They say that this is the first wholly electronic music album recorded in Australia. Using only rudimentary recording equipment and in the main his trusty Korg synth Steve Maxwell Von Braund dropped this monster in 1975. He’d only just returned from the UK a few years earlier where he’d been exposed to the likes of Hawkwind on the cosmic tip, but perhaps more importantly many of the German Komische sounds, the likes of Can, Amon Duul and Tangerine Dream.
It’s a sound that would continue to obsess him, using his Korg to craft these highly experimental cosmic soundscapes. Later he would form Australia’ first Komische band Cybotron and record a few highly sought after albums in the 1970′ and 80′.
Yet Monster Planet is his first recorded foray into this unique sound.
At four epic tracks, Monster Planet is an apt description for this otherworldly beast. These aren’ songs, they’re sound suites, strangely hypnotic experimentations, manipulations of the ghosts in the machine, as Von Braund fiddles with the oscillations, arpeggiators and textures of his synthetic palette. It’s really forward thinking music, experimental in terms of its loose tangential structures and minimal ingredients. There’ an element of exploration here, of pushing his sounds to the outer reaches of musicality and then creating a whole new world there. In fact it’s almost as if he’ attempting to develop a new form of language, a method of communicating with the alien species he’ found on this Monster Planet.
It’s hard not to be reminded at times by Tangerine Dream’ Phaedra, yet Monster Planet is considerably more minimal, less musical and perhaps a little less polite. It does exist in the same stratosphere however, with Phaedra coming one year before Monster Planet.
It begins by sounding like a spaceship landing, oscillating synth lines, crunchy, squelchy highly textural electrics, with strange wasted otherworldly vocals from Masters Apprentices singer Jim Keays, before a crunchy Cybotronesque groove with bass, drums and Von Braund on sax kicks in. Yet the musical cohesion doesn’ last long, and we’re quickly ushered into a suite of exploratory synth lines, where Von Braund is transmitting these warm analogue pulses and signals off into the ether. In fact it’s quite amazing how much emotion he can conjure up with what is ostensibly just a couple of synth lines, pitching, gurgling and oscillating slowly.
To some extent the vocals of Jim Keays on the title track are a little ill fitting, though perhaps they can be seen more as an attempt to tether the album in the sounds of the day, to make this album a little less alien – but it doesn’ succeed. If anything it does the opposite and highlights how incredibly strange this album is.
This LP only reissue by new Melbourne label Dual Planet offers not just a gatefold cover with a faithful reproduction of the album from the original label Clear Light Of Jupiter, but remasters the album from the original master tapes and provides extensive contextual liner notes and photos. It’s possible it has never sounded so good. Not only is it great to shine a light on this forgotten period of Australian music, but it’s really pleasing to see such an obscure forward thinking album of genuine synth weirdness treated with the love and attention to detail that befits one of the most iconoclastic and unexpected albums released in this country.