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FM Direct To Disc [Aka: Head Room] album cover
3.60 | 98 ratings | 17 reviews | 19% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1978

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Headroom (15:36) :
- a) Tyra
- b) Reflections One
- c) Reflections Two
- d) Real Time
- e) Scarberia
2. Border Crossing (15:24) :
- a) 1st Movement
- b) 2nd Movement
- c) 3rd Movement
- d) 4th Movement
- e) 5th Movement

Total time 31:00

Line-up / Musicians

- Cameron Hawkins / lead vocals, synths (Minimoog, Micromoog, Elka String), bass, Eko bass pedals, Polyfusion sequencer, Fx
- Ben Mink / 5-string electric violin, electric mandolin
- Martin Deller / drums, percussion, congas, bells, Moog percussion controller, ARP 2500/2600

Releases information

Recorded direct-to-disc live in studio (6 takes were done of each track)

Artwork: Paul Till (photo)

LP Labyrinth Records ‎- LBR-1001 (1978, Canada)
LP Labyrinth Records ‎- WRC-409 (1980, Canada) Retitled "Head Room" and uses alt take for track #2

CD Esoteric Recordings ‎- ECLEC2377 (2013, UK) 24-bit remaster by Ben Wiseman

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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Buy FM Direct To Disc [Aka: Head Room] Music

FM Direct To Disc [Aka: Head Room] ratings distribution

(98 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(19%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(45%)
Good, but non-essential (21%)
Collectors/fans only (14%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

FM Direct To Disc [Aka: Head Room] reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by loserboy
5 stars After Canada's FM recorded their classic "Black Noise" in 1977, Nash The Slash left the band and was replaced by Ben Mink who is first featured on this 2 track classic gem from 1978. The unfortuate part of this story is that the master tape has been lost and it is unlikely this will be released on CD. This is just simply a killer album which is actually known for the wonderful percussive strokes of Martin Deller. Flowing all around the percussion is the synth and bass interplay of Cameron Hawkins and violin and mandolin of Ben Mink who get into some amazing playing. The overall music is slightly more jazzy I suppose than the later 2 classic FM albums ("Surveillance" and "City Of Fear"), but in many ways this is my favourite of them all. "Direct To Disc" is comprised of 2 side long instrumental tracks which seem to really be given the freedom and space to roam about and go off in some new directions. An essential album and a real highlight in the career of Canadian progressive rock.
Review by slipperman
4 stars With 'Direct To Disc', FM presented what would be their most experimental and ambitious recording. It's too bad they didn't exploit their more adventurous tendencies on successive albums, because this 2-song full-length is an impressive, sometimes astounding listen.

First track "Headroom" soars and volleys from symphonic part to symphonic part, with electric violin and keyboards sharing space in the foreground. The sounds are usually lush and airy, atmospheric and easy to sink into. It's fun to try and pick out which sound is being generated by Ben Mink's violin or Cameron Hawkins' synths. They melt together well, giving a unified focus to everything. Hawkins also doubles on bass guitar and hardly-there vocals (which are nice but seem like somewhat of an afterthought), while Mink also generates some unusual sounds with his 5-sting mandolin. Martin Deller's sensitive, tasteful drumming is fantastic throughout, though the solo in the middle of the song seems pointless (like most drum solos, no?). Second track, "Border Crossing", is even more interesting, far more experimental, a fascinating composition. It maintains a soundtrack-ish ambience at times, and a kinetic, jazzy attack other times. Mink's violin whines and cries with melancholic beauty, and while there's yet another drum solo, it's merely a short few bars that melt into Hawkins and Mink's melodic mastery, slowly, slowly working toward the song's wonderfully-layered climax.

The nature of this recording is also key to the album's listenability. Recorded live, with no overdubs, the spontaneous performances (the songs were composed beforehand) are laid down direct to the master disc. All in all, this excellent document of FM at its best remains compelling, listen after listen. Very nearly a mandatory prog classic, but unfortunately rather hard to find, and its chances of appearing on CD seem rather slim.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars This was FM's second album released in 1978. Nash The Slash the violinist has left to go solo so enter Ben Mink. The band decided for this album to do a live in-studio recording. So they composed the music and practised the two long pieces which combine for about 31 minutes. They recorded many takes and kept the one they felt was best and there were no overdubs. This recording is highly valued for a couple of reasons. For one apparently the master tapes were lost so this has just been released on vinyl only, so it's rare. Also the way they recorded it, and the fact we get two long suites certainly will appeal to Prog fans out there.

"Headroom" kicks in right away with drums, bass and violin. A calm 1 1/2 minutes in with mournful violin. It then picks up with violin. Percussion, vocals and synths(moog) lead after 4 minutes then drums and violin join in. A calm 7 minutes in with synths. It starts to build 8 1/2 minutes in then we get another calm 12 minutes in, this time it's spacey. It kicks in again with drums, bass and violin. Vocal melodies join in late to end it.

"Border Crossing" is upbeat early with synths and drums standing out. I think that mandolin or maybe synths that sound like guitar. A spacey calm after 3 minutes. Moog before 6 minutes as the synths twitter. Violin before 6 1/2 minutes then percussion as it stays laid back. Vocals 7 minutes in as it picks up. Drum solo before 10 minutes. A calm with violin 11 1/2 minutes and this continues to the end.

Well i'm not as impressed as others seem to be. It isn't nearly as good as the debut "Black Noise" in my opinion. I'm giving it a low 4 stars, not for my enjoyment factor but because of the Prog spirit they showed here and certainly a lot of talent went into this recording as well.

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars FM were/are a trio from Toronto, I think they still tour but haven't released any new music in ages. This is their second album. They are only on PA as 'prog related' but their first two albums are 100% prog IMO. The debut album Black Noise was one of the first to be recorded digitally. It only had a limited release originally, so Headroom was actually more widely available than the debut for awhile. However, this one never got a CD release. It was mixed live with no overdubs and recorded, as the title says, direct to disc. Original violinist/mandolinist Nash The Slash left after the debut to start a fairly successful solo career. One of the reasons he left was because he didn't like working with a drummer; he preferred the early days of FM when it was him, bassist/keyboardist Cameron Hawkins and a drum machine.

Nash's replacement here is Ben Mink (who like Nash also plays electric mandolin). He has worked with some other Canadian musicians such as Rush and k.d. lang. Despite the one member change this album sounds like the same group who made Black Noise. Although this is actually more 'proggy' and fusion-y. Only two side-long tracks are included. This is mostly instrumental music but there is a little bit of vocals. Drummer Martin Deller does some of the synth duties. In fact, on the second track he uses an alpha wave brain monitor plugged into a synthesizer so you can hear his brainwaves. No, seriously.

"Headroom" starts the album off as some kind of countrified fusion. Later the drums die out with just a little bit of percussion and the violin does a low-key solo. Some great synth sounds follow before the full trio comes back and there is some singing. It gets more experimental sounding towards the end before finishing on a blues-rock jam. "Border Crossing" begins as great maple-syrup covered fusion. Love the bass and mandolin tones here. It really sounds like a guitar but as far as I know they didn't use one. The synths sound great as well. Gets atmospheric and ambient sounding for awhile. Then it gets trippy and spacey.

A sequencer repeats a hypnotic pattern along with some percussion as some singing begins, one or two syllables at a time. While this is going on the drumkit comes back. A drum solo for awhile. Later a laid-back groove with some emotional violin soloing. Gets more jazzy as it goes along. Other than tracking down one of the original vinyl copies, I don't think you would have much luck finding this album. I'm not sure if it's available as a paid download anywhere. A real shame because the music here is great. After Headroom FM start to become way more commercial sounding. This is worth hearing if you get a chance. 4 stars.

Review by Neu!mann
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.

Review by b_olariu
3 stars FM from Canada were a quite promissing band in late 70s opening concerts for Rush, Saga, etc and releasing a handfull of albums untill disbanding in 1988 as far as I know. Direct to disc was the second offer from this discret band issued in 1978 on vinyl and only this year 2013 the album saw the re issue on CD on Esoteric. Here we have only 2 pieces clocking around 32 min both, one piece for each side, and they are like a long jam session where each musician done a fairly decent job. To me FM sounds ike a combination of Jean Luc Ponty, because of Ben Mink violin giving a jazzier atmosphere, some spacey moments with intresting keyboards and all melted with prog rock ingredients, the result is intresting for sure. Specially the second track Border crossing is more close to my taste, but aswell the first is ok for sure. I like it, maybe as much as their next one Surveillance even they almost gone Saga in that period. 3.5 stars to this one, quite underrated band .
Review by Gooner
5 stars Run! Do not walk to pick this up. It has now been officially released on CD on the great Esoteric Recordings label. 2 long tracks of prog rock greatness from the underrated year of 1978. It has all the hallmarks that fans of King Crimson, SFF, UK, mid-period Hawkwind and jazz rock have come to enjoy. If you relished FM's "Black Noise"...this one really kicked the door down for what FM was capable of. Tight, super-human drumming from Martin Deller, stratospheric vocals/spaced out keyboards from Cameron Hawkins and the warm yet at times rustic sounding electric violin of Ben Mink taking it over the top (yeah...THAT Ben Mink! The guy on Rush's "Losing It" from Signals). A little on the improv. side at the times but nothing too crazy like the crash and bang of Henry Cow. This is all "space". A soundtrack for riding the rings of Saturn. Recorded live directly to a lacquer in the studio with no overdubs. This is the real deal. Definitely a Canadian prog rock classic.
Review by Sean Trane
4 stars Despite having lost their original (and very original) frontman Nash The Slash, FM managed to find some kind of deal that had them enter a studio and engrave directly a disc. This DTD process had become quite rare by the late 70's and was sometimes still used for demo acetates. This process implies that the direct engraving forbids any kind of mixing and production work, even down to overdubs, etc? So whatever was played in the take was final. Sure the band actually took four takes of each tracks of this "EP", and chose the better one. As you can guess, the "untouchable" results can be relatively raw and even have a jam feel at times, but fear not the overall results is astounding: difficult to be more demanding, and while not improvised, the music takes a slight JR/F slant at times, to counter (or complement) the space rock; the latter still being their main influence.

Just two lengthy instrumental tracks over this EP (lasting just about a half-hour), but both of them are divided in four or five movements. Opening on Headroom (giving the album's other name), the trio embarks on a breakneck speed movement, where Billy Cobham would not disown Deller's drumming. Yes, the feeling is very much JR/F during the Tyra movement, but as soon as the composition calms down the Reflections movements, the mood goes spacey (but not cosmic), but once the tempo picks up, it gets jam-like, notably in the closing movement Scarberia (a nickname for the eastern-county Scarborough, extending the Toronto city limits way out east). On the flipside, Border Crossing also reaches towards JR/F sonics, Mink almost pulling a Santana-like solo around 2:30. More spacey effects (sometimes dissonant) are happening during the second movement, The only time vocals are to be heard, they're muffled in deeply in the mix at the start of the third movement, but this doesn't mean that the track comes back to a sense of normalcy. Indeed, when FM crossed that border, there was no turning back, but the trio almost loses itself two thirds of the way into their cosmic expedition. Once they finally find their way, it's a slow jazzy violin (between Ponty and Lockwood) return to base.

This limited-number release DTD album had become quite rare (I lost my vinyl copy somewhere crossing the pond), because it had never seen, a reissue, beit in vinyl or on CD, until early 2013, when Esoteric finally released it, along with the splendid Black Noise and the band's following two albums (also never released legit), still with Ben Mink. Personally, if DTD/HR is absolutely essential, I find that both Surveillance (79) and City Of Fear (80) fail to maintain the level of their first two albums, so unlike this essential album, they're quite expandable, partly because they hold shorter AOR-formatted songs. In the meantime, despite the change of violin/guitarist (always a big gamble), DTD is definitely worthy of the excellent debut Black Noise.

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Nash The Slash would soon get off the FM vehicle, as he thought that the presence of a drummer forced the band towards more commercial music.Ironically he pursued a solo career, which was way more commercial stylewise, compared to FM's early albums.He was replaced by Ben Mink, yet another violin/mandolin player of Canadian-Polish descent, who had previously played in the Folk Rock act Stringband.In late-77' the new FM trio visited the Phase One Recording Studios in Toronto and recorded a second album with the direct to disc recording method, lacking the use of recording tapes.The album was originally released in 1978 as ''Direct to disc'' on the small Labyrinth Records, while a few other reissues have surfaced later, some of them under the title ''Headroom''.

The album consists of only two sidelong tracks, each clocking at about 15 minutes.''Headroom'' is the introduction, a 5-theme piece, which combines elements from Jazz, Space Rock and Electronic Music.In fact this time FM sounded more focused and determined on the style they followed.Their sound was very polished and refined with melodic violin drives by Mink and a spacey bass performance by Hawkins, surrounded by the omnipresent synthesizers in an electronic enviroment.The music is pretty smooth with DIXIE DREGS references and very limited vocals, often passing through Lounge Jazz moments, ending up to be trully ethereal, but lacking some of the debut's dynamics.''Border crossing'' is divided in four parts and sounds a bit more Electronic-drenched that the opening piece, but also a bit more versatile.One certain reason are the opening notes, performed on electric mandolin and the constant change of moods.Electronic ambiences, Fusion orientations, a slight Neo Prog feel during the vocal parts and strong Classical hints towards the end, reminding of EDDIE JOBSON.There are however a couple of dead holes with minimalistic synths and effects in here, while FM insisted on playing on the dreamy side of Art Rock with the gears down and the atmosphere remains pretty calm all the way.

I could say that FM's approach on this effort was pretty genuine.But not passionate enough to keep the listener's full attention due to the lack of inner dynamics.Nice album for background listenings and propably for anyone into CLEARLIGHT-like Space Fusion...2.5 stars.

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
2 stars Crossing the border into improvisation

FM followed-up their excellent debut album Black Noise with this experimental live-in-the-studio effort. It was unique of its kind as the band apparently recorded it "direct to disc". How much of it that was rehearsed beforehand and how much is improvisation is hard to say exactly, but the results are mixed at best. The musical styles are towards Jazz-Rock/Fusion and electronic sounds. There are hardly any vocals and what little there are sound very weak in comparison with other FM albums.

Progressive Rock fans are bound to be interested in an album with two 15 minute plus tracks, but even though Headroom has its moments the overall impression is that it is too thin with ideas and lacking in direction. I find it mostly listenable, occasionally enjoyable, but not particularly memorable in the end.

Review by Progfan97402
4 stars This is no doubt the hardest to find FM album outside of the very earliest pressing of Black Noise on CBC (which features a totally different cover from the far more familiar version released on Visa in the US and Passport in Canada). This album did receive a second pressing, and it's the second pressing that bears the Headroom title, the original is called Direct-to-Disc, released on Discwasher Group, apparently the company famous for record cleaners (I understand Discwasher made great record cleaners back in the 1970s before they were bought out by RCA) had a record label, and it was Labyrinth Records that was their distributor in Canada.

This album brought in American-born Ben Mink (originally from Detroit), and Nash the Slash embarked on a solo career on Ralph Records (label most notorious for The Residents). Mink later became a k.d. lang collaborator. While the band later became commercial in the 1980s, there was always that leaning right from the start, but for the most part, Black Noise and Surveillence are very good crossover prog albums. Direct-to-Disc aka Headroom finds them more in the eclectic prog territory, and also by far their least commercial, most experimental album. Direct-to-Disc seemed to be a brief fad in the late '70s where artists would record a bunch of material, and then have their choice material pressed directly to disc, with no master tapes, so if you're wishing Headroom was reissued on CD, sadly that is unlikely to happen. That's what FM does here, these are one-takes with no overdubs. There were other takes, but they felt whatever wasn't included on this LP wasn't worthy of inclusion. So these are two side-length cuts, largely instrumental, at times reminding me of a more hi-tech UK. The fact like UK, FM too had a violin player (Ben Mink, who also played electric mandolin that sounds more like a guitar), and a synth player Cameron Hawkins, who has his own hi-tech style compared to Eddie Jobson, and then drummer Martin Deller (of course the big thing separating UK from FM is UK's keyboardist was also the violin player). Fusion elements are more dominant, but there are some strange experimental spacy passages too, where Martin Deller experiments with biofeedback machine hooked to an ARP 2500 (not the ARP 2600, the larger 2500). Had FM started a few years earlier, like 1974, they'd probably would have done more experimental albums like this one, but the band was obviously seeing the trends of the late '70s, luckily these first three albums were progressive, which were dropped in 1980 with City of Fear. It's been a while since I heard Direct-to-Disc, but it was quite a bit different from the albums that sandwiched it (Black Noise, Surveillance). Great stuff I can highly recommend, that is, if you can find a copy.

Review by kenethlevine
2 stars While one can spot references to the prior "Black Noise" as well as hints later incorporated in "Surveillance", "Direct to Disk" or "Headroom" is largely a one-off in the FM discography. My recollection is that "Black Noise" didn't really get much attention until a couple of years after release, so this recording was made in a vacuum of sorts, and perhaps as a way to bond with the new violinist/mandolinist Ben Mink who had already replaced Nash the Slash..

Vocals are sparse and buried in the mix when present, and the styles range from flourishing PONTY like jazz to MAHIVISHNU like spaciness and back again, the rhythm section amply propping up the electric strings and keyboards. Each of the two long pieces are subdivided but it's a challenge to discern where one movement ends and the next begins. Ultimately, while the band playing is rather tight given the improvised nature of the material, and highly skilled bordering on virtuous at times, this is only fleetingly engaging music, which is ultimately how I judge material, prog or not. Direct to Disk is as good an argument for FM as a full fledged prog rock band as any release, but it's not even close to their finest moment. 2.5 stars rounded down.

Review by patrickq
2 stars Here's the second album by FM, which at the time consisted of singer/multi-instrumentalist Cameron Hawkins, drummer Martin Deller, and new violinist Ben Mink. Direct to Disc has one fifteen-minute track on each side of the original vinyl album: Hawkins's "Headroom" and Deller's "Border Crossing." As implied by the title, both are live-in-the-studio recordings. (Apparently six takes of each side were recorded using tapeless, direct-to-lacquer technology. The best takes were used for the album, although more than one take of "Border Crossing" ended up being released.)

With their virtuosic approach, frequent drum solos, occasional (and occasionally Lake-like) vocals, and overall grandiosity, this power trio reminds me of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But whereas ELP had classical influences, this Canadian group, which started out in art music, has more in common with 1970s fusion. And there's also bass sequencing (which fellow Canadians Rush would pick up on in the near future), synth experimentation, and other spacey studio-based exploration on Direct to Disc. This is especially true of "Border Crossing," the third movement of which seems largely experimental. At least I think it's the third.

Of the two works here, "Headroom" is the better composition, in my opinion; the playing and production are great on both sides of the album. It's admirable that Direct to Disc was recorded live, but this self-imposed restriction probably had a negative impact; had the group used overdubs on "Headroom," or made use of postproduction editing on either side (maybe even significant editing in the style of Teo Macero or Frank Zappa), Direct to Disc could probably have been substantially better. Instead, the compositions appear to be compromised due to the limitations of the recording method. For example, near the middle of "Headroom," Deller takes a half-minute drum solo (around 6:20 to 6:50) with just a single undulating synth bass note in the background (I assume this a a bass pedal). My guess is that this is a necessary respite for Hawkins and Mink during which they tuned their instruments. This happens again from around 11:08 to 11:53. Again, this is kind of cool in one sense, but to me, the studio trickery of overdubs and edits tends to be a good thing.

Direct to Disc is a truly interesting listen, but not an unusually enjoyable one. I'd strongly suggest starting one's FM experience with Black Noise, their debut album, recorded the prior year with violinist "Nash the Slash."

Latest members reviews

3 stars This is the second album from this Toronto-based band, and one with a very interesting history. The album was originally called "Direct to Disc", and this is because it was recorded in one go, very literally direct to disc (or rather direct to special vinyl cutting machinery, producing the vinyl ... (read more)

Report this review (#1694755) | Posted by Walkscore | Monday, February 20, 2017 | Review Permanlink

5 stars What an underrated gem of progressive rock - from Canada no less. Ben Mink filled the role of violinist with flying colors. The album is separated into two 15 minute tracks - not unlike Berlin School albums of the 70s. Not only is the structure similar, but the electronic presence is obvious thr ... (read more)

Report this review (#1503666) | Posted by fudgenuts64 | Saturday, December 26, 2015 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Even when this album first came out it was hard to find. For the longest time I thought FM's second album was 'Surveillance'. I had never heard of this one. Then I eventually heard about it but coudn't find it. This is much more a prog rock album than any of their other efforts. There is no ... (read more)

Report this review (#175567) | Posted by digdug | Saturday, June 28, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is an amazing record, the first recording with the very talented Ben Mink on electric violin and mandolin. Two long jams where the trio showcases lots of interesting ideas full of melody and complexity. What I particularly appreciate on this album is that the band is absolutely focused thro ... (read more)

Report this review (#162579) | Posted by Prosciutto | Sunday, February 24, 2008 | Review Permanlink

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