Michael Garrison

In the Regions of Sunreturn (Windspell Records 1979)

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Over the past two years since my son was born, I’ve slowly weeded the more aggressive sentiments from my music collection in favor of the mellow, zen vibes I try to instill in my own household. Long gone are the days when I would find some sort of cathartic release while blaring some nihilistic bullshit and tackling my first-world problems with six-pack in tow. I guess that’s why I now find myself sporting some seedy little “dad beard” and soaking in the questionable ambiance of albums like Michael Garrison’s In the Regions of Sunreturn.

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for hippie-dippy keyboard excursions, but kind of limited myself to a small cache of records by the holy triumvirate of Cluster, Roedelius and Moebius and their assorted offshoots and back alleys. However, I’ve been tripping down a wormhole of new age detritus that my 18-year old self would punch me square in my jaw if he caught wind of some of the shit that’s found its way onto my turntable these days. I read a thread on the Waxidermy message board about PINA, or Private Issue New Age, which is a loosely-defined genre that was entirely new to me. I dipped by toe into some of titles championed there and I now find myself totally enamored by such albums like Daniel Lentz’s Missa Umbrarum and Kay Gardner’s Moon Circles. However, Michael Garrison’s In the Regions of Sunreturn might be the one that takes the cake so far.

A brief description of the record opined that it was an “Oregon classic…by an American private synth wizard record.” That was enough to hook me these days, which is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but it sure paid off when I tracked down a copy of it. In the Regions of Sunreturn kind of falls somewhere in an unforseen nexus of Cluster/Roedelius/Moebius, Mannheim Steamroller and a John Carpenter soundtrack of the early 80s. It all kicks off with a slow-motion hiss then one of those zoned-out beats, like a teutonic pulsation, takes hold and slowly builds in intensity as some majestic synth tomfoolery commences high above the playing field. It’s just one of those beats that taps into your cortex and gets your head a-noddin like its far-flung cousins in such songs as “Yoo Doo Right” by Can or “You Make Me Feel(Mighty Real)” by Sylvester. Yeah, they nothing in common, yet everything in common since they all get your attention right away and suck you into their respective worlds.

Most of this album is a series of variations on the formula trailblazed on the opener, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Michael Garrison obviously agrees with this weathered, but well-meaning cliche and barely varies the pace but does unleash a kaleidoscopic series of cascading melodies that kind of bathe you in mellowness. Yet, the recurrently repetitive beat that chugs through each track has this jubilation and energy that counteracts the haze of synths. It’s hypnotic, yet amazingly kinetic as Garrison maintains this tension between stoned meandering and an electronic choogling that keeps your toe tapping while fight the urge to nod off.

The best parts might be few tracks that serve as intermissions from the incessant variations of that beat where the earth suddenly drops out from the rhythm and Garrison lets it all devolve into some primordial whoosh where everything suddenly becomes echoing and ominous. These ambient interludes are kind of spellbinding only last a few minutes, but they place you in such a stasis that it feels much longer. They are so soothing that the eventual reintroduction of the beat kind of gains an added power each time it sucks you of the morass towards more ecstatic heights.

Yeah, In the Regions of Sunreturn kind of sounds like its title, but that’s a good thing. No one speaks a word on the album, but the music fills in all of the blanks as Garrison kind of takes you on a bit of journey through some candy-coated 80s sci-fi adventure that deserved a soundtrack as worthy as this.

Jonas Reinhardt

Powers of Audition (Kranky 2010)


Sometimes we are far too eager to dismiss the new simply because it too closely resembles what came before it. That’s a shame because it’s rewarding and occasionally eye-opening if we clear our minds of the canon and embrace an album for what it is, not the artists that laid the groundwork for it to come to fruition. Therefore, cleanse your mind of attachments to Cluster, Tangerine Dream, Moebius, Roedelius, Can and countless other geniuses who planted the seeds from which krautrock sprung and take a close listen to Jonas Reinhardt’s Powers of Audition and you can imagine a world in which it comfortably lies in the same stratosphere as his idols. Despite a few minor missteps, it possesses the same otherworldly grandeur as the classic albums that inspired them. Powers of Audition is absolutely oceanic and slowly unfurls itself into concentric coils of hazy mists of synthesizer drones and stoic melodies that straddle the line between comforting warmth and frigid isolation. My only complaint is that the band should have embraced the epic nature of these compositions and gave them room to breathe beyond the six or seven minute that limits their power and impact here. Next time, they should let their freak flag fly high and aim for the dawn instead of quitting at dusk because there is a primordial power to these compositions that deserve to be stretched to infinity.

Ironically, there is no Jonas Reinhardt in the band and it simply serves as a studious sounding moniker for this four-piece from San Francisco, California. Since Jesse Reiner’s synthesizer work is the focal point of Jonas Reinhardt’s ode to the electronic exploration of 70s Germany, it’s not surprising that he is the leader of this outfit. He has a real knack for layering sounds upon another to build an intricate foundation that allows the other players to let loose and inject the album with an almost driving and playful swagger that serves as an excellent counterpoint to the more cosmic and ethereal hazes that feel like enveloping smears of sound. In particular, the guitar playing of Phil Manley of Trans Am and drumming of Mi Ami’s Damon Palermo is what lends Powers of Audition a cosmic swagger as they take advantage of the opportunity to indulge their longstanding desire to indulge their inner desire to emulate Michael Karoli of Can and Mani Neumeier of Guru Guru. Their contributions shock the album out of its narcotic passivity and they rumble headfirst into almost punky crescendos that make the mellow moments all the more poignant. If you’re going to make an album full of slowly falling and drifting music, it helps to do so after the music has raced into the heavens first. Powers of Audition may lack the pedigree and historical context of its inspirations, but it is one of the few modern albums that pays tribute to the storied past of krautrock while standing on equal footing with what laid the groundwork for its creation.

Global Communications

76:14 (Dedicated 1994)


Sometimes I obsessively search for the “perfect” album to post here at the expense of countless ones whose brilliance is overshadowed by the filler that hinders its chance at greatness. That’s a shame since this omits so many beloved fragments just because they don’t quite complete the jigsaw puzzle I’ve built up in my snooty mind. These meanderings rambled through my noggin as I revisited Global Communications’ 76:14 album for the first time in a decade and literally became teary-eyed while listening to the opening strains of “14.31.” All of 76:14’s titles signify their length and I found myself wishing it could be renamed something approximating” infinity and beyond” as a deceptively simple trio of a circular keyboard pattern, waxing and waning waves of synthesizers and a ticking clock coalesce into the kind of aural experience that makes you feel like you are levitating a few inches off of the earth. It’s easily one of the true ambient records in that it changes your mood instantly and alters your immediate reality without ever quite rising above a whisper. If only I lugged a blood pressure cuff around for kicks so I could test my new theory that 76:14 lowers my blood pressure when the right tracks are played in my general vicinity.

Global Communication consisted of an English duo, Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton, who were an integral part of the 90s ambient scene popularized by The Orb, early Autechre, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. People tend to forget albums like the KLF’s Chill Out and Future Sounds of London’s Lifeforms and artists like Biosphere, Higher Intelligence Agency, Pete Namlook and early Black Dog which is a shame since many of the aforementioned artists released work that fits snugly against the discographies of Brian Eno, Roedelius, Cluster, Moebius and Tangerine Dream, let alone the swath of 70s synth loners that seem to get reissued and snapped up by folks turned onto these sounds by today’s kinded spirits like Emeralds, Oneohtrix Point Never and Steve Moore. Maybe it’s because the 90s ambient scene got lumped into the unfortunate genre of electronica that it gets snubbed due to its unfortunate association with such unfortunate genres as trip-hop and electronica and folks got blinded by the haze of glow sticks and MDMA, but there are so many gems patiently waiting for your discerning ears to validate their existence.

Anyhow, lets get back to the thesis laid out in the first sentence of this rambling mess of a review. 76:14 is by no means a perfect album as a few tracks dull its edge as Pritchard and Middleton let the beat take center stage at the expense of the pristine ambience that is meticulously crafted throughout the remainder of the album. However, even the stinkers are bearable in a mellow, shuffling and aimless way, but 76:14’s summits erase your mental chalkboard pretty quickly and you forgive them for their foibles. I’ve even grown to love “9.25” even though it is centered around a slow-motion breakbeat since it slathers on a healthy slab of 4ad inspired etherealness comlplete with angelic coos and a subliminal wash of whispers that make it just weird enough to pass muster.

Even though I sheepishly admitted that “14.31” nearly reduced me to quivering jelly, the true centerpiece of 76:14 can be found in its majestic finale “12.18.” During my admittedly amateurish research of this album, I consulted the sages at amazon.com who’ve reviewed this album over the past 17 years and was pleasantly surprised to see the litany of praise for this track as one of the most gorgeous ambient compositions of all-time. Yes, it sounds like pure bullshit and sheer hyperbole, but it is so goddamn true. This track sends that same shiver up my spine as Arvo Part, Steve Reich, Roedelius’ Lustwandel, Cocteau Twins’ Treasure, Lisa Gerrard’s Mirror Pool and countless other albums and songs that seem like they were plucked from an alien universe to teach us how life affirming, moving and goddamn radiant music can be when you aim for synchronicity. For once, I must pay tribute to those surprisingly erudite souls at amazon.com because they are right on the money. “12.18” honestly eclipses 99% of anything ever  it labeled as ambient music as qualifies as a spiritual cleansing through sound. It’s the kind of ethereal fog you want to dive into during times of distress as if it were an aural womb. It is a peaceful, calm place where all is right in your godforsaken world and it alone makes this admittedly uneven album a transcendent one.


February 18, 2012


Tonspuren(Sky 1983)


As a recent transplant to the universe of fatherhood, the connotations of 3am have changed dramatically. What was once a tardy witching hour spent winding down after an evening that should’ve mercifully ended long ago has been replaced with a piercing cry that jolts you to your very core as it brutally catapults you from the stasis of slumber into a panicked race to cradle and comfort your child. Don’t get me wrong. I greatly prefer my newfound existence far more than my latter days spent aimlessly meandering towards unconsciousness with stoned drones and their ambient counterparts as my trusted escorts towards a deep sleep. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have many fond memories of late night drives to nowhere in particular or burning the last drops of the midnight oil with Moebius’ Tonspuren as my co-pilot on countless bouts with insomnia. I love Tonspuren because it is simultaneously soothing and familiar, yet ominous and alien like some bastardized misappropriation of muzak. Its uneasy listening perfectly captures the vibe of driving through a strange metropolis once all the bars have closed and its citizens are asleep and all that’s left is the gauzy illumination of skyscrapers and steam rising from ramshackle vents until everyone repeats the same routine in the morning. It’s the sound of circuitry winding down as all the machinery slowly comes to a standstill. I’ve always had a fascination for meandering through whatever city I reside after life undergoes its nightly standstill and Tonspuren has been my trusted companion on many a nocturnal voyage.

I guess that’s enough hyperbole for one review, but Tonspuren is one of those albums near and dear to my heart even though it makes for a woozy, tense listen. Tonspuren was Moebius’ first solo album after his break with krautrock pioneers Cluster and a successful series of collaborations with Brian Eno and Conny Plank. Although it doesn’t stray far from the hypnotic, repetitive and lovely blueprint laid down in past works, it possesses an icy coldness and aura of alienation that only lurked in the background of his other works. There is an airy, ethereal ambiance in the forefront at first listen, but a dark, sinister vibe overtakes it on repeated listens as you get the sense he was not in a good place when he recorded this one. I also love how Tonspuren gradually grows more dismal and apocalyptic as each track documents a progression towards light melody to dark dissonance. It kind of serves as a fitting counterpart to Roedelius’, his former partner in Cluster, work during this time period. While Roedelius was crafting shimmering and perfect piano driven soundtracks, Moebius was doing the same, but dragging it through the mud and grime to conjure a wildly opposing reaction from his listener. It’s fitting that one would be the yin to the other’s yang as they both occupy the same stylistic orbit but have always explored diverging trajectories. Both artists aimed to create something moving and beautiful, but I will will always prefer Moebius because his music never settled for gorgeous gracefulness and allowed the ugliness and the glitches in the machinery to serve as a counterpoint, which is what makes Tonspuren an infinitely more compelling listen than most of what his peers ever created.