If you're into Space Rock, like me, one day you'll end up bumping into this band called Nektar. In my case it took a few years but I eventually got there. There are all sorts of oddities about Nektar, starting with the fact of this being a British band based in Hamburg. They were well into the German progressive scene of the day and were of one of the first bands working with Dieter Dierks, along side names like Embryo, Gila, Wallenstein and Tangerine Dream. Naturally this has lead some folk to simply classify them as a Krautrock band; a closer look reveals otherwise.
Their second LP, A Tab In The Ocean, was recorded in 1972, with Dierks already well established as a master of the Krautrock scene. It proposes a surprising and exhilarating voyage through some futuristic landscapes never explored before. All wrapped in a recording very particular of its place and place. The strident sound of the guitar and especially some drum elements may make it a though hearing for some, especially those used to Hi-Fi quality. But with some effort the melodies eventually emerge and overwhelm the listener.
A Tab In The Ocean
An epic journey through different soundscapes with beautiful alternating tempos and instrument effects. The vocals are very melodic, several times pulling the song out of instrumental chaos into comfortable territory. It's a roller-coaster of sounds that remains brilliantly coherent throughout, spanning all of the A side. It is like a sort of spring mechanism that emerges you back and forth into exhilarating melodies. This is really one of those epic pieces that cannot be described with words, only by hearing.
A gentler track that opens the B side, contrasting with the breathless pace of the opener. Desolation Valley eventually evolves into a more muscled chorus but beautifully slowly dies off into the soothing Waves, a mellow composition that makes justice to its title.
Crying In The Dark
A mellow start follows on the steps of the previous track into a less intricate melody. The organ commands this composition that is a slow build up into the closing of the LP. Roye Albrighton tries his most ambitious vocals here, and to some good effect; brilliantly, King Of Twilight arrives as a natural sequence.
King Of Twilight
A short epic piece meandering mellotron and vocals with organ and guitar in alternating tempos, reminiscent of the opening track. Although an intricate composition for Rock standards, it still creates the space for a sing-along chorus that will stick in the listener's head. It is the right closure for the album and the B side, making it feel complete in itself.
The album is only 35 minutes in extent, a short run for today's standards, but without a single second wasted; there is much more music in this LP that in most over one hour long CD released today. The end feeling is to simply press the replay button, or if you're lucky enough, to flip the disk back to side A.
A Tab In The Ocean portraits a more melodic side of Space Rock, lacking Free Jazz elements, more underpinned on the lascivious atmospheres created by the organ and the mellotron, in effect quite apart from the bare and emotionless explorations of contemporary Krautrock.
The fact is that by 1972 only Pink Floyd had achieved this level of mastery in the Space Rock genre; bands like Hawkwind or Eloy were still on the build up to their finest moments. This is the first point that make it deserve the title of a Masterpiece: it was not only the first great record engineered by Dieter Dierks, it was one of the very first Space Rock alba ever recorded, contemporary of Lonesome Crow and Doremi Fasol Latido. It presented new paths that were followed both in Britain as in Germany.
The second point that makes me call it a masterpiece is its uniqueness. The strident drumming and guitar make this LP sound clearly dated, but it ends up lending it a distinctive charm; it would be impossible to make something like it today. I'm still in doubt if the apparent low quality of the recording was really technical in nature or a mere artistic option to make it sound apart from British music, just as UFO did with Flying. The strident guitar is an hallmark of early Krautrock (Michael Schenker and Manuel Gottshing come to mind), but even their recordings sound somewhat more polished. Intentional or not this is a definitive characteristic of this record, that ends up highlighting the brilliance of the compositions, rising above all else, overcoming any possible technical shortcomings and engulfing the listener into its distant universe.
An unavoidable element in any Space Rock catalogue.