Imagine yourself stranded in a desolate spaceship, looking down the long hallway of a metallic gray corridor. Five doors on each side surround you, and in order to escape this spaceship and find your way back to safety, you have to go through each door in order to find the exit. Some of the doors are locked, some of them aren’t locked but won’t budge, and only two of the doors will open.
Now let’s imagine that you’re not keen on leaving yet. You have to find a crew to get to the hangar bay and man a smaller ship in order to escape. And this crew will consist of several smart and capable space explorers. You’ll have to arm yourselves with laser weaponry and the best spacesuits you can find on the ship. But there’s a twist; the laser weaponry is powered by instruments, and only the best progressive musicians could power these reverse-archaic devices. Need to break down a metal door that won’t budge? Get the best synthesizer/bassist or drummer to play their instrument so hard that the door gets shot all the way to the other side of the room. Need to pick the lock on one of the doors? Get an electric mandolin player, electric violinist or keyboardist to laser their way through the advanced locking mechanisms on the door.
This spaceship scenario sums up FM’s 1978 release Direct to Disc. While there are brief bits of vocals, the album is mostly an experimental collage of instruments. It’s as if each instrument is talking to each other on both fifteen minute tracks of the album, “Headroom” and “Border Crossing”, eager to work together and escape the rusting spaceship. Keyboards and synthesizers, played by Cameron Hawkins, range from rhythmic time machines to heavenly string warps to melodic wormholes, interchanging their mission within the context of each song. Unless the instrumentation credit is also wrong, there is no guitarist. In fact, the stringed player, Ben Mink, plays a swaying electric violin and an impressive electric mandolin performance for the album, although for the era where this album came from, it makes sense that FM would try to push experimentation, which each song consists of throughout.
While the synthesizers and bass interchange duties in terms of rhythmic functions, the bass parts often take charge of both the rhythm and chords played underneath, especially a few minutes after the intro to “Headroom”. Since there is no guitar on the record (again, just electric mandolin), the primary lead instrument is the electric violin and, interestingly enough, the drums. Yes, there are several minutes of each song completely devoted to drum fills and solos, where the other instruments fade out and give Martin Deller his dues, who I would argue is on par, if not better than, Neil Peart in terms of style and identity. There are even bongos and congas on the first track, displaying a diverse range of influences with world music elements also on the album short in track listing but not in minutes of wild progressive rock adventures and the like.
Overall, if you were aboard a spacecraft and could only utilize a crew of experimental and virtuoso musicians to run your ship, this album would be your soundtrack and these musicians would be your engineers, scientists, and escape aficionados. You’d be off the ship in no time blasting through the cosmos! Enjoy the ride!