Jonas Reinhardt

Powers of Audition (Kranky 2010)

http://www.mediafire.com/?45o9khcz3lhegsf

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)

http://www.mediafire.com/?zbpv5lhpz3r8wz8

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.

Mark Fry-Dreaming With Alice

December 24, 2011

Mark Fry

Dreaming With Alice (RCA 1971)

http://www.mediafire.com/?qdonqjhglzd

Some albums effortlessly capture an era. Dreaming With Alice serves as a last gasp of the hippie mysticism and pastoral innocence of 60s English folk before it was co-opted by a more cynical decade. It celebrates the wide-eyed innocence and buoyant spirit of a psychedelic movement before hearts grew more calloused, drugs took their psychic toll and the promise of a technicolor society of flower power grew hollow and decayed. 1971 was a time of disillusionment with what wasn’t accomplished as everyone slowly realized the world was more troubled and complex than could be imagined. A song wasn’t going to change the world and the opponents of the counter culture were nibbling away at the lackadaisical corpse of the 60s. The era of arena rock and rock and roll as sheer spectacle were afoot and the time for a cycle of songs about paramours and playing a flute with a dude fingering the lute by the riverside while discussing their dreams was kind of passe by this point.

Mark Fry recorded just one of many albums that could be described as a bittersweet farewell to the 60s. Even the album’s title evokes the imagery of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and champions his kinship with a psychedelic landscape that was being slowly choked by the weeds of cynicism. Maybe it’s because Mark Fry was a noted artist before he tried his hand at music that he retains the  desire to paint an alternate universe when others chose to tackle the gritty realities that awaited them when they finally came down from their incessant high.

It’s hard to discuss Dreaming With Alice without conjuring the singular namesake of Donovan. Although Fry’s voice and songwriting echoes the imagery and vibe of Donovan, Fry doesn’t just draw inspiration from the source, but opens it up wide and takes it to a psychedelic extreme. Where Donovan relied upon his pen to summon images of tangerine dreams and sunshine supermen, Fry’s take is far more whacked and visceral. Everything is full of echoes and shadow as he slows the pace of his idol to a crawl. It’s a slow-motion opiate epic that invokes a darkness amidst the light, love and lazy pace. How can you speak poorly of an album that begins with such a flourish?

“Did you pass the glass mountain?
Where Salome opened her dress.
Did you see the dolphins feathered fountain?
Oh the King made a bloody mess”

This is just a stanza, but it speaks volumes about what is being attempted on this album. The subsequent song “The Witch” is a hypnotic paean to the power of dark magick and the power it wields. Amidst all of this dark hoodoo, Fry unleashes a raga-like jam for the ages. All at once, it invokes the lexicon on the 60s, but couches it in a context that is far more suited to a coven than a bed-in. It’s an album that lives in a limbo between the pagan and the pure as he crafts a narrative that straddles a line between the purity of a hippie ideal and the stains that marred it on the way down to earth.