Monday, August 17, 2015

Earthstar - 1982 - Humans Only

Humans Only

01. Rainbow Dome
02. Don't You Ever Wonder?
03. Indian Dances
04. One Flew Over the Ridge
05. TV Funk
06. Tip Toe Funk

Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Guitar [Sprag], Chimes, Bells, Percussion – Daniel Happ
Bass Guitar, Synthesizer [Bass Synth], Mellotron [Birotron] – Andy Retscher
Bells – Melanie Coiro
Congas – John Leogrande
Drums [Drum Kit] – Bob Mishalanie
Drums, Vibraphone – Dan Zongrone
Flute – Anne Hacker, Kathy Fusco
Rattle, Voice – Mark Magnet Kimsinger
Saxophone – Mark Rowe
Sounds, Wood Block – Tim Finnegan
Synthesizer [Moogmodular System, Elka], Mellotron, Mellotron [Birotron], Celesta, Synthesizer, Piano, Performer [Industrial Box, Horn Keys], Percussion – Craig Wuest
Vocals – Meredith Salisbury

Recorded at LCA Studio & Aurasound Studio, Utica, N.Y. & Klaus Schulze Studio, W.G.

Earthstar's much maligned fourth album, "Humans Only", was their final release for Sky Records and marked the end of the band's stay in Europe. Actually, by the time this album was recorded much of the band had already left for the States. Though drummer/percussionist/keyboardist Daniel Zongrone does appear on this album it is mainly a partnership between synthesist Craig Wuest and a new guitarist, Dan Hapanowicz, who replaced Dennis Rea for this album.

In some ways the change in sound could be seen as evolutionary. Distinct, more conventional melodies had shown up on "Atomkraft? Nein, Dannke!" and on the unreleased "Sleeper, The Nightlifer". On the A side of "Humans Only" the revamped Earthstar was recording songs, albeit instrumental ones, with Hapanowicz's mainly electric guitar work now front and center on most of the tracks. Only on "Indian Dances", a rework of the main recurring theme from "Sleeper, The Nightlifer", is Wuest's synth work the center of attention. Not surprisingly this is the best track on the album. The entire first side is a very decent blending of the electronic sound of previous Earthstar efforts with electric guitar that would fit well on progressive rock albums. At times Hapanowicz almost seems to channel Mike Oldfield.

It's the second side of the album where the changes in Earthstar become really jarring. The addition of vocals to "TV Funk" was probably the biggest shock to most Earthstar fans since "Sleeper, The Nightlifer" was never released. The piece also featured a steady electronic drum beat giving the entire track the feeling of a dance piece slowed down to the point where nobody would want to dance to it. This certainly isn't funk and it sounds decidedly off kilter.

"Tip Toe Funk", the longest piece on the album, opens with a drum roll. What follows is almost a blend of an orchestral sound with synth, flute and strings painting what today would probably be called a dark ambient soundscape for the first three minutes. An electronic bass line begins as well as a synth orchestra melody overlaid on the eerie electronics we've heard to this point. Despite the title "Tip Toe Funk" is the one and only piece on "Humans Only" which dips into the krautrock and Berlin School electronics that so influenced earlier Earthstar works. About six minutes in Hapanowicz guitar work is added, once again mimicking the style of Mike Oldfield, and drums also build. By seven minutes in "Tip Toe Funk" has morphed itself into a jazz/rock fusion piece and most of the weirdness and experimentalism is gone. By the 10 minute mark we've heard acoustic piano work and a layering of instruments that almost harkens back to "French Skyline, not so much in style but rather in the sheer depth of sound Wuest crafts into the music. At eleven and a half minutes the wordless vocals start, but they are used as yet another instrument in the textured sound. The beat stops and the darker sound returns to conclude the piece. What makes this piece fascinating is that the transitions are accomplished so gradually and skillfully that it all somehow works.

"Humans Only" is by far the most inconsistent of the four Earthstar albums which were released. It also contains some of their most experimental work in the seriously misnamed "Tip Toe Funk". This album doesn't deserve the derision that has been heaped upon it by some reviewers. It's an interesting effort, one which deserves to be reissued on CD. I somehow thing today's audience would appreciate it more than the one which existed in the early '80s.

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