Artist: Tangerine Dream
Title: Alpha Centauri
Label: Ohr – many reissues
Format: 12” LP, CD reissues
Genre: space rock, kosmische / krautrock, electronic, experimental, psyche
I figured since I was doing a series on early Kraftwerk and showcasing their days in the kosmische field before they morphed into the influential electronic band that they are today, I would show you what some other group was up to who was making similar music at the time. Case in point, Tangerine Dream. This band is, without a doubt, one of the most influential electronic bands, period. They ranks just as importantly as Kraftwerk in forming the foundation of all modern and perhaps future electronic and rock music.
Tangerine Dream started in 1967, jamming exclusively at the time to psyche rock. By the time their first LP was released in 1970, “Electronic Meditation”, it was obvious that they style was beginning to evolve. It was still heavy on wild guitar riffs and feedback, but there was a heavy element of electronic music being eased in as well. By the time “Alpha Centauri,” their second album, was released, it was evident they were still trying to find themselves, despite having a well formed sound.
Track one, “Sunrise in the Third System,” is full of wild guitar swooshes and massive amounts of feedback. Creepy synth and space styled affects are added in like flour to a cake mix, giving the track a more space oriented theme. Though, it sounds a tad bit dated, and therefor; it gives the space affects sort of a haunted house feel. Granted, it doesn’t sound all that bad, especially if you can picture what it must have sounded like to those folks at the time who were grooving it up with the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane and Cream just a few years earlier. It must have been ground breaking.
Track two, “Fly And Collision Of Comas Sola,” opens up with obnoxious sirens, something I actually found myself having to skip through to save my ears. Once that passes, we’re back to some organ synth that sounds similar to the first track, and a flute that just doesn’t seem to fit. Now, we’ve seen flutes used in Kraftwerk’s first two releases already and they made it work and it seems like a good staple instrument to kosmische music, but on this track in particular, it just doesn’t seem to know where it belongs.
As this track progresses, some light rhythm guitar makes its way to the spotlight. Pink Floyd-esque drumming kicks in, giving this track, at last, a very cosmic feel, something that still sounds innovative and captures the imagination. After a while, these sounds get mixed in with a low, growling space engine type synth riff, and I am feeling like this was a decent track, despite the annoyance at the beginning. The only complaint some might have at this point is that it may sound slightly dated. I don’t feel that it takes all that much away from this.
Finally, we flip the record over for track three, “Alpha Centauri”, the longest piece on this LP. Guitar swooshes and cymbal crashes start things off, giving way to swoops and swooshes of synth, sounding a bit like the engines of a starship. The flute flutters in again, and once more it seems a little out of place. I’m no longer in space here, but rather in the forest, having a tea party with a unicorn and a wolf like some sort of edgy and somewhat offbeat fantasy. This isn’t bad, mind you, but it’s not the impression I get when I think of Alpha Centauri.
Final thoughts: Tangerine Dream have created a decent album, despite not completely figuring out their sound. This album is still epic, in its own right, and cosmic in its own way. This fits somewhere between wild improvisational space rock and planned-to-the-second-writing, the combination of which gives this a cohesive feel. Genre-wise, this could count as an ambient prototype, but it definitely falls within the kosmische / krautrock field. I personally would have liked to see a bit more bold exploration of sound here, but I should really lighten up, this was still enjoyable and undoubtedly highly influential.
Should you buy this? Unlike the early Kraftwerk LPs, this album has received multiple reissues on many formats so prices are decent across the board, except for maybe the original issue. Fans of krautrock, post rock, space rock, electronic music and Tangerine Dream’s later material should enjoy this. However, if you’re not a fan of unfiltered sonic noise (which it has in a few spots, especially on track two), you’ll find some stints in the tracks hard to swallow, so you may want to skip over this. My girlfriend, who had to overhear this album while I played it, hated it, calling it torture. Despite all of that, I found the album decent, and perhaps you will too.
4 out of 5.