Sunday, July 5, 2020
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cover
Artist: The Nightcrawlers
Title: The Biophonic Boombox Recordings
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Anthology Editions
While the most famous musical Nightcrawlers is probably the Scottish ‘90s house act who did “Push The Feeling On”, this trio were much more prolific, forming in 1979, putting out an absurdly high number of cassette albums throughout the ‘80s and then dispanding in 1991. This is a compilation of over two and a half hours of selected highlights from that tape library.

This is prog-rock-influenced synthesizer space music that owes a great deal to Tangerine Dream, the first influence cited. Gently ebbing synth patterns chug away, working with super-sustained synth chord pads to create a slowly moving sonic bed onto which tiny extracts of melody and spontaneous beeps provide decoration. More than half the tracks run for over ten minutes, leading to Glass-like mesmerism (“Crystal Loop III” and “Modern Pre-Flight” being good examples). The repetition is well-handled, never devolving into indulgence or boredom.

When wandering into more lyrical melody, the material is maybe not quite as strong- “Geisteblitz” being an example of a track that initially seems to aspire to Jean-Michel Jarre territory but can’t quite reach those melodic heights so settles back into more comfortable TD-territory by the end. But when everything comes together, it comes together very well indeed- “Sizzling Highs”, appropriately, being one of the outstanding, “how did I not hear of this band earlier?”-type tracks. And pieces like “Baba Yaga’s Flight” fly so close to the Tangerine Dream template that it would be very easy to believe this was an unearthed goldmine of late 70’s unreleased TD material.

At 24 minutes long, “Zeitgeber” is a notable miniature self-contained opus, given a little bit more breathing space for longer single-layer pad environments and jungle noises.

Nowadays remastering is so prevalent that it’s unusual to hear something that hasn’t been remastered- or, if there has been remastering done, it’s been the fight of a losing battle against the constant hiss of well-worn cassette. It’s not excessively muted or flattened, the character is still present, but it’s a shame that the hiss can’t be shaken, as it gives the whole release something of a demo or bootleg feel (not helped when bonus track “Awakening” sounds like somebody left a tape recorder running by accident while trying to work out a solo piano melody). Tracks like the excellent but slightly daftly-titled “Beckoning Beacon” would have sounded much more spectacular and expansive if hiss-free versions existed. Some of the tracks were recorded live and are even blessed with occasional audience coughs, but sound fairly decent under the circumstances.

It’s an injustice that The Nightcrawlers are now (or have always been) somewhat obscure, because there’s clearly a musical legacy here that, while not necessarily standing out as particularly unique in character (or band name), has a depth and quality that make this a really enjoyable best-part-of-three-hours. I just wish there were better quality recordings available.

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