Friday, May 3, 2013

The Best Birthday Ever, Observations On Life, Love, and Europe, And Much Praise For Warm Music From Cold Climates

Last Sunday (April 28th) I turned 37 years old and I'm looking forward to a fresh, new start to my life. It will take a lot of discipline, but I'm for the first time in a really long time confident about my future. A lot of that may stem from having the best Birthday ever of my whole life- so brilliant it was better than any Christmas I can think of too.
 It was hard to get to my day of commemoration intact, but I got there. Nothing is easy in life and if it all is a big nothing for someone hard as this may be to believe I'd rather be me than someone who is bland, selfish, uninteresting, and uninterested in anything but themselves and their square ordinary life. I've had a lot of hard times and a lot of good times in my life. Looking back I tend to try to and mainly remember the happy periods and happy days, but I can remember the worst ones too. Sometimes I live in the past or just become a dreamer too much, but that is a very small facet of who I am.
      When I came up with my list of records for my birthday I went really far into rare big ticket records from cold climates- Germany, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and a Canadian record was a last minute surprise when my best Quebecois friend Denis said he had it and he'd sell it to me. Denis and I have known each other forever and been friends for a really long time. I've been to all 4 locations his store has been in in Montreal and I love going to that beautiful city. The closest I've been to Northern Europe is Montreal and Scotland where the weather can be brutal. The one time I went to Montreal in October it was freezing yet still so good. What I love about Canadian and Scandinavian bands is how different they are from the rest of the music from other places. I'll freely admit I'm a bit of a paradox when it comes to American bands as I think many of the best come from southern California (mainly Los Angeles), but press me hard enough and I'll come up with a whole lot from colder places too. America is a huge country with a huge amount of music, but it was the first country to become totally polarized between great music and the worst shit ever to come out in the world. In general a lot of really rare American records aren't that rare and are not worth listening to. I will give an example of that. Morgen is not very rare as someone always has one for sale and is both horrendous and not at all psychedelic. That was New York. The Frederic is neither rare (a dealer always has it for some ludicrous price) nor is it even listenable. Instead it is as I have described it previously- a really bad lounge Frat act snot nosed supper club band from Grand Rapids Michigan. I don't know why a lot of our cold climate bands suck! There are huge exceptions of course especially as in that Ohio produced a lot of really brilliant bands and press me to say the worst American band and it's always gonna be Bloodrock and sick in the head Southern bands like them in general so it is not simple.
     American music of the best kind usually is made by bands who either are heavily leaning towards Anglo/European influences or who are good at what we're really good at- pop psych. I'd probably put Brian Wilson and his brilliant music in my top 5, but even he doesn't give me the same kind of healing spirit I get from Europe. Bands like Popol Ace from Norway, Blond from Sweden, Stratovarius from Finland, and the also Finland first album masterpiece by Tasavallan Presidentti along with the best Canadian records are so warm sounding and inviting I have a huge soft spot for them and love that kind of music. Some people complain about the Germans and Scandinavians. They complain about the vocals and about the music being "oppressive," but dealers like that are shallow thinking nobodies whose opinion doesn't mean one thing to me. I will readily admit that the German psychedelic/progressive bands grew to be a favourite kind of music over a long period, but I've not looked back since I started collecting the best they have which is a lot of bands. Scandinavia I always had a soft spot for and let me not leave out Dutch bands some of whom are astonishingly good. A German band like Virus won't be for everyone, but you surely won't get an illness if you listen to their best of their two albums THOUGHTS. I don't mind dark lyrics if they are good. English was not the first language for European bands, but in the northern part of Europe most bands sang in very good English and wrote very interesting although oftentimes somewhat downtrodden texts. My two best phone friends now are German soldiers and when Denis is around we talk often sometimes. I always love going to Montreal and no trip is complete without visiting him. We've made a tradition too of going out to dinner together. Never believe what people say about Canadians- Americans really are just jealous and you won't get slammed in Quebec if your French isn't perfect. I always try to use the little that I know, but my experience has been mainly very kind people up there. I've also never met a single Scandinavian I haven't loved. I also like Russians, but they never have had a chance to make really good music because their poor country is one tragedy after another. I had a Siberian best friend a long time ago and we'd always hang out with each other and I got him huge into one of my favourite bands for almost my whole life- Europe who of course came from Sweden. The culture is rich and detailed in Europe. It is a sense of huge pride and sadness in many countries none more so than Germany. I love Europe, I love Canada, but I find that the love emotion for people overrules the hate emotion more for me as long as they are good people who try to do something worthwhile in the world.
     Getting back to my birthday I did great the previous day at the one record store that is really worth my while to go to and I had the best visit there in quite some time. We drove back listening to the great Canadian band Klaatu's MAGENTALANE and Klaatu are a band that loom large in my musical history.  I knew I'd be getting some great music for my birthday the next day, but just how brilliant I didn't know until that beautiful morning in a so far beautiful spring.
   I got the best records ever made! I got 14 of them and only one would have a problem and 15 were mine in total if you count the one that came from France a day later- Jupiter Sunset which is a very significant record in my history. It was great to have it back and purged of the demons it had a long time ago developed a year after I owned it roughly. Most of what I got came from Northern Europe and you can't go wrong with a lot of the bands that came out of Scandinavia in the 60s and early to mid 70s. Two of the other best ones- in fact the very best ones along with the first album by Finland's Tasavallan Presidentti (President Of The Republic in English) came from Germany in Sitting Bull's TRIP AWAY and New Zealand in The Fourmyula's GREEN B. HOLIDAY. Sitting Bull is an amazing record- a mix of blazing heavy psychedelic rock and British influenced heavier edged to laid aback folkrock. There is no other album like it although the superb vocals sound like a Germanic take on some of the best British bands of the early 70s era like Asgard and Dog That Bit People or the later Idle Race. The Fourmyula's GREEN B. HOLIDAY also belongs in every collection- a pop psych masterpiece that can blow the lid off nearly every other monster album in that vein and is an equal to the best- The Koobas!
       One of the most interesting things is how much great music comes from countries with really cold climates where I'd love to visit during the warmer months, but couldn't stomach during the winters. Canada provided me with some of the best records at Siren and also on my birthday proper I got a heavy Canadian album I'd been looking for for 19 years- Blind Ravage. From Montreal, Blind Ravage is pretty, well, ravaging. It's an over the top hard garage psych/hard rock album with savage vocals and brilliant guitar work. We also drove back from Siren listening to one of my oldest favorites- Beatlesesque magic workers Klaatu from Toronto. Now I can go into detail about the amazing music from Scandinavia. I feel very successful in having got some classics from there and it only proved my point that Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland have something very special in the best of the music they've produced back before heavy metal did irreparable damage to all of those countries. Having said that one of the scant few bands that could be described as "Metal" (melodic metal, though, or Symphonic Metal) that I love are Finland's long running Stratovarius.
    You can't get better than them once Timo Koltipelto became their vocalist and they have not gone the way of a lot of bands and churned out a million repetitious copies of their old classics they are a band who keep going further ahead. However, for there to be Stratovarius in the 90s to now there had to be a whole lot of bands before them.
    Tasavallan Presidentti were Finland's first progressive group and recorded their groundbreaking, awesome first album in 1969 long before some of the other giants like Elonkorjuu got around to it. Having mentioned Elonkorjuu (the name translates into "Harvest") they obviously played Tasavallan's first a million times. I prefer, way prefer, Tasavallan Presidentti's self titled 1969 masterpiece when Jukka Tolonen hadn't completely crossed over to jazz and jazzy progressive rock taking the band with him. Also, very importantly, on their first album and a 1971 sort of compilation release on EMI they had the services of a brilliant British vocalist and writer in Frank Robson. Robson's soulful, melodic, and powerful voice is a huge help to getting the message across. It is largely thanks to the amazing variety of material, soaring vocals, and brilliant musicianship that this album is not only Finland's early progressive peak, but a peak for the genre in the world. The music has a warm vibe, like they were sitting around the fire coming up with great music because there was no way they were going to go out in the miserable cold.
     Having used the word "miserable" Scandinavian bands can make miserable great. The Norwegian progressive rockers who shared the same name as a horrible more famous German band Popol Vuh and then once signed in Germany Popol Ace never sounded like a particularly happy bunch. Famous in their homeland and forgotten everywhere else that is beyond unfortunate that is unforgivable. They couldn't get any attention outside of a small following in Europe until Genesis attempted to (get this!) snag lead vocalist Jahn Teigen to replace Peter Gabriel. Teigen had the job and refused. He said at the time that he wanted to stay in his own group because they'd be huge soon, but I think he knew that if he did take the too-good-to-be-true offer it wouldn't last long. Jahn has a super great voice- a very impressive range and the most important ingredient of them all a lot of sincerity-, but his thickly accented vocals are impossible to imagine in Genesis. Popol Vuh/Ace were a very downtrodden band. Their 1972 debut is full of depressed mellotron drenched melancholic progressive rock and a few hard rock numbers and while it doesn't capture them quite as brilliant as on their Popol Ace one proper release with Jahn STOLEN FROM TIME it is pretty damned great music. The lyrics are really sad and just seem to only look at deep issues and bad things in the world. Especially depressing is the song "All We Have Is The Past," but this achingly beautiful song captures a kind of sad progressive magic like The Moody Blues yet it has a very European sound to it. Guitarists Arne Shulze and the also keyboard playing Pete Knutsen are stellar musicians and this album also features some really cool flute passages from Pjokken Eide who wouldn't stay long. Pjokken's big Ian Anderson moment comes in the ominous, grandiose opener "Hunchback." The song concludes with a grim poem spoken by Teigen. Side Two is where the album's major musical highlight is in "For Eternity" where Love circa FOREVER CHANGES meets King Crimson and The Moody Blues, but the group would improve their sound enormously once they were down from a sextet to a five piece band.
     The peak for Popol Vuh/Popol Ace would come in the form of STOLEN FROM TIME which is the definition of melodic European progressive pop/rock and features a whole album's worth of amazing songs with great variety and energy from the whole band and Jahn is sounding almost God-Like on the record. He's gotten much more sure of himself you can tell and there is more beauty and less dark claustrophobia then on their first release. The brew that was steeping on the second album QUICHE MAYA is ready to drink here. Over the course of 3 years, two albums, and a name change it came together in absolute perfection. The first track "Bury Me Dead" is not really at all about death and is instead about the hardships of a rock band trying to make it to the top with a nice amount of humor thrown in. Other highlights are "Today Another Day" and "I Can See Tears"' among a whole lot more. The closing track "Suicide" is brilliant in that it doesn't depress you when they try to get inside somebody foolish enough to give into delusional thinking and kill themselves. The group were really all set to make it, but then it wasn't going to work out for this band. When Jahn Teigen left that was pretty much the end until recently when the whole band have reformed and I wish it could be different for them a second time around. It seems horribly unfair that they never made it at the time except in Norway and to a lesser extent Germany. They can stand up to the best of all British, American, and German progressive groups and that in and of itself should make them a legendary band to more than just the few who know their great music.
      I've never figured it all out. Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Scandinavian countries produce such great music with such a harsh climate at certain times of the year and in England it rains so much and is miserable so much of the time that I wonder if that has anything to do with why there is a huge amount of great music from there too. There is a big difference in the music, however. Canada has its own kind of music, its own kind of bands, its own kind of sound. The French Canadian bands tend to sound Dutch or German for some reason and the English Canadian bands can only be described as a uniquely Canadian take on whatever they do. Scandinavia is where some really amazing bands hail from and I got into a lot of them when I was much younger than now. I've never liked the winter. In fact, I hate it. That might make it even harder for you to know how much I love music that evokes the one joy of that time of year- the fireplace. Winter can be cozy. It can bring people closer together. Take my advice and hunt down some of these cold climate masterpiece records and share them with your friends- you may turn onto something really special in the process.

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