AMN Capsule Comments: Mike Eisenberg’s Recent Playlist (July 27, 2021)

From time to time, AMN writer Mike Eisenberg revisits older albums that he has not listened to in a while and provides comments.

Atlas – “Blå Vardag” (1979)

I felt like ye olde school prog and, when it comes to ye olde school prog, the Swedes did it swimmingly! Atlas was a 5 piece with two keyboard players, guitar, bass, and drums and (I think) this was their only album. Obviously, with the two dedicated keyboardists, their palette was quite symphonic and these guys played it to the hilt. They were very fond of the “BIG ORCHESTRAL BUILD-UP”, and they did it really well too. One of the keyboardists loved his Mini Moog in a huge way and like all the Rick Wakeman’s before him, he definitely held his own on that particular axe. (Sorry, nowhere close to Kit Watkins from the American band Happy the Man.)

All the other players are pretty excellent too (don’t you have to be, to be in a prog band???). The guitarist often switched from Acoustic to Electric within the same song and he didn’t shy away from the (more than) occasional jazz chording’s, which added a nice touch. Overall, there were quite a few memorable melodic moments on this record. I have the 1995 reissue which adds some bonus material from a reformed version of the band. I really enjoyed this listen from my long-haired leaping gnome days.

Värttinä – “Ilmatar” (2000)

Värttinä is a Finnish ensemble fronted by 4 female vocalists who sing in their native Karelian dialect. The energy on this album is off the charts and the 4-part vocal arrangements were magnificent. I couldn’t help being reminded of the highly complex vocal work in Magma and, while sounding nothing like Zeuhl, this quartet of singers certainly summoned down the old gods with their chanting.

The backing band consisted of accordions, fiddles, and other Scandinavian folk instruments. I think I heard some hurdy-gurdy, lots of drums and percussion, and some incidental electric keyboards rendering some dark forest atmospheres.

They don’t stick to only Finnish folk either, throughout I heard Balkan dance rhythms, Irish fiddles, and even some Middle Eastern melodies. This is the only album I have by them but, I’m thinking that may change sooner rather than later. The music doesn’t sound overly complex if you were casually listening to it, in fact, it’s pretty danceable…but if you take a peek under the hood, the rhythms are certainly not standard 4/4 and, those vocal arrangements…insanely creative. High rec!  

Fläsket Brinner-“The Swedish Radio Recordings 1970-1975”

This is a big 4 cd box of live and live-in-studio recordings and it does a great job of showing the 5 year evolution of this band, all in fantastic sound.

Fläsket Brinner falls squarely into the jazz-rock camp with maybe some slight Canterbury nods. The backline of electric bass, drums and keyboards (mostly organ and electric piano) do an excellent job of providing the rock-solid bedrock for lots of Sax soloing and some really intense guitar pyrotechnics. Playing from all is tight and you can tell these guys were very well-rehearsed and comfortable playing with each other. The extended jams reach high levels of intensity, and I would imagine what great shows these must have been if you were there to witness them live. Their sound morphed from a very loose Psyche-Jazz vibe on the early discs to a more fleshed-out, slicker sound later on. This was due to a much higher keyboard presence. I personally prefer the earlier stuff but, at the end of the day, it’s all excellent showing a band that was very much on top of their game.

Michael Eisenberg

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