There are some bands that maintain classic status to a certain informed percentage of listeners despite almost complete anonymity elsewhere. Chicago folk-rockers H.P. Lovecraft may never have made much of a musical impact on the 1960s/1970s psychedelic rock scene, but they did manage to lay down two extraordinarily cosmic records of west coast rockers that rank up with the best the era had to offer. Their self-titled debut, released on Philips in 1967, set the scene: tight rhythm section, spaced-out guitars, whirling organ, and wide-screen vocal harmonies. Though they took their name from Edgar Allen Poe’s most worthy of successors, the mind-warping writer H.P. Lovecraft, their music itself leaned far closer to the wired, black-light anthems of bands like Jefferson Airplane and Mad River than anything overtly Gothic.
By the time that H.P. Lovecraft II hit shelves, the band had undergone a series of personnel changes and a timely relocation to Los Angeles. Though the material was immediately recognizable as being that of the same band, the jams were tighter and just that much more surreal, with a greater emphasis on experimental keyboard work (as well as a heavy new dose of reverb and tape delay). It was a clear distillation of all that the first album had promised, a kaleidoscopic refraction of the folk influences that weighed so heavily in the band’s choice of material and a closer embrasure of the spectral edge to their sound. Even when the band was not drawing inspiration directly from their namesake’s work, as in the frenetic “At the Mountains of Madness,” there was a weird edge to their lyrics that was hard to ignore. Cuts like “Electrollentando” and “Möbius Trip” were some of the most memorable compositions the band had conjured: floating, meditational heirs to the preceding album’s centerpiece, “The White Ship,” which had been the closest that Lovecraft had ever come to a charting single. Momentary detours here come in the form of the medieval folk pastiche “Blue Jack of Diamonds” – which, while not one of the group’s finest moments, manages to survive on a twist of charm and a benignly pleasant melody – and the brief-but-bizarre affected vocal collage of “Nothing’s Boy.”
After releasing H.P. Lovecraft II, the band would find itself disintegrating at the height of its powers due to band member disillusionment and differing ambitions. A false reincarnation of the band (under the abbreviated monicker Lovecraft) would release a mild slab of country rock a couple years down the line, but for a more authentic “lost third album” one should turn to the live Fillmore West recording released on compact disc in the mid nineties. Here the band’s talents shine brighter than ever as their instrumental prowess is unleashed from the restrictions of the studio. Really, though, any additions to Lovecraft’s limited catalog are welcome. If you don’t have of of this band’s recordings, do yourself a favor and remedy the situation: these are a few slabs of wax that no collection should be without.