I might have had an infatuation with record labels before, but not to the degree that I found a sonic home away from home that I found with El Paraiso Records. Growing up as a Midwest teen/wannabe guitar slinger I was obsessed with looking at the back of guitar magazines and eyeing over the Shrapnel Records advertisement. I’d figure out which one of those long-haired guitar wizards I’d explore next; Vinnie Moore? Tony MacAlpine? Cacophony, the guitar duo of Marty Friedman and Jason Becker? Or possible Greg Howe or Michael Lee Firkins? I checked them all out because that label had an aesthetic I dug, which was dudes playing arpeggios at break neck speed with descriptions like “Neo-Classical” reeling me in.
Of course only a handful cut the mustard, but at 14-years old it felt like an exclusive club that “got me”. Finding El Paraiso Records in 2013 gave me that feeling all over again. Except a hell of a lot less hair spray, spandex, and arpeggios(unless we’re talking analog synths.) Point I’m trying to make is that as a 40-year old middle-aged dad and husband living just above the “Bible Belt”(we’re like the “outie” protruding just above the Bible Belt) finding this amazing library of sound to explore and dig into was a goddamn revelation.
I don’t think I’ve heard an El Paraiso Records release I haven’t liked. Some may not hit like others, but it’s all great with most of it spectacular. I’m highlighting just a few this week that are on constant rotation with me, so let’s go down into the basement living room, grab a pint, eat an edible, and take the dive.
Kanaan : Windborne(2018)
The Norwegian three-piece Kanaan dropped their debut Windborne in 2018 with El Paraiso Records. A glorious, artful, and cinematic mixture of prog, fusion, and psych that elicited the feeling of nostalgia, but pin pointing influences was a fruitless endeavor. Ask Vatn Strøm(guitars), Ingvald André Vassbø(drums), and Eskild Myrvoll(bass) gave their sound an almost melancholy melodicism that most fuzzed-out psych wasn’t experimenting with. I loved the fact I could put this album on and feel as if I was hearing something quite singular and one-of-a-kind, but know these three guys probably listened to a lot of the same albums I did.
Windborne is the sound of three young-ish dudes finding their sound and doing it in a dexterous, mind-blowing way. Six tracks of absolute sonic bliss that feel raw, honest, and very much in-the-moment.
Futuropaco : Futuropaco(2018)
Justin Pinkerton’s Futuropaco project is led by his bruising, groovy drumming. He’s a drummer at heart, while playing rather fluently guitars, bass, and keys as well. But when the first track opens his Futuropaco debut it’s on a steady funky beat that then morphs into something that easily could have taken the Wayback Machine from 1967 Italy to 2018 everywhere. Synths, bass, guitars, and those oh-so funky drums groove out to the sound of Vespas racing through cobblestoned streets of mid-60s Italy as something lurid is happening just out eyesight. Touches of Italio psych and late 60s European cinema lives and breathes in Pinkerton’s Futuropaco world and I want to live in that.
Pinkerton is part of the Southern Cali psych scene, but when he records as Futuropaco it’s all Ennio Morricone, Riz Ortolani, and Walter Rizzati on an espresso/sativa binge. Heady, groovy, and focused. This record is an absolute joy from start to finish.
Fra Det Onde : Fra Det Onde featuring Emil Nikolaisen(2020)
Norway’s Fra Det Onde is pure hard bop; tight rhythm section of Olaf Olsen(drums) and Rune Nergaard(electric bass) lay down the foundational groove that allows trumpeter Erik Kimestad Pedersen to blast off into the cosmos. A kind of cosmic three-piece that locks into the DNA of hard bop and touch on the edges of avante jazz.
On their El Paraiso Records debut they give us a slice of pure, adventurous mid-60s jazz, but then sonic wizard Emil Nikolaisen(of Serena Maneesh) mixes, manipulates, and colors the proceedings with a kind of brittle, ethereal sound. The results are a jazz album unlike anything you’ve heard. These tracks jump out of the speakers and demand your attention. Nikolaisen gives these songs a kind of ‘Teo Macero on acid’ treatment and the results are stunning.
Landing : Third Sight(2016)
Landing, the Connecticut drone/experimental/ambient four-piece had been making music for quite awhile before they released the excellent Third Sight with El Paraiso Records in 2016. Part Popol Vuh, part Wooden Shjips, part stoned laser light show on the moon, Landing had been making under the radar psych ‘zone out’ albums since the late 90s. Third Sight was their 9th full-length and a culmination of everything they had learned and built up to that point.
Aaron Snow, Adrienne Snow, Daron Gardner, and John Miller made the ultimate drop out record; swaths of echoed guitar, electronics, and subtle vocals give you the feeling of floating in the cosmos. The spirit of Komische and early 90s indie rock come together beautifully here. A perfect soundtrack for melting into the cosmos to.
Part III coming up next. And maybe a talk with El Paraiso Records themselves.