Edward Ka-Spel - "A Long Red Ladder to the Moon" (Beta-lactam Ring Records 2005, mt090, CD/3-LP)
Edward Ka-Spel - "Laugh China Doll" (Beta-lactam Ring Records 2005, mt1113, CD, originally released 1984)

From Aural Innovations #32 (November 2005)

In addition to his leading role in The Legendary Pink Dots, Edward Ka-Spel has released 20+ solo albums over the past couple decades, in addition to what seems like a zillion LPD releases. A Long Red Ladder to the Moon is his latest solo effort and features Ka-Spel on all instruments and vocals. I wasn't all that thrilled with his Pieces of 8 album from earlier this year (see AI #31). I found it to be a bit uneven and even the tracks I liked didn't really stick with me. But I was pleased to find this new one to be a considerably stronger and much more cohesive work that features Ka-Spel at his creative best.

The album opens with "Black Widow's Kiss", a dark, thudding, spaced out electro-percussive tune with Ka-Spel's unmistakable expressive vocals. I love the whining synths that sound almost like Robert Fripp guitar licks (maybe it is guitar?), which go great mixed with the backwards loops and slow marching rhythmic pattern. "Mechanical Sam" is a quirky electronic Goth-psych song that would be at home on a LPD album. "Flipside" is a real highlight, being an avant-garde, rocking electro-industrial freakout song with lots of grinding mechanics, tape collage fun, space alien weirdness and manic vocalizations. Wow, total tripped out cosmic fun! "Gone Subterranean" is a 12 minute journey through minimalist ambience, soundscapes and drones, embellished by assorted voicings, church bells, toy piano and other carefully placed samples, later transitioning to a spaced out electro groove song. "Treehugger" is another dark ambient soundscape piece. And "It's Just A Job" and "Never Say Never" are Ka-Spel's ideas of moody, avant-garde, spacey, lounge-noir pop tunes with Dub beats. Overall, the album features a wild variety of song styles and experimental fun that are sure to please Ka-Spel fans.

Beta-lactam Ring Records has simultaneously released a reissue of Ka-Spel's 1984 Laugh China Doll LP, which also includes the Dance China Doll maxi-single and additional tracks from Perhaps We'll Only See A Thin Blue Line. In fact, the label has plans for a series of Ka-Spel reissues. I was a bit concerned about what I was about to hear as I had read about how the original master tapes had met with an unfortunate death. But whoever did the vinyl restoration did a fine job as all 15 of these tracks sound marvelous.

I enjoyed back-to-back reviewing a new Ka-Spel album with one from over 2 decades ago. When this music was recorded in 1984 the world was in the midst of the synth pop explosion, which I'm sure still gives anyone who lived through those times nightmares. But there were lots of possibilities for exciting and interesting electronic driven songs and the Ka-Spel imagination and creative energy amply demonstrated that synth-pop didn't have to be the sappy crap that the then elementary school age MTV was flogging.

Songs like "Eye Contact", "Atomic Roses" and "Moments" include many of the ingredients that the popular synth-pop bands were using. But Ka-Spel added so much more to the music, like doomy atmospherics and cosmic synths that propelled the music into space rock realms, along with some progressive rock elements. "Lady Sunshine" and "Even Now" are excellent examples of what a solid singer-songwriter Ka-Spel is.

Ka-Spel impressed me on songs like "Find the Lady" and "Suicide Pact", which utilize the most stripped down and simplistic of keyboard equipment, yet are well recorded and combined with additional layers of electronics, percussives and voice samples. And along with Ka-Spel's patented vocals and lyrics they're just damn good songs. Of course Ka-Spel also injects a lot of spaced out freakiness and psychedelic oddities into the mix, which transcends any pop song potential there might be, not to mention making for lots of good fun listening. The man clearly had a talent for making a lot happen with limited means. Among my favorites tracks are "Lisa's Funeral/The Glass Moved By Itself", which is a great space-pop song with intense guitar licks and a great mood blend of urgency and calm. And "The Fool With Hammers" is a completely cosmic combination of avant-garde sound-art and haunted house symphonics, space electronics, and ultra intense spoken word delivery. Out of this world! Check this album out for some tasty archival Ka-Spel work.

For more information you can visit the Beta-lactam Ring Records label web site at: http://www.blrrecords.com.
Email at: blrr@blrrecords.com.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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