Sounds - November 2016 - Thursday, November 10th, 2016
My late Brother’s infuriatingly extensive record collection forced itself against my will into my bloodied hands after my (disputed) role in his accidental death in 1982. He was a tireless, and often tiring, champion of, amongst other musics, our national Canadian prog and psyche. Both albums by Toronto’s Syrinx, their eponymous 1970 debut and 1971’s follow-up Long Lost Relatives, are collected here as Syrinx – Tumblers From The Vault (1970-72) (Rvng Intl). But Syrinx’s wobbly synth sounds were a hard sell to the lumberjack stoners who gathered at weekends in my brother’s Chilliwack shack, expecting the more straightforward fare of Rush and The Guess Who.
Snaffling LSD and coaxing new sounds out of primitive electronics, many of Syrinx’s compositions flounder like gasping salmon in a shallow rockpool between the atmospherically weird and the melodically banal. Tilicum sounds like incidental music from a ZX81 computer game and Hollywood Dream Trip reminds me of the hymn the Wookie children sing at the end of the suppressed 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.
That said, when I was a kid, I remember my brother laying on me the descending arpeggios and glacial strings of the nine minute December Angel, Syrinx’s stand-out moment, and, as I stared up at the stars in the British Columbia sky, he whispered, “Drink it in Baconface. It’s the Canadian Kosmische Musik.”
In contrast, here’s the genuine Kosmische article; rehearsal room recordings by drummer Mani Neumeier and bassist Uli Trepte, who went on to form German trance-noise pioneers Guru Guru, and some unnamed saxophonists and vocalists, released as Guru Guru Groove Band – The Birth of Krautrock 1969 (Purple Pyramid GLOO253).
In the seventies, my late brother had these then unreleased recordings on reel to reel tapes, in cardboard box on which he had drawn a picture of a Nazi storm-trooper smoking a fat one and making a peace sing, but here they are in an official format, an tasting sweet as a maple syrup muffin!
In ‘69 Neumeier and Trepte were on the run from the Irene Schweizer Trio, whose klanging cosmic Swiss alpine free jazz is a regular sound on my Resonance 104.4 FM show Global Globules. But even the legendarily uncompromising sapphic ivory tickler might have struggled with some of the more out-there sections here.
Vast elongated jams for echoing sax, sheet metal scrapes and squally electronic feedback suggest an improvisationally-adept, ecstatic jazz version of early Tangerine Dream, but in a bad, bad mood, punching out your third eye and feeding it to a beaver! I remember the poor unfortunate longhairs of Chilliwack, gathered in my brother’s mountainside shack on unexpectedly bad acid, heading for the highway in horror when the proto-Guru Guru really took flight.
Meanwhile, just over the Berlin Wall, another adept was about to fashion a very different vision of Krautrock. My late brother treasured the cassette tapes he had snagged from the East German composer Martin Zeichnette, who would probably have been busted by the secret police had it been known he was in communication with a decadent hippy record collector in the deep woods of Chilliwack, British Columbia.
Electro-acoustic composer Zeichhnette told my brother he’d essentially been press-ganged by the Stasi into writing – get this – inspiring electronic music for the East German Olympic Athletic team’s training sessions, a project known as State Plan 14.84L, and Martin’s handwritten letters, from 1976, are still tucked into the sleeves of the cassettes I inherited.
Kosmischer Läufer Volume 3 (Unknown Capability) is the third of Zeichnette’s Olympian collections to get a belated official release, and it’s the usual mesh on Neu-style motorik beats, plangent Kraftwerk synths, and inspiring Soviet-era sloganeering. Fur Seelenbilder is this album’s most mind-expanding moment, and I have vivid childhood memories of my brother’s swastika-scrawled biker friend Dean admitting that, despite being Communists and all that, Kosmischer Läufer’s third collection was one a hell of a trip.
The lone eponymous 1972 release by Austria’s Paternoster finds a second life through Now-Again records. My late brother loved this disc so much he didn’t even like to share it with anyone, preferring to listen late at night alone, as if daring its dense and gloomy incense atmosphere to push him over the edge. Ponderous churchy organs cut with cheese-wire surf guitars, like a mogadon Dick Dale, hanging up his board to jam with Van Der Graaf Generator, underscore kitchen sink dishwater lyrics, to serve up a kind of suicide psychedelia half a decade’s far distance from the summer of love. Superb, but consume sensibly, my friends, and only as prescribed.
Far more cheerful is Leviathan‘s Legendary Lost Elektra Album (Grapefruit), which, typically, was never lost to my late brother, who had done a deal with some dodgy cockney backroom barrow boy geezer to snag a copy of the original 1969 masters on two unwieldy reels of tape. On the box he had drawn a picture of a blue whale smoking a fat one and making a piece sign – as an artist he often returned to the same themes – which intrigued me enough as a teenager to give the tracks a listen.
Brighton beat-popsters The Mike Stuart Span tried to releaunch as progressive act Leviathan but Elektra didn’t like the results and they were suppressed, until now. The painfully perky opener Remember The Times betrays their origins, but extended workout the The War Machine is snake-charming psychedelia of the first water that my late brother liked to play back to back with Square Room, by the immediate post-van line-up of Them. An epic eight minute dinosaur crawl through Larry Weiss’ Evil Woman shows, had the Leviathan not floundered on the beach, they’d have swum alongside the next wave of early ‘70s proto-metal hairy-funk Brits.
Talking of which, Grapefruit records are also touting a triple clamshell box set called I’m A Freak Baby, subtitled ‘a journey through the British Heavy Psych and Hard Rock Underground Scene’, but which could equally be entitled ‘a journey around Baconface’s late brother’s record collection every Friday night throughout Baconface’s tortured childhood’. How painful this stuff seemed at the time. And how goddamned good it sounds now, having aged perfectly, like a stinking cheese.
The compilers create a new musical subdivision based on the assumption that, as ‘70s Britian was basically a depressed wasteland fuelled by bad weed and cheap pre-Operation Julie acid, it effortlessly gave rise to a subculture of trippy, Sabbath-style heaviosity. Certainly our homegrown Canadian sounds of the same era were sunnier, frostier and shinier. My brother and his friends chose to melt their minds in wild beautiful forests – such as the one where he lost his life in the incident with the bacon – but these dudes were clearly dropping tabs with a view of the gasworks and the smell of sewage seeping up from the canal.
On disc one, West London also-rans Stray stun with the pulversing nine minute opener All In Your Mind, and who knew blues purists Chicken Shack had, on the evidence of Going Down, a Zep-style hard rock phase. The Deviants’ proto-punk call to arms Do It kicks Notting Hill copper ass, and there’s a Velvets indebted unreleased early Hawkwind track Sweet Mistress Of Pain. But the back end of my disc one disintegrated after a couple of spins, and my brother’s reliable analogue vinyl is in the lock-up right now.
Disc two boasts Jerusalem’s stomping Primitive Man, and Skullcrusher by Iommi-indebted Dumfries bruisers Iron Claw, a prophesy of grunge. On disc three the late Lemmy pops up singing on Sam Gopal’s eastern-inflected Escalator from 1969, and Birmingham’s Velvett Fogg wig out on the expansive stomper Yellow Cave Woman. And who knew Rory Gallagher’s Creamy Cork blues-wranglers Taste, represented here with an early single called Born On The Wrong Side Of Town, could fly as fluidly as the early ‘70s Byrds?
Typically, it’s the acts that mess with the rules that make the best impression, at least that’s what I always tell myself when I’m standing on stage in downtown Vancouver trying to do stand-up comedy in a mask made out of bacon. To whit, whatever happened to Sweet Slag, whose Twisted Trip Woman combines bendy free improvisations with a relentless barrage of bouncy pre-punk riffs, and is one of the few tracks here I don’t remember my brother playing me as a kid?
I’ve got a bunch of ‘60s and ‘70s reissues already backed up in my Sounds-shaped tail-pipe for next time, so until then see ya! And remember boys and girls, it’s all bacon!!