One of the things that I really like about the area of music that I write about is the myriad of small labels that I get to work with in the course of discovering new music and getting to hear about new releases. These labels are usually run by one or two enthusiasts whose main motivation is to get great sounds out to music lovers, who tend to be thinly spread across the world. If it’s not too pretentious to say so I see the people who run these labels as curators who have an eye for what is good, and therefore are more often than not a reliable arbiter of taste for those of us who just don’t have time to search out new bands individually. As such it’s often the label owners who are the most invisible, and also take the most risk, in this process which is a shame because without them we wouldn’t get the music we know and love in lovely physical form.
One such label is Tonzonen, which is run by Dirk Raupach from Krefeld in Germany. Like many of the German labels Dirk releases everything on high quality 180g vinyl, and the music he puts out tend to be (although not exclusively) interesting variations on space rock. But let’s not get hooked on genre here, here are four of Tonzonen’s most recent releases… see what you think.
Shum-Shir by Vespero
Vespero are a band I’ve come across before, mainly due to their excellent split LP with Zone Six. Formed in 2003 they are a five piece from Astrakhan in the Russian Federation, and ‘Shum-Shir’ is their eighth studio album, but their first for Tonzonen. The album is developed around the ancient Ethiopian psychedelic ceremony of the same name in which
Every 10 years the tribal elders and shamans chose a new Nəgusä (King) for the entire tribe. They kindled fires of eucalyptus leaves and twigs. They added secret drugs and inhaled the smoke from fires, bursting into endless dance for all night.. The cleansing flame towering above the ancient trees and spirits of the tribes – Isidore, Gully and Gaya descended from heaven. They indicated who would become the new Nəgusä in the morning .At dawn, this man would indue himself in white robes with the sound of the heavenly Hapi drum. And the tribe began a new life …..
This then forms the basis for the music which is otherworldly, mapping out the ritual space and telling the story of the journey that is taken. There are elements of African music within the ongoing sonic narrative, but the principle drive is through a central space rock-oriented theme that is performed with a lightness of touch that helps you really get lost in it. Most of all I think that this is an album that needs time, especially since the more difficult tracks are towards the start, but perseverance pays dividends with this interesting and well-played set.
Died With Fear by Les Lekin
Being from Northern England my immediate thought was that Les Lekin was a solo performer, but they are actually a three-piece heavy psychedelic band from Salzburg in Austria. My immediate thought when actually listening to this album was how good it was. The album comprises four relatively long tracks around the theme of ‘Embracing the Unconsciousness’ which seems to be to be a clarion call to engage with our inner nature through their music. With ‘Died With Fear’ this cannot be anything but an active process with the superb stoner guitar work that is the hallmark of this excellent album. It takes a few listens to really get into the groove with this because you find yourself following the riffs as the weave their way through and above the solid rhythm section. There are, however, quieter and more experimental moments that mean that this is a set that keeps you guessing, and so doesn’t descend into any sort of monotony. Overall then a really good set of songs that you can really dig yourself into an needs to be listened to as a whole piece (which I find tends to be the case for all Tonzonen releases).
Water Planet by The Spacelords
As far as I can see this is The Spacelords’ third album, and it is an absolute humdinger. The trio play the sort of psychedelic space rock that hooks you immediately and then digs away at that groove until you find yourself lost in a series of involuntary movements that reflect the pair’s intensity… whether this is a nod of the head or stretches (surely not) to dancing, this is the sort of upbeat in your face sound that will dig you out of any reverie. Over three long tracks the band really stretch themselves out. ‘Plasma Thruster’ is an ear worm in the making… I’m going to be waking up in the night with that riff in my head. ‘Metamorphosis’ is slower, relatively so, and has more of a motorik beat to it, and is every bit as relentless. Longest, and perhaps most interesting, is ‘Nag Kanya’ with it’s Indian theme and carefully constructed, yet probably improvised, structure that stretches out over nearly twenty minutes drawing you in with it’s constantly changing yet weirdly consistent sound. In some ways this is different from the other two tracks in this respect, but together all three tracks form a great package.
Nazca Space Fox by Nazca Space Fox
I missed the album when it came out back in August, the debut from the Frankfurt (Germany) trio. Like all the records here this really is an album to get lost in. Defying what seems to be convention the album opens with its longest track, ‘Weltraumorgel’ setting out the band approach of a post-rock mix of psychedelia and space/ stoner that is tightly played. So it is that Nazca Space Fox quickly have you lost in an expansive inner journey, the guitars and drums nicely augmented on occasion by some well placed keyboard sounds. That isn’t the whole story, however, and there are some shorted and more punchy tracks on the album too. ‘The Monkey’ is a nice blue/ rock track, and ‘Orchid Coffee’ is different again with it’s laid back approach, sensitive guitar playing and jazz feel. ‘Firebird’ is somehow more angular mixing in rock and post-rock structures in what is perhaps the more ‘out there’ track on the album. Elsewhere there are two longer jams, with marvellously named ‘Mind Walk’ allowing just that… a softer more contemplative number which really lets you drift away with it, and ‘Isolator’ which is also a really nice slow-burner. All in all, I’m glad that I’ve caught up with this one.
All albums available directly from Tonzonen.