Archive for December 23, 2013

Vespero – Cosmic Sounds from Southern Russia (Interview)

Based in Astrakhan, in southern Russia, Vespero have been quickly developing into one of the most exciting instrumental bands on the contemporary Space Rock scene. Utilizing elements of Space Rock, Psychedelia, Krautrock, Progressive Rock and ethnic influences, Vespero morph, mutate and blend their various influences into music that varies from one album to the next, but is always uniquely Vespero. After reviewing several of their releases and playing their music on Aural Innovations Space Rock Radio for some years now, we wanted to get more information about this electrifying group of musicians and conducted the following interview via email.

THANKS to Igor Gorley at R.A.I.G. for facilitating communication and translation!

Aural Innovations (AI): Vespero formed in 2003 and your first album (Rito) was released in 2007. How did the band come together originally and tell me about your activities in the four years that led to the release of Rito.

ARK (bass, keyboards): I started to play bass guitar and synths in a local psychedelic-rock band MIRABEAU. It was disbanded in 2003. Violinist Valentin Rulev and I decided to continue as VESPERO. We were joined by my brother Ivan on drums, Alexander Kuzovlev on guitar and some other musicians. During the first four years of existence, we were experimenting with various arts and styles, including Russian futuristic poetry, avant-garde theatre and dance, academic and pop music, rock and jazz… we’re searching to stabilize the line-up and to develop our own style. I think the core of the band was formed somewhere in 2004-05 when keyboardist Alex Klabukov came on board and Valentin left for Germany.

ALEX (synths, keyboards): I would call that time a period of training and education. We were learning to listen to each other and interact properly. We made quite a few amateurish recordings before Rito, but those were mostly drafts and low-quality live tapes. So I wouldn’t recommend that stuff to connoisseurs ☺

IVAN (drums): Many local musicians passed through the band that time. We were working with several singers, but the best one was Natasha Tyurina who joined in 2006 and helped to shape the concept of VESPERO for the next few years.

AI: Were there any specific goals or “grand plan” in mind at the beginning?

ARK: I think, no… We just wanted to play together and try ourselves in various areas like acid-jazz, post-punk, prog-fusion, avant-garde, psychedelia, etc. Then, we met Igor Gorely, a chef at R.A.I.G. Records. He selected several compositions to make our debut album. And when Rito was out, it became more or less clear to us what we want to do.

ALEX: We have different music tastes. So, I think our primary goal was to learn how to perform music that suited all of us. We’re still digging this, by the way ☺ Another goal was – and still is – to get maximum satisfaction from making music. I enjoy our rehearsing or recording sessions very much – the feeling is like magic pumping through our veins!

IVAN: Yes, Rito was probably a big turning point for us. No special plans before that, and suddenly we realized that our music is important for many other people, not only for us.

AI: It’s been interesting following Vespero’s musical evolution. Rito had a lot of variety, including ambient-soundscape elements, Gong-like space rock, space-groove-jazz, avant-prog-jazz, and spacey ethnic rock. And then the next album, Foam, was stylistically very consistent, with most tracks being characterized by an ethnic/tribal/ambient brand of psychedelia.

ARK: Chronologically, Foam was recorded before Rito, in December 2006. It’s a live bootleg which was re-mixed and published in 2008 on request of the New Jersey record-label Trail Records. That time, we played as a six-piece band and tried to add some authentic ethno-touches to our music. Foam is the first album of our “Liventures” series – a special line for presenting our live recordings, alternative versions, covers, etc.

IVAN: I really enjoy that period. For about six months, we had two drummers in the band. It was a great experience playing with Alexander Krupin, former MIRABEAU’s drummer.

AI: Both Rito and Foam had a female vocalist, and Foam had her on most tracks. But I don’t think I recall hearing vocals after Foam (except for Jennifer). Was there a specific reason for dropping the vocals?

ARK: Natalia Tyurina is a very talented singer. She was performing with VESPERO from January 2006 till June 2008. Then she left Astrakhan for Saint-Petersburg. We decided not to search for a replacement and switched to completely instrumental music. Our final work with Natalia was the studio album Surpassing All Kings, our second official release at R.A.I.G. It’s very different from Foam though. Arguably, that was an album with the strongest “prog-rock” influences, a sort of our own vision of “progressive rock” music. Surpassing All Kings was also the first album which was mixed and mastered by Alisa Coral of Space Mirrors. That partnership was very important to us – Alisa helped us a lot in finding our own sound.

AI: By The Waters Of Tomorrow went in a different direction, having lots of quite complex progressive rock. But there is a lot of variety and the space rock elements are prominent. For example, I like how Amaryllis starts off somewhat whimsical and then blasts off into a blistering space rock jam, then transitions to the more complex prog structures, and then back to space rock again. But yes, the prog rock elements took me (pleasantly) by surprise when I first heard this album.

ARK: By The Waters Of Tomorrow is a keystone album for us. We knew exactly our strong and weak points as well as what we wanted to achieve. We strived to expand our sound palette and invited Vladimir Belov, a cellist from Saint-Petersburg to join the line-up. Some tracks featured guest appearances of our past-member, violinist Valentine Rulev, flutist Natalya Dosoyevskaya, back-singer Elena Belozyorova, and synth-master Alisa Coral who also did the sound-production. Yes, prog-rock influences were strong on By The Waters Of Tomorrow… yet I hope we managed to create something beyond the genre’s clichés ☺

ALEX: Working on that album was a real challenge. We used new music equipment and recording technologies in our studio. And we wanted to give more fluid and atmospheric character to the songs. It’s great to learn that many music lovers around the globe assessed our efforts.

IVAN: We are grateful to all musicians and producers who helped us to make it possible! Vladimir Belov’s contribution to the album deserves a special mention. He is an incredible musician who has a unique feel for the balance between composition and improvisation.

AI: Sticking with the progressive rock influences topic, by the time The Split Thing was released a couple year later some of the music on those three tracks had taken on an overtly classic 70s progressive rock sound, though we’re also starting to see the high intensity heavy rocking space-ambient-prog sound emerge that would be more fully fleshed out on Subkraut.

ARK: I think that three tracks for The Split Thing reveal a softer, more delicate side of our music. We were honored to make a split release with one of Sula Bassana’s bands but had no intentions to sound like Zone Six or Electric Moon. The main idea behind that album was a contrast between free improvised, tough and heavy stuff of Zone Six and relatively short, structured and atmospheric instrumentals of Vespero.

AI: I liked the first three albums and The Split Thing a lot and for me these made Vespero a band to watch. But Subkraut was the first Vespero album to really blow my mind. In my review I made references to a more space rocking version of Korai Orom and mentioned Ozric Tentacles as analogies, though Vespero has their own sound that is distinct from those bands. Subkraut has some incredibly intense music, with tribal ethnic influences and some really cool deep space jazz infused space rock.

ARK: Thank you, Jerry! We love the music of Korai Orom and Ozric Tentacles… but Subkraut was mostly inspired by the German kraut-rock scene of the 70’s. We wanted to show our respects and delights to the bands like Amon Düül II, Tangerine Dream, Can, Guru Guru, Neu!, Faust… We love what they did and believe that their influence on modern pop and rock music can’t be underestimated.

ALEX: All tracks except the cello parts were recorded during three sessions at our rehearsal spot with subsequent overdubs. We plunged into kraut-rock retro aesthetic and tried to filter it through our own visions. Subkraut is yet another experiment for pleasure ☺

IVAN: You’re absolutely right about “tribal ethnic influences”. Our homeland is a crossroad of multiple Asian and European cultures. The echoes of ancient ethnic sound still can be heard in people’s songs of the Astrakhan region.

AI: Subkraut also had a very interesting theme and packaging. I’ve got the basic edition with the big beautiful map. And I’ve seen pictures on the RAIG site of the Seebar edition with the hard cover case, booklet postcards, vintage photographs, U-Boat pennant replicas, dog-tag and cuff-title. Tell me about what inspired the theme of this album and what all the items that accompanied it mean.

ARK: The design and packaging for Subkraut was in the ZonderZond design studio. It is directly related to the album’s plot… Actually, Subkraut tells the story about the expedition of the mysterious German submarine U-530 to Antarctica that happened somewhere in between 1940 and 1942. We used various conspiracy theories related to New Swabia, the ice-free Schirmacher Oasis, the “Highjump” expedition to Antarctica by the US admiral Richard Byrd in 1947, secrets of the modern German “Neumayer III” Antarctic station… and set forth our impressions in the manner of Matt Ruff, an American author of thriller, sci-fi and comic novels. Those who are familiar with his “Sewer, Gas & Electricity” could remember that the eco-terrorist submarine “Yabba-Dabba-Doo” found its shelter right under Liberty Island in the middle of New York Harbor… on the ruined underground berth for German U-boats. There was an old signpost in that fictional place saying “U-boats Willkommen Hier”. We thought it sounded like a proper title for our conspiralogically satiric kraut-rock-tinged album ☺

AI: Droga, your latest, is another total mind-blower. This is another album with lots of complex progressive rock compositions, though you’re still deep in space. In fact, I think I made more analogies to other bands than any previous Vespero review I’ve written. At the end of the review I said, “imagine a cross between King Crimson, Djam Karet, Ozric Tentacles, and early Genesis, and you might get something like Droga.” I think that variety of references I made speaks to the difficulty of trying to describe your music.

ARK: Thanks again, Jerry! Making Droga we wanted to express our feeling of the space within and around us. In some sense, these are wordless songs about our homeland – the Astrakhan region in Sothern Russia… about strange smells of the endless Steppe, huge empty prairies where ancient legends and mythos were born. Someone defined Droga as “Space-Canterbury” music… Probably, this is the most accurate description of our style ☺

IVAN: I think Droga exhausted our potentialities within the “progressive rock” genre ☺ I wouldn’t do another album in the same vein.

AI: So each album has its own distinct qualities. What kind of planning goes into a new Vespero album? Do you just get together and jam and see what happens? Are the tracks carefully composed?

ARK: Oh, it’s early to speak about a new Vespero album ☺ Making music is definitely a collective process for us. We think out new structures together, play a lot of jam-improvisations around invented themes, develop compositions, search for interesting harmonies and original sounds, and so forth. We can do it endlessly… until something wonderful happens: we get the album idea. In fact, any details can spur us – a new place we visit, another book one of us finished or movie or just a good story.

ALEX: We’re currently studying ancient Slavonic harmonies and folklore… our guitarist is learning to play an 8-string mandolin with a bow processed through a dozen of filters. We’re full of new ideas. But no one knows when all these exercises lead us to a new album.

IVAN: That’s true, we are very curious, sensitive and unpredictable persons ☺ So, it could happen any time.

AI: You’ve appeared on several Fruits de Mer compilations in the past couple years. The recently released Vespero single has two Pink Floyd covers, and you have contributed two Faust covers to Fruits de Mer compilations. Is there anything about Pink Floyd and Faust that stands out among your influences?

ARK: Pink Floyd and Faust are among our favorite bands. We were always curious about how their music could sound in our interpretation. But I don’t think we would ever go for making covers without Fruits de Mer Records. It was like Keith Jones invited us to a candy shop ☺ Thanks for that!

IVAN: I don’t know if we succeed in our retro-travels, but yes… it was excellent experience.

AI: Do you get to play live often? Where do you usually play and have you ever played outside Russia?

ARK: We play regularly in our hometown – probably once a month. And we tour Moscow and Saint-Petersburg twice a year. So… no we don’t get to play live often. This year, we were invited to play in Kiev, Ukraine. Except that, we have never performed outside Russia.

ALEX: But are always open to any invitations and proposals ☺

AI: You come from Astrakhan, in southern Russia. Is there an audience for the kind of music Vespero plays in your home town? Are there other space/psych/prog bands local to you?

ARK: We have about a hundred dedicated fans who come to our gigs in Astrakhan. We’re grateful for their support and happy to play for them. Though, our hometown is far from being a new capitol of space/psych/prog music ☺

IVAN: There are no other bands in Astrakhan playing this kind of music. We often share stage with MYSTIC MORRISON VISIONS from Volzhsky, a town located 400 kilometers from Astrakhan. This is a three-piece band playing superb prog-fusion music with some psychedelic touches. I would call them “spiritual brothers” of Vespero ☺

AI: Tell me about Vespero in concert. Do you typically play tracks from the albums? Is there any improvisation during your concerts?

ARK: We usually combine new material with already known songs in concerts. But stage improvisation is an important element of each performance. Live versions of our compositions are rather different from studio originals. Sometimes, we return to our earlier songs that are 3-4 years old and do some developments in composition and arrangement.

ALEX: Flight of the Lieutenant is a good example. This track was composed and recorded somewhere in 2011 as an exclusive for the French Falling Down IIV 2xCD compilation. The original version is around 6 minutes while the current live version lasts over 14 minutes. That’s how it sounded at our recent concert in Moscow:

AI: Your Facebook bio mentions, “avant-garde poetry and live theatrical performance”. Can you explain what that means?

ARK: As I said above, we had a period of strong infatuation with the Russian Avant-Garde and Futurism of 1900-1930, and we often incorporated elements of dance, pantomime, poetry readings into our stage shows through 2003-2006.

AI: Any new projects or future news that you would like to share?

ARK: We are currently working on the Vespero’s second DVD-album based on the materials from recent concerts in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. Ivan and I are also involved in a collaborative project with guitarist Ilya Lipkin, a leader of the instrumental heavy-psyche band THE RE-STONED. A couple of songs have been already recorded, and we hope to continue in 2014, Let’s see what the Wood Horse Year will bring for us ☺

We send our warmest greetings to all music-lovers who believed and supported us through the years!
Thank you, Jerry, for this interview and opportunity to speak through Aural Innovations!


Home made discs and cassettes
Dust From The Silver Fingers (2004)
Milano 18.00. Live Vol.I (2004)
Like The Moon (2005)
Crabs Ashore (2006)
Bormotuha EP (2006)
Luxemburg 17.00. Live Vol.II (2006)
Concert at the Union Of Theatre Artists (2007)
Jet 5 Live (2007)

Official (studio) albums/EPs
Rito (R.A.I.G. Records, 2007, CD)
Surpassing All Kings (R.A.I.G. Records 2009, CD)
By the Waters of Tomorrow (R.A.I.G. Records 2010, CD)
Subkraut: U-Boats Willkommen Hier (R.A.I.G. Records 2012, CD / Krauted Mind Records 2012, 2×12″ LP – Germany)
Droga (R.A.I.G. Records 2013, CD)
Careful With That Axe, Eugene (Fruits de Mer Records 2013, 7″ vinyl – UK)

Liventures series (live albums)
Foam (Trail Records 2008, CD – USA)
Liventure #19 (R.A.I.G. Records 2008, CD-R)
Liventure #21 (Golden Pavilion Records 2010, 12″ LP – Portugal)
Liventures 2008-2010 (R.A.I.G. Records 2011, DVD)
Liventures, etc (R.A.I.G. Records 2013, CD-R)

Compilation & Split appearances
Psychedelic World Music (Trail Records 2012, CD – USA)
Falling Down IIV (Falling Down 2012, 2xCD – France)
Vespero & Zone Six / The Split Thing (Transubstans Records 2012,CD/12″ LP – Sweden)
Vespero vs. Temple Music – “Jennifer” (Fruits de Mer Records 2012, 7″ split vinyl – UK)
Shrunken Head Music (Fruits de Mer Records 2013, 2×7″ vinyl – UK)
Trail Records – Five Years In Space (Trail Recrods 2013, CD – USA)
Strange Fish 2 (Fruits de Mer Records 2013, 12″ LP – UK)

For more information visit the R.A.I.G. label web site at:
Digital versions of all R.A.I.G. released can be streamed and purchased at:
Digital versions of Vespero’s albums can be streamed and purchased at:

By Jerry Kranitz

Flash featuring Peter Banks – “In Public” (AdequatEsounds 2013, CD)

A founding member of Yes, guitarist Peter Banks played on that bands first two albums before forming Flash with Ray Bennett on bass, Michael Hough on drums, and Colin Carter on vocals. Tony Kaye, another Yes founding member played keyboards on the first Flash album before moving on to co-found Badger. In Public documents a January 21, 1973 Kansas City performance featuring the quartet of Banks, Bennett, Hough and Carter. These archival recordings were in the works when Banks sadly passed away in March of this year, so it stands as a tribute to the guitarist.

In the CD notes, Banks bemoans the critics who accused Flash of sounding like Yes. Well, sure, Banks was a founder of that band. But I think the crucial difference is that rather than pigeonholing themselves with the type of “Prog” rock that characterized the post-Banks Yes albums, Flash also fit in easily with early 70s hard rock, though played by exceptional musicians who balanced interesting, imaginative, ever-shifting thematic twists and turns with a free-wheeling jam ethic (ok, so, “progressive hard rock”).

Most of the songs, at their core, are high energy rockers, skipping to and fro from the main themes to jazzy segments, whimsical bits, and Prog infused Yes-like constructions. The Yes comparisons are valid, though Flash in concert are rawer, edgier… a hard rock band with the ability to take their music to the next level of sophistication, without fully surrendering to the compositional restrictions that were the hallmark of so much 70s progressive rock. We’ve even got an extended drum solo, which Prog bands typically did not indulge in (ELP notwithstanding). Banks’ guitar chops are all over this set, without it feeling like a non-stop shred-fest. The performance showcases a creative musician who could turn-on-a-dime shift from standard hard rock solos, to dreamy ambience, jazz and swinging potency that borders on boogie-woogie.

The real monster of the set, and the one that will most appeal to Aural Innovations readers, is the 25 minute Dreams Of Heaven. Here we have Banks stepping fully into the spotlight. Banks shifts effortlessly through multiple styles, from frenetically wild to mantra inducing meditations. After a particularly peaceful solo, a volcanic noise-drone rumbles, and Banks tears off on a densely aggressive blend of feedback-laden Hendrix and Hawkwind Space Ritual, and then just as abruptly the band launch into the main theme of the song, while continuing to keep things loose and explore. As the music approaches the finale, it reaches mercury bursting levels of acid-drenched frenzy, and if any early 70s Prog rock could be considered “lysergic”, these brief moments are it. Early in the track I even hear bits of what sounds like could be The Byrds’ So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star, which is possible given that The Byrds shared the bill with Flash on this night! Maybe a nod to them?

Another comment by Banks in the CD notes, which he calls his war-cry is, “We have no keyboard player; I can do it all on my guitar, though I sometimes secretly wished for “the mighty swirling organ” of Tony Kaye, who played on our first album.” I dunno… I’d not heard much Flash prior to this live set, mostly being acquainted with Banks through the first two Yes albums and his Two Sides Of Peter Banks solo album. But judging by this live set, I’d say there’s a hell of a lot of exciting and varied music being made with just guitar, bass and drums.

For more information and to purchase In Public, visit
The CD comes in a nice tri-fold cover and includes a 16 page booklet with memories of Peter Banks from fellow musicians and Flash crew.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

Manikin Timeshark – “A Trick In Time” (self-released 2013, CD/Download)

Manikin Timeshark are a UK based band who play a blend of space rock and 80s styled neo-prog. They’ve been around for a while and if you search Manikin Timeshark at you’ll find numerous links to live shows and studio sessions that can streamed and downloaded. This year they released their first official album, A Trick In Time, recorded in June 2012 by Damian (space) Maguire on drums, (Saxy) Ellie Maguire on sax, Mike (Ponytron) Hewetson on keys, Martin (Golly) Clayton on guitar, “Natural” John McGowan on flute, and Anthony “Numbhair” Bristow on bass. I’ve been acquainted with keyboardist Mike Hewetson for a few years now. He was in the space-prog band Mothership Oracle and, in addition to Manikin Timeshark, currently plays in La Luna e Le Stelle, a space electronic project with Paul Owen and sometimes other musicians. Search them at to find lots of links to live performances and studio sessions.

A Trick In Time consists of 7 tracks and is about 53 minutes in length. Adrenalin opens the set and after a light spacey keyboard and flute intro, the band launch into a steady prog rocker with swingin’ sax. The music alternates between these two themes and the heavy sections have classic prog keyboards as well as a heavy Hammond organ sound. But the best part is the last 3 minutes, which is a smokin’ high intensity space-prog jam with chunky guitar chords and a monster solo, plus lots of killer varied keyboard action and all kinds of of stylistic influences happening at once. Airspace consists of classic 80s styled neo-prog with a toe dipped in the cosmos. This is high energy rockin’ stuff. I love the guitar, flute, sax, and keyboard combo. Hewetson cranks out a variety of keyboard sounds, both classic prog and totally spaced out. I should mention that he was in the band Galahad for a period in the late 80s, if anyone remembers them. A drum solo in the middle leads to a shifting of thematic gears to a slower paced but still highly intense section with symphonic keys and more killer ripping guitar solos.

Mortemacarbre and Shadow Chaser both feature a space-prog blend that I enjoyed, and the former is the one track of the set with vocals. Some of the keyboards on Dreamcatcher remind me of early IQ. But the wailing spaced out sax sound adds an edge to the music; a contrast that I like and gives Manikin Timeshark a distinct character that somewhat contravenes the neo-prog reference I’ve been making. And Clayton cranks out more killer guitar solos! At 12 minutes, Psychospasms is the longest track of the set. It opens with space synth patterns, flowing atmospheric washes, a lovely flute melody, and the sound of waves crashing against the shore. But once the full band kick in these guys are rockin’ hard and continually shifting thematic gears, blasting the listener with every instrument and stylistic influence in their arsenal, including some great alien attack spaced out effects. About halfway through, the music recedes and we find ourselves in a tension laden, ominously plodding creepy transition. But the pace quickly picks up again and we’ve returned to a multi-faceted world of heavy Hammonds, UFO electronics and saxophones. The music zig zags between these two themes, making for one hell of a space-prog rockin’ roller coaster ride that left me fairly well drained. Finally, Indimentional Time starts off as a trademark IQ styled prog rocker, but then halfway through shifts to cosmic space-prog with a brief but intense Hawkwind-like narrative bit.

In addition to my love for all things space/psych, I grew up on a steady diet of progressive rock and in the mid-80s discovered a mail order outfit here in the U.S. that gave me access to the so-called “neo-prog” bands that were sprouting up in the UK at the time. So Manikin Timeshark’s morphing of those influences with space rock appeals to me and they do a damn good job it. The sax adds a different dimension, the guitar often brings in a welcome good ‘ol hard rock element, and I love it when they include both sax and flute in the same songs. Looks like this will be the final entry to my Best of 2013 list.

To stream and download the album for free visit
NOTE: The CD is a digi-pack with a new and better remix than is heard on the download. The cost is £10, + £2 shipping in the UK, and £3 shipping outside the UK. Email for instructions.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

Eric Johnson – “Eric Johnson’s Action Figures” (SlowBurn Records 2013, CD)

I’ve long been acquainted with Tucson, Arizona based Eric Johnson through his work with Black Sun Ensemble and Sun Zoom Spark. Eric Johnson’s Action Figures is his first solo album, and it truly is a solo effort, with Eric writing all the music, playing all the instruments, and doing the CD art work.

There’s a lot of variety across the 13 songs on this album. Soul Retrieval, The Space Between and The Party Is Over are all chunky stompin’ rockers with a 70s feel. Soul Retrieval is a highlight, combining a cool dirty guitar sound and tasty acid psych guitar, and looming in the background is a Kraftwerk-like alien electro pattern that grooves along lightly with the heavy rock drumming. Inside Outside, Closer, and Demonstration are similar tunes, though with an upbeat groove. I like the sci-fi keyboard melody that contrasts with the rockin’ guitar on Closer. Demonstration is a bit different, having a psychedelic country feel and a cool combination of acoustic and dirty electric guitar.

Among my favorites is Barrett’s Blues, a stoned rocker that’s Bluesy but also has a bit of the ethnic feel of Black Sun Ensemble. The Device is a wickedly ass kickin’ monster guitar heavy spaced out hard psych rocker. Night Sea Journey, Black Queen, and Season of Circles are acoustic driven songs that blend folk and progressive rock. I especially like Eric’s acoustic guitar on Night Sea Journey. Season of Circles is a real standout, having a more intense prog-psych edge, and I like how the strained dissonant guitar offsets the otherwise pleasantly dreamy melodic drift.

Going in even more different directions is Orange Made World, an upbeat piano led instrumental with eerily pleasant spacey keys, alternating with dreamy ambient sections. And Carry Me Away is a blend of singer-songwriter and 60s pop-psych, and even has a bit of a Beatles feel.

In summary, there’s lots of interesting variety on Eric Johnson’s Action Figures. He employs a range of instrumentation and the production and arrangements are impressive for him having handled it all himself. For me the strongest tracks are the heavier ones with the psych influences, as well as the folk-prog infused songs. But that’s a reflection of my own taste. Eric serves up lots of variety without getting too stylistically scattered.

For more information visit the Slow Burn Records web site at:

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

Black Sun Ensemble – “Behind Purple Clouds” (Slow Burn Records 2013, SBR 056, CD)

I never expected to see another Black Sun Ensemble album. The last one was 2008’s Across The Sea of Id: The Way to Eden, and even that was a surprise, given band member Eric Johnson’s comments about founder and guitar guru Jesus Acedo’s state of mind when I interviewed him in 2006. Jesus sadly passed away in March of this year, but it turns out that the band had reassembled in the fall of 2012 after a 5 year hiatus with the intention of seeking a new direction toward, as the promo sheet describes, “combining its well documented interest in ethnic music with ambient electronics and other keyboard-driven sounds.” The album was only half done when Jesus died, but supported by a grant from the Tucson Pima Arts Council, the remaining musicians recruited former members Bridget Keating on violin and Otto Terrorist on drums, plus other guests on oud and ethnic percussion to complete Behind Purple Clouds.

The album consists of 13 tracks and is just under an hour in length. Black Temple (a tribute to Popol Vuh) will transport you to a paisley colored Arabian desert, with its mind-bending combination of haunting keyboards, acidic psych guitar, siren seductive violin and ethnic percussion. Egyptian Magician will, on the other hand, transport you to a dance party in the Arabian desert. This is one of the new direction songs, with its electro beats and spaced out effects nicely embellishing this melodically bewitching groove tune. Dig that brief but cool stoned guitar. Mandala and Bastet are rocking and grooving ethnic psych tunes. Lotus and Jasmine are similar, though more trippy than rocking. Valley Of The Kings consists of psychedelia tailored made for belly dancers and dervishes, and includes a killer combination of oud and percussion. Jesus’ guitar and Bridget’s violin make for a luscious duo on Blue Thunder, a slow paced but intensely passionate and psychedelically symphonic song that would make great soundtrack music to a film. Captain Wormwood and Apollo Wolf are both classic Black Sun Ensemble rockers with Jesus in trademark dirty ripping psych guitar solo mode. I like the deep space effects, haunting atmospheric keys and pounding percussion on the psych rocking Watch The Stars. Red Temple has a cool and strange mixture of Middle Eastern and Reggae-ish grooves, plus a heavy Hammond sounding organ. Finally, the title track could not be a more fitting finale. Its just the trio of Jesus on guitar, Bridget on violin and Eric Johnson on organ, and is a tug at the heartstrings beauty, all the more emotional when I read in the promo sheet that this is the last piece of music Jesus recorded.

So this really is the Black Sun Ensemble swan song, and I must say they have gone out with a bang. Jesus Acedo was a hugely talented and creative though troubled soul who leaves behind a body of work dating back to 1985. CLICK HERE to catch the band in full flight on this 45 minute concert from 2005 I found on YouTube

For more information visit the Slow Burn Records web site at:

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

Star Period Star – “Can’t See The Forest” (Audible Cropcircle 2013, CD)

I’ll be darned, after 15 years we’ve got a new album from Star Period Star. Their last album – Jet Propulsion Mystery Summer – was released in 1998 and really bowled me over. My review in AI #7 made references to Massacre, Dr Nerve, Thinking Plague, Cheer Accident, King Crimson, and I even threw in a comment about “Sex Pistols acid kosmiche”. The band were an Illinois based trio, though the current lineup only includes one of them, Dan Sweigert (guitars, bass, keyboards, bamboo flute, percussion and vocals), who has since relocated to South Carolina. New members include Joe Colone on bass, Pat Hamilton on keyboards, guitar and backing vocals, and Dan VanSchindel on drums and backing vocals. The only names from the last album are guests Ron Jagielnik on autoharp and treatments and Mike Sary (remember French TV?!) on fretless bass.

The set opens with Survivorman, a high energy and somewhat whimsical progressive rocker, with both organ and classic prog keyboards, and some fairly monstrous drumming. And ya gotta love lyrics like, “It took the whole day to boil the putrid water with a microscope.” Snares conjured up thoughts of the Residents collaborating with Magma for a heavy rockin’ Zheul-fest. Looking For You is one of the more overtly prog rock oriented songs, but it also has a bit of that avant-punk energy that I enjoyed so much on Jet Propulsion Mystery Summer, and there’s a swingin’ organ-led segment that’s good fun as well. I like the off-kilter rocking and quirkily accessible Synesthesia, which has a cool eerie alien synth line in the middle. I’m Into Miracles starts off as a pleasantly melodic acoustic led song, but near the 6 minute mark it shifts gears and rocks hard in prog-punk land, with some killer flashy screaming guitar and we’re treated to some disorienting rhythmic gymnastics. The title of the next song is a symbol… ( .. ) and is an instrumental that sounds like a tribute to Roger Trigaux’s Present. A Means To An End starts off as an accessible melodic rocker, but nothing sits still for long with these guys as they take off on an inspired prog gone acid-rock infused instrumental jam. And the album closes with an untitled bit of sparse experimental noodling.

Can’t See The Forest isn’t too far off from the last album, though I wouldn’t make most of the band analogies that I did then. Star Period Star have an oxymoronic flair for whimsical intensity that gives their music a distinct character, and despite my multiple references to progressive rock, there’s a raw edge and unpolished charm to the music that begs the question as to whether garage-prog is a genre. I might not like it as much as Jet Propulsion Mystery Summer, but with fewer analogies than I was able to identify on the previous album, Can’t See The Forest may well be further outside the box.

For more information visit the Crop Circle Collective web site at:

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

Stephen Palmer – “Winter Solstice” (MusicZeit 2013, Download)

The latest from Mooch ship commander Steve Palmer is a three track, 30 minute EP that Steve describes as, an evocation of the longest night/shortest day of the year, which this year is on the 21st December at 14:49 GMT.

Winter Solstice consists of ambient/soundscape music utilizing synths, slide guitar, bells and other sound sources. The tracks flow smoothly from one to the next, though each has its own distinct qualities. Winter Solstice Part 1 features electronic ambient waves that lay the foundation over which deep space Bluesy slide guitar explores, accompanied by bells which, given the time of year, can’t help but inject a Holiday feel. There are actually two or three layers of guitar, and combined with the electronics, which alternate between intense drones, heavenly drift and spaced out melody, all sound and feel meditatively magical. Winter Solstice Part 2 is a spacey, rhythmic, yet reflective groove tune with killer cosmic synth sounds and inspiring melodies. It’s not unlike Steve’s Blue Lily Commission project. Finally, Winter Solstice Part 3 returns to the themes of Part 1, though it shifts gears continually throughout its nearly 12 minute length. Its deep space exploration all the way, featuring soaring space synths and slide guitar licks that at times take off and sound like they bleed into electronic effects. Pure cosmic beauty, and writing about it feels extra good as I kick off the beginning of long 4 day weekend.

Winter Solstice is available in mp3 or flac formats from
CLICK HERE to go directly to the Winter Solstice page

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

C.G. Gross – “Mythos” (Utility Recording 2011, URCD004, CD/Download)

C.G. (Christopher) Gross, though new to me, has been recording electronic music since the late 70s, and his Utility Recording label, which released this CD, began life as a cassette label in 1980. Mythos is based, to quote the letter that accompanied the CD, “mostly on H.P. Lovecraft’s early fantasy stories (as well as The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath).” Lovecraft has long been primo fodder for various styles of music. Most recently I recall Alisa Coral’s 2012 Space Mirrors album, In Darkness The Whisper, which was influenced by the author, and she too created an admirable interpretation of Kadath, a 22 minute 8 act space-metal suite.

I like it when electronic musicians take on a theme for their albums. I enjoy dwelling on the subject as I listen, and Lovecraft is a fun one to ponder with instrumental music, and dedicated fans will recognize most of the track titles. We’ve got the Gothic flavored space-symphonic The Silver Key. The sparse, minimal rushing wind, drones and eerie effects of R’lyeh. The angelic, space-orchestral and pleasantly melodic Steps Of Slumber and I Am Providence. Similar is the cosmically atmospheric and lightly melodic Poetry and the Gods. Among the more picturesque, imagine inducing tracks is Erich Zann, with its haunting alien effects alongside an orchestral theme and spacey efx’d melody. Cold Waste is all space-orchestral high intensity. I like the blend of soundscapes and Berlin school on Through the Gates. Plateau of Leng is less than a minute in length but is a high energy combination of drones and effects, though I felt less let down by its brevity when I heard the following track, the equally intense and efx’d Pickman’s Basement, with its creepy voice and music that brings to mind a John Carpenter soundtrack. Sunset City starts off with multiple parallel flowing soundscapes and then eases into a deep space-ambience. And Polaris wraps up the set with ambience and effects.

Most of the tracks are in the 2-4 minute range, so no lengthy stretch-out music here. Rather, Gross does a good job of creating a collection of synopses; concise musical statements that flow nicely from one to the next. Overall, Mythos is an enjoyable set of space-ambient/soundscapes/symphonic music.

Both CD and download versions of Mythos can be purchased at CDBaby (CLICK HERE) and Amazon (CLICK HERE). Downloads are also available at iTunes.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

Insider – “Event Horizon” (Andruid Records 2013, AR 001, CD)

Italian heavy rockers Insider’s last album, released late last year and titled Vibrations From The Tapes, was a set of instrumental psychedelic improvisations. Event Horizon is their new album is the first set of composed pieces since 2005’s Simple Water Drops, so halle-fuckin’-lujah!! The band are still the trio of Marco Ranalli on electric and acoustic guitars and synths, Piero Ranalli on bass, and Stefano Di Rito on drums. The album includes 8 instrumental tracks in just under an hour.

Escape Velocity opens the set and consists of Stoner-Metal with a Prog rock edge. The music jams hard but there’s enough intensity, interesting melodic guitar and bass development and thematic shifts to keep this 7 minute track engaging. I also like the wah’d psych guitar dueling with the metal leads. Magnetic Field Lines starts off like a stoned version of Red-era King Crimson, and then transitions to a tastefully melodic and nicely spaced out Prog infused heavy rocker. Gravitational Mass alternates between a stoned and doomy vibe and a more upbeat tempo with seductive and uplifting melodies. I like the schizophrenic thematic twists and turns on this one. The feel good melodies within a Prog influenced Stoner-Metal context continues on Jet, and we’re treated to some fun and freaky space electronics near the finale. The title track is a short piece featuring pastoral acoustic guitar combined with HIGH intensity meteor shower space effects. I really dig the crazy contrast on this tune.

The entire album is about never staying in one place at the same time, but the 9 minute Expansion Of The Universe makes it explicit by listing 6 parts: Inertia > Quantum Fluctuations > Development Of Galaxies > Dark Energy > Synthesis Of Elements > The Present Universe. The spirit of heavy King Crimson rears its lovely head again, but we’ve also got Proggy keyboards, while the guitars remain firmly in hard rocking Stoner-Prog territory. This sucker ROCKS! Black Hole morphs between heavy Psych rock, spacey King Crimson and majestic Stoner-Prog. And White Hole is a Stoner-Metal jam with cool twiddling keyboard patterns at the beginning and heavier keyboards later.

I don’t think I’ve ever used the term Stoner-Prog before, but that’s what comes to mind as I consider the heavy riffage, thoughtful melodies, and compositional complexity that exceeds what I typically hear from the average Stoner band. But that’s just one reference and it would be wrong to label Insider a Stoner band anyway. In short, if you like your music on heavy side, with touches of Space Rock and Psychedelia, and a Prog-like consideration for thematic development, then Event Horizon is right up your alley.

For more information visit the Andruid Records web site at:

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

Carlton Melton – “Always Even” (Agitated Records 2013, CD/LP)

The latest from Northern California based Carlton Melton is a 5-track, 37 minute set available on CD and vinyl LP (black or green). Dig that killer cover art. The opening track, Slow Wake, couldn’t be more appropriately titled, as it consists of dreamily floating and totally trippy, dual guitar driven psychedelic atmosphere creation and mood alteration. Keeping On is next and gets into more aggressive space rocking territory, with one guitar cranking out intense strums and leads, the other trippily bubbling along, and a synth melody injecting an added dose of Kosmiche. The music sails along smoothly until after the four minute mark when everything explodes in a slow but monstrously spaced out psychedelic stew. Spiderwebs is another cosmically psychedelic ambient exploration. Sarsen is my favorite track of the set, being a high energy rocker with motorik drumming, searing acid-drone guitar, spaced out licks and alien synth effects, making for a killer jam that’s like a combination of Krautrock and new millennium Chrome. Finally, The Splurge is a stoned and droned exploration that chugs along at a valium-like pace, with creepy atmospherics and space-angst guitars.

Overall, Always Even is relatively short but enjoyable set and I like the combination of heaviness and ambience across the tracks. Along with bands like Vespero, Electric Moon, and Oresund Space Collective, Carlton Melton are among my favorites of the contemporary improvisational space rock bands. Also note that on April 13, 2014, Carlton Melton will be making their second appearance at the Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

For more information visit the Carlton Melton web site at:

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz