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13 Aug 2016

Octopus “The Boat of Thoughts” 1976 Kraut Rock






Octopus “The Boat of Thoughts” 1976 Kraut Rock

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Strong debut album by this German quintet, one of the better items on the Sky label. In the continuum of female-fronted prog bands, this one does follow on in the tradition of Frumpy, Ruphus, Joy Unlimited, Earth & Fire and the like.

Lead vocalist Jennifer Hensel does have a rather gruff alto voice that won’t be to all tastes, but which is definitely unique, and which suits the music well. This is high-energy prog with a bit of a hard-rock edge. Instrumentally, this relies on heavy interplay from guitarist Pit Hensel (no relation) and keyboardist Werner Littau. Littau’s organ work is the primary force, he also adds lots of spacey Moog synthesizer and a few layers of Mellotron. Of course, the nine-minute title suite is the apex of the music here, but not the only game in town. “The First Flight Of The Owl”, “If You Ask Me” and “We’re Losing Touch” all feature superb stop-on-a-dime changes.

Incidentally, the line-up provided above is wrong. Winfried Kowallik and Sepp Niemeyer were NOT in the band yet! Pit Hensel is the guitarist on this album, Frank Eule is the drummer….

This is one of those albums that I enjoy listening to from time to time. Jennifer’s alto vocals remind me a little of Janis Joplin except she’s a lot smoother and doesn’t strain her vocals at all. This record features mellotron, moog, organ and synths, although for me the guitar steals most of the show.

The first song “The Flight Of The Owl” opens with an amazing 2 ½ minute instrumental, very CAMEL-like.The same intro comes back to close the song. Love the guitar as bass, drums and synths fill out the sounds in the intro. This is my favourite song on the record. “Kill Your Murderer” is led by organ, drums and mellotron early before the guitar comes in and rips it up.The vocals that follow are excellent and they trade off with the guitar for a while. I like the instrumental interlude 3 minutes in and the guitar solo that goes on and on late. “If You Ask Me” sounds really good early with some nice drum work. Guitar a minute in and vocals before 2 minutes. Organ comes in later. This song isn’t as good as the first two.

“The Delayable Rise Of Glib” opens with organ before the vocals come in and become the focus. It’s an ok track. “We’re Losing Touch” opens with a good beat as synths join in. It gets a little meaner a minute in as guitar arrives. Vocals 2 minutes in then it turns almost jazzy. Guitar and drums end it. Nice. The last track “The Boat Of Thoughts” opens with acoustic guitar with drums pounding in the background.The guitar is replaced with piano, then a nice guitar melody swings through until it is flooded out by a flood of mellotron ! Ah, yes. It changes 6 minutes in to a darker more aggressive flavour. More mellotron later. The first two songs and this title track are my top three.

I notice a few people who have trashed this record on other sites, personally I like their sound and am glad to see the positive reviews here……

OCTOPUS is one of gems from the seventies with their far-reaching music composition and style. The sound is probably no stranger at all as the sound represents the seventies era. You can imagine the sound: quite dominant mid range, truncated treble and dry bass. Can you imagine? Hope you get what I mean. Honestly, I love this kind of sound and it influences me on my rating of the album (my big apology on this issue). Simply put, if the music quality is at par excellent between two bands of different eras, I would prefer those created in the seventies than the one created in 2000s. It’s not fair actually. But that’s what I call with “There is no true value of nearly everything!” so is the case with music review, especially prog. Why prog is so special? I can view it from two angles. One: from the musicians’ perspective, prog music is wide and free in terms of chords selection or structure or composition to be chosen by particular band. There are bands who create compositions with nice melody and simple arrangement (eg. neo prog or symphonic prog). There are bands who create compositions with no particular or rigid structures (eg. PHISH in some songs, Gentle Giant). It boils down to “choices” made by prog musician. Two: from listener (like me) point of view, there are many differing opinions / perceptions in interpreting any segment of the music. Having this in mind, how can you expect same rating of particular album? It’s hard, my friend. Let’s accept different opinions in reviewing prog albums.

The above novel-long write-up brings me to my views with respect to this album by OCTOPUS. The first time I listened to this album, it “clicked” me right away and there was signal submitted by my ears to my brain saying something like: “Mr. Brain, this is the kind of music you have been longing for. Enjoy it!”. Oh man .. the stream of music offered by this album is truly mind boggling. “The First Flight Of The Owl” is packed with guitar fills and inventive bass guitar work in blues-rock style, upbeat tempo. Powerful and transparent voice of Jennifer Hensel enters the music brilliantly and her voice reminds me to Babe Ruth’s singer. Her voice is not basically my main attention - but the music that accompanies really blew me away! I feel like I’m living in the seventies now. (Hello! This was 76 indeed!).

On top of stunning guitar work and dynamic bass lines, the music is mellotron-drenched as well. “Kill Your Murderer” starts off dynamically with excellent combination of keyboard and guitar. The tempo suddenly changes faster with pulsating keyboards and it is slows down to give vocal’ entrance. Guitar solo is stunning, augmented with keyboard / organ. Excellent organ work can also be heard on “The Delayable Rise Of Glib”. “We Are Loosing Touch” is a symphonic prog rock with classic rock elements. IT’s an excellent track!

This vintage band has in a way influenced MUSE directly or probably indirectly. “The Boat Of Thoughts” proves it well. At approximately minute 3:28 I can hear clearly the pulsating keyboard sound at the back which fits exactly with one of MUSE songs. They are not exactly the same but they are alike. This concluding is probably the most complex arrangements and changing tempo. It’s so enjoyable listening to the combination of acoustic guitar and keyboard work.

You may want to discount my overall rating about this underrated album. But for me, this is an excellent addition to any prog music collection. Highly recommended. Keep on proggin’ ..!……

Who likes Camel in nyar?

First of all, don’t get confused. There are a bunch of shitty metal bands with the same name. These Germans however, are amazing. The mellotron and guitar work on this album is fantastic, and even sounds incredibly similar to Camel at times. Lead vocalist Jennifer Hensel does have a rather gruff alto voice that won’t be to all tastes, but it does suit the music very well. For comparisons sake, imagine a cross between Janis Joplin (without the grit) and Jennie Hahn from Babe Ruth.

Consider this a warning: if you don’t “do” female vocals you might want to look elsewhere. If however, you “do” high energy prog with a mean hard rock edge, look no further! The instrumental passages are the high points here, and believe you me, they are oh so tasty! ….

Line-up / Musicians

- Pit Hensel / guitars
- Werner Littau / keyboards
- Jennifer Hensel / vocals
- Frank Eule / drums
- Claus D. Kniemeyer / bass

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The First Flight Of The Owl
2. Kill Your Murderer
3. If You Ask Me
4. The Dejelable Rise Of Glib
5. We Are Loosing Touch
6. The Boat Of Thoughts

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..