Nico, Gianni, Frank, Maurizio (New Trolls) - Canti D'Innocenza Canti D'Esperienza. 1973 Italy

The big ? on the front cover has many different meanings, but there is no doubt that at this time the New Trolls were at a crossroads when it came to musical direction. Were they a hard rock band? Prog? Pop? Fusion? Searching for a Land tried everything whereas UT focused more on progressive hard rock, and is arguably their finest work. While Canti D'Innocenza, Canti D'Esperienza is nowadays referred to as Ibis version 0.5, the truth is they were the New Trolls in disguise. This particular album picks up where UT left off, and plays to their hard rock side with plenty of theme and meter changes to demonstrate their progressive pedigree. This isn't the Yes worship of Ibis' Sun Supreme. There's some acoustic interludes, and plenty of high pitched vocal wailing in Italian, all trademarks of the genre. I also hear a bit of a psychedelic throwback sound, perhaps like Garybaldi's Nuda. Really an excellent album that I think carries the New Trolls moniker baggage despite their attempts to disassociate. Best to approach this album as its own thing, and you'll walk away more impressed.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Arcangelo (Japan)

This CD replicates the original gatefold textured LP with photo pages.

Franco Falsini - Cold Nose. 1975 Italy

Franco Falsini's only solo album takes in one part Manuel Gottsching, one part Richard Pinhas, and 3 parts of the outer galaxy he apparently emigrated from. Analog wedgy electronics, and thick oozing heavy guitar shards define the sound palette, whereas the melodies are pulled from his own Sensations' Fix cookbook - you'll hear plenty of snippets from Fragments of Light and Portable Madness within. I would love to see the movie that was inside of Falsini's mind during this recording. Essential head space music.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 Polydor
CD: 2010 Universal (as part of the 6 CD box set Progressive Italia Gli Anni '70 Vol. 6)

Like most of Sensations' Fix albums, Cold Nose has been poorly served in the CD reissue market.

Tako - U Vreci za Spavanje. 1980 Serbia

Tako's second album, christened with the of-the-moment name In the Sleeping Bag, is an almost perfect example of one of my personal favorite styles of progressive rock. That of what we used to call symphonic fusion. Quite simply instrumental progressive rock, but heavy on melody and tricky compositions - and no showboating whatsoever. It's a sound the Dutch perfected in the mid 70s, and was later adapted heavily in the late 70s and early 80s in France, Japan, and points unknown - like Serbia for example. Each individual track can be appreciated entirely on its own, without having to worry about its sequence within the album. The guitarist plays in a decidedly rough manner, a type of psychedelic hard rock sound. The keyboards are vintage 1980, which is a sound one expects to hear for the style. The fact that Tako keeps the album interesting throughout each minute is a testament to how strong they were as a functioning unit. The bonus tracks are just as enchanting as the album itself.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Record Runner (Brazil)

I first heard this album via the Kalemegdan LP reissue. The German label is famous for unearthing and reissuing the best from the former Yugoslavia - and they were responsible for the two bonus tracks found here. Oddly the album was only reissued on CD in Brazil, by the excellent Record Runner label. They licensed the recording directly from Kalemegdan. Definitely recommend either reissue, for the bonus cuts, and the superior sound to the original Eastern European LP.

Chaos Code - A Tapestry of Afterthoughts. 1999 USA

Baltimore based Chaos Code's debut is a most intriguing work. It's somewhat inconsistent, and the album does sound like various recordings - even though it appears the personnel remained the same throughout. Very much in line with other late 90s and early 00's prog rock, the album walks the tightrope between retro 70s and more contemporary modern prog. Opener 'The Cave' is a perfect example, coming across as "very American" with radio snippets and social commentary (a bit like The Muffins in that way). The music always seems on the brink of something fantastic, only to see 8 and a half minutes slip away without notice. 'Heights of Time' is Chaos Code clearly trying for an Echolyn type sound - once again pointing to their own era. So at the point where it seems the album is inessential, out comes 'Antiodote to Entropy', which channels early Genesis at its finest. 'A Silent Scream' does similar, whereas closer 'The Devil's Trombone' demonstrates that Chaos Code could have been a larger name in the retro prog sweepstakes, doing a fine rendition of the type of sound the Scandinavians are more famous for (Anglagard, Wobbler, et al..). 'Gravy Fries' is a fun instrumental diversion but not going to move the needle. So for me, the track that was going to determine whether or not this would be a 3.5 or 4 star album is 'Days of Reflection'. And I fear to say there's just not enough meat on the bone. There's a 5 minute track hiding in a 10 minute blanket here, and that's too much downtime. Still, it's an album that has held up well in retrospect. I bought this near the time of release and recalled little about it. Coming up on 20 years later, it proved my initial assessment was right. It's a keeper and better than most from this era of progressive rock music.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 private

Astrolabio - L'isolamento dei Numeri Pari. 2014 Italy

I could say that L'isolamento dei Numeri Pari is Italian prog-by-the-numbers, but that would be rather cheeky of me. See, Astrolabio are not ones to take things too seriously. The album's title means "Isolation of the Even Numbers", and witness the cover as the even numbers are roaming about in a body of water. Meanwhile the tracks are all indexed by the odd numbers (1,3,5....to 21). Musically, the metaphor holds as well - but in a good way. No question Astrolabio have studied their 1970s Italian prog, and though the instrumentation teeters both the 70s and 90s, the overall execution is splendid. If one were to be critical, it's that the album doesn't feature any dramatic highs, nor too many surprises, so in that way they aren't like the very best the genre has too offer. Our good friend Apps79 offers up Jumbo and Biglietto per L'Inferno as a couple of benchmarks, but they aren't near as passionate and experimental as the former, nor as jarring as the latter. And yet, of course, it's a good comparison all the same. I hear more Osanna in the "hard core Italian" aspects of the album, whereas Pink Floyd (cheers Snow!) gives us our Anglo sound (perhaps Mary Newsletter from the home country gets a shout out). Very good album overall. No surprises or head lifting moments, and yet it accomplishes what it set out to do. Hard to complain about that. For fans of classic Italian prog.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Andromeda Relix

Bag - Tripdream / Nothing Will Remain (single). 1971 Netherlands

On these two tracks, Bag demonstrates that they could go toe to toe with the almighty Group 1850, and they sound somewhat similar. One can only wish more music will emerge at some point from this fine band. A brilliant 45.

Pseudonym reissued this on its own as well as a compilation primarily made up of the Flame label. I heard it on YouTube.

Haymarket Riot - Trip on Out / Something Else (single). 1968 USA

Wow. Going through these obscure psych era US singles can be revelatory. So it turns out Haymarket Riot are from Enid, Oklahoma. Now there's the center of the psychedelic universe eh? My old man was in the laundry business, and one of his top clients was in Enid, so I went there a lot more than your average big city kid. I'll just put it this way - psychedelic is not the first thing one thinks of when in Enid. 'Trip on Out' is great - very much in the spirit of the era. 'Something Else' kind of blows honestly, but I can understand why they would play two entirely different styles. They must have gotten plenty of odd looks for sure.

You can find 'Trip on Out' on multiple comps. I heard it on YouTube

Crystal Garden - Flash / Peach Fuzz Forest (single). 1969 USA

After hearing Crystal Garden (what a name, eh?) and The Cave Dwellers, I find myself pining for a Bay Town Records compilation, hopefully with some amazing unreleased material. Seems Oakland had it going on just at the point where the American record companies were abandoning any kind of experimentation. Unless they were from England of course. Sigh.

Available on at least one Pebbles volume. I heard it on YouTube. I need to start seeking out some of these compilations on CD.

Sound Expedition - Ultimate Power / Think it Over (single). 1969 USA

Add Lincoln, Nebraska's Sound Expedition to your list of killer one-time psych songs. That would be 'Ultimate Power' of course, and a rather lengthy single track at that. The other side is somewhat typical psych pop. Worth checking out.

Available on at least one compilation. I heard it on YouTube.

The Purple Sun - Doomsday / Give Your Life (single). 1968 USA

'Doomsday' would have been a perfect fit for the St. Albert's Dream compilation, especially considering the band were from south Texas (presumably that is, given it was pressed in Houston). Excellent heavy guitar psych. I haven't heard the flip side to date.

Available on at least 3 compilations. I heard it on YouTube.

The Cave Dwellers - Meditation / Night Runner (single). 1968 USA

The Cave Dwellers were a psych/lounge band from Pleasanton, California in the late 1960s. Coincidentally where yours truly had a physical office from 1999 to 2002. Though I'm sure the late 60's Pleasanton was nothing more than an "over the mountain" farming outpost of Oakland verse the mega-million dollar software capital it was to become in my era. In any case, 'Meditation' is the reason you will seek out this single. An absolute monster of a track, which contains a freaky psychedelic mid section that sounds as if Iron Butterfly suddenly thrust themselves into the 1970 German landscape. 'Night Runner' shows another side of the band, pulling off a Doors like sound, via your local Holiday Inn's lounge. It's ladies night, and the women are all plus 40. I wish you luck my friend. They can't all be good.

Available on a couple of compilations. I heard it on YouTube.

The Black Sun Ensemble - s/t. 1985 USA

1985 is not the year one starts with in seek of psychedelia. In fact, the music of that era could be considered the polar opposite of such. It is in this environment that Jesus Acedo launches the Black Sun Ensemble in isolated Tucson Arizona, predicting the rise of the neo psych movement by a few years - one that continues to this day in one form or another. For those that have seen Ken Russell's Altered States movie, then The Black Sun Ensemble is the perfect soundtrack that never was. A mescaline trip to the caves of the Mexican desert by way of Libya and Morocco. As good as it gets for the limited palette the band offers, and a beacon of light in an otherwise sterile era of progressive/psychedelic music.

Personal collection
CD: 2001 Camera Obscura (Australia)

Important to note that the CD is not a straight reissue of the LP, nor is it to be related to the 1988 LP on Reckless that shares similar themes and music. What I wrote for Discogs: "Liner notes state: "The music of this album is not exactly what was presented on the original LP. Its mix feels far clearer and two of the LP's tracks ("Cobracalia" and "Red Ocean") have been lost and are replaced here by previously unreleased contemporaries ("Emerald Eye 2" and ""Bleeding Heart")"" I'll need to investigate the original LP at some point.

Secret Saucer - Second Sighting. 2007 USA

Second Sight is Secret Saucer's second album (quite alliterative I'd suggest). It took me a long time to digest this one. Though I first purchased the CD nearly 8 years ago (a few years after initial release), it's not one I had absorbed at all. When I began to tackle it a few days ago, I didn't think it would take me a week to grasp it. But sometimes that's what it takes. The reward is I raised the rating, and Second Sight definitely is a cut above your garden variety modern space rock album. Though ironically it doesn't start that way. 'Lift Off' is a prototypical Ozric Tentacles styled opening with whooshing synthesizers and ripping guitar solos. After that, the album shows a wide array of influences. 'All the Way to Outer Space' has a strong bluesy hard rock twist, that is unusual in this type of setting. 'D-Walker' introduces the key ingredient to the album's success: Piano. There's something magical about the sound of the grand old dame of acoustic keyboards juxtaposed against modern synthesizers and electronics. 'Tranquility Base' introduces yet another form, that of electronica, though still very much rooted in space rock principles. 'Untitled Dream' sounds like an outtake from Edgar Froese's Ages album, and is heavily drenched in discordant mellotron (sampled I'm sure, but very well done). The album peaks on the 'Disintegrator'/'Integrator' duet where the piano is quite prominent while the intensity is raised. By now you'll find yourself fully immersed into their sound. 'Reflections' adds electric sitar to great effect. Every track is great, and most feature well written compositions and melodies. This is a far cry from your garden variety jamming space rock band. If looking for something different in the space rock field, give this one a shot.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Dead Earnest (Scotland)

Medina Azahara - La Esquina del Viento. 1981 Spain

I had written recently that Medina Azahara's debut is one of the pillars of the Andalusian progressive rock scene of the mid to late 70s. Now the 80s have arrived, and Medina Azahara did what most bands did back then: streamline their sound, and added period synthesizers. Have no fear though, Medina Azahara are still focused on the plot here, and there's no mistaking this for anything but what it is - Rock Andaluz. I suppose if looking for a metaphor, think of Medina Azahara as southern Spain's very own Saga. That is to say a band that was able to seamlessly meld the 70s and 80s together, without leaks and cracks. Not sure how I managed to compare Saga to Medina Azahara, but hey... Anyway, unfortunately from here, the band took the metaphor too far, and ended up strictly as a pop group for a few years. But their first 2 albums are essential for the genre.

Personal collection
CD: 1995 CBS/Sony (w/Andalucia)

The CD above combines their 2nd and 3rd albums, so if you're curious about where Medina Azahara were headed, then you'll get a chance to without further investment. My first copy was the original single sleeve LP obtained in a trade back in the early 90s, but I felt the CD was a better package and sold it shortly thereafter. In retrospect, I still think that was the right decision, unless of course, you have an obsession with guys in red pants...

Nico, Gianni, Frank, Maurizio (New Trolls) - Canti D'Innocenza Canti D'Esperienza. 1973 Italy

The big ? on the front cover has many different meanings, but there is no doubt that at this time the New Trolls were at a crossroads when...