Here’s a crate-digger’s wet dream, music that sounds retro-contemporary enough to be a sophisticated producer’s fiction but really is, as the title suggests, compiled from lost tapes from a communist Europe 30 years past.
Rodion G.A. was a group formed in Romania in 1975 by Rodion Roșca and band members Gicu Frca and Adrian Cpraru. The tracks compiled here were recorded between 1978 and 1983, a time of political repression under the Ceaușescu regime, and there’s a grittiness to this music that sets Radion G.A. apart from contemporaneous, and these days much better-known purveyors of psychedelic prog, early electronica and Krautrock – aspects of all of which feed into this remarkable, and instantly appealing music.
Texturally, the Rodion G.A. sound is very much a product of its time, but Rodion’s arrangements and methodologies are highly distinctive. Even with the benefit of hindsight, present-day retro pasticheurs concoct new genre blends like these only in their dreams. Here are progressive rock moves in Krautrock grooves; a raw, homespun take on analogue electronic music; and programmed rhythms with a rawness and immediacy that belies their finesse.
Strut’s press notes for The Lost Tapes give an interesting insight into Rodion’s methodology:
“Rosca improvised techniques of composing using reel to reels. Surrounded by three or four Tesla tape machines, he would record beats and guitar on one channel of the tape, then stop and add other instruments on the other. He would then use other machines to add effects and delays on both instruments and vocals. Other tools in his armoury included an East German Vermona drum machine, a toy Casio VL Tone and a small Russian organ to which he added phaser, flanger and delay pedals. For the bands’ gigs, he made his own rig with Rodion G.A.-branded speaker boxes and amps.”
Tangerine Dream and Italian horror movie soundtrackers Goblin are (simultaneously) inescapable referents, as are Kraftwerk, although a track like “Citadela” hints at sounds the latter might have made only had they not embraced their inner robot. The texture and layering of “Zephyr” suggests a Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry Kraftwerk dub—the storm fx drop-ins are a very Perry touch—though there are no dub effects per se; the analog is Perry’s and Rodion’s shared love of bold, low-fi analogue interventions.
On “Salt 83”, processed guitar anchors synth that’s just too wayward to be truly anthemic, while wordless vocals hint at the bastardised glamorama that’s to follow on the chug-along “Disco Mania”.
“Citadela” and “Zephyr” are just two among a number of tracks propelled by motorik synthesized percussion, but despite the ambition of Rodion’s productions, his band’s studio work has the immediacy of live performance: “Imagini Din Vis” rumbles along on a meaty kit drum backbeat.
Rodion G.A. sometimes seem to anticipate future trends. While aspects of “Caravane” sound similar to Pink Floyd’s “See Emily Play”, others suggest Gary Numan’s “Cars” (mind, it’s darker, weirder, and more intense than either). If you can play “Cantec Fulger” at half speed, its exposition might sound something like pre-millennial Tricky.
“In Linistea Noptii” makes for a downtempo ending to an album as rich in variety as it is in immediacy: amplifier hum and echo fx from a Rhodes glint in ambient gloaming around a neoclassical melody played on piano and sworls of synth and processed guitar.
This is rich listening. I want to hear more, but it seems there’s little else on record besides two tracks recorded for a compilation album, Romanian Rock Vol. 6, which was released on the state label Electrecord in 1981 (unsurprisingly perhaps, there’s no trace of it on Discogs). Before the group’s split in 1987, there was also an aborted animated movie OST, and an unlikely appearance on Romanian TV, for New Years Eve 1980. Scrappy YouTube videos of a recent performance in Bucharest show Rodion engaging in a Q&A session (in Hungarian, natch.) and Lost Tapes playbacks to archive film.