Tangerine Dream is a German electronic music group founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese. The band has undergone several personnel changes over the years, with Froese the only continuous member. Drummer and composer Klaus Schulze was a member of an early lineup, but the most stable version of the group during their influential mid-1970s period was as a keyboard trio with Froese, Christopher Franke, and Peter Baumann. Early in the 1980s, Johannes Schmoelling replaced Baumann, and this lineup, too, was stable and extremely productive. Tangerine Dream's early "Pink Years" albums had a pivotal role in the development of Krautrock. Their "Virgin Years" and later albums became a defining influence in New Age music, although the band themselves dislike the term.Atem
The fourth album of Tangerine Dream, and the last before they would sign with Richard Branson's burgeoning Virgin Records label, Atem (meaning "Breath") ranks among their most enigmatic. The album is less static than the previous Zeit, but overall continues along the quiet, ambient pathways.
Not at the start, though. With an opening rivaling the majesty of Popol Vuh's "Aguirre," the first 5� minutes of the title track makes you feel like you are inside a huge, ancient, Egyptian temple. The sound, defined by a repetitive motif on Froese's mellotron (the instrument's first appearance with TD) and Franke's tribal tom-toms, is an all-encompassing sanctity and awe. The percussive pace quickens to a climax, but then dissolves into a void of white light. It is after this great opening that the remainder of the track goes to minus eleven, like having been instantly teleported to the surface of an alien terrain so remote, astronomers wouldn't even bother to put it on their charts. But even while so removed, prog and Kraut fans should recognize the territory well. It is the rock-meets-electroacoustic avant garde style also explored by peers Klaus Schulze, Cluster, and early Pink Floyd: minimal, usually atonal organ mixed with unsettling electronic sounds (e.g., humming reverberation, sizzling noises, trickling). Perhaps it is "Fauni Gena" that best encapsulates the meditative and mystical feel that pervades the album, beginning with an aria of flute mellotron and proceeding along to string mellotron, all surrounded by naturalistic sounds and occasionally whispered voices. The interesting thing about this track is how organic and synthetic it manages to sound at once. Listening to it, you could imagine yourself being in the Garden of Eden, or conversely in some futuristic simulation of an aviary or rainforest. The final track, "Wahn" (German for "delusion"), splashes some cold water into the listener's face, with prehistoric vocalisms and screams that at the same time have a clear studio reverb to them, before closing out with some more tom-tom and 'tron magic.
A minus that warrants mention: similar to the other earliest Tangerine Dream albums in the Castle reissue series, though this boasts "digital remastering" done in 1995, the sound remains substandard with significant vinyl buzzing, particularly in the opening of "Atem" where it most matters. It's too bad that the band hadn't quite made it to Virgin quite yet, where the original master tapes most likely would have survived in reasonable condition. Barring the sound, this is one that most prog fans should hear and most hardcore Krautrockers probably already have. It seems to be less talked about relative to the other albums they made around this time, such as Alpha Centauri, Zeit, and Phaedra. If you want easy listening, go with Frank Sinatra. But if you want something more challenging and exploratory from this period of popular music, then Atem is an inevitability.
(Ground and sky)
The watershed album for Tangerine Dream was this, their first release for Virgin Records, Phaedra. If Zeit was music recorded on Jupiter, this was music recorded on Pluto: icy, distant, alien. The beginning moments of the title track always manage to bring shivers up my spine, as we are gently blown by a jet stream from up above, until slowly descending down into a mechanical throbbing like something you'd imagine hearing in a mad scientist's lab or in the shadowy corridors of an H.R. Giger painting. Gradually, this throbbing speeds up, until an angelic mellotron choir parts the waters. Soon over this, enter a wavering mellotron string lead, swirling in and out like quicksilver, and in the hands of VCS3 manipulation, almost sounding like a Moog at times. This early climax, perhaps the most incredible section of the title track, then hangs a sharp left turn unexpectedly into a new terrain of pulsing sequencing that would become the band's signature for the remainder of the 1970s. This similarly builds slowly to a peak, before screeching to a halt altogether once it reaches its top limits. Then the listener is left alone on an immense, deserted beach, with only synth-gulls and lonely mellotron to provide companionship. The haunting disorientation of the children's playground in the distance is the icing on the cake. On my remastered CD, this is placed as the beginning of the next track, "Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares," and as I never owned the original LP I assume that's where it should be — but for me it will always be the close of title track."Mysterious Semblance" is pretty much Froese and one of the all-time classic mellotron tracks: ten minutes of pure, unadultered 'tron beauty. To date, the only other track I've heard yet that equals it as a mellotron showcase is Popol Vuh's "Aguirre." Despite its foreboding title, it is for the most part a soothing, peaceful piece, and one that can't help but evoke the blue and white upper-reaches of the sky, especially with the windy bursts of white noise that augment the mellotron's song. The two remaining tracks, "Movements of a Visionary" and the Baumann-composed, quiet-as-a-whisper "Sequent 'C'" are also quite strong.Phaedra remains Tangerine Dream's most recognized and best-selling album today. Despite this, it also thankfully remains a challenging work to absorb, to the extent that I'm somewhat surprised it enjoyed the commercial success that it apparently did. In any case, we're talking indispensable stuff with this one. With the move to Virgin and improved production, Phaedra represents peak work from this band--a classic of ambient and electronic music that sounds just as great today as it did back then.
(Ground and sky)
The follow-up to the band's phenomenally successful debut, Phaedra, on Virgin Records, Rubycon is measured in two parts coming in at a very tidy and well-used 34 minutes.
The opening six minutes of "Part One" make for a warmer opening than that of Phaedra. Arising out of the murky depths of shimmering organs, Froese and friends bask the listener in lush swashes of keyboards, the musical equivalent of an aurora borealis sweeping away gently in the distant arctic. However, it is at around the seven minute mark and with the advent of echoing metallic sounds that a more ominous atmosphere begins to take over. Not soon after, the pulsing synth beats and string mellotron that are associated with the band's peak period arrive. Notice how when it begins the pulsing subtly expands from 4/4 to 5/4 to 6/4; I love bits like that. As this section of the piece picks up in dynamic, it reminds me a lot of something one might have found on Pink Floyd's Meddle, even with the same seabed organ sounds and backwards crescendo effects that were used to great effect on "One of These Days."
"Part Two" follows a similar structure to "Part One." It begins with a free-form, rhythm-less opening primarily comprised of audio warping that increases and decreases slowly in register. This dissolves into a void of vocals. At around five minutes, this prelude once again gives way to an echoing, sequenced bass pattern and processed string mellotron. These continue along a steady plane with all manner of effects whisking by, before eventually collapsing back into amorphousness at just under twelve minutes, then finally arriving at an end state of repose (flute mellotron).
This album paints a vast, abstract picture. I would say it is more accessible and less diverse compositionally relative to Phaedra, but by no means less mysterious or powerful. Like its predecessor, Rubycon is another classic Tangerine Dream work that is a must-have for those who want to experience the band on their game.
(Ground and sky)
Like what you hear, buy it! And support the artists that really need it.