Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: germany

Xmal Deutschland – Tocsin

his group dispensed with their Siouxsie and The Banshees imitations for their second record. Fetisch had some great moments and the low-key production gave it a real feral quality, but it wore its influences on its sleeves and every other article of clothing. It put the “d” in the word “derivative”.

With Tocsin, Xmal Deutschland go deeper into Goth territory and less into rock. The results are immediately appealing as Mondlicht is one of the finer songs from this period. Things don’t change much through the remaining eight tracks though the instrumental Xmas in Australia is an odd break from the poppy and melodic goth that pervades this record.

This album has two main problems, or three if you consider similar sounding songs an issue. Drama one is Anja Huwe’s voice. Every now and then listening to Xmal Deutschland, you wish she’d sing. Rather, she bellows. She also throws her voice at the end of every sentence. If she stopped these New Wave-isms and actually let her voice breathe, some of these songs would be raised to transcendent level. As it is, she just puts it there. I know it’s indicative of the times and places her band existed, but it’s a crying shame she just didn’t try to sing rather than shout.

The second is Mick Glossop’s even-handed production. This is another New Wave-ism and it’s the one thing that truly dates this record. Drums, synths and bass are way up the front of the mix, and the guitar buried deep down. Lo-fi as it was, Fetisch had everything up front and the result was an in your face record. Tocsin sounds like any one of a thousand albums produced at the time, which doesn’t suit this band’s strengths.

It’s a great record with mostly catchy songs, but it’s soured by Huwe’s delivery and the serene production.

Choice cuts: Mondlicht, Nachtschatten, Begrab mein Herz


Tangerine Dream – White Eagle

According to Wikipedia, this is TD album number twelve, if one discounts the film soundtracks they’ve done. White Eagle is probably the culmination of their short and sharp period that begun with Force Majeure and ended with Underwater Sunlight. This a tightly built album, with few of the long, swaying meanders of early efforts.

It’s very beat driven, with recurring motifs throughout. The twenty minute opening track, Mojave Plan, is one of the better things they’ve constructed, an occasionally sinister sounding piece of sibilant and ringing electronica that churns along. I get the impression that the band were fans of Vangelis’ work in Blade Runner. That influence is pretty much apparent.

Midnight in Tula is the album highlight, a New-Wave-ish three or so minutes of electronic chugg-a-long. Game-maker System 3 used this track in their game The Last Ninja 2.

Convention of the 24 drones on a bit, and it is this album’s weakest track. Things pick up for a sprightly, if strangely reflective closer in the title track.

Things got dreamier for Tangerine Dream from here, and I’ve covered a couple of albums of theirs where things are certainly ethereal. But White Eagle is concise highlight in their long catalogue.



Alphaville – Catching Rays on Giant

I vaguely recall this German synth-pop band from the 80s. They came out with a couple of synth ballads which made it big in a few places. Maybe Big in Japan did become big in Japan.

Anyhow, Catching Rays on Giant is their latest LP, and it arrived 13 years after the last. This is pure discofied synth-pop. 80s revivalist music at its finest. It’s all very operatic and major key.

This record immediately gripped me. There’s very few weak tracks on it, and its laden with melodies and hooks, from the opening pulse-beat of Song For No One to the dramatic waves of Miracle Healing. In between, there’s some utter gems of pulsating synth-rock, like Things I Didn’t Do (album highlight), Phantoms and Call Me Down.

The record slumps a little with its ballads and it probably would be better off without the slow sonorous stuff. This band sound a hell of a lot better when they’re choofing along at 100+ beats per minute.

The whole thing is beautifully retro, and wouldn’t be out of place stacked up next to stuff by Heaven 17, Human League, early OMD etc. It arguably outdoes any of these for sheer theatrics.

I’m glad I discovered this record.


Tangerine Dream – Lily On The Beach

This is the follow-up record to Optical Race. In a lot of ways, it’s more of the same and that is very much a positive thing. There’s thirteen songs here and the unifying theme is the West Coast of the United States. This record evokes images of everything from beach-side cafes to the high mountains, with everything from fast roads to deserts in between.

It’s a livelier record than its predecessor. There’s none of the dreamy reflection that was prevalent on Optical Race. In truth, the whole record sounds happy. Apart from the battery of synths, there’s drums and guitars throughout and a fair chunk of it does come across as a product of its era. In fact, the song Paradise Cove sounds like it came straight out of Miami Vice or Beverly Hills Cop.

Of course, there’s highlights here, from the title track to the empyrean Mount Shasta, the happy groove of Blue Mango Cafe, the reverberating Gecko and the cool cruise of Desert Drive. The album highlight would be Crystal Curfew.

This record? I love it.

lily on the beach

Tangerine Dream – Optical Race

We’ve come a long way from Phaedra or even Cyclone. This is studio album number eighteen for Tangerine Dream (according to Wikipedia) and the ten songs contained therein are relatively short, and to the point. There is nothing ground-breaking here and if you wanted to be mean, you could – with a wry smile – write off everything on this album as pleasant elevator music. And it is pleasant. All of the album’s cuts possess a lively, uplifting vibe. The title track provides some energy over and above the endlessly flowing synth and pseudo-string washes. Twin Soul Tribe and Sun Gate speak of the Great Western Mysteries, and Ghazal (Love Song) is a fitting and lovely album closer. The album highlight is Mothers of Rain.

The New Age label gets slapped on latter day Tangerine Dream releases frequently, and to the uninitiated, it’s apt for this record. Some could say we have ten songs of pleasant instrumental pap here, wafting background music that never engages. You may be right, but what else can I say? I love this record. They outdid themselves for their next record though.

optical race

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