens in good standing. And given this look is no high treason.  But there does seem to be a lesson our fellows wish to teach us with these agonizing facial expressions. Try this impromptu test; start a discussion about art or politics or…which Hawkwind album is the very best. You will quickly be discouraged (unless you are very lucky) by the distorted frowns of many of those around you. We live in a society that like to keep actual thinking to a strictly enforced mimum. What is happening to the educated-class of the mainstream culture? Have we lost our ability communicate about anything in a meaningful way? Has our dedication to endless consumption finally destroyed our ability to simply talk? In his book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson states that the cultural crest of our civilization had broken long ago but with the “right eye” you could still see the high watermark. Thimpson wrote those words back in 1971.  As of 2022, even the watermark is now obsured and vanished from our view.

But let this not be an indictment; there are rare occasions we can still find the bedrock of culture and art among us. Once, maybe twice a year we may discover a piece of music that reaches for, even surpasses, that high watermark. Art that not only challenges our perception of the current environment but also realizes our highest potential. It’s the idea that art should do important things; challenging a stagnant society trapped into institutional thinking. I stumbled a cross Tristan Peich’s Drift Multiply CD by chance in 2020; the sleeve design caught my eye on bandcamp. The simple black and white design of intersecting curved lines on the cover art; the light and shade; the clean, hand-made aesthetic.

But no sleeve design could prepared me for the amazing noise within all those digital 0s and 1s. Tristan Perich’s Drift Multiply is music of the highest order; music that deserves a healthy amount of conversation. 50 violins and 50-Channels is that odd sound you heard from a room previously thought to be empty; it just shouldn’t be there. Telling us that are perceptions are off. That our view is obscured. You listen close and struggle to identify with all that you are hearing.  And you may grow increasingly unsettled as the music grows in scope and measure.  Drift Multiply builds slowly in scope and measure; climaxing into a vortex of swirling black and white noise that will (joyfully) engulfing your head. Like a thousands tiny piece of sound, the music floods your consciousness like a watery, sonic wave.  Initially this is difficult music; individual segments will seem barely discernable from the entire orchestration. You may struggle with the fullness of the sound. That is, until your ears have a chance to adjust. The brain scrambling to find the patterns within these particles of noise and distortion.  But like the simplicity of the sleeve design, the first impression of the music can be decidedly deceptive. When given the time, each individual movement or segment of sound unfolds into a deep tapestry of sharpened, beautiful music that sparks with details of a starry sky above your heads. There is room here to dream and talk together. Drift Multiply is comtemporary music that will force you to give time and attention. That is, if you are going to full understand the ritual and conversations happening within.

I will never forget my parents taking me to an old train-station when I was a boy.  My ears had never been so full with raging sound. It was frightening to me. The screaming noises from those trains left no room in my head to think or react.  Only the power and edge of steel on steel sound.  Harsh and piercing, the noise was deafening and overwhelming my senses and emotions.  But eventually I did begin to hear the individual patterns within the dense noise. There was indeed rhythm and forward motion in this brutal environment. Every thought in my head was swept away and I became completely unaware of the crowd around me. All that sound was damn well intoxicating. An environment that was alive with sound, noise and, yes, a kind of music. I saw and felt nothing else, nor did I search for it.  

Tristan Perich’s Drift Multiply is a dense, difficult composition, but also a living, breathing organic environment.  A composition that was first performed live in 2018 at St. John the Divine Church in New York.  Perich combining the sound of 50 violins, loud speakers and electronics with the amazing acoustic of the world’s largest gothic cathedral. Each of the individual speakers where plugged into a single circuit board that allows a 1-bit audio output used to contrasts the noise with waveforms of each instrument. Those present for this performance, called the music “overwhelming” and spiritual. Flooding the senses with stimulus. Moving between the abrasive, white noise static to a heavenly detailed melody.  It seems entirely fitting that this experimental music was performed within the old cathedral. A space and sound that seeks a dialogue of the higher order.   

I was never touched by the soft hymns of Sunday School my parents forced me to attend when I was a child. How could this sour music be the dialogue between man and his creator?  These simple hymns touched neither my head or heart.  Conversations between us demand a rare, demanding voice; Drift Multiply touches on a vocabulary that we all should be looking towards. A dialogue that requires the listener to use both our intellect as well as our emotions.  

Michael Heonig / Departure from the Northern Wasteland / 1978: The Kosmische Hell Hound of Berlin

Repetition is the image of eternity in music / The music of the past justifies itself for its limitation / The music of the future is sparing itself this effort

American blues musician, Robert Johnson (1911-1938) recorded only 29 songs during his short life. An remarkably limited catalog for an artist when you consider the major impact Johnson’s legacy has had on music and culture. Twenty-nine songs recorded over a five day session in a hotel-room studio about one year before his death. Humble output for a musician who’s songs have become staples in the rock and blues cannon. With tracks like Love in Vain, Cross Road Blues, Me and the Devil Blues all being recorded by notable rock bands, including Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Cream. Of course, Johnson’s legacy has as much to do with the folklore of his life as it does his music. That is, the story of a young Robert Johnson‘s meeting with a certain Prince of Darkness.

According to the legend, Robert Johnson, then aspiring bluesman, took his guitar to the intersection of Highways 49 and 61, near Dockery Plantation in Clarkdale, Mississippi at midnight. The place he had been told to wait at those crossroads for the arrival of an dark stranger. After a long, torturous wait Johnson was indeed visited by a demon; Beelzebub, the fallen angel who ranks second only to Satan himself. And there the two agreed that Johnson would be given a very special gift; to be greatest guitar-playing bluesman alive. And in exchange for this gift, upon Johnson’s death, his soul would face eternal damination in hell. It’s an amazing story and it touches on something deep within the human psyche. After his death in 1938, word of Johnson’s deal-with-the-devil story slowly spread; it was a great, sinister rumor that musicans on the blues-curcuit told that also encapsulates the betrayal and hopelessness that accompanies a life on the road. Eventually, that rumor became an important part of the cultural and musical folklore in the American South. Folklore with an origin that can be traced back to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s magnum opus of German literature, Faust I (1808). In fact, the premise of the Robert Johnson‘s Deal with the Devil is directly lifted from Goethe’s drama; with Satan sending his right-hand man Mephistopheles to luring the ambitious Faust into a wager for his soul. Nearly a direct match to the deal Beelzebub offers to Robert Johnson.

Of the 29 songs Johnson recorded, perhaps the most notorious is Hell Hounds On My Trail; a song that seems to directly addresses the topic of the deal with the devil legend. The story adding a level of mystery and weight to each word and phrase of the song. But we need to move beyond the title and lyric to discover the true importance of the music. To begin with, the Hell Hound recording is filled with a troubling atmosphere; the crackling surface noise of the original recording gives the song the ambience of a lost transmission from the underworld. In an artistic sense, Johnson vocal is transcendent; leaving behind the small musical circuit of the Mississippi Delta where Johnson spent most of his life. Instead, the vocal is thick with the lonely life of every man. Johnson conveying the most important aspects of the song indirectly. The words and music hinting at the Faustian bargain so many people make with their lives. The assumptions are ours to consider. And it’s these unspoken aspects that take us deep into the music. There are no screams of torment from Robert Johnson on Hell Hounds on My Trail. Instead, the vocal is gentle, almost melodious, in its delivery. His attitude is casual and his pain is forever unmentioned. Like Goethe‘s Faust, Johnson accepts the bargain and signs his fate with blood;

“I can tell the wind is risin’, the leaves tremblin’ on the tree / Tremblin’ on the tree / I can tell the wind is risin’, leaves tremblin’ on the tree / Hmm-hmm, hmm-mmm / And the days keeps on worryin’ me / There’s a hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail / Hellhound on my trail…”

Departure from the Northern Wasteland is Michael Hoenig‘s solo debut from 1978. Born from the Krautrock/Berlin community, Hoenig had already earned an amazing reputation by the time of the albums release; his keen interest in experimental music got him an invitation to join the German Krautrock band Agitation Free in 1971. Recording with the band on the ground-breaking debut album, Malesch in 1972. Then touring with the group throughout Europe, Egypt, Greece and Cyprus. Even performing at the Munich Olmpics in 1972. Eventually, Hoenig’s concepts began moving beyond the standard “motorik” of the Krautrock sound. His electronic keyboards developing in a new direction; the Berlin School of experimental music or Kosmische Musik developing a more space-bound, electronic-keyboard template. Combining ambient soundscapes with the minimalist classical traditions of composors like Steve Reich and Moondog. Oddly enough, on Northern Wasteland, Hoenig‘s also incorportate a distinctly American character. But let me explain; the music rides the edge between adventurous kosmische music, modern classical and the New Age sound associated with the Windham Hills crowd. It’s a combination that really shouldn’t work. The New Age sound creates a (non-)musical relaxation / enviromental lifestyle slickness that plagued music that fell under the moniker. Nevertheless, Hoenig maintains the balance perfectly. Creating an album that sounds like nothing else at the time.

Hoenig uses the dry, studio slickness to his own advantage; providing the compositions on Northern Wasteland with a rich commercial platform that enhance the details of his experimental music. Taking a cue from the work of both Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, Hoenig and Conny Plank (who helped with the album’s sound production) use the full studio as a musical instrument. Creating vast towers of icy-sound and then peppering the template with irregular sequencer rhythms that wouldn’t seem out of place on a techno-pop record. On Voice of Where, Hoenig uses a series of melodic, rhythmic keyboard-phrase to create a pulsating heartbeat at the center of the music. Then adding a singular, soothing progression of free-formed keyboard fills. These strangely beautiful synthetic fills or themes rise and fall with a simple, steady repetition. Each waves of sound then descending into the watery ether of the sound. The entire pattern eventually disintergrating into a distorted cluster of odd voices and repetitions. It’s a remarkable piece of music. And these repetitions are key to understanding Hoenig‘s philosophy of making music. Unlike many musicans within the electronic realm, Hoenig‘s music remains based on the simplicity of repetition and familiarity. Maintaining the music’s humanity and emotion qualities.

On the surface, the pulsating beats of Michael Hoenig would seem at the opposite end of the (musical) specrium from the delta-blue of Robert Johnson. And some readers will struggle to understand the connection between the two. That’s understandable. But when we look beyond the issue of style, the similarities reveal themselves. On Northern Wasteland, Hoenig creates an atmosphere of detailed, structural sound that captures a sense of humanity within its ornate atmosphere. And although very different in style from the complex emotional performance of Johnson, Hoenig creates electronic music that stirs the same emotions of human struggle and loneliness. Both musicians enveloping the listener with their heartbreaking account of life on an endless highway; the place where all men seek to hide from their fate.

Looking for more? There is great electronic music to be found under the moniker of New Age. Among the dozens of bland non-music albums, you can find mis-labeled gems. If you look. For examle, try to find the brilliant Interior S/T album from 1982. Produced by the Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haroumi ‘Harry’ Hosono, Interior is a mindblowing ambient / techno-pop record original released in Japan. However, Interior was released in the U.S. on the aforementioned Windham Hills label in 1985. Worth the hunting).

The Sadies / Colder Streams / 2022: Connecting the threads

On February 17 2022, Dallas Good, guitar-player and vocalist for the Canadian country/psych band, The Sadies, unexpectedly died from a coronary illness. Dallas was 48 years old. The band’s already finished album, Colder Streamwas then released in July 2022. Colder Streams isn’t just another great album by the Sadies. The band has been making great albums since their first in 1998 with, Precious MomentsColder Streams is something more than a great record; it’s the moment when the band moved beyond all that had been previously accomplished. The album chronicling, refining and questioning the very musical landscape the Sadies have created. RIP Dallas Good.

Before we take a closer look at the new Sadies album, Colder Streams, I want to share a bit of context on how I (re)discovered country music. And also to pay tribute to a man who helped me understand the music; a former neighbor with whom I never exchanged more than a passing glance. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the threads that connect.

Mr. Maurer was a big man; easily 6’6 / 275lbs. He was the kind of man who rarely spoke to anyone and always carried the look of hard work and internal struggle. He was also a huge country music fan. Everyone on the block could hear his music playing on Saturday afternoons as he attended to his yard (and drank a countless amount of Budweiser). At the time, Country was a musical genre for which I had very little sympathy or understanding. And the truth was, I thought the music was a bit of a joke. I was a denim-chad, long-haired teenager who couldn’t help but snicker at all that gushing emotional earnestness. Keep in mind, our Mr. Maurer wasn’t listening to the bro-country that is so popular today or even the big-hat sounds of Garth Brooks. Mr. Maurer was strictly old school; playing records by Johnny Cash or George Jones or Merle Haggard as the afternoons turned into the evening. At the end of the day, you could find him just sitting on the porch, surrounded by empty cans of Bud. Listening to music that seemed to take a special pleasure in dissecting every aspect human heartbreak.

Will you still love me when I am down and out / In my time of trials will you stand by me / Would you go away to another land and walk a thousand miles through the burning sand / Wipe the blood away from my dying hand / If I give my self to you David Allan Coe / Would You Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone)

In the meantime, I were busy with a very different concept of music; experiencing my first flirtations with the metal and punk music that would captivate most of my teenage years. Falling deeply for the raw guitars and rebellious lyrics of Motörhead, The Damned and the Heartbreakers. The way I saw it, there was no common ground; country music was the antithesis of my own youthful tribulations.

I used to lie in my room and just stare / Frustrated eyes flipping pages of air / And gaze after gaze, I could see nothing there / I was just a flaw in the scheme / Of everything but nightmarish dreams / No one could stand feeling that way for long / So I, I chose to regard all the world as the wrong Richard Hell & the Voidiods / Staring in Her Eyes

It wasn’t until my college years that I would (re)discover country music; watching Mr. Maurer‘s family dispose of his sizable record collection just days after he died; I spent a week rescuing stacks of vinyl that had been thoughtlessly discarded in the curb-side trash. Pulling out records that looked interesting or out of some sense of loyalty for the forgotten old-man. But it didn’t take long before the poetry within those records began to be revealed. There was indeed rebellion and anger lurking beneath the surface of those silly country songs; the same societal betrayal that inspired Johnny Thunder and Richard Hell was there in the voices of Johnny Cash and David Allen Coe (and countless others). The threads were always there. I just needed to listen more closely; country music has the same search for sanctuary. The same working-class anger masked behind alcohol and drug addition. And I can’t help but think of Mr. Maurer whenever I play one of his records; records that have remained in my trust after all these years. A few even rank among my favorites; Johnny Cash’s Ride This Train, Willie Nelson’s Phase and Stages or Guy Clark’s Old No. 1. The truth is, there are far more similarities between the pathologies of Mr. Maurer and myself then I care to articulate.

///

The Sadies‘ new album comes at a strange time. The death of guitarist/vocalist Dallas Good in February obviously hit the band hard. And it must have been a bitter/sweet experience releasing the record after his death. The weight of Good‘s passing can be felt on every note of music on the album. The Sadies have always cultivated a very direct relationship with their audience. And most fans feel a strong bond with all the members of the band. Their poignant music articulating a very real sense of a community that exists outside the parameters of the musical mainstream.

It would be tempting to call Colder Streams an album that returns the Sadies to their core assets of songwriting and adventurous playing. And perhaps on some surface level the album is a summary of their past; there certainly is a noticeable refinement of their psychedelic-country explorations. But Colder Streams goes deeper into the darker currents that run beneath the complex instrumentation. There are no reasurances of the past to be found; the music does not retreat into some fake retro-elegance of the past. There is nothing muted or calming about the flow of one track into the next. In fact, the band is quite direct in exposing the veneer of comfort and normalcy that we hear being preached by our leaders. All is not well in the kingdom. The band traveling through the same unsettled territory that seems to have engulfed every corner of the globe. On both a micro and marco level, the Sadies address the weight of events that have shattered our fragile sense of stability and hope. These are harsh and vulgar times and a normal dialogue would feel inadequate at best;

Nothing changes and nothing lasts / I’m tired of trying to forgive / Turn over the empty hour glass / And hope to forget what was said / When I search for answers / Questions are all I find / Wish I knew what I needed to do this time / I still have so much to learn / Because of the lessons I missed / I appreciate all of your concern / But I burned down every bridgeThe Sadies / All the Good

There is an underlying uneasiness that runs through each song on the record. And Colder Streams will suprise many listeners with it’s directness; focusing on the realities of societal decline and the brutality of fading empires. Stop and Start begins the album with a direct, muscular punch that feels almost reassuring. But instead of false safety, the band invites the audience to join them on a rather risky venture. And the only assurance is that there will be hard times ahead; “Seven years until the hex is broken. Seven years to endure the curse. And no magic words can be spoken. Potions and prayers will make it worse“. Lyrically, the Sadies have always had a strong voice to share with their audience. But on Colder Streams the music pulls us into the atmosphere of the living, breathing song. A darkly beautiful landscape that is both irresistible and apocalyptic.

Of course, Colder Streams does contains those elements that listener’s have come to expected. The band developing on the musical traditions that they established throughout their career; the warm jangle of mid-period Byrds; the neo-psychedelia of the paisley underground; and the California country of Bakersfield. The Sadies deliver on all these elements. And they are still capable of hitting us hard with a pro-forma garage swagger that wouldn’t be out of place on an MC5 record. However, there are some noticeable musical difference on this outing; The band advancing a more ornate, detailed maturity to their sound without sacrificing their core identity. For example, on So Far for So Few, the band mixes a rich vocal harmony with a acid-jangle climax that is uniquely the Sadies. And never, not once, does the music lean into a retro or traditional sound. On Colder Streams, the band maintains the raw passion of their live show while building the complex, psychedelic interplay between their instruments. The result is an album full of fire, intensity and contrasts. Contrasts that become an important asset on the album; On Cut Up High and Dry, the band uses the rough edges of their sound to underscore a (seemingly) simple lyric of forgotten love. And then mixes that personal yearnings with the urgency of global destruction.

Love thy neighbour and your family and friends / The power and the glory forever and ever, Amen / Wait till the world’s caught fire, then try to pretend / All our sins are forgiven in the endThe Sadies / Cut up High and Dry.

On Colder Streams, The Sadies are searching; struggling to find a refuge in those cool, life-giving streams. Struggling to find the common ground. The toxicity of our sky, water and land has shaken our trust and hope in the future. And the environment is only the beginning of a long list of human calamities that are beyond our reach; the solutions only unveiling further dilemmas. Even the most basic resources of life now seem beyond our grasp. On Message to Belial, the uneasy themes are examined up close and personal. And we are given no choice but to feel the sting of heartache. The band mixing the message of damnation with the inability to connect with a lost and forgotten love. And the willingness to see everything burn in flames over the pain.

I searched through the heavens and down in the underworld
The circle is broken you’ve been away for so long

Rise! Rise! The dawn of creation / Lucifer, Lucifer, what have you done / Fall! Fall! Last chance for salvation / The end of all nations, the darkest of ages has come

One, two, three times, we’re ruined / Dantalion won’t even dare make a sound / Look to the north as we descend south and / Watch heaven from hell as it burns to the ground

Indeed there are common thread to be found, when we look closely. As the institutions around us decline and crumble, people will need the strong voice of the musicans and artists. Brave and truthful voices that aren’t afraid to challenge an increasingly dangerous ruling-class. In 1971, John Lennon wrote a simple demand for honestly in a song; with Gimme Some Truth, Lennon’s anger was directed at the powerful elites that profits from American imperialism; “I’m sick and tired of hearing things. From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics. All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth“. Lennon was specificly calling out the “hypocrites, bigots, prima donnas and White House incumbent” attempting to convince the public the War in Vietnam was “winnable”. Unfortunately, matters have only gotten worse as endless war and conflict set the planet on fire. In 2022 the Sadies have remain true to themselves and their audience. Speaking honestly even when it’s difficult and uncomfortable. At their core they are still the band from Toronto, Ontario. The musicians holding true to the principles that helped them navigate the last twenty years. The future may be uncertain for Travis Good and Sean Deanband & Mike Belitsky as they continue the journey without Dallas Good. But that is true for all of us as we seek a future in these strange and uncertain times.

Comments? Sciavatt@yahoo.com

(Even More) Krautrock Rarities

The purpose of Part One of our Top 10 Krautrock Rarities was to move beyond the usual classic albums from the past. We decided to save the gushing platitudes about the usual suspects (Can’s Tago Mago or Faust IV) for someone else. That’s a concept that has been done again and again and again. Just as we have retreated from any focus on those massive “super-deluxe” reissues or the limited-edition colored vinyl “rarities” that are being manufactured and sold to the public. Often, these extravagant packages feels like so much product; manufactured rarities or investments looking for future profit. Truth is, most of our readers already have a healthy obsession with the discographies of Neu! or Can or Kraftwerk. The real appeal of German experimental music has always been the depth and influence it has had across the globe. And with all due respect to American Jazz, it is the experimental music movement that emerged from the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in 1968 that has changed the way musicans create sound and music. (Which was exactly the objective that Conrad Schnitzler, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Boris Schaak had in mind).

With this second edition, (Even More) Krautrock Rarities, we have endeavored to (again) take a look into that bottomless cavern of experimental sounds, and follow the path to the most obscure and difficult albums. The music that has largely been overlooked or neglected. But more importantly, The Vinyl-Dreamscape seeks these adventures (musical and otherwise) because we are interested in knowing more about the music and otherwise. And if you want to come along for this journey, there is always a place for a fellow traveler. We hope that our choice of rarities or obscurities looks beyond the usual vintage or country or city or location most would expect. Our goal is to liberate music from the magazines, websites and museums that appreciate records as if they are science experiments; studying the music carefully with their creepy protective MOFI sleeves. Instead, let’s burn those institutions to the ground. (Even More) Krautrock Rarities will highlights both contemporary albums and a few older, liberated pieces. We hope you enjoy what has been found. One final note: Don’t make too much of the sequence of these albums. In other words, Yoshinori Sunahara’s Lovebeat isn’t our least favorite album on the list. Nor is Wolfgang Bock’s Cycles our favorite.

10) Yoshinori Sunahara / Lovebeat / 2001: Sunahara’s Lovebeat is at just the right intersection between techno, house and post-punk and Krautrock. What could have been an album full of unsatisfying compromises, turned into an instant electronic masterpiece back in 2001. At first, the experimental roots of Conrad Schnitzler and Klaus Schulze may be difficult to hear for anyone new to the topic. But repeated listenings will open those innocent eyes. Make no mistake; Lovebeat is electronic music that sounds like the bastard child of Kraftwerk and Neu!. Krautrock is at the foundation of the dance and hip-hop created by Yoshinori Sunahara. Unlike most music created for the club, Lovebeat washes over the listener with real emotion and, oddly, humanity. As if all those yesterdays had never happened; the beats and melodies forming a lush, pillowy softness in the back of your head. And like a good opium buzz, the music gently explodes and spreading throughout your entire body. Only Lovebeat brings much more to the party then pleasant, intoxicating dance music. Sunahara knew eactly what he was doing when he built these magnificent soundscape; this is music that will surprise the listener at each turn. Eventually revealing hints of danger and darkness. Soon we realize that this sweet sonic-candy hides a earthy, dystopian core. Lovebeat is a highly complicated and rewarding album that will unfold gradually each time you return. An album that shouldn’t be missed. Highly recommended.

09) Michael Rother / Fernwarme / 1982: Fernwärme is the fourth studio album by guitarist and songwriter Michael Rother. One of the more well known musicans to emerge from the German experimental music movement of the 70s. Rother is perhaps best known for his early work as a member of Neu!, Harmonia, Cluster and Kraftwerk. Recorded in 1981 while Rother was working at his own studio in Forst, Germany. Fernwarme was his first solo album to NOT use the drumming skills of Can’s Jaki Liebezeit or have any production assistance from Conny Plank. Rother giving himself complete artistic control over the album’s direction; taking a less immediate and more individualized path for the music. Rother often found himself alone in the studio, building an album that is more reflective and refined then anything he had previously done. Unfortunately, many fans seem to overlook Rother’s work after his third solo album (Katzenmusik). And that’s a big mistake. On Fernwarme, he leaves behind the most obvious meditative qualities of his earliest sound; Fernwarme focusing on more muted and textural themes. The earthy keyboard tones taking the preeminent role. In the end, we have an album that mixes Rother’s alway present ambient atmosphere with the colors and style of a new decade. A beautiful record.

08)Gila / Free Electric Sound / 1971: Gila shouldn’t really be on this rarities list. The album’s not really an overlooked gem. But Gila’s Free Electronic Sound is so good, we needed to include the record anyway. For those pulled towards the more mainstream western rock music; just stop reading now. Gila’s music is a mix of unholy sources; imagine an occult ceremony taking place on a planet ruled by Hawkwind. The album is broken into six separate titles that play together like (mini) movements of sound; the first two (Side One) will satisfy those looking for something strange and different but not too different. The acid-rock, guitar buzz dominates the entire sonic atmosphere. These are the visions of true psychedelic warriors planning their cosmic attack. Gila pulling influences from a strong pedigree of bands; Hawkwind, Ash Ra Temple and Pink Floyd (Atomic Heart Mother). Eventually, the space journey becomes a full blown DMT trip on Side 2. Instantly you hear the difference; as the most primal and ritualistic aspects of music come forth. Taking us back to the very origins of our pre-human need for music and the bloodlust of ceremony. Fires blazing high into the night sky. Gila speaking in unknown tongues to our now forgotten gods. The band using a pulsating percussion to bring the last four tracks to an illuminating and satisfying climax. (Anyone taken by the music of Agitation Free should investigate Gila…immediately).

07) Dopplereffekt / Neurotelepathy / 2022: As part of the notorious Motor City electro-music club, the duo of Gerald Donald (aka Rudolf Klorzeiger) and Michaela “To-Nhan” Bertel; Dopplereffekt have used countless names and labels to obscure their true idenities from the public. This veil of secrecy extends beyond their public peersona. Secrecy is a way of life; and a useful tool to achieve both their cerebral and musical advancement. Taking their core fascination with the machine-man drive and mixing it with the more comtemporary power of Techno and House music. Dopplereffekt is re-defining the origins of music for the NEXT 50 years. On Neurotelepathy, Herr Klorzeger appraoches the music conceptually with the optimism that humanity has a future and the pessimism that the likely outcome will be a nightmare of corporate slavery. Crisp, glitchy electronic rhythms and beats push through the angular melodies. Touching on everything from Neu! to Ashra to Heldon. Blurring the lines with a post-astetic sound that burns like a frontal attack from Richard Hell and Television.

06) Roedelius & Hauddwolff / Nordlight / 2018: Here’s a left-handed choice released on the Curious Music label. Even in semi-retirement Hans-Joachim Roedelius seemed determined to create music using the most abstract sounds from the natural environment. A quick look at his discography reveals the pivotal role Roedelius has always played to developing the avant-garde spirit of German experimental music. His career defining work with Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia is at the very foundation of the entire movement. On Nordlight, Roedelius collaborates with Carl Michael von Hausswolff; a Swedish artist who uses found-sounds and cassette tapes to investigate the cryptic messages found in nature. Enlighting and unsettling, the four tacks on Nordlight take full advantage of the nocturnal noises that are all around us. The music of a silent night; the nightmare of a world trying desperately to speaking directly to each of us. This is a listening experience that stays with you; touching upon a forgotten communication with our living environment. But be prepared. These treasures won’t give themselves without an effort. These types of textural recordings can be surprisingly person and emotional. And the ghosts you will find lurking between the grooves will be more recognizable than you think. Some listeners may find themselves much closer to a ritualistic experience then bargained for. Nordlights is music that should be experienced only with the most serious consideration. Either alone or with someone who finds comfort in long periods of thinking silence; Or let’s say it another way; these waves of cold, environmental sound have the ability to turn against you body and mind. The music will expose your hidden lies. Cold skin warmed only by the living warmth of your own flowing blood. Nordlight is an important experience if you are prepared. One last point, there is a solitude and cleansing that will happen; the elements of water return us to our core of strength and self-awareness. High Recommended. But be careful.

05) Floh De Cologne / Rockoper Profitgeier / 1971: Often compared to Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, Floh De Cologne released their first album (Vietnam) of anti-war protest songs in 1968; the music and lyrics a full attack of the imperialism of the war in Vietnam. This group of radical left-wing students wanted to continue to use their music as a platform to satirise capitalist, consumer culture in Europe and America. Froming an alliance with Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, founder of the Ohr record label, Kaiser agreed to produce their next album: Rockoper Profitgeier (1971).  However, even with Kaiser‘s help. Floh De Cologne plays at the shallow end of the Krautrock spectrum; relying on old blues riffs to get the fire started. And it doesn’t really get interesting until the political slogans start to fly. Although it must be said, even these “radical” protests can sound somewhat lackluster today. Floh De Cologne is an interesting but deated artifact from an age when questioning authority was encourage on the left. Very different then the conformist attitudes that seem to dominate 2022.

04) Canaxis 5 / Technical Space composer’s Crew / 1969: An album that is perhaps best known for the marijuana endorsing sleeve art; Canaxis 5 is another case of an extreme left-field choices for our thoughtful little list. Canaxis 5 is the only studio album by the Technical Space Composer’s Crew; which consists of Can‘s bass player Holger Czukay and producer/engineer Rolf Dammer. Of course everyone understands the talents of Czukay. Can wouldn’t exist without his skills. And, in many ways, Canaxis 5 is his first solo album. On the other hand, Rolf Dammers role is less clear; operating strictly as assistant project manager. Dammers’ helping to keep this studio project on track as the different ideas rolled in from his partner. Meanwhile, Czukay was busy finding and recording thousands of found sounds; recordings that seemed completely disconnect and abstract (to an extreme). Together the studio partnership gradually pulling together the music from all the snippets of sound. A fasinating album; Canaxis 5 redefines the boundaries of Krautrock. Any resemblaince to rock music is left behind in a sea of tape-loops. Are these musicians having a joke? Intentionally messing with your head? Are they laughing with us? Or at us?

03)Cybotron / Enter / 1980: Krautrock via Detroit Techno? This album is the strangest “techno” album carrying the moniker; Cybotron was an Detroit-based group formed by Juan Atkins, Richard 3070 Davis and John “Jon 5” Housely in 1980. Cybotron recording a number of important singles in the electro-groove style; Alleys of Your Mind, Cosmic Cars and R-9. Electro-groove came about with the demise of disco music at the end of the 70s. But Cybotron was a unique breed. Pulling influences from techno, afrofuturism and German experimental music. Most notably, Kraftwerk; the robo-futurism is perhaps the most noticeable aspect of their music. However, unlike the optimism of Kraftwerk’s view, Cybotron saw a desperate and totalitarian future. (Remember, by 1980 Detroit was at the depths of an economic and culture decline. Truly the city was and is a contemporary dystopia). We encourage you to sample the music of Cybortron; this was groundbreaking music in 1980. Behold what became of Kraftwerk and Neu! when their sound hit the hard realities on the streets of the world’s first post-industrial city.

02)Slift / Ummon / 2020: Here we have another French band reconnecting the old Paris-Berlin alliance of Heldon; a soaring, high octane stoner-rock / space-rock attack. This is music that blends the organized chaos of Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation with metal and psychedelic influences; although at their core Slift will likely appeal to those looking for a more traditional hard-rock sound. Certainly nothing wrong with that concept, if it’s executed well. Slift combines their rock-odessy vision with chaotic experimental passages that incorporate one new idea after another. And it’s the trio’s fresh ideas and youthful enthusiasm that bring us back to the album again and again. Enjoy.

01) Wolfgang Bock / Cycles / 1980: The Berlin School of electronic music originated in West Berlin in the 1970s. An offshoot of the Krautrock movement, Berlin School combines elements of ambient with repitious use of sequencer riffs that pulsate rhythms of sound. In fact, the sequencer often plays the role of percussion, since actual drums are rarely used. The adventurous sound is, of course, very closely related to the Krautrock sound. But Berlin School takes the music in a slightly more melodic direction but also uses atonal sound to push the music in extreme ways; Tangerine Dream or Vangelis. Produced by legendary musican Klaus Schulze, Wolfgang Bock’s Cycle is an album that takes full advantage of this melodic openness. Cycle capture the feel and atmosphere of a lonely, Nortic night. In much the same way Eddie Jobson’s Theme of Secrets (1985) constructed massive, desolate soundscape; beautiful but icy and cold. The remarkable, stoic beauty forever preserved yet without the warmth of human lust and passion. On Cycles’ Wolfgang Bock finds an odd balance between that stoic beauty and the warmth of creating music that touches both emotionally and intellectually.

Comments? sciavatt@yahoo.com

The secret (proto-punk) history of Bob Seger: 1966 – 1973

OK…our article begins with a bit of a misnomer. What we are really talking about is the often deleted, cancelled or ignored early discography of AOR wunderkind Bob Seger. You know the guy; the maker of such banal music endeavors as Night Moves, Shakedown or, Allah help me, Old Time Rock n’ Roll. Seger’s post -1976 output has been a cross-section of everything that turned American commercial radio into such a sad, sentimental, corporate hellhole in the later half of the 70s. This indictment includes all the formulaic music of the period. From the faux country-rock sincerity of the Eagles to the heartland neo-prog of Kansas; these are the sounds that drained the piss and blood out of rock-radio. And (unfortunately) our Detroit Hero was a part of this unholy effort. Seger seemed intent to retire his music to a sour, compromised post-graduate adulthood. Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember that it wasn’t always that way;

I want to drive a Lincoln / Spend my evenings drinking / The very best burgundy / I want a yacht for sailing / Private eye for tailing / My wife if She’s a bit too free / I’ve been told ever since a boy / That’s what one aught to be / A part of the UMC

In 1945 Robert Clark Seger was born at Henry Ford Receiving Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. Just a few miles away from where my parents bought a house and raised their family after my father returned from the Korean War. And for good or ill, those sturdy, blue-collar neighborhoods are forever in the background of our little story. But more about that later. In 1950, Seger’s family moved to the more affluent Ann Arbor, MI; a up-scale, college town and the home of the University of Michigan. A community that would provide the aspiring musician with access to the vibrant cultural scene that was developing around the Detroit / Ann Arbor hud. Eventually, Seger became involved with a series of bands that achieved a surprising level of success for a young man still in his teens. Forming bands with his fellow students from Ann Arbor High School; The Decibels in 1961, The Town Criers in 1963 and Doug Brown & The Omens in 1965. Of course, then there was The Last Heard in 1966; a band and a sound that wouldn’t soon be forgotten. Bob Seger‘s reputation and skill as a musican steady rising with each new endeavor; writing songs, lyrics and developing a vocal style that was beginning to get the attention he wanted. Each step preparing the singer to make the next jump forward. Accumulating with the The Last Heard securing a short-lived, independent record deal on Hideout Records in January 1966. Their unique brand of driving, garage-rock reminding some critics of fellow Ann Arbor band, The Rationals. However, there was something different about The Last Heard. Seger’s vocal reveals his deep affection for the soul and R&B music he heard on Detroit’s Motown label. Seger‘s vocal gave The Last Heard a rich, sophisticated edge over the competition. It was an edge that wasn’t always welcome in the “conservative” local music and radio business.

To adequately understand this last point, let’s take a moment to look into the role that racism and segregation played in shaping the cultural (and political) history of Detroit. And also how those “sturdy, blue-collar neighborhoods” first came into existence. According to the Roots of Structural Racism Project at the University of California, the greater Metropolitan Detroit area ranks as the mostly highly segregated community in the United States. And although some progress has been made, the legacy of institutional racism is firmly rooted in those neighborhoods. And that is as true in today, as it was in 1945 or 1975. Ever since the Great Migration (1916-1970) brought southern blacks to Michigan seeking employment and opportunity; the reaction of the white population reveals the true depth of racism throughout America. Instead of finding equality and justice in this northern state, the newly arriving southern blacks were greeted with an aggressive campaign of rules used to segregate the population. The federal policy of “redlining” was officially implemented with the adoption of the U.S. Underwriting Manual on June 1, 1939 . This policy required local governments to identify the arriving black population as “hazardous to investment” for business and investors. These redlining regulations (overtly) warned that “too many residents of color” would produce a climate of danger. Local and state government used the redlining policies to justify artificially constructed minority housing areas within a municipality. Redlining institutionalized racism throughout many northern state(s). Often rendering the blacks population invisible within their own city. To maintain this segregated status quo, a brutal regime of police harassment was unleashed on minority areas of the city. As for those “sturdy, blue-collar neighborhoods” previously mentioned; the institutional segregation was then exacerbated by the mass exodus of whites to newly constructed communities that surrounded the city; these suburbanites pledged to stay on the “other side of 8 Mile”. And “white flight” continued as a fact of life throughout the 60/70/80/90s. This combination of White flight and segregation effectively forecasting the economic and cultural decline of Detroit. The population of the city went from 1.85 million in 1950 to 640,000 in 2020.

Within this context, Bob Seger‘s embracement of black music broke an unspoken “norm” in the music industry; by incorporating elements of Motown and James Brown into his style, Seger took the garage vibe in a unique direction. But he also risked a backlash from rock radio and his own audience. This groundbreaking music can best be heard on those first singles on the Cameo-Parkway record label from 1966/67; East Side Story and Heavy Music both stand as Exhibit’s A & B in affirming the pioneering attributes of Bob Seger’s music to the “proto-punk” sound. His aggressive yet soulful vocal delivery is then coupled with the electric-fuzzbox sound of The Last Heard (Carl Lagassa on guitar, Pep Perrine on drums and Dan Honaker playing bass )personifying that legendary Detroit sound as much as the MC5, the Stooges or Mitch Ryder.

Despite the success of Heavy Music (and to a lesser degree, East Side Story) as regional hit singles, Cameo-Parkway went into bankruptcy in 1968. Bob Seger & the Last Herd then taking their misfit brand to major label, Capitol Records. A move that would further push the band toward mainstream success. Was it a compromise to move to the major label? Remember, Seger’s mid-western, middle-class background didn’t see commercial success as a compromise; success was the goal. The romance of poverty has very little appeal in most working-class communities. People make music for a large audience and Capitol Record presented an opportunity to expand. However, once Capitol became involved the band did begin to evolve; Guitarist Carl Lagassa quit the band and a new keyboard player was brought into the fold, Bob Schultz. And the new musical arrangement changed the way the band sounded; Less hard-driving then The Last Heard but with a more sophisticated, psychedelic edge. The band changing their name to The Bob Seger System in 1968 and jumped into the studio to record their acid-driven, fuzzed-out take on rhythm & blues. Releasing their first single, 2 + 2 = ? in January ‘68. The song is a distillation of the bands strengths; a tight musical and lyrical attack that spoke directly to the rebellious streets;

“All I know is that I’m young / And your rules they are old / If I’ve got to kill to live / Then there’s something left untold / I’m no statesman / I’m no general / I’m no kid I’ll never be / It’s the rules not the soldier / That I find the real enemy / I’m no prophet / I’m no rebel / I’m just asking you why / I just want a simple answer / Why it is I’ve got to die / I’m a simple minded guy / 2+2 is on my mind / 2+2 is on my mind”

There is no doubting the garage/punk integrity of this first major label single. 2+2=? takes the power of Heavy Music a step further. The music punches hard but now with the vibrant colors of psychedelia beneath an intelligent political statement. The words shouting an overt (and brave) declaration that Seger was choosing sides in a battle over America’s foreign policy. A message that likely ran contrary to his conservative, working-class audience. Unfortunately, the single did not perform up to expectations for Capitol . Although, it’s worth noting that the song did receive massive air-play in the Detroit area. That success that cemented Seger‘s local reputation and the track remained in heavy rotation on rock radio well into the 80/90s ; Jack White of the White Strip even stating that Seven Man Army was inspired by The Heard’s 2+2=?.

And here’s where our tale starts to take a bit of a strange shine; The Bob Seger System releasing several more singles, including another regional hit Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man in 1969. Oddly, this period also saw Seger becoming disenchanted with the music business. Frustrated by his inability to break out the mid-western scene, the singer seriously considered getting out the music business entirely. In fact, the next album, the Bob Seger System‘s Noah (1969), featured Tom Neme as the primary singer and songwriter. The album is a strange responses for a band still officially called The Bob Seger Sysytem. Only the title track (Noah) contains is a complete lead vocal from Seger. To this day, the Noah albums remains one of the most fascinating failures in the Seger discography.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of our story; by 1970, the Tom Neme experiment was over. And Bob Seger returning to the music business after briefly attend college. The band recording the final System album, Mongrel (1970) with Seger’s vocal positioned front and center. The muscular first single, Lucifer a declaration that the music was as vital and important as ever. Mongrel is full of great music and songs; Evil Edna, Highway Child, Leanin on My Dream, and Song to Rufus all mixing the swagger and soul with the garage that the auduience had come to expect . It was a sound that was becoming know as simply, Detroit Rock.

Despite the local success, The Bob Seger System was disinterraging; Seger losing interest in collaboration and wanting greater artistic control. The band’s internal politics forcing Seger to compromise the directions of his craft. It’s an understandable situation. In 1971, Seger release his first solo album, Brand New Morning. And althrough the record lacked the fire of The System. Brand New Morning gave Seger his chance to experiment with a stripped-down acoustic sound. Morning will feel like a disappoint for those looking for a follow-up to Heavy Music, Lucifer or 2+2=?. However, the record is not without it’s pleasures. There is an heartbreaking melancholic flow to the music. And it’s a clear reflection of the singer’s struggle to find his direction into the future. There is an almost amateurish quality to the recording that gives the music a strange reflective beauty. Finally, Morning hints at the singer-songwriter style that would propel Bob Seger into international superstardom. Brand New Morning is yet another forgotten alleyway in Seger’s career. Morning was then followed by the worthwhile Smokin’ OPs in 1972. (That is, “Smokin’ other people’s music“). And still better, Back in 72 release in 1973. Back in ’72 representing the last truly great album before the corporate slickness took over the sound. Partially recorded with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Back in ’72 is a fully-realized Bob Seger record. But with the personality and rawness that his music lacked after 1976. The record even using the services of saxophone player, Alto Reed; a band member who would become an important part of the Silver Bullet Band later in the decade. But ‘72 still pulled ideas from outside the mainstream. Bring a hard-rock flame to tracks like Rosalie; written as a tribute to Rosalie Trombley, the music director of the groundbreaking CKLW (AM 800) from Windsor, Ontraio. (Note: CKLW was the 50,000 watts radio station that defined indepentant radio before the industry was consolidated in the 1980s). Later, Seger gave the song to the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy for their Fighting album.

Of course, Bob Seger would go on to record many, many more albums in the late 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. And occassionally, a gem would pass through the corporate gates (for example? Come to Poppa in 76). However, from 1966 through the early part of the 70s, Bob Seger was making songs and albums every bit a important as the lysergic/diethylamide rock of the Amboy Dukes. As vital as the protopunk of the Stooges and as volume-crushing as the Motor-City Five. In many ways, Seger’s early discography is the missing-link between the garage/psychedelia of Detroit’s Grande Ballroom daze and the soul/funk music developing in Detroit’s Black Bottom community. Below is a list of those albums that have not always been easy to obtain, even in the Detroit area. Albums that stand to document a hidden, neglected and deleted history of a singer that has not embraced his rightful place in the development of a unique sound. Why? Well that’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Bob Seger’s longtime manager and friend, Punch Andrew has stated that there is no audience for the pre-1976 albums. So most have never been reissued. Nor have we had the opportinity to hear what gems may remains in the vaults. Which is all unfortunate. Think of these records as the Dead Sea Scrolls of Detroit rock music; a long hidden and forgotten history that deserves recognition.

Bob Seger and The Last Herd / Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967 / 2018: At 28 minute or so, these 10 tracks represent (almost) the entire output of The Last Heard. Bob Seger may be the quintessential heartland rock ‘n roller to many fans. But these Cameo recordings show Seger‘s true passions; garage, proto-punk, R&B, soul and psychedelic rock. We even get Seger doing his best to channel Zimmerman on Persecution Smith. The track foreshadowing Seger’s complex lyrical talent. Finally, Sock it to me, Santa needs to be in every good record collection. A Christmastime classic for the entire family? These recordings will suprise many who had previously included in the same sub-genre as Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar. There’s a lot more happening on these songs then tales of midwestern night moves. Grab this album while it is still readily available from Third-Man Records; It’s worth noting that one track from this period was excluded from release; The Hideout label had a tiny subsidiary called Are You Kidding Me? that released a song called “Ballad of the Yellow Beret”. The song mockingly refering to those that avoided the draft. The track has completely disappeared from any officially released CDs or LP. The song was credited to The Beach Bums ( with the lead vocal performed by Bob Seger).

The Bob Seger System / Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man / 1969: Here’s another record that was impossible to get in good condition unless you lived in the Detroit area. (Although, a reissue has been made available on both vinyl and CD).Ramblin’ pulls aways from the garge sound just a bit. But don’t let that scare you. This albums is filled with wailing organ fills, fuzzy guitars and passionate, soulful vocals. The music pushing more toward the music of San Francoisco psychedelia. 2+2=?, Gone and the aggressive Black Eyed Girl are all tracks that need to be heard by anyone who appreciates the MC5’s High Times.. Black Eyed Girl finding The System meandering into Grateful Dead territory. Only…completely different.

The Bob Seger System / Noah / 1969: Never reissued and very obscure. Noah really must be the strangest record in the Bob Seger discography. While certainly not a great (or even good) record. Noah a fasinating listen for those that consider themselves fans of this era. Why? Seger is almost not included on the record. Let’s put the record in the same category as the Velvet Underground’s final (sans-Lou Reed) album, Squeeze. We also appreciate menacing Seger on the cover. Capitol was apparently pushing the band to make Tom Neme the new leader. The contrast between Seger and Neme is an odd and confusing place to take the audience. Again, t’s not that Neme’s is a bad singer. He just lacks the personally to bring the songs to life. With just one song on the album, Seger still manages to steal the show. Although, Neme’s Jumpin’ Humpin’ Hip Hypocrite, is a nice slice of garage rock that is begging to be covered. Overall, the music is nothing more then a mediocre combination of garage and soul. Lacking the direction and personality that we expect. Noah has never been issued on CD and probably never will be. VG copies of the original vinyl are selling for silly money. Save your hard earned cash unless you are obsessed with the magic of Detroit. There is a bootleg making the rounds with the Noah cover art. The music is a useful collection of singles from Seger’s early career. Again, difficult to find.

The Bob Seger System / Mongrel / 1970: Mongrel stands as Seger’s best overall album. And you need a copy. The record just keeps hitting the listener with great song after great song. The single, Lucifer cuts a fresh hook that gives the music a unique psychedelic swaggering that only The System could pull off. Mongrel earns a special place in Seger‘s early career. Albums and singles that he has simply chosen to ignore. Bu you can’t live without the monster rock of Lucifer, Evil Edna, Highway Child and Teachin’ Blues.

Bob Seger / Brand New Morning / 1971: Another anomaly in the early Seger catalog. Brand New Moring is an album almost completely forgotten by everyone. And it’s a safe bet that this record will never be reissued on any format. BNM is a fully acoustic album that seemed very, very strange departure in 1971. Nevertheless, the album does show us another side of an important musician. And there is no denying the records sincerity, beauty and heartache. NOTE: I once met Bob Seger’s manager, Punch Andrews about 5 or 6 years ago and specific asked him about reissue of the early Seger catolog. And he responded with a blank look. So…I continued press; will you ever release Bob Seger’s early records on vinyl or CD release? And his response? “Nobody wants to hear those records”. Shame.

Bob Seger / Smokin’ O.P.S / 1972: Smokin’ O.P.’s is the fifth studio album by Bob Seger. It’s also one of the few early records in Seger’s catalog that has gotten a proper reissues over the years. Even getting a CD reissue in 2005. The cover art was created to resemble a cigarette logo. And the title, Smokin’ O.P.’s refers to “Smokin’ Other People’s Songs” or smoking other people’s cigarettes exclusively (i.e. never purchasing your own smokes). Most of the tracks are worthwhile cover versions; Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love? is a must hear (the Live Bullet version is better). And Chuck Berry’s Let It Rock is reborn in Seger’s hands. Both songs would remain in Seger’s live show throughout the 70s and 80s. The truth is, Smokin’ O.P.’s is a lot of fun when you are in the Detroit state-of-mind. A simple idea for a record that Seger escalates to a near classic with his voice, passion and personality.

Bob Seger / Back in ’72 / 1973:Originally released on the Detroit’s Palladium Records; a label owned by Punch Andrews, Seger‘s long-time manager. Back In ‘72 includes two tracks that will be well known to the world outside of Detroit. The song Rosalie was given to Irish rock band Thin Lizzy for their album Fighting. And the other is Turn the Page. A song (horribly) covered by Metallica for their Garage Days Revisted album in 1998. Metallica did some very worthwhile cover songs (Am I Evil or Last Caress) but Turn the page is just embarassing. Nevertheless, Back in ’72 is a fine, fine Seger record. Lots of heart and passion give the record a fresh, meat-and-potatoes rock vibe that still sounds good in 2022. The title track and Van Morrison’I’ve Been Working are so good that they out-rank everything Seger record after his Live Bullet album.

Michigan Brand Nuggets / Belvedere Records / Late 70s / Unoffical Release: Here we have a compilation of Michigan area garage bands, mostly from the 1965-1967 period. For many collectors these Michigan artifacts will feel like a holy-grail records. The double LP set was released by “Belvedere Records” (pun on a popular local television commercial) and is overflowing with interesting materrial. The 31 tracks including many classic Detroit gems such as Unrelated Segments, The Rationals, The Underdogs, The Wanted, Human Beings, MC5, Amboy Dukes, Woolies. Then there are the “7 very rare Bob Seger songs” mentioned on the albums sleeve, including; Looking Back, East Side Story, Persecution Smith, Heavy Music PT 2, and Sock It To Me Santa. Most, but not all(!), of the songs did get an eventually released. In fact, the album includes the Yellow Beret single Bob Seger recorded under the pseudonym, the Beach Bums. Rumor has it that Bob Seger’s manager, Punch Andrew’s was “furious” about the release of this album. Original copies are very difficult to find with the album being limited and numbered #1 to #1000. (I found #247 in a little shop in Winsor, Canada about 10 years ago). However, there has been non-numbered reissue. Note: Strange to have Iggy Pop on the front cover of this record. He’s not actually featured anywhere on the record. Although the cover looks great.

Krautrock via the Sorbonne: Richard Pinhas & the French Électronique Guerillas of HELDON

The alternative-history novel “The Iron Dream” was written in 1972 by American author Norman Spinrad. The book written in a complex “novel-within-a-narative” style that frames another science-fiction story, Lord of the Swastika, with Spinard’s critical analysis. With Lord of the Swastike purporting to be written by an “alternative-history” Adolf Hitler. This “Hitler” leaving Germany after World War One to find fame and fortune writing science fiction in the United States. Of course, Lord of the Swastika is populated with the would-be fascist’s toxic world-view. For example, the story contains a description of the Republic of Heldon; a nation-state founded to keeping humanity “pure” of the mutant hordes that roaming the country-side. It’s a fascinating, strange and complicated idea for a novel; oddly, it’s also the source of the “Heldon” band name.

After graduating from the Paris Sorbonne University in 1974 (and presumably reading The Iron Dream), Philosophy PhD Richard Pinhas made a decision that his band “Schizo” should become his full-time concern under a new name; thus “Heldon” was born. The music mostly inspired by King Crimson and the electronic-experimental music pouring our of Berlin in the early 70s; Heldon developing a uniquely innovative sound of it’s own; molding the looping guitar gymnastics of Robert Fripp with a pulsating, electronic Motorik. In other words, Heldon’s music is based firmly in electronic music but without loosing the rich, organic feel of real musicians. The group playing free-lance, structure-less improvisation with driving purpose and forward movement.  The conflicting styles mixing and, often, clashing to create bold explorations that defy standard definitions (or constraints). And if you listen close, you’ll hear the uncredited influence of Heldon everywhere in contemporary music; Spaceman 3, (late-period) Wire, Primal Scream and Mogwai all developing their music around a philosophy that Suicide’s Alan Vega called “minimal is maximal”; sound that feels fully maximal, although it is often a swirl of minimal forces. 

The most difficult issue with the Schizo / Heldon / Pinhas discography is how to get started; Pinhas eventually using the three monikers interchangably over the course of dozens of releases since 1972. Fortunately, the original six records offer a perfect overview of the groups amazing depth. Moving between the aggressive, molten-heat of ALLEZ TEIA (1975) to the more melodic space-adventures of AGNETA NILSSON (1976). Each record offers the listener a new surprise. The albums veering into the avant-garde outerlimits as Pinhas pushed his music further from the mainstream. Each record will earn a special place for those already intoxicated by the endless innovations of German experimental music. Heldon openning a new French – German corridor to the Krautrock genre. For many, their album, The STAND-BY (1979) should provide the required template for Heldon; with actual song-structures and a limited amounts of “disregard” for the orthodoxy of western music. But orthodox is not the place to begin with this group. And “Accessible” Heldon is not the same as prime-era Heldon.

Conceptually, the first album with the Heldon name, ÉLECTRONIQUE GUÉRILLA (1974) begins with three essential ingredients; the electronic minimalism of Brian Eno & Robert Fripp, the forward direction of Harmonia and the schizophrenic punch of Kluster. That sound puncuated with aggressive rhythms and texture that would become more fully realized with the fetishized noise of Suicide. On Elecrtonic Guerilla, Heldon moves between a mainstream, synth-pop sound to music with an entirely darker purpose. And it’s this exploration of extremes that make Heldon such a sinister delight in all it’s forms. 

It’s tempting to refer to Heldon’a music as “space rock” or god help me, “progressive”. Thankfully, the group has little or nothing to do with those misguilded monikers. As if to reenforce the point, we get yhe whispered narration of Friedrich NIetzche’s “The Voyager and His Shadow” by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze on Guerilla’s “Ouais Marchais mieux qu’en 68″. The track showing that Heldon can challenge us on the deepest and most ceribral levels.The album alternating between Pinhas’ avant-garde, Friptonic-guitars, ambient synthesizers and the multi-layered loops that pulsate with the heartbeat of the music. The sound revealing a deep connection between the Fripp & Eno music of the 70s and Heldon’s musical development. ÉLECTRONIQUE GUÉRILLA is the album were those details pull together; exploding with color, tone and timbre. Minimal is maximal.

Heldon’s music plays a unique role in the Kosmische Musik universe; electronic music with a natural feel and complexity of sound. The music inscribed with a distinctly French emotional state – cultured, ornate and melodic soundscapes that call the listener to the dark and dangerous territory of Heldon.