['ramp] / Ramp - Frozen Radios. 2000 Germany

Frozen Radios begins to demonstrate that ['ramp] have a penchant for the dark ambient sounds of Klaus Schulze's Cyborg or Tangerine Dream's Zeit. On the back cover, they inform us to "File Under: Electronic Industrial Ambient". And that's quite accurate, except the sequencers are still going full bore here, so you're never too far from the friendly confines of the Berlin School. Another highly recommended album for fans of the genre.

Personal collection
CD: 2000 private

Ramp - Nodular. 1998 Germany

Regular readers of the CDRWL know that I'm quite fond of the Berlin School of electronic music as founded by Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. Atmospheric keyboards that give way to blazing sequencers, choral mellotron tapes (likely sampled in Ramp's case), and melodic synthesizer lines (and even better if there's guitar which Ramp unfortunately doesn't employ) will blow me away every time. Instant mental movie soundtrack music. Ramp were part of the original renaissance of the movement that gained quite a bit of traction in the late 1990s (especially in the UK and The Netherlands) with Radio Massacre International, AirSculpture, and Redshift leading the charge. Ramp were rare in that they were from the namesake country. Certainly Germany had support of the style within, but mainly from various individual synthesists like Bernd Kistenmacher and Mario Schonwalder (and owner of the influential Manikin label). So Ramp were indeed unique given they were a group effort.

Ramp originally started as a trio, and the synchronicity of ideas is apparent. There were (and are) a ton of solo electronic musicians, but many of those sound monolithic to these ears. The best acts, like the ones I mentioned above, feature at least 3 performers if not more. Later, the band changed their sound to what they call "doombient" which I hope to hear one day as well, though I'm not entirely convinced it's a style I'll embrace. Hardcore EM followers no doubt are already very familiar with Ramp.

The lineup on Nodular is:
Frank Makowski: sampling, sequencing, electronics, loops
Stephen Parsick: electronics, sequencing, rhythm programming
Lambert Ringlage: electronics, micro composers, tapes
Martina Fantar: voice on "before the storm"

Martina's atmospheric voice is positively enchanting in this setting.

All the tracks are good, but the 19 minute 'Phasenverzerrung' is absolutely brilliant. If it doesn't lay you out on the first try, then there's a better than average chance this style isn't for you.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Manikin

Siniaalto - Tallentumia. 2004 Finland

Tallentumia is Siniaalto's second album, and represents a unique twist on the retro electronic sound. There are some Berlin School sequences of course, but more emphasis is paid on atmospheric keys, including novelties for the genre like processed Fender Rhodes. It’s as if Siniaalto wanted to explore every avenue from Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra album, to the point of exhaustion perhaps. Many sections go for long periods of time, making this not one of the easier electronic albums to digest in one setting. All the same, a strong entry for the genre, if a bit different.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 If Society

Siniaalto - s/t. 2002 Finland

Finnish trio Siniaalto (Sine Wave) can trace their musical heritage back to an earlier electronic music era, primarily Tangerine Dream circa Phaedra. A full array of keyboards, both analog and digital, are on display here. Though it’s the good old Rhodes piano, heavily echoed and treated, that truly gives their debut album an early 1970s feel. I could swear there is a Mini-Moog in play as well, but it’s not listed. The general modus operandi for each composition is to start out by creating a dark atmosphere followed by a plodding, low pitched, sequence. This is then followed by the group adding a series of alien sounds, of which the most notable is the treated Rhodes piano as mentioned prior. There are only four tracks, clocking in at close to an hour, so plenty of room for meditative listening. A good start from a promising band in the ever increasing fold of groups performing in the Berlin School style of electronic music.

Personal Collection
CD: 2002 If Society

Fernand Pena et Puzzle - s/t. 1977 France

Fernand Pena and his backing group Puzzle are one of the few bands who actually put the psych in psychedelic folk. You've heard me go on about this already, but I often question where the rock parts are in these supposed acid folk / psychedelic folk albums. A lot of this stuff isn't terribly far from my Old Man's collection (that I still possess), and his albums were pure Irish/Scottish/English/American folk music. My pop couldn't stand listening to rock music  - and yet there's plenty of the "psych folk" albums I picked up along the way that he enjoyed. Because there was no rock!

About the only group from France that Fernand Pena et Puzzle remind me of is Canelle. And as you may recall from that entry, my initial thought about them is that they were from Quebec. Perhaps Fernand Pena et Puzzle is a bit less pop/country than Canelle, and more geared toward progressive and psych. So in that light, Fernand Pena et Puzzle recall groups such as L'Engoulevent, Connivence, and Harmonium more so than the standard Brittany groups of Malicorne or Gwendal. While it's not specifically cited in the liner notes, I doubt Pena is from Breton, and thus that adds another dimension to the usual folk music coming from France. There is some really fine electric guitar work here, among the folk/vocal based compositions. At times it's straight rock, others it's haunting acoustic folk, and even a little bit of funky business to date it precisely at 1977. Despite the band moniker, this isn't really a solo affair, as the group Puzzle features no less than 10 members (mostly on various stringed instruments).

Personal collection
LP: 1977 Centaur

The album is housed in a nice gatefold cover. Still no legit reissues can be found.

McLuhan - Anomaly. 1972 USA

McLuhan's sole album, despite being American, is a very British sounding, quirky progressive rock / horn rock blend. Fuzz guitar, organ, menacing bass, wailing sax, some narration with twisted lyrics, flute, and horn charts ala early Chicago define this fantastic work. The soft vocal style and composition structure calls to mind Uriah Heep's side long title track on Salisbury. Brainchild and Heaven (UK) are other good references, without the pop aspirations. The only missteps here are a short ragtime bit and a funk soul sequence that is off track. For those who love both progressive rock and horn rock, McLuhan comes as an easy recommendation.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Brunswick

This album never did get reissued. I was in touch with McLuhan member Paul Cohn back from about 2007 to 2011 or so, but I hadn't been able to find out anything else. I don't think they ever found David Wright, who was the primary songwriter. There's more info from my old CDRWL blog here. That post also points to Paul's blog, where he has a recent entry that should be read.

Far East Family Band - Parallel World. 1976 Japan

While Germany is most known for being at the forefront of electronic psychedelic music, Japan certainly had its share of cosmic travelers. One of the best of these groups was Far East Family Band, a band who would gain some stature throughout the world during the latter part of the 1970s.

Klaus Schulze was one such luminary to be attracted by this large Japanese ensemble. Helping produce their early albums (the first two albums are very similar, the latter of which was re-recorded and sung in English, and other slight variations), Schulze saw an opportunity to promote cosmic rock all over the globe. However, I always felt the debut album/successor tried too hard to be the next Dark Side of the Moon. The instrumental bits are great only to be ruined by sensitive pop ballads - not Far East Family Band's strong suit I'm afraid.

But it all came together on Parallel World. Focusing on their instrumental cosmic sound and pretty much foregoing the pop commercial-oriented songs, the six-piece Far East Family Band unleashed a gem that easily could have found itself on the Kosmische Kouriers label. In fact, the recording comes closest to sounding like the first Cosmic Jokers album with more focus given to the whooshing synthesizers than the guitars (Schulze's influence?). As one can guess, the two keyboard players are featured most prominently, and it's hard to imagine that Far East Family Band actually had two guitarists as well!

The album opens with 'Metempsychosis' (Arzachel anyone?) which is a tribal drum and synthesizer atmospheric backdrop piece that sets the stage for 'Entering' which contains some intense fuzz bass and a ripping guitar sequence among the 12 minutes of keyboard ecstasy. Brilliant, and this is the finest track Far East Family Band has ever recorded! 'Kokoro', thankfully, is a short psych ballad. This is the sort of piece their first albums featured, so one can get a brief whiff of this style. The side long closing title track sounds like a long-lost Galactic Supermarket recording and aptly finishes a masterwork of cosmic progressive space rock.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Super Fuji

There are at least two covers for the original. The first scan above represents the original cover. My first exposure to this album was the second LP press (second scan). I eventually sold it, once I obtained a CD press, which ended up being a boot despite it being sold in legitimate channels. One has to be very careful when looking for the CD. There are only 2 legitimate presses that exist, as I write this. One is the very obscure 1991 release on Columbia, and the other is the Super Fuji Japanese mini-LP, which I ultimately sourced for the collection. There are numerous pirate editions, so be careful!

Versailles - Le Tresor de Valliesres. 1994 France

Versailles' 3rd album continues to mine the 1600's French bawdy theme of Don Giovanni, and actually expand upon, the motif artistique of the theatrical French bands like Ange and Mona Lisa. The album cover art perhaps underscores this more than the music itself. Musically, Versailles doubles down on the direction of its predecessor. On Le Trésor de Valliesres, Versailles goes for broke on their early 1970s sound and composition obsession, going as far as adding mellotron and throwing in crazy progressive ideas / meter shifts / thematic inconsistencies wherever they feel like it. Add to that the Chris Squire inspired bass playing, and Gilmour (or perhaps more pointedly, Pulsar) styled glissando guitar, and you're in progressive rock heaven (at least how I define it). Had this album been released in 1974, it would today be considered one of France's all-time great symphonic progressive masterpieces. But alas, this was 1994, an era that is today much looked over. But have no fear fellow intrepid travelers, the eventual discovery is coming. And we'll be awaiting when the ships arrive. For those that love Gallic progressive rock, this one is an all-timer.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Musea

Kirkbinsinek - Sis Pus Sus. 2015 Turkey

My vision of what I want Turkish rock music to be is always much more psychedelic than the reality. It seems like such a natural path for the indigenous sounds of Turkish folk music to merge with the exciting and exotic scales and tones of the psychedelic. And even though an entire genre exists that somewhat addresses this - namely Anatolian Rock - I haven't really heard much to excite me. Yea, sure, Erkin Koray, Baris Manco, Bunalim, and the lot of them have moments of excitement, but none captured my imagination wildly. All of that to state - Kirkbinsinek is what I've been looking for. Right from the opening notes of the instrumental 'Hoyrat', one will be automatically transported to a secret hideaway in 1969 Istanbul. The music is a combination of retro psych and Ozric Tentacles like space rock, especially when the latter borrows from Middle Eastern scales. So if the idea of a band like Vespero or Quantum Fantay mixing with Wolf People - and a dash of early Agitation Free - sounds good to you, then I suggest you make an effort to obtain Kirkbinsinek's debut. Excellent album and goes straight to the top spot in my (limited) Turkish collection. I hope we hear more from them soon!

Personal collection
CD: 2015 World in Sound (Germany)

Dasputnik - Cyclokosmia. 2011 Finland

And really, there isn't much to add here from my Parapsykosis review, other than Cyclokosmia is even better than the debut! I don't think I've ever heard a band catch a heavier groove, while maintaining control throughout. I keep expecting the sax player to go bonkers, and start screeching and howling to the point of nausea. But he never does, preferring to maintain an almost smooth jazz tone, while holding up the melody lines amongst the chaos behind him. Meanwhile the rhythm is changing every 30 seconds, while the riffing  (non metal) guitar keeps shredding these amazing complex charts. Like Ozric Tentacles on speed. This juxtaposition of styles is absolutely brilliant, and is perfect for my set of ears. When Dasputnik combines guitar and sax for the unison melody, I'm most reminded of those great German bands of the early 70's like Brainstorm.

The track '...Phantom Wakes' has to be heard to be believed. What a smoker!

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Art Safari

Dasputnik - Parapsykosis. 2009 Finland

Dasputnik are an energetic and tight Ozric Tentacles styled space rock band, with furious guitar leads, synthesizers, a crack rhythm section and melodic sax. This latter element is a real differentiator from the pack. Up there with other great Finnish bands like Hidria Spacefolk and Taipuva Luotisuora. Also catching a vibe from the Hungarian Korai Orom in their more kinetic sequences. This album is awesome.

Highlights: 1. Hzz (10:31); 2. Electromagnetolithic Experience (7:13); 6. Space in India (11:22)

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Art Safari

['ramp] / Ramp - Frozen Radios. 2000 Germany

Frozen Radios begins to demonstrate that ['ramp] have a penchant for the dark ambient sounds of Klaus Schulze's Cyborg or Tangerin...