Virgin VR 13-108
Released: June 1974
Chart Peak: #196
Weeks Charted: 2
Since lots of people will buy anything that sounds weird, Phaedra may well turn out to be the novelty record of the year. It's several lengthy pieces of haunting, almost frightening music touching some of the darkest corners of Pink Floyd's astral travels, and like Tubular Bells it will be subject to many varying personal interpretations. Many will no doubt envision spaceships swishing through an immense void while others may claim to see ugly maidens imprisoned in dank medieval dungeons prior to ritualistic disfiguration. Some might even think they see God, but what I see is three incredibly visionary German kids fortunate enough to have rich daddies who bought them the tons of keyboards necessary to realize their musical dreams. It's an amazing record, though, the most effective mating of the mellotron and synthesizer to date, and its lush employment of rich sonic textures makes it an immensely enjoyable experience.
Brian Eno gave ambient music its name, but Tangerine Dream pioneered the sound. The group formed in Berlin in 1967, their leader and only constant being guitarist Edgar Froese. Inspired by surrealism and the dadaist art movement, he had worked with Salvador Dali and opened for Jimi Hendrix. Other players came and went, leading to a German label debut in 1970. Electronic Meditation was one of the earliest examples of Krautrock: a minimalist, experimental work utilizing household objects alongside standard rock instruments.
Sythesizers came to the fore on Alpha Centauri (1971) -- three years before Kraftwerk fully embraced them -- and the classic TD lineup of Froese, Chris Franke, and Peter Baumann was in place for double LP Zeit. Influential British DJ John Peel declared 1973's Atem to be his album of the year, earning the space music innovators a major contract with Virgin Records.
Virgin debut Phaedra was a commercial and stylistic landmark. The trio used Moog™ and sequencers for the first time, enabling their vast instrumental soundscapes to be composed rather than improvised. The title track is a quasi-symphonic constellation of hypnotic burbling, celestial textures, and pulsating bassline. "Movements Of A Visionary" involves whispers and arpeggiated tone clusters, while "Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares" features luminescent keyboard washes that evoke the ocean as much as the cosmos.
Phaedra cracked the UK Top 20 and made No. 196 in America. It remains essential listening for fans of electronic music -- a mesmeric precursor to trance, techno, and the dance music of the future.
- Manish Agarwal, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
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