What does it sound like?:
In the mid 1970’s I had a few music loving mates. Our record collections were only just getting into double digits, so friends purchases became an important extension of what you listened to, and everything got played, even if your tastes were poles apart.
Back then I bowed to no-one in my admiration for The Dictators, Blue Oyster Cult and Kiss. The more avant-garde albums by Hawkwind, Gong, Floyd and Tangerine Dream favoured by one of our troop didn’t do it for me. So, listening to “Atem” and “Alpha Centauri” after something close to a 40 year break has been as much a revelation as a reminder.
This re-mastered Esoteric / Cherry red box set collects together TD’s first 4 releases on the German Ohr label, before the move to Virgin and the breakthrough release of “Phaedra”. Each CD is presented in a replica sleeve and other than a poster there are no additional tracks or live cuts as there have been with previous releases.
Across the 4 cds the diverse soundscapes are a reminder of how radical and innovative TD were.
Whilst there is nothing conventional about debut album “Electronic Meditation”, it’s the perhaps most conventional of this set. Recorded on a two-track Revox tape recorder Its freewheeling instrumental format features more guitar than the other albums in the box plus keyboards and drums with Froese’s tape loops of breaking glass, dried peas and backwards vocals. Opening track “Genesis” features droning guitar with occasional discordant bursts of cello. “Journey Through A Burning Brain” sounds like it could be just that – pounding drums, random plucked notes seguing into guitars and more pounding drums. The remaining tracks feature jazzy / church style organ, “Cold Smoke” punctuated with sudden percussion and a wall of feedback laden guitar. “Ashes To Ashes” is the only track you could probably actually meditate to.
Alpha Centauri, released in 1971 (according to Julain Cope) used the space rock template from Floyds “Saucerful of Secrets” although it” removed the rock”. More keyboard orientated than the first release there are VCS3 synthesizers, a Farfisa organ and even a coffee machine alongside twittering flutes. “Sunrise In The Third System” and “Fly And Collision Of Cosmic Sola” certainly have an ethereal, other worldly feel that soundtracks the cosmos, sometimes starry, sometimes sinister, an aural representation of a monochrome horizon.
Released in March 1973, Atem is probably the most accessible of the set, it’s popularity with John Peel exposing the band to his many fans (and one of my mates). The title track opens with the sound of breathing, washing into wind like swirl that becomes dominated by thundering drums. “Fauni-Gena” uses Mellotron to create a lush, swooping vibe supplemented by bird call. “Circulation of Events” is more monotone, creepy. “Wahn” is a mix of dancing Mellotron and tribal drums overwritten by some animalistic noises. All in all a bit of a weird ride.
The final CD in the set is “Zeit”. It steps back from the more open structure of “Atem”, dominated by cello and Moog to create four “movements” that are darkly minimalist, full of gloom and droning passages. The tracks ebb easily from one to the next, an austere ambiance that I found challenging to sit through.
According to Wikipedia TD have released over 100 albums since ““Electronic Meditation”, and it’s not immediately apparent where this set of re-issues fits in. It’s material the hardcore fans will already be very familiar with, having been re-issued before, whilst new fans would probably be drawn to “Phaedra”, “Rubycon” or “Stratosphere”. Either way, it provided me with an enjoyable chance to re-visit a couple of albums that I’d not thought of in 40 years, and developing an appreciation that I’d not had before. Time to dial up “Phaedra” on Spotify ….
What does it all *mean*?
I wish I knew
Goes well with…
A darkened room and some headphones
Might suit people who like…
Gong, Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel, Cluster and Faust.