Alien Planetscapes - "Transition 1991-1992" (Galactus/AP Music #112, 1999)
Alien Planetscapes - "Strange Daze 8/15/98" (Galactus/AP Music #109, 1999)
From Aural Innovations #7 (July 1999)
Besides the upcoming new studio release, "Victims Of The Blacklist", 1999 will see three limited edition releases from Alien Planetscapes, two of which consist of archival material and the other being the bands' performance at the 1998 Strange Daze SpaceRock Festival. Below we discuss the Transition and Strange Daze releases.
For those of you who discovered Alien Planetscapes from their 1998 debut CD "Life On Earth", "Transition 1991-1992" is an excellent opportunity to explore the early 90's version of the band, which was musically different from the band that recorded Life On Earth, though still recognizably Alien Planetscapes. Transition consists of two tracks totaling over 70 minutes and both feature the freewheeling "let's make shit up" ethic that characterized the band at this time. Doug Walker's interest and experience with jazz is well incorporated into the music with the band embarking on lengthy jams that improvise and develop around central themes.
The first track was recorded live on 10/26/91 and includes the lineup of Len Pace on drums and percussion, L.G.Mair on bass and effects, John Cordes on electric violin and mandolin, synthesizer, and effects, John Potenza on guitars, synthesizers, and effects, Louis Boone on acoustic and electronic percussion, synthesizer, tapes, and effects, and Doug Walker on synthesizer, sequencer, organs, keyboards, electronic reeds and flute, and effects. If forced to give a concise description of Alien Planetscapes at this time I'd say they're what Soft Machine might have sounded like had they declared themselves to be a spacerock band. But this is too simplistic and having had the opportunity to hear a fair amount of Alien Planetscapes material during the past year I really think that in all their full band incarnations they have a distinct sound of their own.
The second track is a studio recording from 10/17/92 called "In Seven Seconds" and features the Alien Planetscapes "bigband" consisting of L.G.Mair, Louis Boone, and Doug Walker again, but this time are joined by Ernest Boyd on drums, Kevin Mapplebeck on guitars, devices, and effects, Valleri Popov on tenor saxophone and effects, and Darryll Little on alto saxophone and effects.
One element that stands out about Alien Planetscapes is that they are indeed a "band". That is, everyone shines but does so by their contribution to the whole rather than taking center stage solos. Everyone creates "sounds" regardless of their instrument and these sounds are critical to the piece. Whether it's wailing violin or efx'd slide guitar it all works together to create a very full band sound that has a strong jazz groove but is firmly in the cosmos creating more freaky sounds and effects than you've probably heard from one band. The band moves through a succession of these grooves from a Soft Machine circa Third sound, and at times a space fusiony Mahavishnu Orchestra feel. Alien Planetscapes excels at making jazz truly cosmic and there are hints of the full blown rock that was to come later on Life On Earth.
These are both strong tracks though I found "In Seven Seconds" to be a standout due to the addition of the two saxophones and the prominence of Doug's flute... hence the "bigband". This is truly cosmic music that could turn Hawkwind fans on to jazz as well as turning a lot of jazz fans on to SpaceRock. The best of many different worlds and recommended to the spacerock fan who is also open to the music of Sun Ra, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.
Fast forward to 1998 and the Strange Daze SpaceRock festival. The same lineup that appeared on the Life On Earth CD (minus Blais Siwula) is playing. They are Matthew Block on drums and percussion, Chris Altenhoff on bass, effects, tapes, and loops, Rob Alfonso on guitars, devices, and effects, and Doug Walker on synthesizers, keyboards, electronic flute, and effects.
This is a harder rocking, sometimes brain splitting version of Alien Planetscapes than heard on the earlier recordings, but the music is no less jamming and is equally cosmic. Alphonso's blazing guitar sound and Block's intense drumming are key factors in this transition. Also there is Walker's stated intention of not improvising in the lengthy fashion that AP used to.
"Mr Sparkle", "Source", and "Radiation King" are heavy space punked out rockers. These are intense hard driving tracks that don't let up until they end. Alfonso's guitar often gives the band a mid-70's King Crimson sound, but Alien Planetscapes gets downright metallic at times and the addition of Walker's synth work puts this in a heavy rock music class all its own.
"Space Jam" is just that... psychedelic Frippoid guitarscapes and synth madness create a journey that is both floating and at the same time crazed. "Prince Jones" gets even more into the Crimsoid realm sounding like a heavier version of Red. And Cold War is a rockin' blitzkrieg that ends in territory that borders on hardcore. Alien Planetscapes's jazzier roots return on "Soft Martian", an exploratory tune that recalls the Soft Machine comparison. Soft Martian... Soft Machine... hmmmmm. This version takes the band even more into orbit than the version on Life On Earth and Alien Planetscapes were a tough act to follow despite the fact that they were followed by the weekend's headliner Hawkwind. Fans of SpaceRock in all its forms should know Alien Planetscapes' music. Past material has been readily available from Carl Howard's Audiophile Tapes, but if you've been avoiding these cause you don't like cassettes then now's your chance.
For more information you can email Alien Planetscapes at DWa2898572@aol.com
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz