Sunday, January 3, 2010

Two Final Thoughts for the "Best Of" List

Tangerine Dream- Zeit, 1972 Guest Review by Special PRHOI Correspondent Sean Kelly

It was obvious from the beginning that Tangerine Dream would be unlike any other group from Germany placed in the broad category of "musik kosmische" (cosmic music- a label Edgar Froese claims to have invented, and liberally used by the Ohr and Brain labels).
The original lineup of guitarist/synth Froese, bass/cello/synth of Conrad Schnitzler, and drummer/synth master Klaus Schulze produced one of the most disturbingly heady and glorious psychedelic lps of all time in "Electronic Meditation," and their 2nd offering, the vastly underrated "Alpha Centuari," reinforced the notion of the group as a cosmic juggernaut.

In reality, Froese was moving beyond those labels. His fascination with synthesizers (Moogs, Mellotrons and VCS3's) was beginning to dominate his musical modes of thinking, and the personnel changes within the band reflected this. Schulze and Schnitzler were long gone by this point, and Christophe Franke and Hans-Peter Baumann were in. These men would be the core of T. Dream for many years to come and raise the group to UNFATHOMABLE heights of popularity with "Phaedra" and beyond...

"Zeit" is the German word for time, and this proves misleading for this lp, for time is an irrlelvant bystander from the word go. Indeed, the nebulous flow on this lp could be likened to the unpredictable flow of a lava lamp, with pulsating flows- such as Steve Schroyder's glorious organ coda on "Birth of Liquid Plejades"... (Schroyder's contributions to TD are more readily heard on "Alpha Centauri") and remarkable ebbs, such as Froese's barely audible guitar opening on "Origin of Supernatural Probabilities". In total, the lp may come across to many as a boring experimentation, but in my view, to think that way is limiting.

What makes this lp work is the wonderful use of SPACE (in the musical text, not a cosmic text). Space, with silence, are the 2 most important and overlooked modes in music. Both open up amazing avenues of possibility, and that is why "Zeit" works- the possibilities that it presents to the listener.

The music is a perfect score to it- controlled, reserved, spacious, largo. Even the most "busy" of solos (Florian Fricke from Popol Vuh's eeire moog solo in "Birth.." could well qualify) is spacious and well calculated, allowing for the illusion of space (in the cosmic text).

Fans of ambient or illbient music will find "Zeit" to be an eye-opener, as "Zeit" could be argued as one of the 1st true ambient excursions (along with the aforementioned Fricke's masterpiece debut lp for Popol Vuh- "Affenstunde", which I also feel should be in the all time greatest list).

Fans of synth music will marvel in the expert use of the Moog, Mellotrons, and synths (all 3 of which were still somewhat primitive and sparingly used in 1972, the Moog in particular). Most fans of the Tangs' recent output (no less Froese's son, Jerome, who calls it his least favorite TD lp.. Jerome, shut up- the buffet table is over there somewhere, you fat fuck.) will likely not understand "Zeit" off the top, but fear not! Take on "Zeit" and all of its amazing possibilities, and bask in its astounding glory.

One of the most important lps of German synth music, "Zeit" still stands the test of time well in 2009, and is a cornerstone for ambient music. How much do I love this lp? simple. In a collection that spans over 30 thousand albums, cd's, 45's, 78's, reel to reels, acetates, etc-
"Zeit" is the ONLY ONE I own on lp, and also have CD copies of right now at home, in my car, at work, and at my dad's home in North Carolina.

Nuff said.

Musik Kosmische!

(ED. Note- The following is NOT by Sean Kelly, as he may be highly upset if he thinks The Curator is trying to pass this one off on him. Nope; this is from TKR...with stoic courage in anticipation of all the shit-storm of threats and denunciations sure to follow)

Emerson Lake & Palmer- S/T, 1970

After extensive thought- and several listens on long, lugubrious and solemn walks with the IPod realizing what this will do to The Curator's legacy- I have decided, nonetheless, to acknowledge that, yes, the first ELP album is pretty fucking great and largely devoid of the preposterous level of bombast and annoyance which makes ELP, with great ease mind you, the greatest waste of talent in the history of music, and quite possibly rivaling uber-pompous and wildly unreadable James Joyce for the all-time championship of said wasted talent sweepstakes. This isn't like Schoenberg abandoning high Romanticism to wallow and indulge in the inscrutable obscurantism of his twelve-tone fixation; ELP continued to make rock music, of a kind, only they did so in a way that takes tepid boredom and crushing ennui to unfathomable levels of insipidity and rage-inducing torpor. Make no mistake: no collection of recordings short of the mass of filth vomited upon the Progressive Rock world by Dream Theater is more likely to render one a bug-eating derelict if listened to in its entirety than the preposterous load of navel-gazing scheisse committed in the name of "Art" by Msrs. Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

But we're not talking about Tarkus or- ha ha- In The Hot Seat here. ELP displayed all of their most brazen indulgences, all right- "The Three Fates" starts with a Bach-style toccata and later embraces nothing less than a full-on grand piano rondo in the style of (of course) Tchaikovsky- but for some reason all of this works quite well for them here. The reason, I think, is that there must have been at least some controls placed on these three massive egos, and so in the numerous parts of the album where Emerson is clearly the dominant voice, there isn't any of the messy mix-jockeying that plagued the band, much like Yes, for the remainder of their career. Indeed, the only sour note hit on the entire album- an ominous one, however, for all of the futile masturbatory shenanigans to follow throughout the 70's, culminating in the wretched circus of Keith Emerson strapped into a flying grand piano like a particularly quarrelsome and diminutive chimpanzee flinging its poo with shouts of "Look at Me!" to the assembled concert goers- is the band's most famous number, the album closer "Lucky Man". It's actually quite a nice song, to be honest; but at the very end, and for seemingly absolutely no reason, a synthesized Moog solo breaks out totally at odds with everything the listener had just heard. Why all this sudden urge to muck up a perfectly good melancholy ballad? The story I've always heard (and I believe it) is that there just happened to be an early Moog lying about in a studio, and Keith was so smitten by the thing he insisted on tacking on the world's first synthesizer solo to the aforementioned track- and thereby paving the way for such madness as Van Halen's slide to infamy, the "bad" era of Genesis where Tony Banks similarly noodled about in a cloying fashion on the ersatz-sounding keys, and the ultimate horror of a band even as great as Kraftwerk stooping to such dreck as The Mix album. All of this because Keith Emerson is short and his daddy didn't love him; or whatever it was. Either way, he had to be first, and this pointless addenda to the one "single" on the entire album let the discernible listener know where this band was headed: along with Symphonic Prog denizens Yes- how fitting- to "The Gates of Delirium". And to this day Prog remains the most misunderstood and hated music genre in musical history, more reviled than Zydeco and less acknowledged than traditional West Virginian mountain-dancing prattle.

Still, ELP is a great album, and there's no sense denying it simply due to a silly grudge on the part of The Curator. For everything else? Nah, fuck those guys; some things are not forgivable, and Love Beach is one of them. - TKR


  1. Thanks--Your blog is a refreshing bit of musical sanity in the tard-soaked schizophrenia of Our Post Modern World. I found it by accident one night, and the combination of Prog Rock and Bitter Vetch caught me.

    That said, perhaps a suggestion for a future Hall of Infamy Top Ten: "They Should Have Known Better: Otherwise Great Prog Artists and Their Worst Albums."

    See Also: Genesis: And Then There Were Three

    Just a thought!

  2. As a very wise man once put it: Great spirits always encounter violent opposition from mediocre minds. Since you never even met Joyce, let alone actually known him, you are no position whatsoever to insult him as being 'uber-pompous'. As far as being "wildly unreadable", I encourage you to check out the James Joyce Quarterly to see just how widely read he is ( and thus 'wildly readable') and has been for over a hundred years. Just because YOU can't understand him is no reason to trash a man revered by the likes of Beckett, Borges, Campbell, R.A. Wilson, and Updike. In 1998, the Modern Library, U.S. publisher of Joyce's works, ranked Ulysses No. 1, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man No. 3, and Finnegans Wake No. 77, on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Have a Guinness one James this Bloomsday.