Alien Planetscapes - "The Official Bootleg Volume 1"
Alien Planetscapes - "Astro-Politics"
Alien Planetscapes - "Spaceboyz Social Club: Unreleased Recordings 1987-1988"
From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)
Doug "Dr Synth" Walker continues to make past Alien Planetscapes recordings available on CDR, and this time around we've got a trio of releases representing the varied forms of space rock that AP was known for over the years.
The Official Bootleg Volume 1 includes tracks from AP's performance at the Strange Daze 1998 Space Rock Festival (the entire show is also available on CDR), a 1999 performance at CBGB's in New York City, and studio tracks from 1999 and 2000. After an introduction from Thom The World Poet who, quite correctly, points out that "this band is special", AP launch into the blistering space rocker "Mr Sparkle". For those of you who have AP's sole CD release, Life On Earth, this is a space assault along the lines of "Radiation King", so here's your chance to hear guitarist Rob Alfonso live just before he left the band. "Source" is an equally thrashing rocker, one of many that reveal AP's King Crimson influences. The guitar work is absolutely phenomenal and the synths scream and swirl like a star exploding. "Broken Snare Drum Improvisation" is a free jam led by Frippoid soundscape guitar. And I dig the kick ass funky bass on "Going To Brooklyn 18 Times".
The CBGB's show features an AP that is just as hard rocking, and though Josh Gazes' guitar style is less shredding than Rob Alphonso's, it is no less powerful, perhaps having a more psychedelic Fripp-in-space sound. "Andromeda 601" is a cool space jam with a head-banging metallic crunch. "Engine Block Eggs" is a heavy rocker with a great 70's power rock sound that's embellished by Dr Synths cosmic electronics. And "Prince Chubb" is another fiery tune with strong nods to King Crimson. This is a ROCK band that could turn heads and cause whiplash... and not just space rockers.
We're also treated to a couple tracks from the as-yet-uncompleted "Red Mars", created by the 2-man AP that existed throughout 2000. This version of AP - Doug Walker and Rich Orlando - did an entire "Red Mars" performance here in Columbus, Ohio at the Quarkstock 2000 Festival, and I hope the response to these teaser tracks prompts the duo to someday complete this work. It consists of beautiful electronic space landscapes that will make you feel like you really are on a shuttle with the red planet looming over the astral horizon.
Astro-Politics is a 2-CD set that reissues the Radio Special Volume III cassettes from 1991. All improvised, this 6 piece version of AP is an example of the band in their rocking jazz-in-space period and is a model example of jazz's relationship to space rock, and the possibilities for expanding space rock's horizons. The band consists of Doug Walker on synths, keyboards, organ, flute and effects, Louise Boone on synths, effects, sampler, tapes, and percussion, John Potenza on guitars, guitar synthesizer, and effects, John Cordes on electric violin, electric mandolin, synths, and effects, L.G. Mair Jr on bass and effects, and Len Pace on drums.
The four long tracks on this set (all in the 20+ minute range) are serious improvisational space jams. The music develops in a very jazz-like manner, with the electronics keeping things firmly in space, the violin providing a Zappa feel, the guitar kicking out plenty of cosmic whines and wahs, and L.G. Mair Jr's bass often seeming to guide the direction that the other players travel. Doug Walker had recently turned me on to a 1970 Miles Davis show (reviewed this issue) and having that fresh in my mind, the influence on these musicians is clear. My favorite parts are when the band lay down a funky groove, yet the guitar and synths are creating psychedelic space atmospheres. The music flows nicely and it was so easy to just bop along with the groove, losing all track of time. If you haven't heard this side of AP I can't recommend it enough. Imagine glomming together Miles Davis, Soft Machine, Frank Zappa, and Hawkwind, and you'll got something similar to the space-jazz version of AP.
Spaceboyz Social Club features a much earlier and very different Alien Planetscapes. For several years AP was a purely electronic outfit, a series of duos between Doug Walker and other electronic explorers. The 1987-88 period this music is from is just before AP began to experiment with conventional rock instruments playing in group formats, so this is where the electronic AP was starting to wind down. Of the three lengthy tracks on this set, two pair Doug with Carl "Nomuzic" Howard, and the third consists of Doug performing solo on KYLU-FM in Los Angeles. It's important to point out that both Doug and Carl were highly active participants in the 1980's DIY homemade music culture, having recorded literally hundreds of tapes between them, and collaborated with enough musicians to stymie Pete Frame's efforts to track them.
The first of the tracks with Doug and Carl is a journey through the deepest and darkest regions of space. Sound, atmosphere, and aural textures are the focus as Doug and Carl share the same sonic palette. Give it a cursory listen and you'll hear pleasing, quietly meditative space electronica. Offer a discerning ear and you'll be rewarded with a banquet of subtle treasures. High pitched tones suddenly but seamlessly evolve into rumbling drones. Ambient waves weave a swirling but determined path across the night skies. There's so much happening yet it's so quiet... I felt like the lone astronaut, so far from his home planet, for whom every little sound makes it's presence all too known. The second track is much more chaotic and whimsical. If there's a playground in space then this is the signpost pointing the way. Bleeps, blurps, whistles, and screams are served up in heaping doses, though there's an experimental edge at times as well. Finally, Doug's solo radio performance is nearly 30 minutes of hardcore rumbling and swirling space electronics. Guitarist Greg Segal, who was in the room at the time of this performance, told me that outside of seeing Tangerine Dream in 19'77 he'd never really seen anyone with that kind of control of a patch synth. Headphones required.
I'm thrilled that Doug is making all these earlier cassette-only, and unreleased, recordings available on CDR. In its 20 year history Alien Planetscapes released over 100 cassettes on the underground network, but only released one studio CD, 1997's Life On Earth. Space Rock fans need to have access to all these sounds. Here's your chance... jump on it.
For ordering information you can email Doug "Dr Synth" Walker at: Dwa2898572@aol.com.
Contact via snail mail c/o Doug Walker; 191-32 116 Ave; St. Albans, NY 11412.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz