FM: Direct To Disc: CD

On this album, Nash The Slash has been replaced by Ben Mink (electric violin, mandolin) and the band recorded this as a one track per side, direct to disc. This meant that it was recorded directly to a master disc that records were pressed from it, not on a master tape like most other albums were.
Opening track “Headroom” has five connected movements of spacey soloing, while second track “Border Crossing” has four connected movements and is a bit closer to the classic FM sound. Electric violinist/mandolinist makes major contributions throughout, Cameron Hawkins adds incredible synthesizers, fantastic bass-playing, and even some scattered background vocals, and Martin Deller does a great job with the drumming. Both tracks are mostly, but not entirely instrumental, and it really doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the songs not to be able to sing along, instead you just let the sounds flow over you.
Direct to Disc is admittedly short on length and different from the band’s other albums, but this has to be one of the most interesting albums of their career. They became far more accessible and commercial not long after this was released, so take a listen to how the band sounded doing a very unique and risky move.

FM: Black Noise: CD

This is a remastered edition of the 1977 debut album by the Canadian progressive rock group FM. The band began life in 1976 with Cameron Hawkins (synthesisers, bass, vocals) and Nash The Slash (Jeff Plewman) (electric violin, mandolin, vocals) coming together as a duo, making an appearance on national TV in Canada in the Summer of 1976. By March 1977, FM became a trio with the addition of Martin Deller on drums. The Canadian Broadcasting Company offered to release the band’s debut album, “Black Noise” on their own label later that year, and was only made available via mail order. The following year the album was given a wider release on the VISA label in the USA. This release is the first time the album has been issued in Europe and has been newly remastered and includes an illustrated booklet and a new essay.

Right from the beginning of “Phasors On Stun” you just know you’re listening to something special. With the clear vocals by Hawkins, the song goes straight to the point and is so catchy and full of energy that you never want it to end. “One O’Clock Tomorrow” has a quiet synth sound, as well as Nash on violin providing a fairly light melody until the drums come in. The short instrumental “Hours” has great violin playing. “Journey” gets back to a heavier uptempo song with drums and synths leading the way. The instrumental “Dialing For Dharma,” has a nice violin solo by Nash The Slash. “Slaughter In Robot Village” is another great instrumental track. “Aldebaran” is a ballad, and here Nash’s mandolin is the star. Black Noise” is a nine minute track where the group explodes and shines in its utmost brilliance, the drumming builds on itself, and has some of the most haunting vocals.

It’s great to hear the remastered sound giving us the ability to hear all of the nuances clearly and feel the emotion and power that they put forth on this album. The liner notes were really interesting and this is an all around winner…get it!

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FM: City Of Fear: CD

This is the fourth album from Canadian trio FM that has now been re-released and re-mastered. It was released in 1980 and was produced by synthesiser wizard Larry Fast (of SYNERGY and musician with NEKTAR and PETER GABRIEL).

The more overt prog rock tendencies have been replaced by more of the contemporary rock sound that was getting popular at the time, but they still managed to keep enough to sound unique and stand out from the crowd. “Krakow” has great synthesizer playing, an infectious beat and emotive singing that start the album on a high note. “Power” is a very straight forward rock song that has a touch of SAGA in it, but the powerful singing and drumming keep it under their own sound, plus the great keyboard playing adds to the song being a standout. “Truth or Consequences” has a late ’70s pop rock sound and is super catchy and I had to stop and play it twice. The band still consisted of Cameron Hawkins (synthesisers, bass, vocals), Martin Deller on drums and Ben Mink on electric violin and mandolin and they really played their hearts out on this album. The songs being more pop oriented on this album still retained the technically refined playing and made really kept this in the realm of being far more interesting than other bands from this era. “Lost and Found” brings more of the spacey prog sound to the song and it feels very claustrophobic, almost like a PINK FLOYD track. “City Of Fear” mixes the prog and more pop oriented styles together and succeeds admirably with how well done the mixture is. “Surface to Air” could fit really well into the album Signals by RUSH with its new wave sound provided by the heavy, but thrilling use of the synthesizer that made me remember hearing this on the radio when I was a kid and loving it. “Up to You” keeps up the new wave influenced rock and was another treat on the album. “Silence” is a more mellow song that brings the space rock back and the guitar playing and drumming are standouts on this song. “Riding the Thunder” is almost a metal song with the heavy playing and yelled vocals, kind of reminiscent of “Godzilla” by BLUE OYSTER CULT. Finally the last song “Nobody at All” is a nice mellow ballad that takes you away on a grand journey that just feels like you’re floating into the ether. A great ending to an album that mixes up styles and gives the listener a lot of different things to take in.

All in all, this was a great album that although getting away from the more prog rock of earlier albums, still has more than its share of prog mixed with newer (at the time) sounds that still manage to hold your interest. Go out and grab this, see how a band makes the jump into the pop word, but still keeps the songs the first priority, not trying to make things trendy.

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FM: Surveillance: CD

This is a remastered edition of the 1979 album by the Canadian Progressive Rock group FM that includes an illustrated booklet and a new essay. The band began life in 1976 with Cameron Hawkins (synthesisers, bass, vocals) and Nash the Slash (Jeff Plewman) (electric violin, mandolin, vocals) coming together as a duo, and making an appearance on national TV in Canada in the summer of 1976. By March 1977, FM became a trio with the addition of Martin Deller on drums and the band’s debut album soon followed. By the end of the year, Nash the Slash had been replaced by Ben Mink on electric violin and mandolin. Surveillance was the third album by the band and includes a cover of “Shapes Of Things” by THE YARDBIRDS that was released as a single.

First song “Rocket Roll” is a very catchy rock song that would have made a great single and basically the only prog rock element is the theme and lyrics because it doesn’t get more straight ahead than this. The instrumental track “Orion” is a complete spacey prog song with great playing that flows perfectly into “Horizons” which has a bit of a PINK FLOYD feel in the vocals, but the fluid guitar playing and the fantastic drumming keep it grounded in their own style. “Random Harvest” starts of with a RUSH sound on the instrumentation, but it goes into a GENESIS sound while still retaining the more rock playing in the song. “Shapes Of Things” is a very energetic cover and the band plays it pretty straight forward, but the vocals seem to be mixed down too low and fixing that would have put this over just good into great. “Seventh Heaven” is a very smooth sounding prog song that has a touch of SAGA going on and again, the guitar playing and drumming are standouts. “Father Time” is a more laid back track that keeps the prog flag flying, this time the keyboards are the standout. “Sofa Back” is a mostly instrumental track which the group performed live without its brief vocoder chant of “Moe, Larry, Cheese,” a quote from the Three Stooges short called “Horses’ Collars”. Expecting the audience would not understand it, to the group’s surprise, the audience usually chanted the phrase for them during the performance. It has a definite RUSH sound to it, but it’s a fun track all the same. Finally we get to the last song “Destruction,” which mixes the more rocking bits with prog and ends the album on a high note.

You can see the band coming to the crossroads of more commercial rock and the more technical prog that they started with and being able to combine the two styles very well on this album. This is definitely a very well done album and one that has not aged too badly, with stellar performances from the band and is highly recommended.

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