Nektar – Remember the Future (1973)

Nektar_RememberFuture4.5 out of 5 Stars!

I realize that nostalgia plays a large part in my feelings toward this album, and please excuse me for that, but during my youth, Remember the Future was one of several albums that actually engendered my obsession with Prog-Rock that continues to this day, so because of that, I’ll always hold it dear.

Back in 1973, I’d heard only a snippet of Remember the Future on a Chicago FM radio station that occasionally showcased “underground” groups from Europe, and since I adored the “short track” by this unknown group called Nektar, I purchased the album immediately, eagerly looking forward to hearing all the various songs.

But when I got the album home and discovered that Remember the Future actually contained only a single thirty-five minute composition—divided into Side A and Side B, of course—my thirteen-year-old self, a budding musician/songwriter who had thought in terms of only three or four minute compositions up to that point, found Nektar’s daring achievement totally unique and utterly awesome, which inspired me to seek out even more bands audacious enough and creative enough to release lengthy Prog-Rock material.

Anyway, although I’ve played this beautifully melodic album countless times through the years, it somehow still sounds fresh today, more than four decades later. I’m sure many Nektar devotees will disagree, but I still believe Remember the Future (as well as the group’s Recycled album from 1975) are the band’s finest achievements, near-perfect masterpieces of Prog-Rock, two albums that helped to instigate my long-running affair with the genre.

(And RIP to underappreciated guitarist/vocalist Roye Albrighton, who passed away only last year…Nektar fans like myself won’t only remember the future, but also remember your extraordinary talents!)

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Hypnos 69 – Legacy (2010)

Hypnos69_Legacy4 out of 5 Stars!

Belgium’s Hypnos 69 released five studio albums between 2002 and 2010, with Legacy being the last. As on all the band’s albums, the music here is a bit Progressive, a bit Psychedelic, a bit Jazzy, a bit Spacey, a bit Stoner, and a whole lot “Retro” mayhem.

Generally speaking, Hypnos 69 is a ton of fun, with the musicians using both modern production techniques and classic instruments (including Mellotron, flutes and saxes, etc.) to create material in the style of ’70s-era Prog-Rock, most notably groups such as Van Der Graaf Generator, Focus, Nektar, Barclay James Harvest, and early King Crimson, with even a touch of Yes, Eloy, and Zappa mixed in.

The album also includes a nice balance of shorter tracks in the five to seven minute range, as well as a handful of epics, two of them clocking in at around eighteen minutes.

Anyway, fans of other modern-day groups that share a similar “Retro” approach such as Presto Ballet, Bigelf, D’Accord, and Black Bonzo will certainly appreciate Hypnos 69, and since discovering this excellent group, I’ve been reveling in the richness of its back catalogue. Now I’m praying that, since it’s been seven years since the release of this album, the band is actually still together and planning to create more enjoyable material.

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Simeon Soul Charger – A Trick of Light (2015)

SimeonSoulCharger_TrickLight4 out of 5 Stars!

I love today’s Retro-Rock bands, especially those of the Progressive, Heavy Psych, or Stoner Rock varieties, and Ohio band Simeon Soul Charger easily falls into several of these genre categories. Similar to the music from other Retro acts such as D’Accord, Siena Root, and Hypnos 69, this album whisks the listener back in time to the late-’60s/early-’70s, back to the days when rock was liberally drenched in psychedelic influences.

On A Trick of Light, the fun and melodic tunes seem to encompass remnants of everything from The Doors to Frijid Pink, from Spirit to The Guess Who, with a touch of Cream, Captain Beyond, and even Space Rock and a smidgen of Zappa/Mothers of Invention craziness melded together. Yet even though numerous influences periodically spring to mind when hearing this collection of tracks, Simeon Soul Charger has forged a sound all its own, sometimes poppy, sometimes wacky, and always creative. Just hear the band’s innovative, bluesy, almost “Sabbathy” Heavy Psych arrangement of the classic “I Put A Spell On You” to see what I mean.

Listening to A Trick of Light…it’s like tripping without the acid.

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Ten Years After – A Space in Time (1971)

TenYearsAfter_SpaceTime4.5 out of 5 Stars!

It’s nostalgia that plays a large part in me declaring this album to be Ten Years After’s finest achievement. Too many memories of special places, people, and events are locked up in this album, and each track brings numerous recollections to mind. So for me personally, this album puts me in A Space in Time…indeed.

Although 1970’s Cricklewood Green may be superior in several respects, it’s the beautiful melding of both electric and acoustic sections on A Space in Time that makes it truly special to my ears.

“One of These Days,” “I’d Love to Change the World,” “Hard Monkeys,” “Let The Sky Fall,” “Here They Come,” etc…each and every song is memorable, and I love the album’s overall production and studio experimentation.

Therefore, A Space in Time is the reason I fell in love with this influential band back in the early ’70s and it still remains my favorite.

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Steve Hillage – L (1976)

SteveHillage_L4.5 out of 5 Stars!

The legendary guitarist Steve Hillage (Gong/Khan/Arzachel) backed by the band Utopia (Roger Powell, Kasim Sulton, and Jon Wilcox)—with Todd Rundgren producing—created this often underappreciated album simply entitled L, which is Hillage’s second solo album overall.

His first solo effort, Fish Rising, is typically rated higher on most music-related websites, and I can easily see why. But for some reason, L is the album that really hit home for me.

I vividly recall hearing Hillage’s cover of Donovon’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” on an “underground” Chicago radio station when the album came out, which introduced me to this exceptional guitarist, and it became the reason I hunted down the album several days later. Therefore, since L was the first music I owned by Hillage, I’ll admit that nostalgic prejudice taints my overall rating.

Nevertheless, with additional tracks such as “Hurdy Gurdy Glissando,” “Electrick Gypsies,” and the lengthy “Lunar Music Suite” all capturing my attention and leaving a lasting impression on me, I slowly collected Hillage’s back catalogue of releases from his days with Gong, Khan, etc. and became a lifelong fan.

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Electric Sun – Fire Wind (1980)

ElectricSun_FireWind3.5 out of 5 Stars!

After leaving Scorpions back in 1978—a sad, sad, SAD day for early fans of the German band, like myself—spectacular guitarist Uli Jon Roth formed Electric Sun. Although a bit more experimental in its musical scope compared to Scorpions, the band (as expected) provided an appropriate vehicle to showcase Roth’s more Psychedelic-styled, Hendrix-inspired playing, as on this album, the group’s second, and in my opinion, its best.

The band might have gained wider recognition were it not for Roth doing his own vocals, which are certainly not the most “accurate” or commercial, unfortunately. Fans of Scorpions were at least familiar with Roth’s sometimes-manic and always-bizarre “talk/singing on acid” style from his occasional vocal contributions on classic songs such as “Robot Man,” “Polar Nights,” “Drifting Sun,” and “Hell-Cat,” so therefore, came prepared, unlike those unfamiliar with Roth’s work.

Regardless, Electric Sun released a trio of somewhat enjoyable studio albums before the group disbanded in 1986, and avid guitar fans, as well as early Scorpions fans, will likely forgive the “vocal misfortunes” and enjoy these platters for Roth’s killer solos, wild riffs, and wonderfully liberal multi-tracking of his Stratocaster.

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Alice Cooper – Easy Action (1970)

AliceCooper_EasyAction3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although Easy Action, the band’s second album, still finds the group in a musical quagmire left over from the debut album Pretties for You (sort of like a bizarre version of The Beatles, one where the Pop Rock has a punkish attitude, a flower-power vibe, and some Zappa-inspired silliness and wild experimentation), you can actually hear the signature style beginning to materialize on tracks such as “Return of the Spiders” and “Mr. and Misdemeanor.”

It would take one more year, during which time the quintet relocated to Detroit to revamp itself, resulting in the classic Love It To Death album, until the band’s popular sound fully solidified.

Therefore, with the weird “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye,” “Still No Air,” and “Below Your Means” included on Easy Action, tracks where I need to be in just the right mood to enjoy, this is certainly not the band’s most accessible album, but one I nevertheless still play on occasions when I yearn for something more than a tad off the wall.

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Cream – Wheels of Fire (1968)

Cream_WheelsFire4 out of 5 Stars!

When listening to this truly classic double album, I often find myself imagining how many of the songs might have sounded with either Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan or Trapeze’s Glenn Hughes singing lead vocals. Nothing against Jack Bruce, who certainly did a commendable job, but I can’t help thinking the already pleasant tracks would have sounded even stronger had Ian or Glenn been in the “lead vocalist seat.” Alas, it’s a daydream that will never be realized, I know.

Now, despite my short aside, Wheels of Fire includes some memorable studio tracks, both original compositions and interesting covers (“White Room,” “Politician,” “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Sitting on Top of the World,” and “Deserted Cities of the Heart”—need I say more?) and a handful of raw, live rockers (“Spoonful” and “Crossroads”—some standard Blues Rock, anyone?), plus with the commendable performances of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker, the album still holds great power all these many decades later (especially the studio portion).

Sure, a few of the studio tracks are rather lackluster and odd, and I could easily do without the self-indulgence on the overly lengthy live tracks—especially the drum solo on “Toad”—but for me, Wheels of Fire (even more so than the band’s previous album Disraeli Gears) remains a pleasant trip back in time to my “days of youth” whenever I hear it.

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Flower Travellin’ Band – Satori (1971)

FlowerTravellinBand_Satori4 out of 5 Stars!

Flower Travellin’ Band, a strange name for a strange quartet from Japan, released a handful of albums in the early ’70s (then reappeared again with a new album in 2008). Satori, the band’s second platter, is a trippy, “doomy,” and bizarre collection of five tracks (entitled “Satori, Parts 1-5”), made up of bluesy Hard Rock bordering on almost Sabbath-like Heavy Metal, with Heavy Psych and Prog-Rock influences throughout. Moreover, had Flower Travellin’ Band lived up to its name and relocated to Germany during this period in history, the band’s music could have easily fit into the more experimental Krautrock genre since it shares numerous traits with several Teutonic bands of the period, such as Guru Guru and Scorpions (Lonesome Crow-era).

Anyway, on Satori, Hideki Ishima’s guitar work is generally quite stunning, with some of his alluring riffs being tinged with Asian influences, and the rhythm section is usually thundering and throbbing, with Jhun Kowzuki adding fascinating bass runs and Joji Wada tossing in energetic drum fills, while Akira “Joe” Yamanaka’s wide-ranging vocals are often as weird as a LSD freak-out and do take some getting used to, yet somehow, they work.

The eleven-minute “Satori, Part 4” is probably the stand-out track here, with the wicked guitar riff and wailing harmonica solo in the middle section almost mesmerizing.

Nevertheless, no other group from the era had quite the same sound as Flower Travellin’ Band, so the quartet remains unique in my eyes (and to my ears), and the album Satori is definitely worthy of investigation, especially for fans of early six-string craziness and something a bit different in the world of Hard Rock, Psychedelic Rock, and early Heavy Metal.

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Amon Düül II – Wolf City (1972)

AmonDuulII_WolfCity3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Amon Düül II was a rather weird-ass group from Germany that I initially heard and investigated back in the mid-’70s, about the time I started high school and, from one excellent “underground” Chicago radio station, gained exposure to “Krautrock” and the often-intriguing bands that were considered part of the genre.

Various Krautrock groups promoted by that radio station caught my undivided attention, but I also remember not being too enthusiastic about this particular band (again, too weird-ass for me, too psychedelic and wildly experimental with strange, strange, STRANGE vocals—plus, at import prices, the albums were way too expensive for me to simply grab on a whim from my local record store).

But in the past decade or two I’ve slowly grown to appreciate the group and its complete and utter strangeness and adventurous nature. Granted, Amon Düül II will never be one of my favorite bands by any stretch of the imagination, but some of the group’s earliest efforts, such as Wolf City—with spacey and tripping tunes like “Sleepwalker’s Timeless Bridge,” “Surrounded By The Stars,” “Jail-House-Frog,” “Wie Der Wind Am Ende Einer Strasse,” and the hypnotic, almost Brian Eno-esque title track—are nevertheless enjoyable whenever I find myself in a “weird-ass” mood…like today. 🙂

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