The Summer Search for Rare Wax

While re-visiting some of my classics from artists like múm and Mark Kozelek, I found myself really enjoying The Album Leaf’s In a Safe Place.  It’s a wintery, sparse record that merits repeated listening.

A quick bit of research revealed that Jimmy LaValle (the lone member of The Album Leaf) had collaborated with Jón Þór Birgisson, Kjartan Sveinsson, and Orri Páll Dýrason (most of the members of Sigur Rós) and Gyða Valtýsdóttir (formally of múm) at Sigur Rós’ Sundlaugin studio for the album.

It’s no wonder the record is so enjoyable.

And what was even more surprising was that one year later, in 2005, LaValle mixed his next record with the help of Jón Þór Birgisson and Joshua Eustis of Telefon Tel Aviv.

With the hands of so many great artists in this music, and the sounds of a Rhodes piano and a Moog synthesizer in the mix, The Album Leaf has a sound which is just as enjoyable a decade later, and will continue to provide listening pleasure in the decades to come.

If you’ve been following this blog since June of this year you’re quite aware of my love of Black Swan, (drone for bleeding hearts.)

Black Swan continues to operate shrouded in mystery.  I’ve recently acquired 2012’s Aeterna and Heaven as well as 2013’s Redemption (swan plague).  Each is darker and more minimal than the disc which preceded it, and every title is magnificent.  Like all Black Swan releases, this is music for your best headphones.  Sadly these three titles have not yet seen a vinyl release.  I would contact the label, Ethereal Symphony but there is just as little information about the label as there is about the artist.  Clearly these are self-releases, as the titles are only available on CD-R or FLAC and the only (8) releases on the label are those of Black Swan, so the mystery continues.

Here is the opening track from Aeterna – “A Lesson in Slow Flight.”

My hunt continues for a copy of Popol Vuh’s Hosianna Mantra (featured in August 20th’s This Week’s Listening – Early Krautrock, Proto Ambient, and Musique Concrete)

Sales of the original German pressing from 1972 (Pilz 20 29143-1) average around $72.  There is currently a NM gatefold copy for sale, (in the USA, no less!) but it is marked at $120 and I’m saving my vinyl cash for something else at the moment.

Pilz ‎– 20 29143-1 1972
But what was truly staggering was the revised album art which appeared on the Celestial Harmonies (CEL 004) US pressing in 1981.

Gone was the ornamental, silver foil spiritual cover – and in its place was a hyper-minimal, post-modern painting of a circle, (or a sun, perhaps?)

Celestial Harmonies ‎– CEL 004 1981
Fortunately, the German Think Progressive label restored the original art for their 1998 reissue of this lovely recording.  (TPLP 1.803.023)  The TP issue can be picked up for around $45.

Here again is Hosianna Mantra.

But pricier records aside, I joined a few fantastic friends for a day of gallivanting at my local Antique World, where my favorite record dealer gave me a wonderful West German early ambient/drone record by Peter Michael Hamel.

Hamel was altogether new to me but I quickly learned that he is a veteran minimalist associated with the late-1970s New Simplicity movement.

The album is titled, “Bardo” – a Tibetan word meaning “intermediate state” or “in-between state,” a term which aptly describes the cycling organ tones throughout the two side-long recordings of the record.

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This elegantly minimal album is lush with the warm sounds of the pipe organ, electric organ and analog synthesizers, performed by Hamel and Ulrich Kraus.

It’s always exciting when your record dealer knows you well enough to provide you with something wonderful that you’ve never heard. A delightful addition to my library – especially for only $8!

The opening track, “Dorian Dervishes” runs 21:47.  Here is the opening 6 minutes.

I will close this post with two absolutely essential early-electronic gems, both from Germany.

The first is Cluster’s self-titled debut release from 1971. Roedelius, Moebius and Plank produced a proto-ambient milestone which should be required listening of anyone interested in the history of electronic sound.

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Time practically stands still when you tune in to this beatless masterpiece.  The three untitled tracks run just over 44 minutes but when the record ends the listener may feel disoriented and unsure whether minutes or hours have passed.

Have a listen to the closing track.

The other LP I’m after is Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4.  Recorded at the height of synth pop, this experimental record was a pioneering electronic album which pre-dated the house/techno-era that would follow.

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And 31:13 into the single-track album of relentless, unyielding loops and minimal percussion, Göttsching begins noodling jazzy guitar riffs over the rhythmic loops, taking the listener’s trance to an even deeper level.

The album’s title is the most common opening move in a game of chess.

Enjoy!

The Birthday Vinyl is in!

Hello again!

While I am still anxiously awaiting my limited run reissue of Cinematic Orchestra’s Motion (ordered back in early March!) I can at least report that some special favorites turned up for my birthday and have arrived safely at my new apartment.

I had a beacon out for a copy of the Orb’s legendary Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld in case a copy ever turned up in the United States.  This 1991 ambient house-concept debut album marked the official transition from works by The KLF (and Jimmy Cauty’s ambient project under the moniker “Space”) into what became The Orb.

If you ever track down this milestone album for yourself, you’ll want the original UK pressing, as the first US pressing was edited down from the double-disc 109:41 minute UK release down to a one disc 70:41 minutes – a crime against the world of ambient music.

Orb - Orb's Adventures Ultraworld
The album is best-known for the track, “Little Fluffy Clouds,” but should truly be enjoyed in its double disc glory.

It was an absolute joy to finally own this LP, but what I stumbled upon next really floored me.

I had been itching for the most memorable ethereal post-rock records of the late 90s and early 2000s.  I put together a list of my favorites – albums which immediately come to mind years after I first heard them.  Then I poured over my favorite web sources for hard-to-find wax.  On my second day of searching, I was delighted to find one seller on a particular site who had three of the six records I was looking for!  Better still, they were in the USA, and would ship any number of LPs for a total of $5!

Then I realized what seller I was dealing with – it was The Lakeshore Record Exchange in my old home town of Rochester, NY.

I immediately grabbed my phone and called the owner of the shop.  He had just sold one of the discs but said that he’d already re-ordered a store copy and would ship all three as soon as it came in.

What a treat it was, 5 days later to receive three elusive albums from my first years in college all from the shop where I spent some of my earliest vinyl-purchasing days!  (This, by the way, was the shop where a very beautiful record clerk played me Lemon Jelly for the first time and lead me on a 100-album binge for their complete recordings!)  Thank you, Marta.

Here are the three albums which arrived last night –

The first is múm’s first release on FatCat Records from 2001, Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today is OK.

mum - Yesterday was Dramatic

The next disc was another essential FatCat LP from Iceland –  Sigur Rós’ Ágætis Byrjun. Recorded in 1999, this is the 2013 UK DMM Remaster from Abbey Road on 180gm vinyl.

Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrjun Ltd Ed RSD 2013 (stickered version)

And the third record was the wonderful collaboration between Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid) and Dustin O’Halloran (who released his Lumiere LP on FatCat in 2011).

A Winged Victory For The Sullen was released on Kranky Records that same year.

A Winged Victory - A Winged Victory

The remaining three albums from my Contemporary Ambient list are Telefon Tel Aviv’s Fahrenheit Fair Enough, The Album Leaf’s In a Safe Place, and Pantha Du Prince’s This Bliss from Germany.

Hopefully I’ll pick them up by Christmas time.

Thanks for listening and THANK YOU, Lakeshore!