Archive for the ‘ Psych ’ Category

Frumious Bandersnatch “The Golden Sons of Libra”

There was so much wild music milling around California in the late sixties that sifting for the treasures can often be a tiring experience. For every Jefferson Airplane or Buffalo Springfield there were a dozen or so messy congregations of drop outs and long-hairs dashing out disharmonious noise on the streets of Berkeley. Fortunately, however, the rewards for exploring this scene in-depth can often be exciting enough to make the whole tangle worthwhile. San Francisco band Frumious Bandersnatch is one of those rewards: a strong, if not-very-well-remembered group that managed to loose one three-song EP on the world before falling apart and (rather inexplicably and unfortunately) providing the personnel for both the Steve Miller Band and Journey. The Bandersnatch recorded more than enough material for a full-length record, however, and thanks to record labels like Big Beat and Get Back, folks today can enjoy the entirety of these unearthed recordings via the posthumous compilations A Young Man’s Song and The Golden Sons of Libra.

The latter among these two collections is often considered the lesser anthology, but not having heard the former I can only say that Golden Sons is more than worth investigating. Running a strong forty-five minutes and adorned with some beautiful period-style artwork, it runs the gamut from Quicksilver flavored instrumentals to tight, fierce rock and roll barnstormers which, darker in atmosphere than your usual west coast fare, sometimes call to mind Mad River’s self-titled record. Lead guitarist David Denny is my chief reason for citing Quicksilver here, as his incisive, vibrato-soaked phrasing makes it clear that he was riding the same (high treble, sharp bite) wavelengths as the great John Cipollina. Denny may be criticized for this remarkable stylistic debt, but I would argue that the Bandersnatch’s music is all the better for it.

The opening track on Golden Sons is a strong declarative statement of intent, featuring all of the trademark elements of the Bandersnatch’s sound. The unusual bridge sections, in which the band drops down into a low bass, drum and feedback buildup, ensure the track’s memorability. The real meat of this album, however, is in it’s final sequence of extended improvisations, beginning with the funky “Cheshire” and concluding with the sizzling “Can of Bliss,” which goes from full-tilt boogie into a spastic drum solo before a low bass segment brings the band back in towards one of the most intense guitar solos on the record. Granted, these kinds of long instrumental segments may lose folks looking for concise psychedelic pop or garage (the last track is an almost entirely instrumental fifteen minutes of space age gun-slinging), but for those who appreciate these kinds of untamed musical adventures Frumious Bandersnatch does not fail to deliver.

mp3: Hearts To Cry
mp3: Chain Reaction

:D Reissue | 2002 | Get Back Records | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Cold Blood “Cold Blood”

San Francisco/East Bay area’s Cold Blood were one of the first bands of its kind, combining a smooth blend of psych, horn rock, jazz, soul, and R&B with front woman Lydia Pense’s Janis Joplin-esque vocal growlings.  People have often compared the group to the more well-known Californian outfit Tower Of Power, and with good reason.  Even so, Cold Blood have held their own ground and place in rock history, because of their energetic live shows, and the quality of material on their albums.  In 1969, Bill Graham signed the band and made them regulars at his legendary Fillmore West auditorium in San Francisco.  Their fan base quickly grew, and soon the band landed in the studio to record their eponymous debut, Cold Blood.

The album starts with the gospel-feel of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”, and has become one of my all-time favorite opening tracks of any album.  The song captures a longing for personal freedom and independence, which was a major dream for the people of the 1960’s dealing with civil rights, women’s liberation, and the Vietnam war.  Lydia Pense’s powerful and emotional vocals shine on this one, perhaps owing a bit more to Aretha Franklin than Janis Joplin.  Their rocked-up, funkier version of Sam & Dave’s “You Got Me Hummin'” could have been a huge hit single with the right promotion, and contains some VERY flashy bass work, courtesy of Rod Ellicott.  Their cover of Muddy Waters’  “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, is one of the best cover versions of the song, with the horn section just soaring, and the whole feel of the song positively oozing with passion and sexual desire.  The album ends with the semi-obscure Bobby Parker early soul classic “Watch Your Step”.  The saxophone reaches almost an other-worldly plateau, with a super funkified rhythm backing that leaves the listener with sublime aural satisfaction.

Cold Blood went through various incarnations, with several members passing away or moving on to other projects.  The band finally called it quits in the 1970s, with Lydia Pense recording solo material, and then deciding to retire from music indefinitely in the 1980s to raise her daughter.  The band reformed, have a strong cult following, and still continue to perform and wow audiences.

Cold Blood is so chocked full of great songs that it was very difficult to try and pick the “very best” to review.  Truth be told, this entire album is fantastic.  The original vinyl of the album is surprisingly easy and inexpensive to find on eBay, Discogs.com, etc.  “Oldies” label Collectibles reissued the album in 2001 as a two-album set, paired with their second album Sisyphus, which is also highly recommended.  From a personal standpoint, I’d suggest getting the original vinyl version.  It’s one of the best sounding albums, sonically, that I’ve ever owned, and is almost mandatory to crank to the highest possible volume to get the full experience.  Grab this one if you come across it.

mp3: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
mp3: Watch Your Step

:) Original | 1969 | San Francisco | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2001 | Collectables | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Soundtrack to Performance

Despite boasting a rather eclectic hodgepodge of performers, the record was all cut by Nitzsche with a steady session band built on the inimitable guitar of Ry Cooder. Despite star turns by Mick Jagger and Randy Newman, however, it may very well be that it’s the soundtrack’s production that ends up stealing the show. Weird electric hums and echoing tape loops bounce in and out of the songs tying everything together and giving even the straightest material a surreal edge. I actually find that this album is very much in the spirit of two related works cut around the same time: Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Illuminations album and Mick Jagger’s warped and surprisingly uncharacteristic soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s film Invocation For My Demon Brother.

It’s most likely Jagger’s participation which has kept this album available all these years, seeing as his one song here, “Memo From Turner,” has become something of a Stones classic. It’s a great song, but in no way overshadows the rest of the material. A young Randy Newman kicks off the record with one of his heaviest vocals on “Gone Dead Train,” which Nitzsche would later re-record on Crazy Horse’s self-titled album. Performance’s real gem, though? Merry Clayton turning in an absolute barnstormer with “Poor White Hound Dog.” This cut features my favorite example of Nitzsche’s weird electronic aesthetic, with random bursts of white noise and warbling Moog elevating the otherwise-straightforward R&B piece into something entirely unique. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s appearances here are unfortunately limited to two psychedelic mouth-bow instrumentals which, while enjoyable, aren’t much to write home about. Ry Cooder’s guitar pieces have a little more meat to them, with “Get Away” tuning in the spirit of early Captain Beefheart (on whose records Cooder, of course, contributed in a big way) and “Powis Square” highlighting the panoramic, soulful acoustic bottleneck style that would arguably culminate in his haunting score to Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas.

The oddball here is definitely the inclusion of the Last Poet’s black power anthem “Wake Up, Niggers,” an early political rap by New York’s pioneering street poets. While clearly interrupting the spectral mood of the record, this piece does nevertheless add an interesting new angle to the proceedings and help to break up the music’s intensely Nitzschean framework. The producer’s own compositions, the ethereally orchestrated “Rolls Royce and Acid” and rather beautiful piano piece “Harry Flowers,” shine a little bit of calm and meditation into the claustrophobia and are perhaps the most overtly cinematic recordings here.

Rarely does one find a rock and roll-based soundtrack that so perfectly manages to tie this kind of sweeping, emotional power with uniform listenability, and the fact that so many talented musicians managed to turn in such defining performances on this one thirty-seven minute album is a testament to the producer’s vision as well as the era from which it emerged (as Hunter S. Thompson would so famously put it, the “place where the wave finally broke and rolled back,” i.e. the end of the communal dream that was the sixties). It looks as though Performance is out of print these days in any tangible format, but besides the ever-present vinyl originals floating around out there you can pick up a digital copy without much hassle.

mp3: Gone Dead Train
mp3: Poor White Hound Dog

:) Original | 1970 | Warner Bros | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | Warner Bros | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

 

The Paupers “Ellis Island”

The Paupers don’t really need any introduction in these pages. Their debut record, Magic People, has already been discussed in an earlier review, and whatever biographical information Jason did not cover there can be found in this beautifully comprehensive history of the band over at Garage Hangover. Their 1968 swan song Ellis Island is such a unique piece of late-sixties psychedelia, however, that I think it more than deserves its own moment in the sun here on the Storm.

The opening cut here was my personal introduction to this band and it’d be hard to ask for a better first impression. “South Down Road” is a semi-orchestrated epic that rests somewhere between the West Coast rock of Quicksilver Messenger Service and early progressive rock. The dramatic arrangement, featuring buzz-saw guitar and sweeping strings, keeps this one from dissolving into monotony during any of its eight and a half minutes. The music here sounds like the hippest 1960s film soundtrack that never was. It’s a risky move to open your album with as ambitious a recording as this, but The Paupers not only make it work, but manage to draw the excitement established by this opening cut through the rest of the album without surrendering a shred of energy.

The majority of the songs on Ellis Island are in step with the sounds laid down on “Road,” featuring a good dose of fuzz-tone guitar and swelling organs. As is often the case, however, those songs which stray furthest from this pattern are some of the most interesting. The weird, affected piano ballad “Ask Her Again” is more than a little reminiscent of Van Dyke Parks’ straighter moments on Song Cycle, while “Another Man’s Hair On My Razor” is an early, tongue-in-cheek stab at country-rock. Few 1960s bands ever succeeded at doing atmospheric balladry like the Paupers do on “Oh, That She Might,” which somehow manages to incorporate delicate strings and a jazzy, night club saxophone without collapsing into affectation or period schmaltz. Perhaps the closest thing to a bum note here is the closing piece, which is in a somewhat earlier rock and roll vein and features a rather uninspired boogie-woogie piano arrangement.

Ellis Island was reissued on compact disc by Lion Records,and though it has since gone out of print, a used copy is not hard to find. In fact, original vinyl copies are surprisingly common, making this one of those rare obscurities that is both as solid as its reputation and accessible to those folks who don’t want to shell out a leg and an arm for a listen.

mp3: South Down Road
mp3: Ask Her Again

:) Original | 1968 | Verve | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2007 | Lion | buy here ]

Fire “The Magic Shoemaker”

For me the most depressing thing about today’s rock music is that so much of it exhibits such a lack of creativity or originality. If something sells, clone it, quickly. What a contrast to the late sixties, when for a brief heady spell the artists rather than the bean-counters had the whip hand and the spirit of experimentation soared over everything. Of course this produced as many heroic failures as acknowledged triumphs; Fire’s The Magic Shoemaker bombed on release, and even such retrospective reviews as it has received have frequently been ambivalent. Ah, what have we got here, then? Former psychedelic outfit moves towards progressive rock with a song-cycle that’s too lightweight plot-wise to be a concept album, too naïve and inconsequential to be a rock opera . . . hmmmm. But what is true is that it certainly represents a brave attempt to be different.

London trio Dave Lambert (vcl, gtr, keys), Dick Dufall (bs, vcl) and Bob Voice (drs, vcl) had impressed the Beatles’ Apple label sufficiently to score a deal that resulted in the classic psych A-side “Father’s Name Is Dad”. The marriage was not a happy one, though, and Fire soon found themselves at odds with the music industry at large. Retiring to the suburbs, Lambert spent a year writing and demo-ing the songs for The Magic Shoemaker, based around a whimsical children’s bedtime story in which a shoemaker cobbles together a pair of shoes that unexpectedly allow the wearer to fly. These are loaned to a king whose country is threatened with war by a neighbouring state; when the king confronts his opposite number from the sky the latter’s army are spooked and a peace treaty is forthcoming. Admittedly, it’s a slender peg to hang your creative coat on, but in its own quirky homespun fashion it works.

The premise of the album is that the narrator (Lambert, in a homely Home Counties accent) tells the story to a group of kids on a coach trip (real kids’ voices, overdubbed travel noises). Short pieces of the narrative occur between and within the songs whose lyrics broadly parallel episodes in the tale, some closely, others in more abstract fashion. Musically the songs follow a basic guitar-driven pop-rock template, varying widely in style and tempo – Tommy would undoubtedly have been an influence – with frequent psychedelic studio enhancement, particularly on the opening “Tell You A Story”, “Only A Dream” and the long instrumental coda of “Reason For Everything”. Pick of the bunch for me is “I Can See The Sky” with its raw freakbeat vibe, but they’re all quite engaging. Lambert’s lead vocal, somewhere between Daltrey and Bowie, is sometimes somewhat over-affected, but the musicianship is excellent throughout with the basic guitar trio being complemented by Lambert’s modest keyboards and plenty of top-drawer lead guitar work from himself and Velvet Opera’s Paul Brett. Future Strawbs partner Dave Cousins makes a cameo appearance on banjo on the superfluous jugband ditty “Happy Man Am I”. The production by Pye’s Ray Hammond is unsophisticated but its contemporary favouring of stereo separation and reverb suits the project and the interleaving of songs and narration is seamless.

Predictably, The Magic Shoemaker tanked well and truly on its release on Pye in 1970, being too late for psych and too lightweight for prog, and subsequently became a much-sought-after rarity until its inevitable reissue on CD. The current Sanctuary edition tailgates the original album with the A’s and B’s of both of Fire’s earlier psych singles including the indispensable “Father’s Name Is Dad” and “Treacle Toffee World”. As an interesting epilogue, after a long and successful association with Cousins in the Strawbs Lambert reformed Fire for a one-off concert in 2007, performing Shoemaker in extended form including the earlier psych sides and other unreleased songs. The gig was recorded for sound and video and subsequently released on CD by Angel Air as The Magic Shoemaker Live, receiving wide acclaim . . . which is more than the original release achieved.

mp3: Reason for Everything
mp3: I Can See the Sky

:D Reissue | 2009 | Esoteric | buy here ]
:) Original | 1970 | Pye |  search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Les Fleur De Lys “Reflections”

As Britain’s “other” major Atlantic seaport, Southampton might have been expected to produce a stream of pop and rock successes to rival Liverpool during the Golden Years, but it didn’t happen. Probably the highest-profile outfit to emerge from the south coast seaport during this period was Les Fleur De Lys, certainly the only such with a grammatically-incorrect French name. Like their near-neighbours, Brighton’s Mike Stuart Span, they enjoyed a chequered history involving half–dozen lineups, dabbling in half-a-dozen genres, sporadically releasing a dozen or so singles and finally fragmenting in frustration after half-a-dozen years (1964-1970). Again like the Span, they never contrived to issue an album in their lifetime, but the present CD is a compendium of all their  singles from their earliest Beat Boom days through their freakbeat, blue-eyed soul, harmony-pop, psychedelic and nascent prog-rock phases. Their legacy remains a handful of classic freakbeat and psych A-sides, and their other main claim to fame is as a launch pad for guitarist Bryn Haworth’s subsequent career; he would morph into perhaps Britain’s finest electric slide player and thence become a doyen of Christian rock music in which field he remains very active.

The Fleurs could in fact boast some pretty substantial musicianship throughout their various incarnations. Drummer Keith Guster, the only ever-present member, could hold down a metronomic funky beat whilst bassist Gordon Haskell, who would move on to King Crimson, had formidable rock and soul chops. Haworth’s predecessor Phil Sawyer was also a fine player in a reckless Jeff Beck style, whilst Haworth himself boasted a fluid bluesy technique and a distinctive, piercing Stratocaster/AC30 sound. They were a top live draw around Swinging London, acting as backing band live and on disc for singer Sharon Tandy and supporting such esteemed and varied visiting headliners as the Beach Boys, Isaac Hayes and Aretha Franklin. In an attempt to break through chartwise they also recorded under various pseudonyms including Shyster, Waygood Ellis, Rupert’s People and Chocolate Frog (!). Several of the early singles were produced by one Jimmy Page, no less.

The twenty-four tracks of the present compilation include the A’s and B’s of all seven singles issued under their own name, the Tandy sides and all the sides released under the fake monikers. The early Beat-era stuff and the soul-based tracks are pretty disposable; the Fleurs were no Young Rascals, nor despite the presence of a couple of competent organists in the early lineups were they anyone’s Procul Harum. However the Page-produced freakbeat cover of Pete Townshend’s “Circles” and its follow-up “Mud In Your Eye” forefront Sawyer’s fine manic lead guitar licks, whilst “Gong With The Luminous Nose” and “Liar” are fine examples of Brit psychedia and guitar-led prog respectively with Haworth’s exemplary Hendrixoid fretwork to the fore. The two Sharon Tandy sides “Hold On” and “Daughter Of The Sun” are rip-roaring rockers, with the powerful backings complementing Tandy’s steely vocal and Haskell’s bass work on “Hold On” a revelation. On the rock and pop tracks the instrumentation and vocals are more than competent but the songwriting is passable at best and sometimes mediocre. The result is a fascinating 24-track collection of historical interest to Sixties rock completists, but which would have made a really good “best of” if reduced to sixteen cuts.

Originally issued on CD by Blueprint in 1996, the present Gonzo budget reissue has the same track listing but a different cover photo. The typo-strewn track listing and historical perspective in the booklet notes are not exactly academic masterpieces, but better ones can be found.

mp3: Circles (Instant Party)
mp3: Gong with the Luminous Nose

:D Compilation | 2010 | Gonzo | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Ace of Cups “It’s Bad For You But Buy It”

San Francisco’s the Ace Of Cups deserves mention in these pages because the band occupies a singular place in rock history. It wasn’t the first all-female self-contained rock outfit to achieve public recognition; elsewhere on this site you’ll find mention of the Liverbirds, one of several all-girl groups playing their own instruments who came out of Liverpool during the British Beat Boom. But the Ace Of Cups, whose name derives from the eponymous Tarot card, is generally acknowledged as the first female rock band anywhere to truly gain the recognition of its (male) peers, and to share stages and theatres with its top-flight contemporaries. You can see the Ace playing live in the Haight in Jack O’Connell’s quasi-documentary hippie film Revolution (1968-); inter alia, they perform alongside Country Joe & The Fish, the Steve Miller Band and Quicksilver Messenger Service. And these are not just five doe-eyed, flaxen-haired hippie chicks doing it wistfully; they’re full-on female Rolling Stones wannabes, sassy, sexy and unashamedly beating seven bells out of their equipment. The excellent liner note of the present CD lists many of their other onstage and offstage companions, most notably Jimi Hendrix, Mike Bloomfield, Ralph Gleason, Jann Wenner, the Sons Of Champlin, Steppenwolf, the Band, the Dead and the Airplane. You didn’t move in much higher company than that in ’68 San Fran.

Onstage the focus was on raw excitement rather than virtuosity and the visual centrepoint was usually diminutive Denise Kaufman, sneeringly intoning the lyrics from behind an enormous Gibson Tal Farlow jazzbox or blowing a blueswailing harp. Musically the strongest areas were the muscular jazz-punk organ work of Marla Hunt – sort of Jimmy Smith meets the Mysterians ­- and the choral-quality harmony vocals of all five protagonists, stemming from a seam of gospel that ran through their otherwise British Invasion and Stax soul-influenced repertoire. Their recorded legacy rambles from the garage R’n’B of “Glue” – a witty attack on conventional society values – and “Stones” – an unabashed paean to the Rolling Ones – through the five-part acapella “Music” and a rocked-up, organ-dominated cover of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” to the pure funk-rock of “Circles” and the minor-key bluesy soul of “Simplicity”.

Notwwithstanding all of which the present CD, released in 2003, is the first time the sound of the Ace Of Cups has been available on record, and that’s because despite their celebrity around the hotspot that was the late 60’s Bay Area the Ace never managed to visit the inside of a professional recording studio. Several labels showed interest in signing them in the early days but manager Ron Polte insisted in holding out, supposedly to allow the band to develop their sound further before committing to wax, but in reality for better deals. As it turned out, he held out too long. By the time they achieved a really consistent standard around 1969 the offers were still there but at that time an almost universal condition of a contract was an undertaking to tour nationally and heavily to promote the album, and by then some band members had become mothers. The original lineup splintered soon after, quoting reluctance to take their new families on the road and disillusionment with the corruption and decay of the Haight scene. An Ace Of Cups of sorts lingered on until 1972 with revised lineups that included male players. The present CD was assembled by the Big Beat subsidiary of the UK’s estimable Ace Records from sundry demos, rehearsal room tapes and live and TV recordings by the original lineup. It has to be said that because of their sources the sound quality, and indeed the warts-and-all singing and playing, of some of the earlier tracks leaves a lot to be desired, but their historic nature and their intractable energy make them essential listening for students of the golden age of West Coast Rock. Someone out there certainly likes the Ace Of Cups, because you can find several musical photomontages, a scruffy but engaging clip from the Revolution movie and a couple of clips from Gleason’s TV documentary West Pole on YouTube.

mp3: Circles
mp3: Simplicity

:D Compilation | 2003 | Big Beat | buy it here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Music Emporium “Music Emporium”

This 1969 West Coast Rock curio by a little-known LA combo exudes novelty well beyond its appalling band name and its trashy cod-psych cover art. With three out of four musicians classically-trained and featuring an all-female rhythm section, the outfit’s claimed influences ranged from Iron Butterfly to the Carpenters, with members of both of whom they were on first-name terms.

Bill Cosby (no relation) was a five-time all-USA accordion champion, classical organist and UCLA music major whose preferred rock tool was a mega-cheap Italian Galanti GEM organ amplified through two massive Vox Super Beatle rigs. Diminutive Dora Wahl, also originally an accordionist, switched to percussion to join her elementary school band and by ’69 bestraddled a huge double-bass-drum kit in emulation of her hero, Ginger Baker. Carolyn Lee had played orchestral double bass from childhood and sang in choirs and acapella groups before being seduced by pop music and taking up electric bass guitar. Only guitarist Dave Padwin was an unschooled player, but his fluid, instinctive technique and extensive beat group experience won him the audition. Changing their moniker from the rather doomy Cage to the more psych-twee Music Emporium, the four performed around SoCal at weddings, barmitzvahs, high school hops, beach parties and anywhere else they could score a gig, confusing promoters and audiences alike with their unusual combination of clean-cut appearance, classical/folk/acid-rock fusion and unexpectedly high volume. The album was recorded in a couple of clandestine overnight sessions at Sunset Studios and then remixed with new vocals by an ex-Liberty employee just starting his own local label. The money saved on recording went on the tacky but elaborate die-cut cover through whose “windows” the portraits on the inner sleeve photo peeped out.

The defining sounds of the album are undoubtedly Cosby’s organ and the collective vocals. The GEM as recorded has a reedy, piercing power only approached by Frank Rodriguez of the Mysterians, though Cosby’s classical chops take it way beyond the realm of garage R’n’B. All except Wahl take lead vocals, though only Lee is by any means a polished singer; however, when their voices meld, the confident, slightly atonal harmonies are as effective and distinctive as the Airplane’s. Kicking off with “Nam Myo Renge Kyo”, which mutates from a garage-band romp into a Buddhist chant, the material ranges widely from the dreamy folky excursion of “Velvet Sunsets” and the almost country-rock “Times Like This” with its unexpected piano licks through the shamelessly Bach-inflected “Prelude” to “Winds Have Change”, whose soft harmonies and pulsating guitar work suggest early Moody Blues, and the uncompromising riffs, thundering drums and downright punk vocal of “Sun Never Shines”, the album’s most forthright track. Whilst unashamedly forefronting the musicians’ considerable skills, all the songs are rendered collaboratively and concisely with relatively few and short solos, only the proto-prog mini-suite “Cage” breaching the four-minute barrier. The Sundazed CD reissue also includes five of the same tracks in instrumental form, giving the opportunity to hear how deliberately and delicately the backings were constructed.

An initial pressing of just 300 copies and zilch press or radio exposure guaranteed the album’s rarity, because the Draft Board got Cosby’s number soon afterwards; unlike many of his compatriots he eschewed the Toronto option and elected to serve, and the band promptly broke up. Various crappy bootlegs of their sole waxing surfaced before Sundazed got hold of the master tapes for the definitive CD reissue in 2001. On this Bob Irwin’s remastering is excellent and the insert booklet offers a fine account of the band’s genesis and the making of the album, including touching personal updates by all four members: Padwin became a press photographer, Lee returned to orchestral work, Wahl became a teacher and Cosby served 17 years as Instructor of Cadet Music at West Point.

mp3: Prelude
mp3: Winds Have Changed

:) Original | Sentinal | 1969 | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | Sundazed | 2001 | buy ]

Los Jaivas “La Ventana”

To the average Chilean, writing an article about Los Jaivas’ 1972 sophomore record La Ventana may very well read like beating a dead horse. Indeed, there is perhaps no single band here in Chile which has become more representative of Chilean culture and patria than this psychedelic folk-rock ensemble, and no song more universally known than their anthem of popular unity and brotherhood, “Todos Juntos.” Though the band was born from the great social and political revolutions of the early 1970s, they are today accepted even by the more conservatively minded members of the populace as, at the very least, an established symbol of Chile’s national artistic identity.

Los Jaivas were born in the heart of Viña del Mar, a bustling coastal city resting against the northern border of the port of Valparaíso, itself one of Chile’s principal seaports and cultural centers. Though the concept of combining late-1960s rock and roll with traditional Chilean folk music may not seem so novel today, at the time there was a strong gap between the folksingers and the mainstream rock and roll youth crowd. Like everything in Chile, this was a conflict born out of radical politics and social consciousness as the country tried to break the stranglehold countries like the United States and Britain had on its economic and cultural life. Los Jaivas refused to accept this unnecessary barrier between musics, however, recognizing both the radical consciousness and importance of their country’s folkloric movement as well as the raw excitement and appeal of the burgeoning psychedelic rock scene.

Out of this set-up comes La Ventana, the band’s second record and the first one to really put the band on the map. Whereas their debut, El Volantín, had read like a highly improvised experiment, this sophomore release sharpened the focus of the band’s attack while retaining the weird, lysergic edge that made their instrumental excursions so engaging. The band’s fight to draw the threads of Chilean music together was strengthened by the participation of Patricio Castillo and Julio Numhauser, former members of the revolutionary Nueva Canción ensemble Quilapayún, then working in their own way to help build Chilean folk-rock as Los Amerindios. The sound here is a beautifully dovetailing blend of heavy, early 1970s psychedelia and northern altiplano folk, featuring searing electric guitars over a bed of charangos and quenas. The album is divided more or less evenly between vocal and instrumental numbers, with Side B built upon a series of percussion-heavy improvisations. The one exception to this divide is “Los Caminos Que Se Abren,” a pounding, nine-and-a-half minute Krautrock stomp with discordant piano and wandering guitars which dominates the first half of the album. Near its droning finale this bizarre number actually goes so far as to bring in an orchestra and sawing violin solo, all of which serve to darken rather than lighten the cut’s surreal intensity. Calmer moments include the preceding track, the popular ballad “Mira Niñita,” which opens with an arpeggio of gently strung-together acoustic guitar and marimba before eventually building to its own high peak of pounding drums and piano. “Ayer Caché” takes coastal Iberian influences and throws in lazy, reverb-drenched surf guitars – an absolutely pitch-perfect slice of coastal, South American daydream, though also a little out-of-place in the context of the rest of the record, especially when it is followed by one of the album’s heaviest rockers.

Following the success of the song “Todos Juntos” La Ventana was reissued under the same name with new album artwork adhering to the progressive rock aesthetics that the band began to take on in the later seventies. The record is widely available in Chile and neighboring countries, but somewhat more difficult to come by north of the equator. Import Chilean copies include several bonus tracks that, while not essential, help to expand the album’s artistic scope and give further testimony to the group’s ground-breaking work during this era.

mp3: Todos Juntos
mp3: Indio Hermano

:) CD Reissue | Ans Records | buy here ]

Groep 1850 “Agemo’s Trip to Mother Earth”

It’s finding rare gems like this that makes trudging through the dross in charity shop CD racks so addictive. I stumbled with fascination upon Agemo’s Trip To Mother Earth with its blurry, greyish cover photo depicting a large group of hippie folk of various ages. At first I thought it was by some retro psych outfit from the 90s, but a little research online revealed Groep 1850 to be a genuine 1960s psychedelic rock band from the Netherlands. Originally founded in 1964 as R’n’B group the Klits – being an abbreviation of “Klitoris”, meaning exactly what you think it means – they changed their name to Groep 1850 – “Groep” for “group”, “1850” not explained – and, following several stylish freakbeat and psychedelic singles, released their debut album on Philips in 1968.

Lyrically based around the hippie-dippy saga of Agemo, son of Dog from the Nirvana-like planet Irotas, who visits Earth to experience the urban paranoia and depravity of modern life, the album’s musical motifs draw shamelessly on Saucerful Of Secrets-era Pink Floyd but also evince a powerful West Coast acid rock influence. There is too a healthy dose of humour not present in either the Floyd’s straightlaced presentation or the similarly unsmiling Californian product, exacerbated by the band’s singing in strongly accented English with occasional Dutch interjections; clearly evident is the combination of instrumental virtuosity and vocal weirdness that would produce commercial success for their compatriots Focus a few years later. Peter Sjardin’s keyboard work is workmanlike and mostly mixed well back, but the lead guitar of Daniël van Bergen is unique and strongly forefronted, with penchants for atonality and sustain. Beer Klasse’s trapwork is also excellent, being simultaneously duck’s-arse-tight and jazzily freeform. The production by Hans van Hemert is splendidly sympathetic to the band’s psychedelic direction, with heavily treated vocals, sound effects, found sounds, phasing, stereo panning and all the tricks of the studio wholeheartedly employed.

An introductory metallic racket gives way to the acid-pop of opener “Steel Sings” as hard guitar chords and flying-saucer electronic bleeps announce Agemo’s arrival on Earth. “Little Fly” is heralded by the groan of an ancient door’s hinges and a female voice intones a brief litany before thudding drums, oriental Hammond licks and coruscating guitar frame the song’s stately harmony vocals. “You Did It Too Hard” is a brief nonsense item with a cheerful riff and honking saxes giving way to a gibberish dialogue by gnomish voices. The closing “Refound” and “Reborn” form a two-piece suite in a soft, hallucinogenic vein reminiscent of the Floyd’s “Cirrus Minor” with acoustic guitars and flutes accompanying the dreamy harmonised voices. The undoubted high spot is the astonishing procession of sounds that makes up the thirteen-minute full-blown musical acid trip “I Put My Hands On Your Shoulder”, including infinitely sustained guitar, crazy, reverbed harmonica, swooping keyboard expeditions and a disembodied, demented bilingual dialogue over a stuttering, heavily flanged drum solo before ending with a clap of thunder – a wigged-out mess that really works.

The album was released in Northern Europe and the UK (anglicised as Group 1850), but it barely sold at home and tanked totally everywhere else. Somehow they managed to cobble together a second studio collection, Paradise Now, more progressive and doomy but quality-wise as good as Agemo, plus a live set, but these sadly went the same way. Sjardin struggled on with different lineups until 1975, releasing a couple more albums in a jazz-rock vein before bowing to the inevitable. There’s not a huge amount of information about Groep 1850 out in cyberspace but a good critical discography can be found here.

Belatedly recognised as a European psych landmark, Agemo has had three CD reissues, the latest a 2002 budget offering on the Rotation imprint which appears to be a legit license. As well as Agemo’s seven songs this offers nine excellent pre-Agemo bonus tracks including the brilliantly absurd “Mother No-Head”, built around the melody of “Frère Jacques” and provided with alternative English and French lyrics. Oh, and that blurry album cover? It was originally offered in 3-D, with a free pair of 3-D specs thrown in. Sadly the reissue doesn’t reproduce that imaginative feature.

mp3: Little Fly
mp3: You Did It Too Hard

:) Original | 1968 | Philips | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2002 | Rotation | buy here ]