Alpha Centauri (Castle Music America 553)
The "Music Math" function in my brain is pegging this as "Kitaro + Mortiis." That's about as wide a range as you can get, but the music falls squarely in the middle soothing and spacey like Kitaro, unsettling and earthy like Mortiis. Tangerine Dream issued this great but deeply twisted album in 1971 (their second release), and it's the first one where they start really fucking with the synths in addition to the real instruments. And I mean really fucking with the synths.
Alpha Centauri is correctly regarded as a pioneering new age and electronic ambient music album, but you sort of have to redefine your expectations of what that means. It's pretty scary in places, although it never gets noisy it's weird and it's creepy, sounding sort of like you've stumbled into a funeral that's taking place on the planet Xyyyypttizoq in the year 29999999999 L.K. (I use the regional dating system of the Dyyyylekzorioq province).
Truly dream-like music, but not in a feel-good kind of way. More like those dreams you have where you wake up and can't be convinced that there is not someone hiding in the room. It's way experimental, still definitely krautrock, but in places just totally dense with swirly, chaotic sounding (yet subdued) churning synths.
Drony organ lines underpin the galaxian mayhem, with a flute suddenly appearing here and there, plus the full-on rock band instrumentation bubbling up (guitars, bass, rumbling drums). Tiny screaming synths cry like babies in pain way in the background. It's a bizarrro-world version of what Tangerine Dream later came to be known for. Their uncategorizable prog-rock-like-nonrock gradually became tighter, more focussed, and ultimately a lot slicker, but their early albums are undoubtedly their coolest.
Alpha Centauri is like getting to go into space, and then finding that space is full of frightening robotic monkeys and ghosts. That's not a bad thing at all, but it's certainly better going in having some idea of what to expect. The hilarious thing is, you'll find this in the new age section of any given CD shop, right alongside Jim Brickman and all that crap. In reality, this is dark music from a decadent German collective unconscious. It's more like the first goth album than the first new age album perfect for Halloween or any other time you want to just really freak yourself out. Highly recommended for anyone for whom "Revolution 9" is the only tolerable Beatles track.
Review by Jimi Hend