Alphataurus—ALPHATAURUS (1973)

cover_255372572009Review by Syd Spence

Assigned by Roland Bruynesteyn

Ah, third rate prog rock! It’s the only instance where I don’t use the phrase ‘third rate’ to mean something bad. This is because prog rock (at least in the ‘70s) is always great. It’s true that first rate prog rock is played by gods, and that second rate prog is played by demigods. Now third rate prog is only played by mere mortals, but they are fantastic humans, truly our champions. So let us salute today’s third rate prog heroes Alphataurus and their debut.

So Alphataurus is one of those italian prog bands. Italy’s prog scene is lesser known than their european contemporaries. I believe the ranking of the scenes goes as following. The first is of course England with their Genesis and ELPs. The second is Germany’s with their Cans and Kraftwerks. I believe France and Italy compete for third spot. Personally, I think France wins out simply because I can name two french prog groups (Magma and Gong) and would have to look up the leaders of Italian prog. I think there is band called mutual bank or something, oh, oh, and Goblin. Most people know Goblin, they did the soundtrack to Suspiria and Dawn of the Dead.

Listening to Alphataurus really makes me understand why italy is so low in the consciousness of rock listeners. Alphataurus plays keyboard driven symphonic rock, with a bit of jazz and hard rock here and there. If the lyrics weren’t in Italian, the fellas could have easily opened up for Van Der Graft Generator or ELP. This just isn’t anything as unique as Magma or Can. I would thus imagine most english speakers would more likely exhaust the british symphonic prog groups before they would explore their mediterranean equivalents. Plus the language barrier would not help.

Though, I doubt, even if Alphataurus did have english vocals, they would get big. They’d probably poke around where Fruupp sits on the progger’s mind, good but not great. As I mentioned earlier they are third rate, mere mortals, and their mortality is evident with their instrument playing. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone in the group is a good musician, but this is prog! I’ve heard prog fans mock the technical abilities of Rush. BLOODY RUSH! This genre is filled with the most dazzling expressions of musicianship this side Liszt, and Alphataurus play okay. Oh, sure they occasionally change time signatures, and have multiple parts in their songs, but a lot of them seem to a riff or two that doesn’t really boggle the mind. Personally though, I think this humanity is a good thing. They play keyboard driven symphonic prog with lots of different keyboards, not unlike a certain Emerson of ELP fame. Unlike Emerson, these guys won’t use 12 chords when only three is necessary. Their solos are short and stately and not ungodly long and meandering. Mortality keeps the ego in check and thus makes music way, way more palettable, than the pompous nonsense of keyboard gods.

The album I feel is divided in two. The first half is more rock and the second half is more symphonic. The band is worse at playing the more rock oriented stuff When listening the first track, Peccato D’Orgoglio, I kept feeling that the sound just wasn’t thick enough, that the guitars didn’t have enough crunch or there weren’t enough keyboards. Also, the music was mostly instrumental and yet the vocals dwarfed the other instruments. Plus, the song is based on one riff that never really got me. The next track is similar but with a more heavy hard rock riff, that, again, just wasn’t heavy enough. I feel like the producers should have turned the amps to 10 or something. Plus, one of the sudden prog changes sounds a bit corny.

Luckily the second half is fantastic. It starts with Croma, an instrumental which sounds like something Procol Harum would have composed if they had access to Emerson’s keyboard collection. They use every type of keyboard there is on this album, synthesizers, pianos, harpisichord, organs, mellotrons, etc. It’s got it all. Alphataurus layers different keyboard lines to make these fantastic keyboard symphonies. It’s marvelous. I do feel sorry for the guitarist, he’s mainly confined to rhythm or the tiniest of guitar solos on this second half. My favorite track is the second to last, “la Mente Vola,” where they do the keyboard symphony, but this time add a really catchy chorus with vocal harmony. The last track follows in a similar suit and is also good.

Overall it was a good third rate prog album. I’d give the first half an optimistic 3 out of 5, and the second a delighted 4 out of five. Combine the two and you get 3.5.

RHIANNON GIDDENS – Tomorrow Is My Turn (2015)

Review by: Syd Spence
Assigned by: Graham Warnken


Ms. Giddens is a versatile performer. On this record she covers a plethora of rootsy styles everything from gospel folk, bluegrassy folk, folk folk, rockabilly, jazz among others. It’s got it all! And the voice, Oooo WEE, she has one. I wonder if she’s been on America’s got talent, because i bet she’d be a shoe in.

Despite all this talent, I loathe this record. Everytime i put it on, i just want to immediately stop it. Honestly, i’ve never made it all the way through. Hell, i haven’t made it all the way through most of the songs. The question you are probably asking right now is, “jeeze, is she that bad a song writer.” No she isn’t. I haven’t delved too deep, due to my instant revulsion, but she seems like an adequate rootsy musicians.

It’s just this album screams, SOLD AT STARBUCKS! This record is really emblematic of a trend in petty bourgeois society. The latest craze that’s sweeping this nations educated white middle class is back to the roots, retro hand crafted cool. You can’t throw a stone in a farmers market without hitting some neo folk blue grass singer. There god damn everywhere. And i get it, the world is a digital impersonal wasteland. Everything is going faster and faster, and god damnit, can’t we go back to simpler times. Thus we get shit like this.

See it’s not reason for the retro love that’s the problem, it’s the execution. See a going back to roots is a great idea. I have loved many of folky country good time swing old timey music. There is nothing wrong with that or nostalgia for an era you never experienced. But, and it’s big but, listening to these nufolk record is a pain, because all of it has super clear perfectionist production, that just sucks all the roots out. So when i listen to these records, I don’t feel i’m going back in time, I feel more like starbucks is curating retro cool to me. And that just instantly hits my revulsion button.

Look i’m not saying this record is bad. I’m just saying that capitalist culture is inherently alienating, and these nufolk records alienate me more than anything. Wholefoods presents the ‘20s is my idea of hell, but hey, if it’s your thing. Get this record! And enjoy your cultural zeitgeist meeting consciousness, you lucky prick!

WASHED OUT – Paracosm (2013)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Assigned by: Syd Spence


Feeling constrained
Your author has decided
To do poetry

Chill psychedelia
Bringing electronic soundscapes
Refreshing vibes

While it’s nice and warm
There are better stuff out there
To be enjoyed

Still, I thank you, Reece
A good fourty minutes

RICHARD CHEESE – Aperitif for Destruction (2005)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album Assigned by: Dina Levina

Look it’s a collection of lounge jazz covers of pop and pop metal. Yeah, that’s about it. Does that sound like something you’d want? Good it exists, it’s here. There are literally 12 other Dick, I mean, Richard Cheese albums that do the exact same thing. The exact same joke over and over again. Why though? Why the fuck would there be 12 of these fucking things? The joke isn’t that good. It’s like at best a smile, but 33 minutes of it and that smile is just a frown. I didn’t like most of these songs in their actual form and i don’t like lounge jazz, nor do i find it that funny that Black Eyed Peas get the ol’ Sinatra Blue eyed bullshit treatment. 

I once said that my only regret in life was not seeing Anal Cunt play befor Seth Putnam went to the great gig in the sky. Anal Cunt was a joke band that had oh twoish levels. First level, Grindcore so ridiculously over the top offensive that even grindcore fans disliked it. Two, the exact opposite of that for the lulz of a band called Anal Cunt writing acoustic ballads about respecting women. But Seth did something beyond just this joke, He also was a complete and total hedonistic douche bag. He was a man that you’d troll internet forums just to find out what craziness that bastard was up to. There is this famous picture of him disinterestedly getting a blowjob while he shat heroin on stage. It’s beautiful in it’s trashiness. Now that’s a joke band, not this Richard Cheese shit. I don’t know how Richard sleeps at night knowing he’s wasted so many years, playing lame covers of lame songs for a lame reason. If it didn’t atleast pay for complete and total debasement then… why? 


ISIS – Panopticon (2004)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

Apparently this is a concept album based on Jeremy Bentham’s idea of how a prison should be designed, as some sort of reflection on modern society and how its totally fucked bro, etc. I don’t care about any of that though, but man this is a neat album!

So I guess Godflesh is the obvious comparison, but how can you not make it? This album sounds quite obviously inspired by Godflesh. Pounding industrial metal with growley vocals. They definitely aren’t ripping off Godflesh though, if they were I would write a review of Streetcleaner in protest. No, this takes the sound Godflesh started in new and exciting directions! I don’t know why, because the record isn’t that synth laden, but it reminds me somewhat of Aphex Twin. Maybe it’s just the vibe, kind of depressing, but in a spacey way, and quite British as well, so bleak, like all those buildings we have, both rural and industrial. So, this is some sort of metal album, but it features long passages of clean, kind of chiming, proggish guitar playing, almost a sort of negative psychedelia. This, when juxtaposed with the harsh, grinding passages, makes for a thrilling combination. Of course, it helps that this isn’t spastic, the album maintains a tense, sombre mood throughout, with the clean passages helping give it a melancholic vibe and the noisy ones expressing anger and stopping it from becoming boring, like a porcupine tree album. It also helps to give the album a certain depth, though without seeming pretentious, which is surprising considering the concept.

Who wants an album where you have to read Foucault to get the lyrics? I know I do.

It’s somewhat hard to go into individual songs, the album working so well together as a cohesive whole, but I don’t want this review to be short so enjoy this shitty filler paragraph. Well, the opening song “So Did We” is serves its function very well, it made me realise the album was going to be worth listening to straight away, and well worth writing about (which is why I’m so late with this review). It establishes the dynamics of the album quickly and has some great riffs. Which reminds me, this album is seriously catchy, most of the songs have at least one riff worth paying attention to. And the riffs to the quiet sections, those are as beautiful as a man who doesn’t open a tinder conversation with a photo of his dick. The last song is cool as well, featuring a slightly grungier, more monolithic sound, and some cool effects, creating a dirge like effect. It also has some truly elegiac guitar passages.

Anyway, time for some criticism, and I guess I have the same criticism I had of that Ann Peebles album, which is that this can be somewhat monotonous. I get that this is a concept album, so it wants to maintain a similar mood, and it definitely doesn’t harm the album that much, but I do wish they had included some variety, I just can’t think of what else they could have done. Maybe a song that crosses from melancholia to outright despair, or a really angry industrial metal song, but then the album might lose some of its individuality, so what the fuck do I know?

Either way, this album is fabulous and will enter my rotation.

THE DEL FUEGOS – The Longest Day (1984)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Charly Saenz

There is this phenomenon I’ve noticed in both in myself and others. I like to call it the local band hyperbole. It’s when a band that is close to you by proximity, and thus you will exaggerate their abilities to everyone in earshot. I know i’ve done this with bands my friends were a part of and I know i’ve see this happen in others as well. You’ll gloss over all the problems and start waxing poetic about their not ready for prime time actuality. My guess is that by their proximity, you put a little more attachment to their sound then say, the recent mega band from a sea over. 

And that brings me to this little record, The Longest Day by The Del Fuegos. Even though this album is what? 30 years old and from the semi major city of Boston, It’s making me want to boast and brag like the Del Fuegos were born from my very loins… This though is an illusion.. This record is rough around the edges slice of retro rock done in the 80s. The fact that the Del Fuegos didn’t appear on the Rhino box set Children of Nuggets, is a crime. All of these songs would fit there nicely, with their “ I want to be in the ‘60s, but my production says I’m horribly stuck in the ‘80s”. In fact this record reminds me of a band featured on the children of Nuggets box set, The La’s. The La’s debut was filled with rough and tumble garage rocky songs. All of them were okay, but not great, except for their one big hit, “There She Goes”. The Del Fuegos’ debut is exactly like that except for a few differences. One they replace the jangle with light country influence, two, the La’s have a more polished production whereas, Del Fuegos sound like ‘80s indie production (it’s not as bad as Black Flag demos, but it’s not exactly REM either). Oh, and there is one major difference, there isn’t a masterstroke like “There She Goes” 

But gosh darnit, these guys sound so sincere, and authentic, and I’m sure they would have rocked local talent night at their nearest bar, but, but, but, let’s get real, The Replacements do everything these guys do, and better. So If Children of Nuggets is your favorite Rhino Box set, GET THIS NOW. Everyone else get a Replacements record.

DEAD MEADOW – Dead Meadow (2005)

Review by: A.A
Album assigned by: Syd Spence



Dirty stoner rock riffs; dazed, far-out, almost wispy vocals drowned in the haze and standing in contrast to all the mucky fuzz; and slow, loosened up drumming. This is the formula Dead Meadow keep using on their eponymous opus. Now, stoner rock and doom metal are the kind of music I used to be hugely into in my youth and evaluating this album for the review brings back old memories of being a Seeker of the Riff ™, though this is hardly the kind of music I listen to anymore.
We start off with a quiet buzz on “Sleepy Silver Door” that leads into a monstrous riff and eventually progresses into one hell of a slow jam, whereas “Indian Bones”’ heavy psych indulgences evoke in me images of a stoned out shaman doing his voodoo in front of a fire and inhaling as much the pot smoke as the noxious fire smoke. “Dragonfly” has a somewhat post-rocky ambiance backed by repetitive drum beats.
The next track, “Lady”, reminds me a bit of Manfred Mann Chapter 3’s “Travelling Lady”, except that, of course, there are no trumpets or jazz influences here. “Greensky Greenslade” is full of slow doomy blues playing and conjures an atmosphere of early morning rain. “Beyond the Fields We Know” is probably the standout track for me. If the album is soundtrack to a rolling-out-the-joints session (as stoner albums usually are), this might well be the high point of the whole trip. “At The Edge of the Wood” has folksy acoustic beginnings, and pretty much qualifies for a troubadour ballad. “Rocky Mountain High” features some kind of spacey synths towards an end that gets kind of slightly terrifying at least the first time you listen to it. The ending track simply named “Untitled” is mostly an anthemic guitar tune and clocks a short two minutes span, ending quietly without making any fuss.
There’s variation, certainly, although the overall sound does not go through any drastic changes. The riffs are interesting and the blues excursions quite lively. The drumming is laid back and relaxedly precise. In fact, the entire album is permeated with certain tranquility, as if not especially or excessively concerned about breaking any new ground but simply about doing a good job at recreating the good old stoner psych formulae with some indications of an individualistic sound. Hey, this is stoner rock after all!

2 8 1 4 – 新しい日の誕生 (Birth of a New Day) (2015)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

“A collaboration between Vaporwave producers Hong Kong Express and t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者, 2814 is a project that creates cyberpunk-esque, dystopian yet psychedelic and relaxing ambient soundscapes. Drifting off into a daydream is hard to avoid as each track flawlessly flows into another, each with its own unique atmosphere.” says a description of this record on youtube. Yeah, well…
… Well, let’s look at what we have here. “Birth of a New Day” may be a vapourwave cyberwhatever something but to the untrained ear it basically contains about three varieties of soundscapes. The opening track, Recovery, is more hustly-bustly than most of the others, and I’d go as far as guess that this is not yet the birth of a new day but the conclusion of the old day. And if visions of a late-night timelapse of a busy Asian city play in my mind, it is mostly because this is what is vaguely advertised on the cover. Oh and because of the sirens and traffic noises. Obviously.
The second track is called “Distant Lovers” but it more reminds me of that background music they play in a planetarium while a someone with a pleasant voice and excellent diction asks rhetorically whether we are alone in the universe. So what kind of distance are we talking about here? Is this a metaphor? Are aliens our distant lovers? I don’t know. I also don’t know whether I have accidentally started listening to F♯ A♯ ∞, so this is your second type of soundscape – a F♯ A♯ ∞ urban dreamscape soundalike, possibly with some public transport samples thrown in for good measure.
And already the following track “Shinjuku Golden Street” displays the third type of soundscape we have on this album, which I have decided to call “the sophisticated urban teahouse / art shop background music”. Seriously, the samples are the same. And the percussion. I’ve heard this thing in a fancy teahouse in Sofia around 2005, I am sure of it. Well, okay, maybe the dreamy psychedelic and relaxing ambient soundscape was slightly less layered and therefore less psychedelic but the essence is surely the same.
Halfway through the album I start thinking of a quote from one of Isaac Asimov’s apparently lesser known novels – “The End of Eternity” – in which Noÿs adjusts “the controls of a musical instrument that played soft and complicated strains out of its own creative bowels by striking notes and chords in a random manner: the randomness weighted in favor of pleasant combinations by intricate mathematical formulae. The music could no more repeat itself than could snowflakes, and could no more fail of beauty.” Now obviously this sounds like a bit of an overreach even if we assume that the advanced science of the future can make it possible but it does outline what I feel about the music on this record here: I am sure that this beauty has been arrived at by meticulously planning out and expertly timing sounds and samples, in other words, a considerable artistic effort. But why then is a fleeting moment of human warmth ultimately destroyed in my mind by the following rote sampled sound?
But let me quote another thought I found in the youtube comments (by someone writing as timeparadox888): “The night train back from work. You look at the passengers around you. A man covered head to toe in mechanical body modifications sits to your left, fiddling with a display set into the flesh on his forearm. To your right, an anxious extraterrestrial, its antennae curled back in discomfort at the heavy scent of humanity filling the air. Across the aisle, a wide-eyed child of indeterminate gender watches intensely as the sleek blue android next to them polishes its own detached leg. And holding the child’s hand, an old woman, modestly dressed with an unaltered figure, appearing, in general, out of place in her surroundings. She peers straight ahead at nothing in particular, her face fixed in an expression of longing. You put on your headphones.”
So apparently this music is capable of inducing tumblr-feels in some people. You know how I know? Well, this person used a descriptive sentence without a verb, a ton of superfluous but evocative adjectives, some annoyingly overused keywords, and decided to address some unspecified “you”. I personally give up on any implication that futuristic would have to mean bodies with machine implants and extraterrestrials with antennae.
Meanwhile, the three types of soundscape that I’ve outlined above have flawlessly flowed into each other more than once and we’re back to a hustle-bustlier sound for the birth of a new day, that seems to in this case get born as gradually and in as a gracefully uneventful fashion as the way in which the sun makes its ascent into the sky each morning.
And the reason I quoted other people so much in this review is that I have nothing in particular to say about this predictably pleasant and pleasantly predictable electrofest. Apart from the fact that letterspacing latin lowercase characters and numbers is kinda pretentious.

FUNKADELIC – America Eats Its Young (1972)

Review by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

This is an incredibly sensual record; a relentless, throbbing density of sound that targets the heart, the gut and the genitals – most of all though it targets your arse and makes it very difficult to keep yourself planted on it – an album that steams along, powered by insistent Hammond organ riffs, heavy wah-wah guitar porn groves and euphoric brass; at times it flows thick and hot like chocolate lava, at others it seduces with honeyed vocals over gorgeous weepy strings and pensive piano lines. Funk, soul, rock and gospel come together in one almighty cross-genre sonic gangbang. And it’s a testament to the brilliance of the musicianship, and the arrangement that no matter how much there is going on at any one time, soundwise, the album manages to retains a suppleness and elasticity throughout – that all those different layers of sound never come anywhere close to weighing the album down. 

But don’t let the voluptuousness and the full on physicality of the music mislead you. No these grooves, licentious as they seem at first listen, are also meant to convey a serious message: a message which, as the lyrics, the album title and the artwork testify, is in large part political. But can you really sing about politics and discourse about standing up to the man with a massive great grin on your on your face and grooving and shaking your ass if there was no tomorrow – without making everything into a hectic, self righteous diatribe? The answer seems to be a yes, although perhaps not a resounding one. You see when you get right down to it ‘America..’, for all its slogans and attempts at raising political consciousness, is at its most convincing as a celebration of (and instigation to) hedonism and the pleasures of the flesh. Leave this record playing in a room full of people and it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to lead to any profound socio-economic discussions about racial inequality or class warfare once it’s over (if the mood is right then you might just end up with an orgy on your hands, instead of a riot). Rage there is, but unlike with say Sly Stone that rage just isn’t focused or concentrated enough to have any real potency: instead you feel this insistent tug and enticement back to the realm of the senses and the drive for bodily gratification. That’s not to denigrate ‘America..’ as a superficial or mindless party record – no it’s far too far too thoughtful for that – but there is a certain incongruity there nonetheless. 

All in all though ‘America Eats its Young’ is a real mother of an album and gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from me (and I’m not quite sure how I managed to get through 35 years of life without having ever heard Loose Booty before). And if it doesn’t quite have the intergalactic intensity and single minded focus of the best Parliament/Funkadelic stuff, then it’s still well worth a spin, if only to demonstrate the comparative mediocrity and timidity of the vast majority of what passes for rock and roll.


DADAWAH – Peace and Love (1974)

Review by: Kyle Wilson
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

Reggae and Rastafari will always be connected in the cultural zeitgeist, at least when it comes to Jamaican music, but where Bob Marley uses it as a backdrop for creating pop songs with great grooves and catchy vocal hooks, Ras Michael, here going by the name Dadawah, gives us a deep, religious exploration in his “classic” 1974 album Peace & Love.

I put “classic” in quotes to convey my mixed feelings about the album, but it is certainly Classic with a capital C for a lot of people. Almost every review I’ve seen praises it as one of the greatest albums of all time. Perhaps I’m missing something, though I’m sure I’m not the target audience.

I consider myself one of those annoying people who claims to be open to any kind of music, but who is probably more elitist than I let on. Reggae has never been one of my favorite genres, despite the fact that I’m white, American, secular humanist and I have never smoked pot in my life. I know. Shocking. Still, every genre can be good, even *gasp* country music! And of course, I like the aforementioned Mr. Marley, because I’m human.

So when I was assigned this album, it was a little daunting, not to mention confusing, since it seems to have nothing to do with winter, but I went ahead, before reading any reviews, and started listening to it, all 4 tracks in 38 minutes…

Overall, it was…good. The tracks are obviously all very long, but prog this ain’t.

Basically, the whole album sounds pretty much the same. Dadawah and his musicians spend about 3/4 of the time chanting and yelling mantras about Zion (which is Ethiopia) and “Jah Rastafar-I!!” over a series of long, repetitive grooves, thanks to some nice sounding bass, piano, electric guitar, and traditional nyabinghi drumming, and what seems like relatively little time actually singing the words with real melodies.

Which is fine! This is a (purportedly) honest exploration of Ras Michael’s religious beliefs, and he’s clearly going for atmosphere and spirituality over memorable melodies. On the entire album, there was only one line that stuck with me, melody wise. The “come away, come away, from the land of the sinking sand” bit on “Run Come Rally” was genuinely catchy. Lyrically, when I could actually make out the words, it seems to be mostly religious and Rastafari clichés, and a lot about peace and love (shocker!), though I liked the line about there being a time when there will be no first, second or third world nations, which I believe was in “Seventy Two Nations,” appropriately.

A quick track by track run down, just to get the last important details out of the way.

“Run Come Rally”: A lot of chanting and decent grooves, and one catchy line apparently.

“Seventy Two Nations”: Musically and lyrically seemingly identical to the first track, and in my two listens of this album, I couldn’t tell where the track started.

“Zion Land”: My pick for best track. I can’t really figure out any of the lyrics, and I was unable to find them online, but considering the title, probably something about the Bible. What I like though, is, almost no chanting. Ras Michael actually sings throughout the whole song. Also, this may sound strange but, this track gave me something of a…Procol Harum vibe? Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s just the first thing I thought of.

“Know How You Stand”: Apparently this album is a trip through to…the apocalypse? The renewed Zion? If you say so. All I know about the last song is, it seems to be the most…musically dynamic? The grooves seem to be louder and more menacing.

And that’s about it. Like I said, I only listened to it twice. After the second time, I doubted I would ever listen to the album again, but honestly, I might. It inspired just enough curiosity. Maybe a third listen will inspire even more.

I suppose I get the hype. The album sounds very important. I just don’t agree with it. But hey! People can love whatever and whoever they want! Peace and love, mon! Peace and love!

In conclusion, as an album, it was…interesting. As an expression of a religious belief that Jesus Christ was reincarnated as an Ethiopian emperor who consistently denied being Jesus Christ, it was…interesting?