Alien Planetscapes - "Bootleg #6: Problems Of The 21st Century" (Galactus 2003)

Uploaded to Aural Innovations: January 2004

Over a period of nearly 20 years, Alien Planetscapes was an active member of the homemade music underground, having released over 100 cassettes. After their one CD release, 1997's Life On Earth, ship commander Doug "Dr Synth" Walker started to reissue music from the cassettes on CDR. Bootleg #6 is the latest and runs the gamut of Alien Planetscapes history to include both the electronic and rock versions of the band, and covers several configurations of the constantly fluid lineup that Doug struggled with over the years. But despite the varying lineups, Alien Planetscapes was always good, usually exciting, and often downright phenomenal. Here's what we get on this 2-CD set...

We've got 2 versions of "Gravel", one from a 1996 cassette release and the other recorded at the 1998 Strange Daze Space Rock festival. This is full band space rock that alternates between cosmic sax wailing space jazz and pure power metallic King Crimson assaults. A 1994 live version of "Soft Martian" sees the band soar even deeper in space rockin' jazz territory. It's a jamming tune that takes the best of Soft Machine circa Third and injects oodles of trademark Alien Planetscapes space grooves and electronics. "Stairway To Bayside" is another live track, this one recorded in 1997 at the Orion Space Rock Festival. It's 15 minutes of slowly traveling space, with hints of Krautrock and an avant-garde sound-art edge. The music builds very slowly but gets increasingly more intense until really taking off around the 10 mark, culminating in a jazzy Guru Guru styled acid jam, enveloped in multi-layered swirling alien electronics.

"The Suite" is a 27 minute live set from 1995 consisting of "Lucky 13", "That's Not Miles", "Chris In Space" and "Stairway To Bayside". This is a fantastic set and one of my favorites on both these discs. It's a killer blend of pure blazing space rock, jazz and progressive rock, with lots of beautiful 70's influences that are imprinted with Alien Planetscapes' own unique stamp. Definitely one of those sets that demonstrates what a fantastic all around ROCK band Alien Planetscapes can be with the right configuration of musicians. "Dumdedadumdabumbum" from 1991 is another long jam that illustrates the band's unique way of incorporating jazz and progressive influences into space rock. "Energy Fools The Magician" is a rockin' cover of a song from Eno's Before And After Science" album, and was Alien Planetscapes' contribution to the Cleopatra Records Tribute to Brian Eno CD from 1997. "Mundane Tune" is another excellent rocker and even has a slight... dare I say... pop feel. Catchy melodies, though the instrumentation is all nicely fuzzed and screaming.

We're also treated to several tracks of Alien Planetscapes' more purely electronic works. "Indian Point Blues" is a 1988 duo recording in which Doug Walker and Carl "Nomuzic" Howard create a 14 minute deep-in-space electronic exploration reminiscent of German school Kosmiche. Think early Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze... you get the idea. Mucho cosmic!! "Plates 56 & 43" is a Doug Walker solo electronic piece from 1981 that digs deep into the archives and is probably the earliest Alien Planetscapes recording I've ever heard. Having heard so much of his music now, it's interesting to hear Doug in the early days experimenting with equipment and sound. Ditto for "5 H-Bombs" from 1982, a lengthy Doug Walker/Louis Boone duo performance recorded at the Complex Art Gallery in Brooklyn. "Cloud Formations #1" is a Doug Walker/Rich Orlando duo from 2000. It's a brief but intense blend of wall-of-sound industrial and spacey Frippoid guitarscapes. Similar excellent Fripp-like guitar is heard on an untitled track from 1996. And "Red Mars Overture" is another Walker/Orlando duo from 2000, a rehearsal for their Quarkstock 2000 festival performance, an AMAZING weekend that took place right here in Columbus, Ohio.

In summary, there's lots here for the veteran Alien Planetscapes fan, with some smokin' live sets and great archival recordings. Though the lineup varied over the years, there was certainly, in the case of the rock versions of the band, a recognizable Alien Planetscapes sound that encompassed a range of space rock, jazz and progressive rock influences. As usual, the sound quality isn't always the best we could hope for, but it's good enough to fully absorb the performances. And given the variety of periods included in this set it would also be a solid introduction for the uninitiated to a band, and individual (that's you Doug), who deserves a first floor display in the Space Rock Hall of Fame.

For more information and a listing of all available Alien Planetscapes recordings you can email Doug "Dr Synth" Walker at:
Contact via snail mail c/o Doug Walker; 191-32 116 Ave; St. Albans, NY 11412.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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