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THE SOFT MACHINE

Canterbury Scene • United Kingdom


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The Soft Machine picture
The Soft Machine biography
Formed in Canterbury, UK in 1966 - Disbanded in 1984 - Reformed in 2015
(SM members would reconvene under several monikers along the years)

The band started playing as such in 1966 but their first record, a single, came out in 1967.
The very last concert was in 1984 at Ronnie Scott's on July 30/31 and August 1-4.
Band members at that concert were Paul Carmichael (bass), John Etheridge, Karl Jenkins, Dave McRae (once upon a time keyboard player with Matching Mole), Ray Warleigh and John Marshall.

The name of the band is similar to the book with the same title written by William Burroughs: "The Soft Machine".
Besides this, different formations/groups tour under names as "Soft Machine Legacy" (2004-2015), "Soft Works" (2002-2004), "Soft Ware" (1999-2002), "Soft Mountain", "Soft Heap (1978-1983) and "Polysoft"

The probably most important and influential band to grow out the Canterbury Scene was SOFT MACHINE. The band emerged as the quartet of Robert WYATT (drums, vocals), Mike RATLEDGE (keyboards), Kevin AYERS (bass, vocals) and Daevid ALLEN (guitar, vocals). Through a persistence of personnel changes (totalling ~30), their sound was to changed continually over the years of their existence. This band along with CARAVAN (both to come out of the formative WILDE FLOWERS), would influence the emergence of the Canterbury Sound (MATCHING MOLE, EGG, HATFIELD & THE NORTH, and many more). Many careers began with SOFT MACHINE: Robert WYATT (MATCHING MOLE band and solo artist), Kevin AYERS (later his own WHOLE WORLD band and solo artist), and Daevid ALLEN (later GONG and solo artist). Virtuosic instrumentalists such as Hugh HOPPER, Mike RATLEDGE, Elton DEAN, Allan HOLDSWORTH, (briefly) Andy SUMMERS, Roy BABBINGTON, John MARSHALL and Karl JENKINS were attracted to MACHINE's ranks through out its history, leaving us a series of ground-breaking albums.

Now, briefly - what is the music like? The SOFT MACHINE were, for many listeners, the standard against which all jazz-rock fusion, including many of t...
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THE SOFT MACHINE Videos (YouTube and more)


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THE SOFT MACHINE discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

THE SOFT MACHINE top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.02 | 567 ratings
The Soft Machine
1968
4.05 | 516 ratings
Volume Two
1969
4.20 | 1032 ratings
Third
1970
3.56 | 351 ratings
Fourth
1971
3.40 | 266 ratings
Fifth [Aka: 5]
1972
3.50 | 236 ratings
Six
1973
3.66 | 272 ratings
Seven
1973
4.09 | 383 ratings
Bundles
1975
3.88 | 241 ratings
Softs
1976
2.01 | 67 ratings
Karl Jenkins: Rubber Riff
1976
3.00 | 148 ratings
Land of Cockayne
1981
4.00 | 195 ratings
Hidden Details
2018

THE SOFT MACHINE Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.89 | 77 ratings
Alive & Well - Recorded in Paris
1978
3.23 | 35 ratings
Live at the Proms (1970)
1988
4.03 | 38 ratings
The Peel Sessions
1990
4.29 | 21 ratings
BBC Live In Concert 1971
1993
3.74 | 18 ratings
BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert 1972
1994
3.89 | 39 ratings
Live At The Paradiso
1995
3.29 | 24 ratings
Live In France (Paris)
1995
3.69 | 40 ratings
Virtually
1998
2.78 | 18 ratings
Live 1970
1998
4.06 | 60 ratings
Noisette
2000
3.41 | 32 ratings
Backwards
2002
1.21 | 10 ratings
Facelift
2002
4.07 | 41 ratings
BBC - Radio 1967 - 1971
2003
4.08 | 34 ratings
BBC Radio 1971 - 1974
2003
3.00 | 7 ratings
Somewhere In Soho
2004
3.54 | 13 ratings
Soft Stage BBC In Concert 1972
2005
2.00 | 1 ratings
Orange Skin Food
2005
3.29 | 12 ratings
Breda Reactor
2005
3.35 | 15 ratings
Soft Machine & Heavy Friends BBC In Concert 1971
2005
3.81 | 30 ratings
British Tour '75
2005
3.81 | 45 ratings
Floating World Live (Bremen 1975)
2006
4.40 | 61 ratings
Grides
2006
2.60 | 22 ratings
Middle Earth Masters
2006
3.06 | 24 ratings
Drop
2008
4.18 | 27 ratings
Live At Henie Onstad Art Centre
2009
4.48 | 30 ratings
NDR Jazz Workshop, Germany, May 17, 1973
2010
0.00 | 0 ratings
Daevid Allen & Gilli Smyth With The Soft Machine Family: Live At The Roundhouse 1971
2012
4.03 | 12 ratings
Switzerland 1974
2015
4.50 | 2 ratings
Live at The Baked Potato
2020

THE SOFT MACHINE Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.51 | 26 ratings
Alive in Paris-1970
2008

THE SOFT MACHINE Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
The Soft Machine (Compilation)
1970
3.18 | 19 ratings
Face and Place Vol. 7 [Aka: Jet Propelled Photographs, Aka: At the Beginning]
1972
4.39 | 51 ratings
The Soft Machine Collection [also released as: Volumes One and Two]
1973
3.94 | 17 ratings
Triple Echo
1977
4.00 | 1 ratings
Rock Storia E Musica: Soft Machine
1983
3.09 | 25 ratings
Jet Propelled Photographs
1989
3.24 | 8 ratings
The Untouchable Collection (1975-78)
1990
4.38 | 4 ratings
As If...
1991
3.10 | 2 ratings
Soft Machine (Live & Demos)
1994
3.58 | 6 ratings
The Best Of Soft Machine...The Harvest Years
1995
3.35 | 32 ratings
Spaced (1969)
1996
3.59 | 26 ratings
Fourth / Fifth
1999
3.50 | 2 ratings
soft machine
2000
2.00 | 13 ratings
Man in a Deaf Corner: Anthology 1963-1970
2001
3.13 | 8 ratings
Turns On Vol. 1
2001
2.19 | 7 ratings
Turns On Vol. 2
2001
1.67 | 7 ratings
Kings Of Canterbury
2003
3.38 | 9 ratings
Six/Seven
2004
4.03 | 8 ratings
Out Bloody Rageous (Anthology 67-73)
2005
1.00 | 2 ratings
The Story of Soft Machine
2005
3.52 | 14 ratings
Original Album Classics
2010
0.00 | 0 ratings
Tanglewood Tails
2014

THE SOFT MACHINE Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.07 | 8 ratings
Love Makes Sweet Music
1968
4.00 | 4 ratings
Why Are We Sleeping?
1968
3.67 | 6 ratings
Soft Space
1978
2.00 | 1 ratings
Bundles (Promo Single)
2010

THE SOFT MACHINE Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Softs by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1976
3.88 | 241 ratings

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Softs
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Squire Jaco

4 stars There were primarily two albums from Soft Machine that really interested me: "Bundles" from 1975, and "Softs" from 1976. Despite the departure of Allan Holdsworth and Mike Ratledge after "Bundles", the quality of the compositions and playing on "Softs" continues to impress as much as its predecessor. Both albums are 4-1/2 stars.

Critics of this album often compare it to elevator music or light jazz. Listen up: forced to suffer through endless hours of listening to Muzak as a security guard during my summer job in my college days (the late 70's), I feel supremely qualified to quash that hideous "light jazz" accusation! (Don't get me humming the clarinet version of "Penny Lane" again! Aarrgh!!!)

To be sure, this is not the aggressive, "Look what I can do" jazz/rock fusion of Mahavishnu Orchestra, U.K., some Brand X, or other contemporaries of the band. There is a dreamier atmosphere that pervades "Bundles" and "Softs"; but that background is supplemented with catchy bass riffs, searing and soaring guitar solos, great drumming, and interesting melodies interspersed with some great jamming. Actually, if you combined the pre-Brand X "Marscape" album with Camel's "The Snow Goose", you'd have a pretty good idea of the sound of "Softs".

I realize I'm kind of reviewing both albums here, but "Bundles" and "Softs" really are kindred albums that bookend a unique phase of Soft Machine. They share a similar feel and scope between them, while still managing to differentiate themselves with new melodies and perspectives.

These are very good, interesting, entertaining and - dare I say - ESSENTIAL albums for the serious progressive rock/jazz fusion aficionado.

 Noisette by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Live, 2000
4.06 | 60 ratings

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Noisette
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by sgtpepper

4 stars Found this release accidentally but already well aware of the quality of the "Third" album which is my favourite because of the most typical Canterbury sound and very focused compositions. Apart from the band core, we can enjoy tenor and soprano saxophone, flute that sound jazziest of all instruments. Vocals are reduced to minimum, which does not hurt me at all. The sound is pretty good and reasonable to 1970's. Drums are clear, dynamic. In the first composition, the part with soloing organ and jamming bass is my favourite seconded by busy drums. "Mousetrap" is close to fusion as anything from 1969-70 can be. It has also some creepy, doomy slow riffs (with no guitar). "Backwards" is flute's showcase and the drummer has some time to breathe out but he'll catch up later on. The following long composition show the instrumental strength of the band. The last song is from the old times with Ayers and needn't have to be included, it sounds more like a bonus/encore track. Excellent live album.
 Third by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.20 | 1032 ratings

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Third
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by sgtpepper

5 stars "Third" is musically a stunning, transitional, influential and progressive album by Soft Machine. Not only has it influenced many proggers and to some extent, psychedelic rock fans, it also contains a very good balance between improvisation, emotions, motives and craftmanship. I understand that some people complain that music sounds repetitive and is certainly more monotous than jazz. Basic chords aren't complex, dynamic parts alternate between 2 or 3 chords. However, instrumental performance, changes of moods, innovative use of vocal, sonic textures and being one-of-kind make it an exceptional album not only in the Canterbury realm but overall in progressive rock.

The band started to absorb more jazz-rock influence and get more distanced from psychedelic rock but haven't abandoned it. The combination of organ and various brass instruments is irresistible. I praise busy Watt's drumming which may not be very inventional or technical but adds a lot to colour. The first composition "Facelift" starts too slowly to my taste but brings a more reflective mood in the vein of psychedelic jazz. Great saxophone and great soloing with supporting bass guitar playing is inspiring. Btw, did you notice the absence of guitar on the album? Even though compositions aren't complex by definition, there's plenty of soloing and rhythm augmentation. The first composition is closest to jazz with very loose structure and abundance of saxophone.

"Slightly all the time" is more structured and elegant, highly recommend focusing on bass and keyboards (pianet, organ). After 5 minutes, we finally get a fast-paced very elegant section with irregular rhythms and clarinet soothing. Organ kicks in later. The peak of the composition comes quite late towards to the end - you can hear one of the most classic Canterbury sections sonically, absolutely breaktaking and saxophone solos absolutely out of jazz. The very end is more solem with nice chords.

"Moon in June" has a nice development too; it contains fine Wyatt's vocals as another instrument. It also sounds quite straightforward in the beginning having clear psychedelic rock organ and melody. The second part of the song is totally legendary, this time without brass instruments, only organ(s). bass, drumming as busy and jazz as it gets. The end is smooth again, showing experimenting in the studio and traces of avantgarde jazz with violin.

"Out-bloody-rageous" has a "classic" fusion/jazz motive and is pretty intensive right from the beginning. Drumming by Wyatt is stunning because of the fill-ins. The quiet part has great saxophone improvisation. The end is pretty experimental but digestible with repeated loops of instruments.

A masterpiece of Canterbury progressive rock and an extremely focused record without any thought of going commercial.

 Third by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.20 | 1032 ratings

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Third
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by BubbaVenice

5 stars I've read several reviews that underrate this album generally considered "historical". I'm not surprised of that. "Third" is not an easy record. It requires years of training before one guy would have the listening skills to enjoy it. Let me make an example: take whatever easy-listener you know and put in his/her ears "Bitches Brew". The kindest thing you can hear from him/her will be that it is a inconsistent soup of stuff unworthy to be called "music". I love "Third", especially the underrated Mike Ratledge's "Slightly All the Time" that I personally consider one of the highest peaks of the so-called "Canterbury Sound". Generally, of the four tracks people praise only Robert Wyatt's "Moon in June", the prototype of the second generation of Canterbury Sound, that of Hatfield and the North, National Health and other less known bands. It's not my case, though I like very much Wyatt. I tell you a bit of my life. When I was fifteen I buyed "Ummagumma", convinced to have in my hands a record like "Dark Side" or "Wish You Were Here". The shock was great. The same was the first time I listened to "Third". Years passed, I began to appreciate jazz, firstly Bird & Dizzy, after Monk, Mingus, Davis and so on, till I arrived to John Coltrane. After that, I had the occasion to approach again "Third" (and "Fourth" "Six"...). And "Third" was so clear to me, so understandable, that even I thought it was "easy". Almost ten years of listening and music training passed between the first time I listen terrified to "Third" and the time I enthusiastically bought the CD.
 Third by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.20 | 1032 ratings

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Third
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by bartymj

2 stars A quote from comedian and musician Bill Bailey: "The thing about playing jazz, you can play any old chord you like. Any old nonsense really - and people go 'yeahhh nice...'. But most of jazz sounds like a surrealist car alarm".

Unfortunately for me this just about sums up the first track of this album, Facelift. I'm sure many will say its on a level above my own comprehension of music, but its almost 20 minutes of out-of-tune or out-of-time jamming that just doesn't seem to go anywhere. This is a shame, because I actually quite like the second track on the album, Slightly All the Time, which does at least seem to have some structure and is loosely at my level of acceptability for jazz rock. Then we have a song that includes vocals from Robert Wyatt, which unfortunately will always grate on my unrefined ears, before Out-Bloody-Rageous, which is more of a jam like Facelift, but 'cleaner' and better... for ten minutes. It then strips back into a more surreal and experimental second half. The sad thing it I think I would have enjoyed this track far more if I hadn't already endured the marathon of the first three.

Well worth trying out if you're in the mood, but personal tastes mean I have no idea how anyone can rate this an essential album.

 Third by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.20 | 1032 ratings

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Third
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Zoltanxvamos

1 stars Ok, I am in the lower amount of fans who enjoy Soft Machine. I do not enjoy this album, I found that this album was very messy, didn't have a solid atmosphere, and it shared elements of First Circle by Pat Methany... and I'm talking about Forward March. I apologize but I was not a fan of this overly experimental and non-structured album, it didn't show much emotion and it just seemed more like a huge mess of an album to me. Nothing here stood out, for me, If I want to listen to a Soft Machine album, I'll turn elsewhere, such as Bundles. Sadly, this just didn't do anything for me.

Ok, for those who are upset about this review, please site my review on Larks for this review to make me sense. I made sure that I was more clear, and hopefully it will clear things up.

 Seven by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.66 | 272 ratings

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Seven
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by fenman

4 stars In the 1970's Soft Machine were one of those bands who developed and changed their music - and some listeners just didn't like it. Some didn't like them after Kevin Ayers left, some after "Third", some after Robert Wyatt's departure. Around the time of this album some reviewers thought they were "past their best", "trading on past glories" and press views of this and the following Harvest albums were often lukewarm.

Looking back, this is a well composed, well played and (to me at any rate) very enjoyable album, in line with what bands such as Nucleus and Isotope were offering. The next album, "Bundles", featuring the late, great Allan Holdsworth, continued this trajectory and remains one of the most special British jazz-rock albums of that decade. At the time, some people weren't impressed with that either.

In 2020 these albums are still available and perhaps are more appreciated than ever - they deserve to be anyway.

 NDR Jazz Workshop, Germany, May 17, 1973 by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Live, 2010
4.48 | 30 ratings

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NDR Jazz Workshop, Germany, May 17, 1973
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Wow, what an eye-opener! This archival release offers up a live set recorded by Soft Machine in the gap between the "Six" and "Seven" albums. That places it in a time period which is a little contentious among followers of the band; Robert Wyatt is out, as is Hugh Hopper (though he guests in a bonus feature on the DVD performing a little something from his "1983" solo album), and Roy Babbington, Karl Jenkins, and John Marshall are all in.

In other words, at this stage only one founder member of Soft Machine is left, and he's increasingly taking a back seat in terms of the compositional direction of the band, which is increasingly dominated by the new members, all of whom are ex-members of Nucleus. A shift in the band's overall sound is only to be expected, and for some fans - especially those who prize the psychedelic aspects of the Machine's early output - it isn't really Soft Machine any more, just a Nucleus side project with Mike Ratledge along for the ride.

Regardless of how you feel on that front, though, there's no denying that this live set is absolute dynamite. Yes, it's very much in the jazz fusion side of Canterbury and might be just a shade over the borderline into straight-ahead fusion of the Nucleus school, but it's really goddamn good fusion!

Since the set was recorded for television, you get the best of both worlds here: the release combines the energy and rawness of a live performance with the sound quality of a professional studio. The upshot is a release which really captures the capabilities of the lineup, and to my ears sounds better than the rather polished, mild-mannered studio albums the band were putting out at this time.

Frankly, I think it's a bit of a shame that Soft Machine's post- Wyatt lineups never quite managed to produce a studio album on the level of this set; had they done so, I think their legacy would be far less contentious. As it stands, I have to say that this is the best post-Wyatt Soft Machine release I've ever heard.

 Fourth by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1971
3.56 | 351 ratings

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Fourth
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars If one had never heard the previous albums with their quirky beginnings in psychedelia one might enter into the world of Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper, Robert Wyatt, and Elton Dean thinking that these guys are 1) serious jazz musicians and 2) great masters of their instruments. The only problem is: There is very, very little here that feels or sounds like Canterbury style music--a little in "Kings and Queens" and Virtually part 3." That's it. While Dean's saxes will become more refined and creative in his more free-form future, the playing here of Robert Wyatt is the first and only time that I found myself thinking that "this is a really impressive musician." Ratledge and Hopper are really good and the addition of double bass from NUCLEUS founder Mike Babbington is awesome. Also, I still think it rather unique and brave of the band to go without a guitar player.

1. "Teeth" (9:15) Jazz! Free jazz! At least, from the saxophone. From the opening notes this song presents the band as a jazz band with little or no ties to its previous incarnations. It's too bad as this is not one of the album's better songs--even the recording mix is "off." (15/20)

2. "Kings and queens" (5:02) slow and melodic with the gentle waves of keys, toms, and cymbals to support. Ratledge is brilliant in his support and Wyatt and Hopper and Dean are impressive as well. (8.75/10)

3. "Fletcher's blemish" (4:35) pure free-form jazz in which the musicians exhibit some great control and, surprisingly, cohesiveness. (8.5/10)

4. "Virtually part 1" (5:16) jazz, pure and simple, with some nice structural experimentation. The barebones-ness of this piece gives each instrumentalists plenty of space in which to shine. (8.5/10)

5. "Virtually part 2" (7:09) enter the Lowrey organ--the last vestige of the Canterbury sound--and multiple tracks given to Elton Dean for his two instruments. Great instrumental performances--especially true of Robert Wyatt--but nothing very special melodically or emotionally. (12.5/15)

6. "Virtually part 3" (4:33) sees a step back from pacing and walls of sound as the drums check out and everybody else goes into "tuning mode." The electric bass of Hugh Hopper takes the lead while everybody else offers a kind of gentle support. It's actually kind of pretty music despite the fuzzed bass up front. (8.75/10)

7. "Virtually part 4" (3:23) smoother and more cohesive, even melodic. My favorite section of the album and the one that allows me to keep this album in the list of Canterbury favorites. (9.5/10)

Total Time: 39:13

3.5 to a Low four stars; a nice jazz album for its time but not a very glowing representative of the Canterbury Scene.

 Third by SOFT MACHINE, THE album cover Studio Album, 1970
4.20 | 1032 ratings

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Third
The Soft Machine Canterbury Scene

Review by patrickq
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Although it's considered a 'Canterbury Scene' album, Third could adequately described as largely a jazz-prog album with some avant-garde tendencies. If Soft Machine produced this exact album, but were based in West Germany, we'd call it 'Krautrock' and discover connections between Soft Machine and Can or Faust or Brainticket. But more on that in a moment.

Third is my introduction to Soft Machine, so I have to take at face value the claim that it represents a substantial transition from Volume Two, which they'd released nine months earlier. Nonetheless it's tough to miss the transition between the first and second sides of Third, a double album with one track per side. Side One, 'Facelift,' is a studio-treated live piece recorded in January 1970, while the rest of the album was recorded at IBC studios in London in May and June.

The only difference in personnel between Side One and the remainder of the album is the inclusion of saxophonist / flautist Lyn Dobson; otherwise the core lineup is drummer / vocalist Robert Wyatt, bassist Hugh Hopper, keyboardist Mike Ratledge, and saxophonist Elton Dean. It's not the musicians, or the instrumentation, or even the fact that "Facelift" is (largely) a live recording that separates it from the other tracks. Maybe the best way to say it is that "Facelift" has an entirely different attitude from the rest of the album, and that it's a more experimental and harder attitude than I associate with Canterbury. In fact, I'd say it's akin to a Krautrock attitude. But this dissipates after the nineteen-minute first side; Sides Two ("Slightly All the Time") and Three ("Moon in June") are more like the jazzy and folky prog that I associate with the Canterbury sound. A more experimental approach returns on the final side ("Out-Bloody-Rageous").

The high point, in my opinion, is 'Slightly All the Time,' a jazzy instrumental suite. However, I have to confess an admiration for the studio-as-instrument aspects of 'Out-Bloody-Rageous,' even if that track, from a compositional standpoint, is both drawn-out and unfocused. It's a bit of a cliché, but Third would probably have been a four-star LP had someone like Holger Czukay or Frank Zappa been entrusted with editing it down to a 'single album.'

My last criticism is the relatively low sound quality. I downloaded my copy from freegal.com, and it's unclear to me which edition I have. Apparently there are some releases of Third on which the sound has been 'cleaned up.' But I have to concur with those who have remarked on the lo-fi sound.

All things considered, Third is a good album. I'm sure Canterbury fans are well aware of this and other albums by Soft Machine and related acts, but anyone interested in jazzy progressive rock or in lighter Krautrock might also want to check this one out.

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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