28 February 2007
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5
The High Llamas, which is basically short hand for producer/songwriter/vocalist Sean O'Hagan, have spent the last 15 years mostly recreating Brian Wilson's 1966-1969 sound (along with a touch of Steely Dan and electronic hints from their sibling band, Stereolab). O'Hagan is a pro at this style of production, and in fact has been consistantly pumping out quality product longer than Wilson himself ever managed. The problems have always been with the songwriting, which is nowhere near the levels of someone like Wilson or Steely Dan's Donald Fagan, and O'Hagan's voice, which is sort of a weak, reedy instrument.
Can Cladders, which is the first new Llamas disc in four years, fortunately takes steps to remedy both of these problems. Although the band started strong on Santa Barbara and Gideon Gaye, later 90's albums like Hawaii and Cold And Bouncy had a distinct focus on the instrumental production sound, and the songs seemed more like afterthoughts. 1999's Snowbug and 2003's Beet, Corn, And Maize tried to be more song-oriented, but just ended up kind of boring (I could never actually pay attention to Beet, Corn, and Maize). Buzzle Bee found a good balance, although it skimped on the string arrangements, but the new album is an improvement over even that disc. Can Cladders ties all the loose ends together and is the Llamas' best album.
O'Hagan will probably never be an A-list songwriter, but there are some catchy tunes here to match the gorgeous production. Songs like "The Old Spring Town," "Winter Day," "Honeytrop," and the title track have all been bouncing around in my head for the past few weeks. Previous Llamas maybe had only one or two songs to accomplish this feat. The instrumental tracks have been reduced here to three one-minute pleasant diversions as opposed to major album features. Long-time string arranger Marcus Holdaway also hits a home run here, as his creative string arrangements perfectly compliment the songs, and I think are in fact superior to those of his late-60's sunshine pop predecessors.
Lyrically, the album is about average. O'Hagan is fixated on surreal travelogues and Americana. He wants to be Smile-era Van Dyke Parks, but never achieves that level of wordplay. It's not really a problem though as folks don't really listen to this stuff for the lyrics, and they are much better than most of the Beach Boys' lyrics (Parks nonwithstanding).
The weak singing problem still remains. Although the melodies are much stronger, O'Hagan still sounds weak. But there are steps towards improvement. I imagine that he is fully aware of his own voice as most of the tracks are lathered with layers of female backing vocals and sometimes even lead lines. O'Hagan has long borrowed electronic sounds from Stereolab, but on Can Cladders he is also following through with the vocal sound (and I guess the Free Design too).
The High Llamas have always been a band better in theory than actual sound and listening enjoyment. I held off a little on buying this album because of this, but Can Cladders is in fact the first disc to really live up to the band's potential. It's a little surprising for a band to reach their peak this late in the game, but Sean O'Hagan has managed this, and I'm excited to hear the next album (which hopefully will not take another four years).
The High Llamas - Can Cladders
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5
Gruff Rhys is the frontman for modern psych-popsters, the Super Furry Animals. This, his second solo album, is far more than a typical side project and actually features a sound notably different from his day job. Candylion is sort of a psych-folk project highlighted by some bubbling electronics and beats along with some electric guitar leads. There is also a pronounced Cambridge style influence (think Kevin Ayers) that is usually missing in the Super Furries catalog.
The album starts out with the aptly titled "This Is Only The Beginning" which is akin to the introduction tracks that tend to start off hip-hop albums. I find it a little disappointing as the track ends with a synth riff that I would have loved to have heard developed into a full song.
The song "Candylion" establishes the basic sound of the album with it's hazy folkish sound and surreal lyrics. Although very consistant in quality, the album suffers in that the style never strays too far away from this basic sound.
The songwriting is almost always fine ("Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru" leaves me a little cold), but the production, though sounding very hazily cool, eventually ends up also sounding very samey. Still, "The Court Of King Arthur," "Cycle Of Violence," and "Painting People Blue" are all great songs that establish Rhys as a strong solo creative force.
The Super Furries last album, Love Kraft, was partially recorded in Brazil, as were portions of Candylion. I was disappointed that the Brazillian influences didn't really seem to show through on Love Kraft. Fortunately, there is a little more to chew on. "Lonesome Words" and "Cycle Of Violence" in particular both have an awesome percussive bed as their foundation that evokes Brazillian percussion (even though it's basically the same percussive bed).
Unlike Rhys first solo album, Candylion is mostly sung in English. There is still one song sung in Rhys native Welsh, and a Spanish language track. Although Rhys lyrics are often surreal and interesting, his voice is his main asset and he seems to do well singing in any language.
Candylion ends with the 14 minute long "Skylon!," which is the detailed story of an airline hijacking. It sort of evokes Bob Dylan's long story songs, and the focus here is very much on the lyrics. In fact, the main riff and beat really doesn't change over the 14 minutes, and the song relies on sound effects, trippy overdubs, and additional percussion to remain musically interesting.
Although far from perfect, Candylion is a worthwhile detour from the Super Furry Animals more plugged-in sound. Although my quality rating here is a 3.5, I think that Candylion serves up an extremely smooth listening experience, and has ended up being played on my various sound systems more than some theoretically better albums. The cover art also makes me strangely happy.
Gruff Rhys - Candylion
18 February 2007
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5
On Easter Everywhere, the 13th Floor Elevators managed to refine their sound without sacrificing the things that made their first album so great. Roky Erickson still sounds like a madman, but here he also comes across as much more intelligent and focused. Additionally, while still a little on the low-fi side, the production of Easter Everywhere is much clearer and helps to accent the band's interplay (although the rhythm section on this album is different from the first).
Although they still qualify as garage rockers, the 13th Floor Elevators have a much more noticable folk rock sheen on Easter Everywhere. They even go as far as to include a damn good Dylan cover with "Baby Blue." On "Slide Machine," "Nobody To Love," "Dust," and "I Had To Tell You," the Elevators find a happy middle ground somewhere between the Byrds crystaline sound and Forever Changes-era Love. Fortunately for the garage rock afficianado, the Elevators pull out on the stops on "She Lives (In A Time Of Her Own),"Earthquake," and "Levitation." These helps to give Easter Everywhere a lot of diversity and make it ain interesting listen from beginning to end.
Easter Everywhere provides plenty of improvements over the first LP. Tommy Hall's jug can no longer coast as a strange novelty. It appears less often on Easter Everywhere, but when it is present serves more to create an distinct atmosphere. For me it's like quantum jitters in the typical tapestry of rock music. Stacy Sutherland leaps over his already strong playing on The Psychedelic Sounds Of... His solo on "Step Inside This House" manages to inspire awe and his accompanyment on many of the tracks, especially on "Baby Blue," is graceful and impressive. He is not a flashy guitarist at all, but extremely tasteful and Sutherland always seems to choose just the right notes.
The lyrics are also much better on Easter Everywhere. Hall takes on the lion's shares of the lyrics, and while his worldview is certainly demented, he successfully sidesteps most psychedelic cliches and gives the listener something unique. It doesn't hurt that Erickson's all-for-broke singing usually complements Hall's vision perfectly. This synergy is best sampled on the opening track "Step Inside This House." It rarely makes logical sense, but it's never less than riveting.
The only misstep on Easter Everywhere is the closing track "Postures (Leave Your Body Behind)." While not a terrible mistake by any means, it does overstay its welcome at six-and-a-half minutes. I guess the Elevators had already spent their long-form song capital on "Step Inside This House," which may even be too short at eight minutes.
Like The Psychedelic Sounds Of..., the 2005 Charly CD reissue of Easter Everywhere gives us ten bonus tracks. The ones here are fortunately of significantly more value. There are eight live tracks, but this time they are of original compositions from The Psychedelic Sounds Of... instead of rock covers that every band played in the mid 60's. The sound quality is not bad at all (although you still need the 1st album), and it's cool to hear the band really rip into their own stuff in a live setting. It's certainly better than the band's so-called "live" album, which is actually just studio outtakes with overdubbed crowd noise (these mp3s are included with the first album at Dr. Schluss). As for the other two bonus tracks, an instrumental take of "Levitation" is basically filler, but we get an entertaining studio outtake called "I Don't Ever Want To Come Down" that actually comes from the sessions for the band's next album.
Easter Everywhere and The Psychedelic Sounds Of... basically comprise the 13th Floor Elevator's essential catalog. The "live" album is not as advertised and not recommended. There is also a metaphoric pantload of studio alternate takes and other live tracks on a string of compilations only recommended for those completely obsessed with the 13th Floor Elevators. The final studio album, Bull Of The Woods, is missing Hall's electric jug, and his presence as lyricist is much less. Even worse, Erickson's drug use landed him in several kinds of institutions and he is mostly absent from the album. That said, he is fully present for a mysterious and great take on "May The Circle Be Unbroken." This means the band is mostly dependent on Sutherland. He took on the challenge respectably with increased songwriting and great guitar playing, but it's still just not the same as the magical first two albums.
13th Floor Elevators- Easter Everywhere
Trip-O-Meter- 3.75 out of 5
Although the San Francisco, Los Angeles and Carnaby Street psychedelic scenes of the 60's are well documented and revered, some of the also-enviable microscenes are left out in the cold. Chief among these is the Austin, Texas scene from which sprouted a just-starting-out Janis Joplin, the Red Crayola, and the infamous 13th Floor Elevators.
Although a proper band, the most notorious member of these garage-psyche rockers is Roky Erickson, sometimes regarded as America's own analog to Syd Barrett. Like Barrett, Erickson shined with the band for a few albums before embarking on a fractured solo career. Fortunately for Erickson, despite his questionable grasp on sanity, he continues to occasionally pop up to make music to this day. Even better, Erickson possesses perhaps the finest voice ever heard in garage-psyche, a wildman yelp that whcih always sounds obssessed, and manages to make even more half-baked sounds worthy. On the album in question, Erickson is at his finest.
But the 13th Floor Elevators were not a one trick pony. Lyricist Tommy Hall wanted to double as a true member of the band and brought in something called the electric jug. It produces a truly odd, bubbly sound that permeates most of the band's songs. In full disclosure, you'll either love it or hate it, and if you hate it, it will be difficult to get into this band. The real secret weapon here, however, is lead guitarist Stacy Sutherland. His winding and often stately leads compare favorably with even such notables as Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane.
The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators is often cited as the first psychedelic album. Although that's more than up for debate, I do believe it was the first album to actively use the word "psychedelic." The still eye-catching sleeve was definately among the first of its kind.
The Elevators seeked to expand their music making into a strange, acid-drenched form of philosophy. Judging by the rantings on the back cover of the record jacket, they didn't really think out this philosophy, but it does seem to bring a certain level of conviction to the music. It also makes the lyrics a notch above the norm of most of the band's contemporaries. Even when they don't make sense, they seem to being saying more than just the typical boy-meets(or loses)-girl love songs.
Leading off the album is what I consider one of the best rock songs ever, "You're Gonna Miss Me." At heart the tune is a typical mid 60's stomper, but with the electric jug wildly perculating and Erickson sounding truly possessed, the whole track turns to gold. Soon the Elevators start to bring out the truly psychedelic riffs. "Roller Coaster" provides a trance-like guitar part that eventually erupts into a rave-up that rivals those of The Yardbirds. Later we hear a speaker-busting bassline that can consume your mind on "Reverberation (Doubt)." Although arguably at their best on the full-blast psych-rockers on this album, the Elevators churn out some more-than-respectable folk-psych ballads on "Splash 1," "Don't Fall Down," and "You Don't Know." These tracks hint at the path that the band would follow on their next album Easter Everywhere.
The chief problem on The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators is the often-muddy production. I'd imagine that the culprit for this is the recording budget rather than the band or producer Leland Rogers (Kenny's brother!). Still, it makes obtaining a copy of this album worth a little research. There's a 180-gram vinyl pressing that manages to sound pretty good. I'm sitting with a 2005 Charly Records CD, which is my 3rd CD copy of this disc, and the first to remove some of the gauze from the sound. Even on this remastered disc, it's a primitive sounding recording and requires the listener to have some appreciation for lo-fi.
The Charly CD includes 10 bonus tracks that are enjoyable, but are no more than a supplement to the album. First we get several live tracks of rock standards ("Before You Accuse Me," "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," "You Really Got Me," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Gloria," and "The Word") that are sort of a history lesson. Very few bands could get away with playing all originals in 1966, and playing these tunes were the 13th Floor Elevators' bread and butter on the ballroom circuit. We also get an early version of "She Lives (In A Time Of Her Own)," which later appears on Easter Everywhere, and a single from Erickson's previous band, The Spades. On the single we hear an early, straight-faced version of "You're Gonna Miss Me," which manages to bring into relief exactly what the Elevators brought to the song to make it truly great.
The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators
13 February 2007
This is what complete insanity looks like; at least in movie form. Although produced in the 70's, "Psyched By The 4-D Witch" resurfaced on a DVD from Something Weird video a few years back. Unleashing this film to the unwitting public may be tantamount to selling crack to kindergardeners. It's a depraved tour-de-force of exploitation and psychedelia in the not-so-sure hands of its twisted director, Victor Luminera. As this film is his only credit, I imagine that his follow-up to this must have been some sort of bad trip extravaganza in the local gutter. It's the only real way to follow this spectacle.
The story involves Cindy, a college freshmen exploring witchcraft... (dramatic pause) sexual witchcraft! With the help of her supposed ancestor, communicating from the astral plain, Cindy begins a series of warped sexual exploits, all while "remaining a virgin for her daddy" (I'm not riffing here, this is what the film tells us). Eventually things turn sour and bring in Cindy's innocent older brother as a transformed "sex vampire," thus living up to the psyching promised in the film's title.
Now, this all sounds like a soft core 70's porn, and I imagine that this may have been the intended audience. Through the twisted direction of Luminera, however, the final result is quite different.
First off, much of the film is shot in "transetheric vision," which appears to be shorthand for using every cheap psychedelic camera trick in the book. This refers of course to the film shot for the movie, as I think around 50% percent of this demented journey appears to be stock footage. But even some of that seems to have been tweeked in one way or another. We see interdimensional multi-coloured cars passing through each other, and some completely indecipherable images from the astral plane. Due to the age of the film, a lot of these effects now sport a reddish color.
As this was shot on a Z-grade budget, there is no actual dialog in the film. Cindy narrates with her sweet All-American tone as she details the sordid world of sexual witchcraft. After the first 15 minutes, her occasional obscinities are strangely edited (I don't think it's possible to edit this one for the kids). We also hear a bit of disembodied narration from Cindy's brother and the "gay" neighbor next door, who should offend, well... everyone. Most of the soundtrack music is comprised of stock classical recordings and a touch of Pink Floyd that probably came from Mr. Luminera's personal "stash."
There is one major exception to the soundtrack. Composed especially for the film is the titular track played by a non-descript garage-psyche band and sung by some guy known only as Johnny-By-The-Spot. Actually, I should give a little more credit the band. They don't have much skill or talent, but they're really playing their balls off and show absolutely no restraint whatsoever. Over this, Mr. By-The-Spot bellows out lines such as "Beware of the 4-D witch, beware/She's in your mind, she's everywhere/Born in the belly of the Devil's bitch/Beware of the 4-D witch." The song appears about every ten minutes or so, and is a good sign that the proceedings are about to become even more demented. It's also a horribly catchy little tune that should pop up in your head at inappropriate times in the future.
"Psyched By The 4-D Witch" is certainly not for everyone. It is terribly offensive, and poorly made. Still, for those willing to dive in, it is a masterpiece of trash culture. Everything here seems tailor made for maximum strangeness and I'd personally love to catch this one as a midnight movie somewhere.
The Something Weird disc actually contains "Psyched By The 4-D Witch" as a second feature. The top billed "Monster A-Go-Go" is directed by the legendary Herschell Gordon Lewis, but is unfortunately a dull sci-fi patch job using footage from an earlier aborted film by Bill Rebane. There is also a treasure chest of trailers for bad psychedelic films that actually ups the value of the disc.
06 February 2007
Trip-O-Meter: 3 out of 5 (5 for "Decadence")
By the time of this release, Kevin Ayers had spent far more time as a solo artist than as part of the Soft Machine. The sound here still occassionally recalls that band, but there is a much more folky quality permeating much of this disc and the songwriting here is much stronger than his first solo recordings. Still, Ayers does not strive for any kind of unified vibe here. We find a psychedelic drone-fest along side an attempt to recreate a Stax Records sound. It's a little hit or miss, and probably less than the sum of its parts, but fortunately most of the parts are pretty strong. Production-wise, Bananamour recalls other albums of it's time, especially glam rockers like T. Rex and Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, but Ayers sensibilities mostly remain in the 60's.
Ayers' for the most part does a fine job balancing his own psych-folk muse with concessions to glam rock and a singer-songwriter sound on Bananamour. The opening "Don't Let It Get You Down (For Rachel)" is a solidly constructed example with the core song very much recalls Carnaby Street pop, but the female vocals, watery guitar, and fluid bass guitar shift the vibe a little more into the 70's. Many of the best tracks here follow an acoustic template with perhaps a nod or two to contemporary sounds. "Shouting In A Bucket Blues" is a rolling number with great sad sack lyrics and a touch of glam guitar from Gong's Steve Hillage. Later we find "Oh! Wot A Dream" recalling some of Dylan's dream lyrics filtered through Ayers' Cambridge sensibilites and featuring a duck sound on the rhythm track. Although the Soft Machine is firmly in Ayers past, band alumni Mike Ratledge shows up on organ for the somewhat derivative "Interview" (although some strange dissonance and amusing lyrics save this sort of bluesy number), while Robert Wyatt provides harmony vocals to the lilting "Hymn."
The centerpiece and perhaps best track on the album is also somewhat of an anamoly. "Decadance" drones along with almost a kraut-rock vibe, with a bed of delayed guitars, droning analog synths (maybe these were borrowed from Gong too?), and mostly metronomic beats. It's by far the most psychedelic song on the album, and Ayers' absurdist lyrics completely match the music. There's an alternate mix of "Decadence" in the bonus section that is interesting for a comparison, but inferior to the album version and not essential.
The only misstep is the aforementioned Stax knockoff, "When Your Parents Go To Sleep." First off, bassist Archie Leggett gets the lead vocal instead of Ayers and this obscures much of the charm of Ayers' lyrics. The big problem is that the five minute track seriously disrupts the flow of the album, and probably would have been better as a B-side. This is not to say it's a bad song. There's a groovy horn section here and the rhythm section works hard to live up to an MGs sort of vibe. It would have been a great B-side, but sticks out like a sore thumb in the context of Bananamour. I'd probably enjoy "Interview" much more if this track did not precede it.
The album proper concludes with the majestically orchestrated, bad joke of a song (literally and intentionally) "Beware Of The Dog." It a silly track, but short and a perfect way for Ayers to end his album. It's kind of like Ayers' version of the Looney Tunes "T-That's All Folks" closer.
Excluding the alternate mix, the bonus tracks here reveal a unexpected obsession with tropical islands, reggae, and calypso. "Take Me To Tahiti" and "Carribean Moon" reference this directly in their titles while "Connie On A Rubber Band" is arranged with a reggae beat. All three are predictable breezy and make for an enjoyable sundrenched aural dessert after Bananamour.
Ayers' would soon depart Harvest Records to work out his prog-rock mojo on Island Records. Bananamour was an undeserved commercial flop and in fact Ayers would never experience any large scale success. This is unfortunate as Bananamour is a strong testament to his songwriting skills.
Kevin Ayers - Bananamour
03 February 2007
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5
Kevin Ayers is sort of a lesser known musical cousin to Syd Barrett. His distinctive baritone voice exists in the same strange netherworld as Barrett, although Ayers seems much more in control of what he's expressing. Ayers served for one album as the leader of the tripped out and reknown London based Soft Machine (although significantly less reknown than Pink Floyd) and quickly split to start his solo career. Unlike Barrett, Ayers left more for the infamous creative differences, which seems to be accurate in this case. Ayers wanted to explore poppier avenues while the rest of the band soon followed their jazz-fusion, prog-rock muse. And like Barrett's The Madcap Laughs, Ayers created A Joy Of A Toy with the blessing, and even active particiption of his former bandmates.
A Joy Of A Toy has some definite attributes. There is a folkish vibe from the late 60's Cambridge scene audibly present, but Ayers does view into many interesting and sometimes unexpected venues of sound. Ayers' lyrics are uniformily of a high caliber surrealist nature that is worth paying attention to. It's not quite Dylan, but can be quite mindbending. Better yet is Ayers ability to create distinctive musical atmospheres. The are a slew of instruments included in the arrangements of this album including cello, celeste, melodica, Hawaiian guitar, mouth organ, and electronics along with the more conventional rock instrumentation.
A carnival atmosphere begins the album on "Joy Of A Toy Continued," a mostly instumental Soft Machine rewrite that doesn't really resemble its mother song much at all. "The Clarietta Rag" is a full fledged pop song that revises this bouncy feel. "Town Feeling," "The Lady Rachel," and "All This Crazy Gift Of Song" echo, but do not emulate, the acid drenched vibe of Barrett's solo performances. "Girl On A Swing" is truly haunting and provides some truely stirring psychedelic imagery. On Joy Of A Toy, Ayers is much more in control of his facilities than Syd Barrett's somewhat similar solo LPs, but Ayers trades in the mystery of Barrett's unhinged performances for a little more musicality and stability. As I stated before, The Soft Machine's presence is clearly heard and drummer Robert Wyatt provides most of the beats on this album. In fact the floating "Song For Insane Times" features the entire band, and might be considered a Soft Machine band as it contains the complete 1968-1969 line up (who never played together elsewhere as Hugh Hopper was Ayers' replacement).
I've often heard that Ayers is regarded as a bit of a musical slacker. This is hard to dispute on A Joy Of A Toy. The shorter compositions do not at all overstay their welcome, but still tend to rely mostly on a single groove. This becomes a problem on the longer songs. "Stop This Train" comes out on top due to its concept of train travel although the track does not reward close attention. "Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandong" unfortunately more than overstays its welcome. The different iterations of "Religious Experience/Singing A Song In The Morning" in the bonus section are musically pretty cool, but suffers from the fact that Ayers only bothered to write one verse of lyrics.
The bonus tracks here are extremely valuable, and add a considerable amount of music to this 2003 reissue. Among the different versions of "Religious Experience" is an early take that actually features Barrett on lead guitar. His part is slightly disjointed, and absent from the final single, but sounds a lot more together that Barrett's reputation suggests. Also present is "Soon Soon Soon," an album quality outtake and some interesting later versions of "The Lady Rachel."
Kevin Ayers - Joy Of a Toy
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5
Barrett's second disc is basically a mish-mash of some great songs mixed with some literally half-baked creations. By this time, both Richard Wright and David Gilmour had taken some time away from Pink Floyd to try to shore up Mr. Barrett's music ideas. Whether this stemmed from guilt over Barrett's departure from Pink Floyd or genuine respect is up for debate (I like to opt for respect), but the fact is that on this recording Waters and Gilmore did quite a bit of sonic manicuring and created a much more polished recording that The Madcap Laughs.
This unfortunately erases some of the charm of Barrett's debut solid album. There is some consistant backing on Barrett in the form of James Shirley (drums) along with Wright (keyboards) and Gilmore (guitar and I'd imagine bass). This creates a much less polarized sound than The Madcap Laughs, but tend to homogenize the sound.
Some of the winners here include "Baby Lemonade," which features an awesome 12-string guitar intro from Gilmore and some of Syd's lyrics at its best. "Dominoes" is a hazy yet evocative suggestion of what Pink Floyd may have sounded like had the maestro remained with the band. "Wined And Dined" is a composition that rivals anything on The Madcap Laughs and may be one of Barrett's best songs, with or without the Floyd. "Effervescing Elephant" is a twisted kids song whose composition apparently predates Barrett's days with Pink Floyd. I've also always had a soft spot for the sometime maligned "Gigolo Aunt." The song itself resembles a mildly twisted version of something you might hear on the Brady Bunch. Regardless, it's damn catchy and is one of my personal highlights on the album.
The problem with Barrett is that there is a fair amount of material that suggests lazyness, or Barrett's detachment from reality a bit too strongly. "Wolfpack," for example meanders on for almost four minutes without much of a pont or a melody. "Rats" provides one of Barrett's signature word games, but once again basically wastes its running time musically. Although the acoustic material on Barrett is greatly reduced, "Waving My Arms In The Air" and "I Never Lied To You" are spare tracks that sound much more like the results of mental ravages than anything on The Madcap Laughs.
Despite it's shortcomings. Barrett is one of the few solo recordings that Syd Barrett left behind. The highlights here are truly great and deserve your listening ear. Once again the EMI version of this disc includes some alternate takes that give the listener a window into Barrett's fractured mind.
Syd Barrett - Barrett
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5
Syd Barrett's first solo album is the work of a man completely falling apart. As the founder of Pink Floyd, Barrett ingested enough LSD to drive a medium sized country mad, and by 1968 and 1969 (when this album was recorded) his mental state was very schizophrenic. Even with these problematic mental disorders (or maybe becasue of), Barrett managed to create a classic.
Following Barrett's dismissal from Pink Floyd in early 1968, the band's managers followed Barrett, assuming that the band could not survive without their creative light (oops). While time has obviously proved them wrong, they soon set Barrett to work with producer Malcolm Jones and the trippy combo The Soft Machine to create a pop album. Barrett's performances soon proved to be erratic and strange, and it was soon apparent that the music was not going to set the teen scene on fire. The sessions were shelved (although temporarily as many tracks are included on the album) and "Octopus" was unleashed as a single. It unsurprisingly did not go far.
Cut forward a few months and former bandmate Roger Waters and Syd's own replacement David Gilmore wheel Barrett back into the studio for some more fun and games. These sessions were acoustically based, and allowed Barrett to do pretty much whatever he wanted to do, even if it was endlessly strange.
The final album is a somewhat daunting listen, but quite phenomenal if you can get your mind into Syd's world, where things like rhythm are rather amorphous. "No Good Trying," "No Man's Land," "Octopus," and "Late Night" are strange but amazing masterpieces of psychedelic rock. On the first two especially, the backing musicians sound like they're furiously trying to keep up with Syd (no good trying?) and the music is always on the verge of flying apart at the seams in a wonderful and interesting sort of way. "Terrapin," "Dark Globe," and "Golden Hair" are more acoustic-based classics.
Now I'm guilty of a bit of blasphemous resequencing in regards to my own copy of "The Madcap Laughs." I've taken out "Feel" and "If It's In You," which I think qualify as acoustic shambles, and replaced them with "Opel" and "Silas Lang." These are outtakes from the Malcolm Jones sessions that I think are amazing (especially "Opel") and bewilderingly left off the album. I think that these tracks better compliment the strange vibes of the other material on the LP. These tracks can be found on the otherwise hit or miss odds-and-sods complation "Opel."Although more expensive, I heartily recommend the EMI reissue of this disc. The remastering is far superior to Capitol's disc, and the alternate takes are illuminating. Barrett never played a song the same way twice; that was likely part of his madness.
Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs