Once it hit big in the late-’60s, bands from all over the world began embracing psychedelia, creating weird local permutations of the sounds from the latest Beatles, Hendrix, Doors and Floyd records. Turkey has always been one of my favorite breeding grounds for psychedelic rock, probably because acts from there didn’t try to sound exactly like Western bands, and maintained a strong sense of “Turkishness”, using distinctly local melodies and instruments like the Baglama and Zurna. It’s these elements that give the music an exotic quality that transports you to someplace different, which was kind of the point of psychedelic rock in the first place. Anyway, Pharaway Sounds recently reissued albums by two of the best performers of Turkish psych-rock, Cem Karaca and Edip Akbayram, complete with remastered sound and in-depth liner notes.
Cem Karaca’s album, Nem Kaldi, is a grab-bag of singles from the ’60s and ’70s and, as you might expect, it’s all over the map. Besides Karaca’s booming Scott Walker-esque voice and melodramatic delivery, there aren’t many constants from song to song, running the gamut from highly-orchestrated Curtis Mayfield-styled funk (“Oy Bobo”) to soft-psych balladry (“Baba”) to crazed funk-prog (“Namas Balasi”). By constantly shifting styles (and sound quality) from song to song Nem Kaldi is somewhat tiring, though the highs are strong enough to make it all worthwhile. The highest of those highs is “Unutamadigim”, a surprisingly heavy rocker with manic double bass drums and swooping synth squiggles pushing the song further and further out into the stratosphere with each passing second.
Edip Akbayram’s Nedir Ne Degildir gets the nod here as the better of the two albums. It has the advantage of being an actual album, rather than a singles compilation, so the sound quality and backing band (Dostlar) are the same from song to song. The album dates from 1977, long after this type of psychedelic rock had faded in most parts of the world, but Akbayram still gets a lot of mileage from the sounds of the previous decade, mixing hard rock histrionics, with proggy keyboards, funky beats and lots of those great sounding Turkish instruments that you don’t get to hear very often in the Western World. Favorites include “Arabam Kaldi Yolda” with its instrumental section sped up from manipulated tapes (like “War Pigs”), and “Adam Olmak Dile Kolay” which features an amazingly in-the-pocket instrumental section that pretty much rules. In addition to psych-heads, cratediggers should check this out too, as there’s wealth of funky beats here waiting to be turned into hip-hop tracks.
Mark Lanegan is a man of many projects, but I always like his solo work the best, where the songs and performances have an added element of intimacy that places him in the same discussion as performers like Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. He’s been sporadically releasing solo albums since 1990’s The Winding Sheet, and I love them all. Knowing that, I approached Phantom Radio with a bit of trepidation, brought on entirely by the pre-album press which discussed the influence of New Order (a band I’ve never liked much) and noted that the album began its life as a series of recordings on an app called Funk Box. Was Lanegan about to start following trends and go electro-pop?
Thankfully the answer is no. Sure, many of the songs on record are based around programmed beats and other electronica sounds, but Phantom Radio is nowhere close to being dance-floor fodder. If anything the music is based more the hypnotic proto-electronica of Kraftwerk than anyone else, which works great with Lanegan’s distinctively deep vocals and darkly introspective lyrics. In fact, this may be his best batch of songs in twenty years. The only place where I hear any echoes of New Order is on “Floor of the Ocean”, which has a bass-run that can only remind you of Peter Hook – but, unlike New Order, this song has a good singer and lyrics. “Torn Red Heart” is, for me, the album’s centerpiece, a heart-wrenching ballad with a heavenly trajectory that could very easily have come from a Spacemen 3 as from Mark Lanegan. It ends with the hard-driving “Death Trip to Tulsa” with a title referencing songs by the Stooges and Neil Young, which is a pretty great combo. Each of Phantom Radio’s ten songs are among Lanegan’s best and as of today (November 1st) this is my favorite album of 2014.
The promo cd also comes with the five song No Bells On Sunday EP, which you should get if you find it. Standout tracks include “Dry Iced”, a hypnotic number with traces of Suicide’s “Cheree”, and the ethereal title song which has a Joy Division funeral march vibe to it.