Konrad – “Evil” (1982 / 2014)

If you spend enough time in used record stores you’ll inevitably come across some private press releases. These are albums put out by the artist themselves without help from a label, paid for out of their own pockets. You see, kids, back in the day there was a time when if you wanted people to hear your music, even on the radio, it had to come out in a physical format. And in the days before the advent of the CD and quality audio cassette, that meant you had to press it onto vinyl. Some of these private presses are of quite high quality, so much so that you might not even recognize them as such as you flip past them in the Miscellaneous K section. Others, however, are very amateurish, sometimes to the point of being awkward and weird looking. There’s an entire niche within the record collecting world of people who hunt down these generally rare self-releases, so much so that in 2012 an entire full-color book called Enjoy the Experience: Homemade Records 1958-1992 was devoted to them. And in that book, on page 23, with an entire page to itself, is one of the most captivating private press releases of al time. I speak, of course, of Konrad’s Evil (1982).

Evil is one of those albums that if someone ran across it who didn’t know what it was they’d certainly yell out to their friend on the other side of the store, “hey, check this out!” And they would both laughingly describe it as awesome and go on about their business. But if you take a couple of moments to truly appreciate the jacket of Evil, you may become a bit unsettled. Sure it has that amateur quality about it. But there’s something more there. That robe. Konrad’s eyes. And the way he seems to be pointing directly into your soul. What was he thinking when this was shot? And what’s evil about it? These questions and more made Evil one of those high demand private presses, separating it from the pack and making it a sought-after item. Originals used to sell in the $200-300 range, at least they did before it was re-issued in 2014 which seems to have driven the prices of 1982 pressings down a bit. When I found one of these re-presses that included a bonus 7″ the other day, I knew I had to find out what Konrad was all about.

And I am now convinced that Konrad is a time traveler.

I believe that Konrad can travel both forwards and backwards in time. This becomes incredibly clear when you look at the image on the cover of Evil and compare it to important historical figures. The similarity in appearances is too clear to be a simple genetic coincidence. Consider:

On the left you have Vladimir Lenin, a leader in the October Revolution of 1917 that overthrew the Czar and ushered in the era of Soviet Communism. In fact he developed his own political theory that bore his name – Leninism. Next to Vlad the Leninist is Anton LaVey the Satinist. LaVey is best known to generations of brooding goth teens for his authorship of The Satanic Bible in 1969 and he was also the founder of the Church of Satan (though it’s kind of hard to take him serious with that hood and horns…). Next up is Konrad himself, the man who put out an album in 1982 called Evil. And that brings us of course to the future with the ruthless Ming the Merciless, a ruler bent on destroying the earth.

Not definitive enough for you? Well, let’s talk about the connection these four men have to “evil”. Soviet Russia was described by President Ronald Reagan as “The Evil Empire”. As for LaVey, his brand of Satanism was really more about individuality than religion, but it doesn’t get any more evil in the Judeo-Christian ethic than creating a religion that allegedly worships the fallen angel who opposed God and rules hell. That’s pretty evil. Konrad, of course, put out an album simply titled Evil that, despite being the first and only album put out by his own Ethereal Sequence Records (he did, however, put out two singles before Evil, but still… you’ll get my point here in a second) carries a catalog number of ES-666, and 666 is the “number of the beast” according to people who spend a lot of time reading the Bible. The beast is also known as Satan, hence the direct connection to LaVey. As for Ming the Merciless, the nemesis of Flash Gordon, well, he is a wonton torturer and murder who tried to destroy the planet earth simply for his own sick amusement, but was defeated by the quarterback of the New York Jets in the very near future (Flash Gordon constantly resets its timeline, which is sort of like time travel). So he’s evil. The only weak link in this logic is the idea that the New York Jets could have a quarterback talented enough to save the earth from space hordes, though the scene in the 1980 film where Gordon is using football moves to decimate Ming’s guards only to be knocked out when one of his own friends tosses a football-shaped metal ball to him to use but accidentally hits Flash in the head with it and knocks him out certainly foreshadowed future Jet quarterback Mark Sanchez’s infamous butt fumble (<- yes, that’s what it’s called) in 1992, so once again Konrad is connected to future predictions that came to pass. Konrad also sings about the plight of the working man, tying him back to Lenin; “Satan’s knights” tying him to LaVey; and has a song entitled “Alien” that ties him to Ming. Plus he has a song called “One Way Motorcycle Ride” that can only be interpreted as an ode to America’s most famous motorcycle rider Evel Kneivel, a man who has the word Evil (though spelled Evel) as his first name. You couldn’t make all this up if you tried.

I opted to play the 7″ first, a re-issue of Konrad’s first three-song single, and right from the get-go he’s jamming on the keyboards and singing about the evolution of his mind. There are lyrics about circles and sequences that never end on “Ethereal Sequence” and it’s the perfect primer for your Konrad experience. The other A side single “Back to Me” is more a hippy-dippy kind of deal, an acoustic love song that channels late 1960s flower power. The flip side gives us “Upside Down (Like a Dreamer)”, an upbeat song about being depressed and needing to turn things upside down (like a dreamer), a musical Prozac with a vocal delivery that sounds like Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song”, the first of many examples of Konrad’s music that will make you start to wonder if he is in fact the most copied (i.e. ripped off) musician of all time. I’m not accusing anyone of anything. I’m just sayin’…

Moving on to Evil, right from the opening track Konrad lays it all out there for you – the song is called “It’s Only a Matrix” and it’s about The Matrix. Yes, that one. Matrix can’t leave you alone. Now you may think this is an example of Konrad influencing the 1999 film The Matrix, and he may very well have, but the concept of The Matrix was actually first put out there by Doctor Who (who is… wait for it… a time traveler! Coincidence? C’mon people…) in the 1970s. That’s followed by the upbeat “Music Scientist”, another poppy number that channels a slightly dystopian view of the world – Evil pleasure, on the T.V. news / Satisfaction guaranteed / Building up those evil needs. I’m starting to get the sense that Konrad is concealing his secret communications under a poppy veneer to keep them hidden from the powers that be. He throws us a bit of a curve ball with the reggae-ish “Don’t Want No Police”, a song that also references evil and features a killer organ solo, but again the message here is anti-authority and spiritually expansive. “Alien” is about aliens, but sees them as our brothers. It also references Evil (capital E in the lyrics) and carries forward the desire to break free from the shackles of society:

I heard a nation will scream, when you take all it’s people
and impose your dreams.
Could be, one of these days, the dream’s
not yours and you’re lost in a maze.

Musically this is probably the closest Konrad gets to a rock song, sort of 1970s style along the lines of Deep Purple but with heavy emphasis on they keyboard. “Working Man” is an ode to the working man, a cog in the economic machine that buys into what the system is selling and struggles to break free and expand his mind (Spending my mind like a dollar). The A side closes with “Keep On Playin’ That Jazz” a song that very closely resembles the general flow of Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”. While this may seem like Konrad being influenced by another artist (Joel’s song came out two years earlier, in 1980), remember – Konrad is a time traveler. So who influenced who here? I don’t know. This is Konrad approaching lounge singer territory, but in the best way possible.

The B side opens with “My Girl Likes to Buy”, and if this doesn’t sound a bit like Eddie Murphy & Rick James’ “Party All the Time” I’ll eat my hat (seriously, it does). The synth line, the dose of funk, the way Konrad intones my girl… it’s pretty uncanny, really. But even here we’re treated to some politically aware lyrics, because the description of the girl who likes to buy and is just waiting for him to show up with his next paycheck is pure anti-consumerism. “Man of Mystery” asks Will you stand and take action / Or sit and take abuse?, and that’s followed by the solipsist “One Way Motorcycle Ride” (And then you’re / gonna find some day, that everything has / slipped away, and you’re gonna fade away) that continue to push message, encouraging you to take advantage of the time you have and use it to expand yourself. “Seems Like One of Those Days” is another ode to the working man, locked in his hopeless and dull routine, which is followed by the funky jazz instrumental “DMZ Bolero” (even the instrumentals reference The System – DMZ = De-Militarized Zone, most commonly used in reference to the ironically incredibly militarized border between North and South Korea). Konrad brings it all home with “People”. I was hoping this would be an epic anthem of hope, but it’s more than a bit cynical (If Outer Space life landed in New York / You would shoot them all to hell) in a folky kind of way.

While I certainly had some fun here with Evil, in fact it’s an intriguing album and Konrad is a pretty intriguing guy. He came back into the public eye a few years back and was both surprised and flattered to learn that there was a small but devoted following for his music. There was even a cool short documentary done about him that’s well worth checking out:

Originals of Evil still command a pretty penny, though the re-issues are quite affordable and relatively easy to find for sale online. If you just want to listen to the music, you can give that a listen below. Konrad truly has a message in his album, one that encourages you to break free from the shackles of the structure and limitations of contemporary society, one that still resonates with a lot of people 35 years later.

Tangerine Dream – “Exit” (1981)

Trying to use words to describe sound is often quite futile, at least not without us, writer and reader, having some general agreement as to what certain sounds are like. If I describe the low end on a classic rock song, that’s one thing; describing the low end on an EDM song is another thing entirely. And I’m musing on this because I’m sitting here right now listening to and trying to write about Tangerine Dream. And it feels a bit futile.

Exit came out in 1981, and the best way I can describe it to you is that it feels like a sic-fi version of the original Miami Vice, one set in a not-so-distant future that is largely recognizable, but also a bit better and a bit worse at the same time. It has that dark style of the “gritty” version of the early 1980s, but society has continued to slowly slide even as the technology has improved. Better vehicles and weapons and tools, but worse in the lengths that the criminal and quasi-criminal elements will go to in order to survive. Those early 80s synths keep things very deliberate and precise, just like Crockett and Tubbs’ wardrobes. It’s probably no coincident Exit came out in the same year as the Thief Soundtrack that was scored by Tangerine Dream – the film has a bit of that grittiness I’m talking about, though it lacks any sic-fi flourishes. The music of Exit would have replaced Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” as the nighttime cruising music and defined the entire Miami Vice aesthetic.

It kinda sounds a bit like that. Sort of…

Huang Chung – “Huang Chung” (1982)

It wasn’t until I was researching the To Live and Die in L.A. Soundtrack that I learned that Wang Chung had previously gone by the name Huang Chung (same pronunciation… different lettering). And that’s the only reason I knew that that this copy of Huang Chung was in fact Wang Chung’s debut when I came across it the other day. And I figured for three bucks, why not?

This is one of those times I wish I had a graphic equalizer, because Huang Chung sounds a bit flat. It could use a little stretching out on both he low and high ends. That being said, this is a surprisingly good record, a true precursor to the new wave explosion that would wash over us like a wave the following year in 1983. There are dreamy tracks like “Ti-Na-Na” but also some up-tempo (and saxophone-filled because, after all, it’s the early 1980s) pop-rockers like “Straight From My Heart”. The high point is undoubtedly “China”, a brisk-paced catchy number that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Magic Dragon – “Emotional Landscape” (1981)

I listened to this the other day and thought to myself, “this is some weird early 80s Canadian synth stuff. I don’t want to write about this.”

It took me about eight hours to then realize, “duh, that’s exactly why I should write about this.”

Who are Magic Dragon? I don’t really know. The Royal BC Museum dedicates a web page to this record, but they only thing they tell us is “This was the only release from this Vancouver synthesizer band.” That and they get the speed wrong. Unless it’s in metric or something. Is 33 1/3 rpm actually 45 rpm in metric? I don’t know.

The first song, “Objet du Desire,” sounds like a proto-Vasalines song. And things get weirder from there. The disconnected male and female vocals on side A give it a certain quaintness, though the trippy synths put it firmly in its release year of 1981. In fact the three songs on side A sound like they could just as well come from 1971, the end of the hippy era after it all sort of fell apart and got taken over by arena rock. The side closes with the downer of “Egyptian Radio” about some guy named Johnny who The Man is trying to keep down.

The B side is where the magic happens. “Once Upon a Time” is oddly intensive and leads into the bizarre, ahead-of-it’s-time “(White Monkey) Under the Volcano,” a gloomy seven minutes of mouthing but gothicness and sampling. Sort of smooth industrial, if that was a thing. Moog it up!

Eric Dolphy – “Out To Lunch!” (1964 / 1985)

I’ve been working my way through a Jazz Top 10 list of sorts that my buddy Dave gave me a while back. After all these years of knowing one another he didn’t realize I was way into vinyl, and I had no idea he was a jazz aficionado and had been for a long time. So after talking a bit about jazz records I already have, Dave gave me this list of 10 titles to look for. So far I’ve picked up and listened to John Coltrane’s Blue Train and Kenny Burrell’s Guitar Forms and came away impressed with both, plus he loaned me a copy of Bill Evans’ The Blues and the Abstract Truth. I try to remember to bring the list with me when I go record shopping, but the other weekend I found myself without it while staring at an early copy of Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch! for 75 bucks, realizing the price was decent but not remembering if it was on the list! So I passed. And I’m glad I did, because at my next stop Daybreak Records I found a super clean 1980s pressing (the album was originally released in 1964) for a third of the price, and that’s what I’m listening to right now.

Dave noted that he thought this would be one of the more challenging albums for me, and of the four records I’ve heard so far I’d have to agree. Out To Lunch! doesn’t have that same flow I’m used to hearing, at times more resembling individual snipits that are sort of just stuck together, as if the musicians were playing parts without being able to hear what parts the others are playing. As a relatively new jazz fan, one could indeed call Out To Lunch! “difficult”, so I will. This thing is difficult. I’m clearly not getting it, so this may be one that I need to put on the shelf for a while and revisit later.