Mike McLatchey 5-Oct-2006 Overview

Igra Staklenih Perli were a Yugoslavian psychedelic/space rock group from the late 70s who named themselves after Herman Hesse's book The Game of Glass Pearls. They were unique in that they began their explorations into the style of music in an era where popular opinion was changing from progressive and arena rock to punk and new wave, aspects that began to affect their music by the end of their career.

While the band had been around since the mid 70s, it wasn't until 1978 that the group released their first album. Featuring five tracks in just under 30 minutes, this was the sort of release that would be considered an EP in the modern age. The band's influences were quite obvious. "Putoavanje u Plavo" is so redolent of Ummagumma-era live Pink Floyd that it's practically a cover. "Pecurka" means "Mushroom," and could be a variant cover of the Can piece from Tago Mago. Even the original compositions bear these two groups as influences, and if you throw Hawkwind into the pile you can almost vividly imagine the Igra Staklenih Perli sound. Loads of effects, lots of minor second intervals and a heavy psychedelic swirl all make for a fantastic space rock album, albeit an extremely derivative one. Perhaps it's the origins of the album that make this such the hyped collector's item, but I'd like to believe that its mostly the spirit and competency. It's easily one of the best albums from the country and decade.

While Igra Staklenih Perli did not drop their overt psychedelic message for their second album, they did add some other influences to the melting pot. Vrt Svetlosti also consisted of five tracks although it was quite a bit longer than its predecessor. Igra Staklenih Perli evidently felt the effects of the current punk and new wave explosion as so many of these parts on the album lose the Hawkwind/Pink Floyd sort of feel for bouncier, straight forward rhythms. Fortunately this nod to the bouncy is not totally prevalent throughout, and there are still some nice spacey segments, although these tend to get monotonous with the excessive prevalence of a flanged string synth. It's strange, because at this point it seems like the band was beginning to create their own sound, moving away from the derivation of the first album, yet it likewise seemed to lose a bit of the heavy psychedelic luster by incorporating these influences. Whether this was a sophomore slump or their new direction in progress will never be known as the band never recorded another album, breaking up some time later.

In the 90s, a German-born label that specialized in Yugoslavian 70s psychedelic and progressive rock, Kalemegdan, made Igra Staklenih Perli their initial focus, in all releasing three archive albums of their music from the band's early years. These were largely overlooked at the time, due to the releases all being LPs in an era where the CD had already supplanted the LP as the primary media form. Thus, despite the incredible artwork and, at times, excellent music, the three Igra Staklenih Perli archives quickly disappeared into obscurity.

The first of these was entitled Soft Explosion Live which consisted of a live show recorded at Medical College, Belgrade University in 1978. The recordings mostly consist of free-form experimentation on the early Pink Floyd space rock style, with the bass fluttering amidst minor second intervals as the guitars and keys trip out on top. Much of the album is quiet and spacious, covering music from their debut album and more, capturing a strange ocurrence where the psychedelic music of the late 60s intersects with sounds of a decade later. Lots of analog effects spiral from the synthesizers to make for a heavily atmospheric music, maybe not enough to make up for the lack of interesting ideas, but a healthy dose of mind candy nonetheless.

Inner Flow was more of an archive collection than the previous release, covering music from 1976-79. The sound quality here is variable, naturally, but generally this collection catches the band in decent form and in their true psychedelic mode. Gloomy organ and lavishly effected guitar, delayed, flanged and echoed beyond convention, play over long droning psychedelic jams that know no Pink Floyd album after Meddle. The improvisational nature of the music does not lend itself, generally, to much that is memorable, but as a release documenting such a rare scene it's an interesting listen. Effects before chops really, all the reverb and echo in the world can't cover up the lack of original ideas.

Drives was the final archive release by Kalemegdan discs and surely an impressive one to end the series. Featuring two side-long pieces from the band's earliest recordings, this actually might be the best sounding archive album of the three. Here, Igra Staklenih Perli were in full-blown space rock land, with gigantic atmospheric sections full of echoing and reverbed voices, guitars, and well, everything! It's impossible yet again not to mention Pink Floyd in the same breath, as the live portion of Ummagumma, "Echoes," and Live in Pompeii all seem to portray the type of sounds the band was imitating. Perhaps it's the longer stretched-out tracks that makes this collection succeed where Inner Flow arguably didn't, as it's much easier to see the spirit of hallucination when the trances are allowed to develop longer. These long suites also include early snippets of music that would make their first album, so it's also a valuable peak into the music's evolution. Of the three archive releases, this one stands as the most impressive both sonically and musically.

Perhaps Igra Staklenih Perli's reputation has been somewhat inflated, after all, this was a band very highly derivative of psychedelic era Pink Floyd. They began stepping away from this influence as soon as their second album, yet the revival of three albums of previously unreleased material from before and around their debut release do as much to portray the band's reliance on their influence as much as document the sound. Without taking th ese into consideration, surely the first album stands as a testament to the strength of what such influences can bring to the table, while the second shows how such could be subverted for a different purpose. However, for fans of the sound, there's probably not a title you'd want to miss here.

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