Prog writer and Whitley Bay enthusiast Sid Smith recently divulged that his desert island Gong album was 1973’s Flying Teapot. Of course, he was wrong to write that, as the best Gong album, from a subjective and objective point view, is obviously You from the following year. That being said, both albums, plus Angel’s Egg which separated them, are all the better for featuring Hi T Moonweed, also known as Tim Blake, who adds keys, synthesisers and something called a Mellowdrone. Perhaps one of his finest moments in the beloved Radio Gnome Trilogy is in the first half of A Sprinkling of Clouds, where his solo synthesisers build slowly to a crescendo that is then resoundingly matched by the rest of the band.
But being a member of Gong was not all fun and games; to this day, the band are still plagued with recording rights issues and other legalities. Deciding to get out when the fun was over, Blake resurrected his solo career and begin releasing albums. Crystal Machine was actually named after the set of keyboards he built for himself on stage, as you can see in the video below. He teamed up with a friend, Patrice Warrener, to build the light show. The resulting record was a mishmash of studio and live material that showed the scope of his vision.
Readers who have seen my work for DPRP may know that I am not normally a fan of electronica or ambient music, but Blake’s albums are a true exception. Crystal Machine begins with Midnight, an aptly dark sounding instrumental played over a Doctor-Who-style 7/8 repeating bass riff. Metro/Logic is more upbeat, and this time the focus is shifted to the bass, which seems to follow an irregular pattern. Last Ride of the Boogie Child is the only non-instrumental, though the lyrics are so sparse that it may as well be one.
At over a quarter-hour, Synthese Intemporel dominates the album, and it sounds like something right out of Tangerine Dream. Frustratingly, while a lot of tension is built up, especially in the first half, there is no satisfying conclusion as there was in A Sprinkling of Clouds. This does seem to be a major limitation of only using one type of instrument. Crystal Presence is a mercifully short drone/musique concrète track that finishes off this rather cold album.
Astonishingly, the second album, Blake’s New Jerusalem, is even better, a fully realised album that sees the artist achieving his vision. Unlike Crystal Machine, most tracks have lyrics, a bold and worthwhile shift, giving the album more colour. A Song for a New Age is surprisingly guitar-driven, with the keys as accompaniment. Though quite repetitive, the musical theme does not grow tiring. The ominously dark Lighthouse introduces the sci-fi themes that run throughout the album, with heavy use of lasers, space and generators. What I appreciate in Blake’s music here is how just one subtle element of the music actually has a very important role: the bass notes are the only rhythmic element in the track, and yet are still sufficient for this purpose.
Generator (Laser Beam) builds directly on the lyrical themes from Lighthouse, and yet it feels much more like a throwaway piece, almost sounding close to conventional music. Passage sur la Cité (Des Révélations) is far more compelling, the only instrumental on the album, and arguably the best track of the set. With bass notes being played at a superb pace, Blake embarks on a fantastic spacey keyboard solo in a style reminiscent of Eloy. The addition of irregular percussive sounds makes head bopping an interesting challenge, and also gives Blake the power of a full band just on his own.
New Jerusalem takes up the full ‘side two’, and is essentially a pop song that is padded with enough spacey synth solos to become a full-blown epic, incorporating text from the William Blake (Blake-on-Blake?) poem Jerusalem, a poem surely known by anybody on a progressive rock website. The sound landscape here is quite soft and hypnotic, and it’s easy to get lost in the bouncing rhythms between the lyrics. It does feel like Blake could have achieved more in 16 minutes, but it’s a grand soothing effort nonetheless.
The Esoteric reissues are at their usual standard here: good artwork reproduction, lengthy essays by Ian Abrahams (a new writer for me) and plenty of bonus tracks. A quibble about the scribbles: there’s a bit too much overlap in the booklets, meaning a lot of re-reading. The bonus tracks range from three-minute cuts, Synthese Intemporel used as a single to promote Crystal Machine, to a colossal thirty-five minutes of a 1978 live recording originally featured in the bootleg Waterfalls in Space (miscredited in the booklet as ‘Waterfalls from Space’). Tim Blake’s accessible take on electronica has been a sheer pleasure to stumble upon, and it shall be an oeuvre that is returned to many times by this reviewer. The good news is, as I am typing this, more Blake reissues are being released, so stay tuned for the next batch!
01. Midnight (6:25)
02. Metro/Logic (6:29)
03. Last Ride of the Boogie Child (7:53)
04. Synthese Intemporel (15:36)
05. Crystal Presence (2:11)
~ Bonus Tracks:
06. Surf (3:41)
07. Synthese Intemporel I (3:21)
08. Synthese Intemporel II (2:20)
Total Time: 47:50
Blake’s New Jerusalem
01. A Song for a New Age (5:14)
02. Lighthouse (6:46)
03. Generator (Laser Beam) (3:34)
04. Passage sur la Cité (Des Révélations) (7:43)
05. New Jerusalem (16:18)
~ Bonus Tracks:
06. The Woodland Voice (3:39)
07. From Outer Space (19:09)
08. Jupiter to Jerusalem (16:07)
Total Time: 78:28
Tim Blake – Keyboards (to put it bluntly!)
Jean-Philippe Rykiel – Mini Moog (on Passage sur la Cité (Des Révélations) and New Jerusalem)
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 2578/2579
Date of Release: 31st March 2017
Tim Blake – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
Crystal Machine – Cherry Red Product Page
Blake’s New Jerusalem – Cherry Red Product Page