Chrome - Alien Soundtracks I & II [Cleopatra Records - 2014]Here’s a 2014 CD reissue of Chrome’s second album from 1977 Alien Soundtracks, plus its sequel album Alien Soundtracks II from 1988. The project were a San Francisco collective whose Sci-fi themed & often muddled blend of chaotic ‘n’ chugging punk riffing, space-rock, synths, electro beats, and sonic flotsam & jetsam was both very distinctive & a big influential on industrial rock.
Chrome started off life in 1976, with the album The Visitation- it saw the band focusing in on a more psychedelic/ progressive rock sound that was tinged with Latin funk/ rock elements. To start with the project was a four piece made up of Damon Edge – drums, synthesizer. John Lambdin – guitar, bass guitar, mandolin, strings, synthesizer, electric violin. Mike Low – lead vocals, bass guitar, guitar, synthesizer, backing vocals. Gary Spain – bass guitar, keyboards, acoustic and electric violins.
By the time they came to Alien Soundtracks lead vocalist Mike Low had been replaced by Helios Creed( who also handled bass & guitar). And with this the bands sound shifted to a more bizarre, chaotic, at times jarring hybrid of: sub- Stooges riffing, Hawkwind spacey-ness, and synth/ electro beat odd-ness. The album took in ten tracks in all, & each had a running time between two & six minutes- though many of the tracks are quite episodic it their feel, with sudden fade-outs, shifts in tone, or strange or manic break downs.
The album opens with “Chromosome Damage”, and it's unpredictable nature is a nice snap-shot of what to expect over the rest of the album. In it’s 3.51 runtime we go from a skuzzy & pounding garage rock opening, that very unnerving fades back out in just over a minute. Then we move onto to a sudden shot of lose guitar jamming & synth throb, before shifting into a more locked groove blend of backwards 'n' forwards guitar solo work & a spaced-out kraut rock beat, but fairly soon this fades back, and the track is over. This very unpredictable structure and almost random-ness pervades the whole record, and really you don’t know where you’ll be set down next & for how long. Added to this the whole thing has a very lo-fi, scuzzy air, with sudden weird film dialogue & other element appearing in the stop-start vibe of the album. As a whole it’s an album you get never get comfortable with or settled-in, with the whole thing feeling like a speed & acid dipped experience. Theme wise the band were very much influential by both the paranoid sci-fi of Philip K Dick, and the cut-up/ surreal / out-of-time works of William Burroughs, and you can definitely feel both parties presence here, as it’s a strange, shifting, and bright neo burned paranoid trip of a album.
The second album here is of course Alien Soundtracks II, and the sound here is a lot more conventional and formally structured. Though the sound pallet is still similar, with blends of backwards & forward guitar harmonicas, electro beat work. But added in we have strutting 80 bass lines, & layers of synth effects /synthetic choirs. The sci-fi themes are still present, but there a bit less random, and maybe not as deranged. At times it’s sounds a bit like a more spaced-out Suicide, a less precise & wonky Gary Numan. Or even a slurred & muddled IXS as vocally there are definitely a few Michael Hutchence like moments, and the guitar lines are sometimes stabbing & funk-like in their feel. The album takes in five tracks in all- with four more formally structured songs, and one longer more moody & slightly shifting track entitled “The Stars Of Ours( Planet 14 Part II”- this sixteen minute track goes from moody & ethereal blends of backwards & forward guitar harmonics, slowly marching electronic percussion, eerier & sweep sci-fied synth line, and more spoken word elements- it’s the best thing about this second release really. Sure the shorter tracks have their moments, but the spaced-out & inter-planetary unhinged-ness is lacking, but the last track is very satisfying in its slight wonky yet epic alien vibe.
Packaging wise as reissue goes this is quite sparse & minimal- the CD comes in a clear jewel case, that features doubled sided inlay art featuring album original artwork. And a four page inlay sleeve, taking in original monochrome artwork- there are no new linear notes, pictures or anything similar, but I guess it does add to the mysterious & edginess of certainly the first Alien Soundtracks album.
All in all there is little doubt that the first Alien Soundtracks album is certainly a muddled & lo-fi experience, but this plays into the sci-fi alienation & drug altered themes very well, and makes for a bizarre late 70’s experience. The second album is less successful, and really feels like a sequel in name alone- as clearly the projects sound had changed. As reissues go this is extremely sparse, but I guess it’s just good to have these albums back in print once again.Roger Batty