(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
Ahhh, a perfect soundtrack for your dreams!!!
This was a landmark release for Tangerine Dream as it chronicled a radical change in their sound and approach. The previous TD albums tended to be a more violent, churning and chaotic affairs at times reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Now having lost a drummer (and deciding not to replace him), TD instead decided to make use of some newly available synth technology-circa 1973. What comes out are a series of very hypnotic and colorful improvised pieces driven by insistent sequenced patterns and surrounded by colorful washes of mellotron and synths, with alternately eerie and dreamy melodic lines peeking out to invite you in.
The title cut "Phaedra" demonstrates this in wonderful ways, and shows the 3 musician's intuitive grasp of developing colorful dreamscapes, starting with a somewhat unsettling clangorous melange of sounds, progressing into urgent sequencer driven rhythms with eerie melody and colorful backdrops and ending with a surreal juxtaposition of mellotron choirs and strings and the sounds of children playing.
The other pieces are equally striking and hypnotic, especially "Movements of a Visionary" with its intense percolating rhythmic backdrop and organ weaving in and out, and "Sequent C" with its eerie extruded layers of echoed flutes.
A wonderful beautiful sound to usher you into dreamland indeed!!
Whether you call their music space rock, kraut rock, ambient, electronica or even new age, Tangerine Dream is one of the all-time granddaddies of all of these musical niches. They didn’t invent electronic music, but they sure did play a massive part in making it a popular, commercially viable musical form. And perhaps no album in their massive catalog played a bigger part than Phaedra in transforming electronic music from arcane experimentation to a popular form of art.
Phaedra was released in 1974 on the then brand-new and progressive-minded Virgin Records. Phaedra was also among the first Tangerine Dream albums that sounded more like music than haphazard sound sculpture, but just barely. It featured something of a regular rhythm in most of the tracks and saw a slight movement toward recognizable melody (trends the band would continue for years – well beyond the point of being interesting anymore). These two factors helped bring Phaedra to a much wider audience in England – where Phaedra quickly went gold – and eventually in the USA. By this time, Tangerine Dream were over their frightening experiments with totally free improv, as on Electronic Meditation, and they had already created the ultimate “barely there” ambient album in 1972’s massive Zeit. Phaedra shows the band finally finding their niche and getting serious about utilizing the ever-expanding possibilities that existed with the burgeoning technology of electronic music synthesizers.
Phaedra’s charm lies in its exquisite combination of the beautiful and the mysterious. What is so great about Phaedra is that it couldn’t be used as cheesy background music for some sort of subliminal self-help tape. This isn’t new age music. This was before all that. This is freaky music, but it’s still beautiful. With Phaedra, there is always the feeling that one is encountering something strange and beautiful – something never before seen by man. It’s music for spelunking! And yet, the music can be very relaxing if one allows it to be so. It’s not soporific, but contemplative. Listening to Phaedra, it seems almost certain that it must have been a huge influence on albums like Vangelis’ Albedo 0.39 and Jean Michel Jarre’s acclaimed Oxygene. While those albums can offer similar joys at times, Phaedra sounds so much more authentic and so much less commercial. Oxygene in particular, sounds almost like a novelty album in comparison.
Phaedra’s sidelong title track is the most energetic and suspenseful of the album. Its driving sequencer rhythms and ascending melodies create a palpable forward momentum that eventually leads to some sort of passage into another, more peaceful realm where lonely bird-like synth calls echo and fade into the Mellotronic night.
Side two begins with what may be the best piece on the album, “Mysterious Semblance at the strand of Nightmares.” This is ten minutes of unabashed Mellotron bliss combined with cosmic synth swooshes and some of the most velvety “velvet phasing” (if I may rip off a Klaus Schulze title) ever heard. The chord progressions used here create a remarkable sense of wonder mixed with sadness. It certainly lives up to its title and it is easily one of the classic must-hear tracks for Mellotron fanatics.
“Movements of a Visionary” and “Sequent C” are shorter tracks that find the band dabbling again with sequencing and Mellotron respectively.
At less than 38 minutes in length, Phaedra is a too-short journey through the inner realms of the mind. Its peaceful, mysterious strains should be essential listening to anyone interested in any kind of electronic music, and it is one of the original and best chill-out albums of all time. – SH