This should surprise exactly none of you, but I am fascinated by records that propose to take the listener on a global journey, to arrange exotic locations along an exhibitionary order and then take you to those places via audio-voyage and armchair travel. I love it when exotica records do it, obviously, and there's a uniquely delicious imperial flavor when library LPs go for it. But oh the synth and e-music albums offer a nebulous delight as well; generally less dependent on intentionally exoticizing elements, synth records come at the third world/ancient world/exotic other with a sort of New Age optimism combined with alien remove. It's a strange and strangely winning combo, one we find in a lot of 70's/80's synth and new age music, particularly Dieter Schutz, Deuter, or Edgar Froese's solo albums Ages and the sublime Epsilon in Malaysian Pale. But nowhere is it better exemplified than in the career of Peru, an offshoot of the Dutch band Nova.
(I know I've covered some of these albums before, but bear with me as I go over them again.)
Peru's Continents (1983) is one of my favorite albums of synth-travelogue and electro-exoticism, taking the listener as it does to various points of the globe (mainly Africa and the "Orient"). As though via spaceship, Continents looks down at the landscape, occasionally even touches down, but never really seems to leave the ship. Maybe it's all taking place in a simulator bay. Textual analysis aside, it's also just excellent electronic music, just on the right side of pop without falling too deep in cheese; very sparse and austere in a majestic way but still extremely inviting. Its goal is pleasure and universalism, without a doubt, not the mind-fuck of the electronic avant garde, and it pursues its goal much in the way of late or mid-period Tangerine Dream or Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygene, with emphasis on accessible and evocative melodic structure, pulsing sequencers, and huge embryonic oceans of soundscape. Especially transportive is "Savane" (with its artificial bird and elephant calls), and the following track, the superb "Africa."
Predating Continents, Peru debuted (originally as a more "serious" offshoot of the more populist Nova) with 1981's Macchu Picchu, another exotic-leaning effort which seems to have set the standard of geographical synth-sploration that came to define the majority of Peru's output. Macchu Picchu is a real delight, the most spare and mythic sounding work of the whole ouvre. Side one is a bit of a grab bag: opening with the minimal and avian-themed "Voliere," it transitions with an aquatic wash into "Draailierswals" (or "Hurdy-Gurdy Waltz"), then to "Sons of Dawn," which opens with the intonation: "We are the Sons of Dawn. We come from a star system you haven't spotted yet. We are programmed to entertain you with music from our minds...." and continues on in a ufology-inspired alien-messiah manner, then opens up to an almost goofily optimistic instrumental (Nova actually used this one for the basis of their own hit, "Aurora"). Side two is where it gets primeval and exotic: a three-part suite, possibly concerning Ufology and intergalactic intervention in relation to the Peruvian site of Macchu Picchu (if I were to extrapolate based on the info at hand, that's what I imagine). This material is really wonderful, heavy and haunting in a manner similar to some of the best Tangerine Dream (albeit with a much, much thinner sound). I love this record; the original cover (pictured above) is so amazing to me.
MACCHU PICCHU (256)
Peru followed with 1982's Constellations, a much more cosmic-themed record that nonetheless hints at taking the listener on a journey of sorts to a sampling of various points– this time, in the night sky. It's not as though each track is named after a constellation, however, or intended to evoke the essence of their symbolic avatars (and it's not an astrology-themed record, thank heavens). Constellations is interested in more impressionistic responses to star-gazing (or perhaps star-travel, who knows), with titles such as "Déjà Vu" and " Out Of Time." A bit fuller and darker in sound, it's also dizzyingly, almost plagiaristically close to the Oxygene sound (except for the motorik warp-drive of the title track), but in a good way. One of the truly great space records, with undertones of a cosmic travelogue.
Peru followed Continents three years later with another geographical odyssey, Points of the Compass. It continues its predecessor's aesthetic by edging a little further into various borderline-cheesy sound effects and settings, but ultimately to wonderful effect. It's also committed to conveying the listener on a virtual voyage to the titular points of the compass, including both a "West Mountain" and "East Mountain," "Black Desert," "Northern Lights" and "China Town." The latter is a highlight of the record and a particularly enjoyable bit of synth-chinoiserie; endlessly more essentialized than something like the very similar China by Vangelis but nonetheless delightful. Another highlight is the epic title track.
POINTS OF THE COMPASS (256)
1988 found Peru holding it down fairly well, with the release of Forlian. The compositions are consistently pretty good and very much of a piece with the earlier work, even as they incorporate an ever-broadening palette of sounds, including the occasional wordless vocal. I'm not sure what I'm missing in the title and cover art (I have no idea what either the word or the image might mean), but the theme of travel is once again the driving force of the record. "Iceland" is cold and stern but bubbling with life, "Whales" is a tad bombastic and heroic like a chopper shot of a pod from above, "East and West" is just classic sequencer-heavy stuff, and "Journey Through the Land" is a lot like one of those misty Vangelis epics.
Also in '88, Peru released "Africa" as a single and had some success with it. The release has three versions of the track, none of which is dramatically different from the original (except that they're a lot shorter). Still, it was a great track and the single has an enchanting cover.
Peru did make two more albums, 1991's Moon and 1993's The Prophecies. The latter loses me quite a bit, but isn't wholly without merit (it is way into the 90's club sound though). Moon is actually pretty decent, managing to hold on to much of that early 80's sound even at the dawn of the 90's; it also maintains the travel aesthetic. The track "Peruviana" has a lot going for it, as does "Jules Verne" and "China 2000." Still, a great deal of it starts to seem silly, particularly with the overuse of gated drums, and a general decline in quality of composition. These can both be found over at Synthesized & Electronic, which is also where I found several of the others here (along with The Growing Bin). There's not much of a commenting culture over there, but if the spirit moves you to thank the S&E blogmaster it wouldn't be a bad idea. Definitely poke around, maybe grab some Nova records.