Saturday, April 25, 2015

Le Parc - Tangerine Dream

Le Parc
Tangerine Dream
Relativity Records EMC 8043

I'm afraid it is time to acknowledge another obituary, in this case Edgar Froese, founder and leader of Tangerine Dream, who passed away back in January.  During its heyday, I was completely oblivious to German electronic rock music, or krautrock as it is more commonly known.  I may have seen some albums in records stores or rock encyclopedias but I certainly never heard any of it.  That changed in 1977 when I saw the film "Sorcerer."  I liked the film and loved the soundtrack which of course was written and performed by Tangerine Dream.  I loved their name as well and kept my eyes open in the record store and over the course of the next decade I bought a few of their records.  Nowadays I prefer Neu! and Can, but at the time I was impressed by their sound and the group expanded my musical horizons making me more open to people like Brian Eno and Terry Riley as well as synth pop in general.  The band has a massive discography and I've only heard a small portion of it, in fact this is the most recent of their albums that I own and it is 30 years old.  The band kept steadily recording right up until Froese's death.  This is a concept album of sorts, all the tracks refer to parks around the world aside from the title track which references Los Angeles and the television show "Streethawk" which used the piece as its theme.  However I can only detect a connection between the song titles and the music itself on a few of the tracks.  The opening cut is "Bois de Boulogne (Paris)" which has a very 80s sound in its percussion and synth lines.  It starts out perky and poppy like something you'd hear in a soft-core sex film but then it becomes more somber and dramatic with a synthesizer issuing lower register blasts sporadically.  The song ends with a slow, ominous passage that sounds like another song entirely.  "Central Park (New York)" has a lively percussion track with a disco feel to it upon which are overlaid some aggressive synth lines which aren't all that conducive to dancing but which are very dynamic.  They remind me Vangelis' soundtrack to "Blade Runner."  "Gaudi Park (Guell Garden Barcelona)" has a very basic, almost tribal percussion track upon which are laid down majestic synth patterns suggestive of "Chariots of Fire."  The song becomes more rhythmically complex as it progresses and in its latter half is quite dense and energetic.  "Tiergarten (Berlin)" opens with the sound of children playing and a melodic piano line which is bolstered by a synth doing string orchestra type background music.  Eventually the drums kick in and more synths arrive and the song ends up sounding like a commercial.  "Zen Garden (Ryoanji Temple Kyoto)" actually strives for a Japanese sound imitating traditional Japanese instruments and musical patterns.  Katja Brauneis provides some wordless vocalizing which greatly enhances the song to my mind.  I prefer the human voice over a synthesizer.  This is my favorite track on the record.  Side two opens with "Le Parc (L. A. - Streethawk)" which begans with the sound of a jet before launching into an uptempo highly structured tune.  As I mentioned before, it was used as a television theme and it sounds like it, being very catchy and accessible.  In contrast to the slickness of the previous cut, "Hyde Park (London)" starts out with a mechanical sounding abstract prelude before launching into a chunky riff driven song that is about as close as these guys come to rocking out on the record.  This is another one of my favorite tracks.  "The Cliffs of Sydney (Sydney)" sounds like more movie music.  It has a driving percussion track upon which the boys play stirring synth riffs until the break where there is a languid, dreamy synth passage that is followed by more uptempo riffing that gradually peters out to a somnolent synth drone accompanying the sound of sea gulls and waves.  "Yellowstone Park (Rocky Mountains)" oddly begins with a return to the sound of "Zen Garden" and what sounds like the synth equivalent of an orchestra tuning up before a relatively simple synth line begins accompanied by wordless vocalizing by Clare Torry.  The drum pattern sounds like it is inspired by Native American music.  Some of the synths seem to be imitating animal and bird noises.  It reminds me of New Age music in its appropriation of nature and its contemplative feel.  I don't listen to this album often, generally the kind of pleasures it offers I get from classical music which is more interesting and compelling.  It lacks the drive and engagement of good synth pop as well.  When I'm in the right mood it does hold my attention although I wish it didn't sound so 1980s, especially the drums.  On the plus side it is consistently propulsive and richly textured.  I admire Froese's remarkable career.  He was extraordinarily prolific and committed to his vision, a true artist.  I certainly will never own more than a fraction of his output, but I'm going to keep buying his records whenever I come across them.  Recommended to fans of Vangelis and Giorgio Moroder's film soundtracks.

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