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FM - Direct To Disc [Aka: Head Room] CD (album) cover




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3.60 | 95 ratings

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4 stars I guess there was room in the late 1970s for only one superstar Prog Rock trio from Canada, and FM wasn't it. Their reputation never extended very far below the 49th parallel, maybe because the band employed a violin / mandolin ace instead of an electric guitarist, and played (at least on this album) a style of jazzy but accessible Space Rock that didn't lend itself to the increasingly narrow radio format referenced in their own name.

It's unfortunate too that the band's best album remains their least heard. The studio master disc was apparently lost, leaving only a limited handful of now very rare vinyl LPs to represent FM at its creative zenith (my own digital copy is a secondhand dupe, only recently re-acquired after stupidly purging the record from my music library long ago).

But the album was a unique achievement for the group, and well worth the detective work needed to find it today. The lack of magnetic tape in the original recording process provided a state-of-the-art clarity rarely heard in the pre-digital dark ages, but more than that the technique liberated their music in a way the band would never recapture. The performances, and the music itself, was looser here than anywhere else in their sporadic discography, and at the same time tighter than ever, presenting two LP-sides of spontaneous yet well-rehearsed jams, miles away from the more commercial, song-based output of other FM albums.

The authoritative punch of the opening bass lines (imagine Geddy Lee auditioning for a spot in the Mahavishnu Orchestra) paces off an introductory duel between keyboard / bass guitar player Cameron Hawkins and new violinist Ben Mink, replacing Nash the Slash after the latter defected to pursue a solo career. Each suite flows smoothly from one (mostly instrumental) movement to the next, seamlessly blending rockier synth and violin workouts with episodes of cybernetic, free-form Space Rock, showing none of the clichés (musical or lyrical) of the band's earlier "Black Noise" album.

It's hard to believe the entire thing was performed live in the studio, and even harder to reconcile the exciting results with the relative sellout of "Surveillance", released by the same line-up the following year. Call it what you want: bad timing; marketplace pressure; a lack of confidence in their own abilities...for whatever reason, it's a two-fold pity that a) the sound of the album was never developed further, and b) the original disc was misplaced. This kind of negative karma never happened to that other Canadian Prog trio.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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