Tangerine Dream – better without the synths

It may seem like I’m missing the point of the band, but as someone who feels “ambient music” – for all Eno’s good intentions – became a near-universally-acceptable alibi for sheer creative laziness and/or dim-wittedness, I shall maintain….

Tangerine Dream only made one truly great record: ELECTRONIC MEDITATION, their debut.

In which, despite the name, the primitive synths barely figure – even the mellotrons etc play a subsidiary role as the music is dominated by Edgar Froese’s guitarwork and Conrad Schnitzler’s cellos (Klaus Schulze confines himself to percussion – heavy percussion!).

This music is anything but ambient – it’s assaultive.  Think of Pink Floyd in their “Interstellar Overdrive”/”Saucerful of Secrets”/”Sisyphus” mode, and imagine adding classical musicians to the mix, and you’re getting the idea – plenty of dissonance, plenty of seemingly random sonic events, plenty of guitarwork that’s somewhere in between Barrett, Fred Frith and Rainer Bauer, best appreciated on the two epics “Cold Smoke” and “Journey Through A Burning Brain”.

They’d never sound this heavy again.  ALPHA CENTAURI is still pretty trippy in its atmosphere but the rock energy was dissipating – “Fly and Collison…” and the very Floyd-ian bonus single “Ultima Thule 1” are as near as it gets to reconjuring the E.M magic.  Next came the plunge into empty minimalism with ZEIT (one of the worst wastes of time, money and electricity I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience) – and while they’d arguably never make another record as bad as that, they pretty much ceased to matter as progressive musicians at that point.

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