Dec 25, 2018

THE OCEAN - Heliocentric / Anthropocentric
(Pelagic Records PEL 004/008, 2010)

As the first in a two part companionship album revolving heavily around religious critique and a humanistic (and quite often negative) study of the Christian faith, "Heliocentric" represents the beginning of a new era for Germany-based post metal act The Ocean. While I had listened to "Anthropocentric" (the second half) before this one, I was already a fan of this band's complex and intelligent music from the 'Precambrian' days onwards, and my expectations were high for the next album. This band has always been prone to take on the most ambitious topics ("Precambrian" revolved around the creation of the Earth itself) and "Heliocentric" is no exception to this rule. A deeply thought-provoking concept by all standards, "Heliocentric" does ultimately disappoint my high expectations however. While the album is graced with some brilliant moments and lyrics that will surely upstart more than a few existential debates, the band's new direction does feel basic and less effectively executed than some of the great albums they have released in the past.

With a new vocalist here, the sound of the band is obviously changed a fair bit. While the abrasive growls are the same as they have always been (that is, a mixed bag), the introduction of Loic Rossetti is one of the more skilled singers the band has seen through its revolving door of musicians. However, while "Anthropocentric" shows the singer's talent in an excellent light, "Heliocentric" feels as if it stretches the vocalist's style in the wrong direction, usually towards a more abrasive direction that could vaguely be compared with the harsh style of Metallica vocalist James Hetfield. Ironically, many aspects of The Ocean's music have actually become much more melodic and harmonious since the atonal and unsettling sounds of 2007's "Precambrian". Even going as far as to have a piano-driven ballad like "Ptolemy Was Wrong", "Heliocentric" does see the band going in a slightly less complex direction with their music, and that did often feel to me like The Ocean's greatest strength; their meticulously crafted arrangements. Songs like "Metaphysics Of The Hangman" are driven by chorus structures, and while this doesn't necessarily mean that the music will be worse, in The Ocean's case, it does. Mixed results on Rossetti's new vocals,some inconsistent writing, and a more accessible direction? Doesn't sound good, but the album is far from being poor, and still sports a good deal of strengths.

First among the positive aspects of "Heliocentric" is the lyrical content and concept. On an even calibre with "Anthropocentric" here, the lyrics generally revolve around the Church's resentment towards science, as well as to debunk Creationism (a theme further developed with the second part) and question the existence of a divine entity. While this will offend some Christian listeners surely, the lyrics are written quite tastefully, touching upon the subjects through a poetic, often metaphorical language that really becomes the highlight of the album. The Ocean's "Heliocentric" is certainly one of the weaker points of The Ocean's career, especially considering when the band has had such success with releasing absolutely phenomenal records. in the past. However, tracks like "Firmament" and "The Origin Of Species" and a few others provide a great listening experience typical of the band's output. While the album did not reach my expectations however, it would pave the way for "Anthropocentric", which is the real masterpiece to be spawned from this project.

With 2007's "Precambrian", The Ocean (also known as Ocean Collective) came out with a two disc concept epic concerning nothing less than the turbulent creation of the planet Earth. To follow up something so vast, 2010 witnessed the band now releasing two companion albums, each dealing with such topics as the creation of man, the idea of god, and religion. Suffice to say, The Ocean are never short of ambition in the projects they choose to take. While the critique of religion and faith is as ripe a concept as any for a metal album, "Heliocentric" did end up being a bit of a disappointment. Luckily, the second installment in this chapter of The Ocean turned out to be quite a return to power for the band. With "Anthropocentric", The Ocean releases one of their most potent efforts yet, with a concept and lyrical content as profound and fiery as the music it is driven by. When speaking of the sound of this album, there is definitely a more conventional melodic sense here (like "Heliocentric") than there used to be, in no small part due to the addition of new vocalist Loïc Rossetti, whose clean singing is featured quite prominently here. However, unlike "Heliocentric", very little of the heaviness and experimentation is relinquished, and there is a very good balance between the heavier vocals and lighter melodic singing. With many of the songs, the clean vocals make some pretty catchy and memorable hooks, but luckily don't feel superficial by doing so.

The title track leads off the album in full force; a nine minute episode of sludgy heaviness, mixed with rhythmic experimentation. While the track begins in a very typical, atonal style for The Ocean, the differences and developments start to be heard when the clean vocals come in, three and a half minutes into the album. In direct contrast to the brute growls, the vocals are often beautifully harmonized, although some of the more stylized singing of Loïc Rossetti can get a tad nasal at times. At least as far as the first track is concerned, the highlights reside in the beautiful mellower moments, where The Ocean gets to properly show their new grasp for great melodies. Another highlight of the album is the single-worthy "She Was The Universe", which is a memorable powerhouse from start to finish, despite being highly rhythmically irregular. Along with many of the songs here, the chorus is kept quite melodic. Other noteworthy songs include "The Grand Inquisitor III", which is the most 'out there' track on "Anthropocentric" - an electronic trip-hop acid tweak of an interlude- and "Wille zum Untergang", a very post-rockish track that showcases the band's more ethereal nature. The only song here that isn't excellent is "Sewers Of The Soul", which keeps a relatively up- tempo, rock vibe without showing the same compositional complexity and intricacy of the rest of the album.

Lyrically, the material here is bound to cause some controversy, especially among the more religiously-inclined listeners. As was true with "Heliocentric", "Anthropocentric" is a harsh, to- the-point critique of Christian fundamentalism and hypocrisy. Philosophical opinions aside, the subject matter is intregated well into a sort of intellectual and thought-provoking poetry that's sure to stir up some debate amongst metalheads. "Anthropocentric" may very well be a rival of "Precambrian" for The Ocean's greatest work to date. Despite having one or two songs that feel a bit less inspired than the rest, "Anthropocentric" is a true definition of the 'thinking man's metal'; highly complex and frenetic sludge metal, mixed with a truly ambitious scope. An interesting album, The Ocean's mastery of aesthetic and innovation is readily evident in spades.

Dec 24, 2018

SYRINX - Qualia (Aeon Records AEON02, 2009)

Syrinx is a side project of mainly guys from NIL: David Maurin on acoustic guitar, Benjamin Croizy on keyboards and Samuel Maurin on bass accomplished with Philippe Maullet on drums. The alliance took place already at 1999 when they decided to create music of new form. At first they remained anonymous: ''They work together to attain a common goal which bears the name of Syrinx: thus, the name and career of each musician are unimportant'' and they named the band as Syrinx: ''Syrinx normally designs a nymph from Greek mythology. This concept does not belong exclusively to this mythology. It not only existed before it, but it exists to this very day. Syrinx, then, is the origin of this music". According to the band, the form of their music is Metamorphic Music fulfilling three conditions: 1) It is constructed on rhythmical and melodic themes which develop, change, and metamorphose in a subtle way into other themes. Depending on the effects intended, this process is more or less perceived by the listener. If this metamorphic construction is elaborated correctly, it can lead to the two following consequences: 2) It induces a special interior state in the listener. In fact, all music influences our movements, our emotions and our will-power, whether we are conscious of this or not. Syrinx' music is precisely conceived in this sense to operate an internal transmutation, an interior metamorphosis of the listener. 3) In the place where it is played, it creates a sort of climate: it contains in itself all that is necessary to be able to catch on progressively in the physical area where it is propagated. After the music has stopped, it still impregnates the area. A sensitive person can feel this phenomenon, even if he or she were not present at the time of its diffusion.

What do you get when a fabulous acoustic guitarist meets up with a spectacular drummer ? Well, after nailing a mellotron-mad keyboardist (is there a more glorious sound than acoustic guitar and the mighty 'tron ?) and enlist a bass player with rolling fingers and you wind up with a French quartet named Syrinx. On their sophomore 2008 effort Qualia, the band expands their thematic instrumental only approach, calling it "Metamorphic Music", a textured canvas on which the musicians simply layer on details that delve deeply into incredible mutations, a clearly jazz-rock fusion that swerves into dense symphonics on a dime, the splendid David Maurin acoustic guitar in the spotlight. His likely brother Samuel Maurin supplies strenuous bass excursions, closer to Weidorje's Paganotti in that it's up- front and very center, like a musical spinal cord. Ivoryman Benjamin Croizy colors intensely with mostly the afore-mentioned mellotron but also tosses in some sparkling e-piano, rolling organ and somewhat metallic synthesizer ornamentations. The music is not far from fellow French acts Priam, Taal, Xang, Nebelnest and Nil (all three players save for the drummer were members of this legendary Annecy band) as well as obvious King Crimson tendencies (the mathematically precise bicycle acoustic guitar a la Fripp) , while drummer Phillipe Maullet could easily nail a Bill Bruford audition.

If you have any lingering doubts about my sanity, you need to protect yours upon feasting your ears on the opening masterpiece "Liber Nonacris", a nearly 20 minute python track that will slowly engulf you whole and digest you later! Tempestuous, at times veering toward insanity but somehow exceedingly controlled, or better yet, controlling, the delivery is breath- taking and audacious. This has to be one of the best epic instrumentals ever in progland. Fans of every stripe would find glee in the recipe, where blistering technique meets vaporous Gothicism. There are undeniable hints of eerie schizophrenia, emotional discomfort, obtuse irrationality and a yearning for some sort of salvation. Creepy, in a good way. The style can also morph into quasi-soundtrack-ish mode, as if the band was commissioned for some spectral horror movie, "Acheiropoietes" is a moody, somber and unforgiving canvas of sound. Led by a soprano saxophone that has no handcuffs, the piece at first is perhaps the jazziest here, very stop/start and stark. Cemetery anthem, binary for quite a while and then, BOOM the mellotron takes this into much more pleasant surroundings, lush and symphonic. A few simple drumstick moves and the mood becomes chaotic again. Like a crazed rat caught in a labyrinth, there I no possible escape, move forward at your peril or retreat into doom. All along the victorious bass keeps the acceleration gasping for air.

On the massive and over 14 minute long "Le Grand Dieu Pan", after a simmering piano intro where complacency and occasional cello eruption rule the day, the churning organ takes over leadership duties and, for all intended purposes, does not let go until the end, ably assisted by the wild guitar and manic drumming. Croizy then audaciously administers some synthesized fantasy, the bass burping along like some doped-up nurse, raising the angst to improbable levels of tension. Somber piano and grave flute combine to further the despondence. Pan is the Greek god of the shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds, hunting and pastoral music, and companion of the nymphs, so its presence here is self- evident within the context of the song. Eventually, the arrangement is guided into a more symphonic complexion, the guitar and the bass getting very technical, the drums highly syncopated and poly-rhythmic. The piano returns majestically, with profound seriousness until they all explode on their instruments, Samuel in particular getting nasty on his four stringed monster. Just tremendous talent on display here, this is music you can enjoy as a whole or in part, following each instrument individually. Darn, I love that many options.

The brief five minutes finale is a wordplay on the "21st Circle" instead of century (hmm, never thought of that) but in fact, just a mellotron-infested ditty with great intensity and a strange growling slash (that devilish bass and effects) , David delivering a supersonic acoustic foray that would make Andres Segovia proud and Maullet pounding his heart out. The King Crimson influences are loving and overt but that jazzy craziness is just to expunge over. Tremendous listening experience. Gorgeous artwork. A classic.

CURRENT 93 - Baalstorm, Sing Omega (Coptic Cat ‎Records NIFE 010V, 2010)

Current 93 is a longstanding project of musician and artist David Michael Bunting (also known as David Tibet, or simply Tibet), a loose collective who record and perform an eclectic brand of music that has roots in folk but employs sounds that range from metal to post-rock to industrial to neofolk, with nuanced sounds that encompass everything in between. Founder member David Tibet has been the only constant presence in the band since their inception and his lyrical themes and subject matter encompass a wide variety of esoteric interests including: Christian eschatology, Aleister Crowley (from whom he took the band's name), Christian mysticism, Tibetan Buddhism, the iconography of the swastika and various occult left hand path traditions.

The group's direction is primarily guided by Tibet, but the group has close ties to many other groups including the avant band Nurse With Wound (Steven Stapleton has recorded and toured extensively with both bands), as well as Death In June, whose leader Douglas Pearce regularly appears with band. Other bands associated with the group include Sol Invictus, Coil, Crass, Höh and Fire And Ice. Tibet's prolific body of work has attracted significant attention from musicians of all genres over the years, and the band's album include appearances from an very broad range of artists from the folk singer Shirley Collins to Nick Cave to Marc Almond to the porn star Sasha Grey.

"Baalstorm, Sing Omega" is the 3rd in a series of albums by Current 93 and the only original member, David Tibet. The series deal with Tibet's revelations. Where many of Current 93's albums seem to have been adding more electric guitar, this album strips things back to the basics using more folk style instruments and sounds that are influenced by Middle Eastern sounds. Even with a more stripped back sound though, this album is still very dark and apocalyptic. "I Dreamt I Was Aeon" starts of with a piano solo and a dreamy organ starts swirling around. Tibet's chanting/singing vocals have a mysterious air to them. Strings soon join in, replacing the piano, violin and cello. The vocals can be a little annoying if you aren't used to them, especially when they aren't covered up by other layers of sound. They will grow on you, and seem very appropriate to the style of music. The feel and sound of the track remains consistent throughout.

"With Flowers in the Garden of Fires" introduces percussion, ord and a middle eastern flair. For the most part, the vocal melody consists of two notes with a little bit of variation, and continues that chanting/singing combination. "December 1971" is driven by the strings with Tibet's more gravelly vocals. Throughout the tracks, you will have noticed a child's sing-song voice in the background appearing from time to time. The vocals are quite expressive here, and in this case, have an avant-prog style to them, as the vocal melody acts as a dissonant counterpoint to the stings accompaniment. Tibet's voice is becoming more of a singing/speaking tone as he narrates in "Baalstorm! Baalstorm!" The melody here is more of a improvisation utilizing notes to express and emphasize words. This is all accompanied by a drone and a piano, with some guitar electronic accompaniment providing minimalistic texture. Intensity builds more in Tibet's voice than in the actual accompaniment as he becomes more frantic. The heaviness of the vocals here can make this track a little hard to listen to, but you can also get lost in the lyrics, as they are quite important to this track.

In contrast to this, the next track, "Passenger Aleph in Name" is not frantic, but more peaceful. A glockenspiel calms the overall atmosphere of the album with Tibet in a calmer and more melodic vocal. An acoustic guitar also adds to the melodic sound of this track. "Tanks of Flies" continues with the calm atmosphere invoked from the previous track. Tibet continues with a very melodic track here. The ord is quite apparent in this track and a plucked riff combined by acoustic guitar keeps the feel calm and serene. "The Nudes Lift Shields for War" features the glockenspiel again, and it provides more of a direction for this track. Acoustic guitar also accompanies Tibet's storytelling lyrics. We return to that narrating/singing style again here, with Tibet using inflection and emphasis where needed with higher notes and dynamics in his improvised singing. Intensity builds somewhat here, but the glockenspiel keeps the track anchored. "Night! Death! Storm! Omega!" utilizes a folkish drumming pattern and a more chaotic approach in the vocals, accompanied by the ord. This one is has a distinct mid-east feel. Vocals fade in and out on this one and they are layered with different lyrics providing counterpoint and giving that chaotic feel. Again children's voices shout out in different places.

"I Dance Narcoleptic" is the final track and also the longest track at over 10 minutes. It starts out with spoken vocals by Tibet and electronic textures. This track is very dramatic, with inflection used more than melody and children's voices shouting out throughout. Sounds of waves, storms and etc accompany throughout. Again, we get that Avant-folk feel here as it has a distinct improvised feeling, becoming more frantic and dramatic as the intensity builds as the track continues. Sounds, instruments and textures swirl and increase in volume along with Tibet's expressive narration. It's easy to let yourself get caught up in the intensity of this track. At 5:45, all sounds suddenly drop off and there is mostly silence until the 9 minute mark when the sound of waves fade in and Tibet sings a nice melody accompanied by acoustic guitar and the waves almost drowning him out.

This is a very dramatic and expressive album from Tibet and Co. Yes his narration/singing might be harsh to some people, but it is evident that it is exactly the feeling needed for this album. A good part of the album is far from the traditional rock music experience meaning that it has that authentic folk sound all the way through, but even this varies as Tibet's compositions approach an artsy feel that at times make you think you are listening to avant-folk-prog. The only complaint I have is that there are so many lyrics, that they tend to get tedious after a while, even with the inflection used in Tibet's vocals, and that can make the entire album hard to listen to. But other than that, this is an excellent example of Neo-folk Prog. Just be ready for some interesting moods and textures with this one.

Dec 23, 2018

THE FRANKIE MILLER BAND - The Rock (Chrysalis Records CHR 1088, 1975)

Unlike his first two albums Frankie Miller’s third album “The Rock” featured his own backing band so was marketed as being by The Frankie Miller Band rather than as a solo release. Recorded in sight of the famous Alcatraz prison during the first half of 1975 it still contains certain elements of those first two albums “Once In A Blue Moon” and “Highlife”. It is testament to Miller’s skill as a songwriter and vocalist that the basic pub rock of that opening album, the laid back New Orleans soul of “Highlife” and the country tinged rock and blues of The Frankie Miller Band all blend together so seamlessly on “The Rock”. The band itself featured Henry McCullough on guitar, Chrissy Stewart on bass, Mick Weaver on the keyboards and Stu Perry on the drums. All of whom already had illustrious CV’s to their name. The “Highlife” style soul feel was provided by no less a talent than The Memphis Horns and the Edwin Hawkins Singers of ‘Oh Happy Day’ fame. Add to that a backing vocal appearance by James Dewar vocalist with Robin Trower and it is no wonder “The Rock” is such a solid and consistent effort. The production duties were handled by Elliot Mazer who had been involved in the recording of Neil Young’s “Harvest” a few years previously. As he had been with the previous years album “Highlife” Miller was critical of the final mix and production sound, feeling that it lacked the real live feel that he desired. 

A couple of years earlier Miller and former Free bassist and songwriter Andy Fraser had attempted to put a band together but despite spending several months in the studio they never managed to get anything solid going. What they did achieve though was to form a lifelong friendship and a great song writing partnership. ‘A Fool In Love’ was one of the tracks that came from those sessions and that gets “The Rock” off to an explosive start. Miller’s vocal kicks in virtually as the track begins and the gritty delivery is reminiscent of the first album whilst the horns and backing vocals are more akin to something from the second album. The influence of Fraser gives the song a real feeling of being a band song rather than that of a solo performer and also adds a commercial flavour showing that he was never the junior partner in the main song writing team with Paul Rodgers in Free. It provided Miller with his first considerable success in America and was later covered by Delbert McClinton, Etta James and UK rockers UFO to name but three. Second track ‘The Heartbreak’ is a slower struttier track with a good mix of rock, blues and soul feeling in both the vocal and the musical backing. The piano underneath the vocal drives the song along nicely and a decent guitar and organ solo along with some typically classy horn work all blend together to make it a real stand out track. It is almost a precursor to Miller’s rockier albums of the eighties. 

The title track is next up and gets the toe tapping straight away with its country rock flavoured tinge. A twangy guitar, some bar room boogie woogie piano and gospel backing vocals all compliment Miller’s easy vocal and it really should have provided him with his first major hit. The song itself was inspired by the sight of Alcatraz from the recording studio and Miller’s belief that were it not for music he would probably have ended up in somewhere similar. Subsequently the album was dedicated to the plight of prisoners. The Frankie Miller Band actually played a gig in promotion of the album at San Quentin jail where Johnny Cash recorded his famous live album. The second of the tracks resurrected from the Rumbledown Band sessions with Andy Fraser ‘I Know Why The Sun Don’t Shine’ slows things down considerably. A gradually building brooding blues it is a little slower and more of a stripped back basic blues than the original Rumbledown Band recording which featured Paul Kossoff on guitar and eventually surfaced on the Paul Kossoff compilation album “Blue Soul” in the mid eighties. Although Henry McCullough is a fine guitarist and puts in a typically classy performance it is difficult not to prefer the faster and more soulful Rumbledown Band version with Kossoff. 

The first half of the album ends with ‘Hard On The Levee’ which despite being one of the lesser cuts on the album is still a mighty fine piece of work. It was an integral part of the live set and gives a clear indication of the direction Miller would go in with his next album “Full House”. One of Miller’s most loved, and most covered, songs ‘Ain’t Got No Money’ gets the second half of the album off to the same high standard as the first. A live favourite it is classic Miller and has claims to be the best bar room stomp track of all time. The song has a no frills fast paced approach with some more great boogie woogie piano, frenetic drumming, another tasteful solo and even a bit of cowbell unless I am very much mistaken. Throw on top of that a dirty gritty Miller vocal and you have something which is impossible to fault. The track has been covered by such diverse acts as  Chris Farlowe, Bob Seger and Cher. Having never heard the Cher version I can’t comment on it but I would assume there were a few lyrical changes. The Seger version is pretty true to the original albeit with more of an American country feel. Segar is often compared to Miller stateside and openly cites Miller as a huge influence. 

‘All My Love To You’ displays Miller’s more soulful side and is very Otis Redding/Arthur Conley like vocally. A Miller composition it has the feel of an old time soul track and it is not difficult to imagine it being belted out by those soul greats Miller admired so much. The Memphis Horns give the whole thing a great authenticity and Miller’s vocal is as good as any of those he admired. Things quicken up again for ‘I’m Old Enough’ which features a typically well thought out Miller lyric over a bouncy fast paced rock beat. Some simple but effective guitar and more classy ivory tinkling add to the track nicely and the whole thing has a great sing-along feel. As with the earlier faster tracks Miller’s vocal is full of grit and attitude. An edited version was released as a single but failed to trouble the judges although that didn’t stop the French Elvis, Johnny Halladay, trying with his own version. The final two tracks of the album take us back to Miller’s roots in Scotland. ‘Bridgeton’ is named after the area of Glasgow he came from and is another slower brooding track which builds nicely and tells the tale of Miller’s days there. The guitar has a dobro or even steel feel in places and there is even something which sounds uncannily like bagpipes although there is no suggestion of either in the sleeve notes so I am guessing it must be an organ effect. Whether that is the case or not the more obvious organ work is one of the highlights., as is the very sing able vocal melody.

The title of the final track ‘Drunken Nights in The City’ is pretty explanatory and tells the tale of Miller’s nights of heavy drinking with Celtic footballer Jimmy Johnstone. Miller is an avid Celtic fan and often wore a Celtic shirt on stage. The track itself is a simple vocal over an acoustic guitar. On live performances Miller would often play the song alone and the guitar playing here sounds like it is Miller rather than McCullough. The vocal also has a feel of being recorded after a decent amount of alcohol had been consumed. This gives it a very authentic feel and is either a great display of vocal acting by Miller or totally authentic. Having seen a few live shows my money would be on the latter. Despite being released to critical acclaim ‘The Rock’ like its predecessors failed to shift a huge number of units but the American tour to promote the album was a huge success and they regularly went down better than the acts they opened for. A UK tour with Rory Gallagher was not as successful though as guitarist McCullough was pre-occupied with recording his solo album and eventually the band began to fall apart. A disconsolate Miller went off to Holland to sing with old mates Procul Harum. 

For me “The Rock” is the album where the final pieces of the Frankie Miller sound and style came together. The basic pub rock elements of the first album and the smooth laid back vibe of the Toussaint collaboration are both evident throughout but have now been married together with a bluesy soulful band feel and a smidgeon of American country commerciality. This was very much the blueprint for his next venture “Frankie Miller’s Full House”, a band which encompassed the sound and styles of his first three albums into one tight unit and finally delivered the chart success he deserved.

Dec 19, 2018

EUCLID - Heavy Equipment (Amsterdam Records AMS-12005, 1970)

Euclid's one and only album is among the very best of the late 1960's - early 1970's heavy rock albums of all time. Based out of Haverhill, Massachusetts, the musicians themselves come from a diverse New England garage & psych-rock background. Bassist Harold Perino Jr. (aka "Maris"), came from The Ones, a central Mass. garage band who also had a rare garage LP on the Ashwood House label. The other members were from southern Maine. Garage rockers Gary Leavitt on lead vocals & guitar, and his brother Jay Leavitt on drums were in the Cobras together. Ralph Mazzota from the psych-tinged Maine group Lazy Smoke is outright dazzling on blistering lead guitar. 

Pedigree aside, this is a powerful and inventive psychedelic heavy rock album that stands on its own as a great work. Euclid was signed to Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman Records subsidiary label, Amsterdam Records, distributed by Mainstream Records, and was one of the few, if not only "rock" releases on either label (a notable exception being the rare Minx soundtrack by The Cyrkle). With its tremendous rumbling in-your-face riffing fuzz guitars; screaming solos, backwards bits, thick fuzz bass, pounding drums and oddly-effected vocals, the album, produced by the legendary Bobby Herne, with finishing touches to the mix by Les Paul, Jr; stands proudly with one foot in the 1960s & one in the 1970s, crafting their sound with a heavy-handed metallic attitude. 

One of the coolest things about this album is the overall evidence of the various background influences brought in by each of the group members. In Euclid, you get the very best of it all. You have the raw & ferocious high energy garage element mixed with a very clear and real psychedelic conviction of the drug saturated times. These characteristics combined with a new heavy/hard rock discipline & focus, resulted in one of the best early heavy rock albums ever recorded in the United States. The combined members' various instrumental contributions are equally matched by their amazingly supportive crystalline four-vocal harmonies. The background vocal quality is quite effectively offset by the lead vocals "take no prisoners" brutal male vocal styling. Bobby Herne's production on this record, with lots of twists & turns, is absolutely top notch and gives the music its deep unstoppable heavy forward momentum. The first track is a real winner, clocking in at over 11 minutes, blasting forth with super heavy monster riffs. 

There's also hints of an eastern psych groove with cool sitar playing, and their version of "Gimme Some Lovin'" sounds as if it were done by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. With their old friend Bobby Herne in the producer's chair (he also produced The Shaggs "Philosophy Of The World" LP), they create a "bad trip" spiked with backwards tape effects, darkly-phased vocals, all instruments set from overkill to "pummel", and an album title certainly eligible for the 'truth-in-advertising' award with its 'earth moving' characteristics. Their original songs are incredibly inventive with lots of twists and turns. The album itself stands as a perfect monument which musically represents the transition from hard heavy psych to hard heavy rock. This is an LP you'll play over & over, and never get tired of! In short, the group Euclid was one of the true "unsung" cornerstones that really helped pave the way for the up and coming US hard rock movement. This is an LP you'll play over & over and never get tired of it!  

Gary Leavitt, Bobby Hearne, and Maris have all passed on due to various circumstances over the years. Gary Leavitt was killed in a 1975 motorcycle accident, which effectively ended the band, who were a popular live attraction in the Northeast up until then. Jay Leavitt still performs occasionally with his group Bluezberry Jam in the Maine area. The Leavitt brothers along with Bobby Herne, first appeared together in 1966 as the Cobras, releasing the New England garage classic "I Wanna Be Your Love" bw/ "Instant Heartache" on the Big Beat label, one of the most incredible and out of control garage 45's ever recorded.

Dec 17, 2018

DONOVAN - What's Bin Did And What's Bin Hid
(Marble Arch Records MAL 795, 1969)

The line between intertext and plagiarism is a witchy, winding road. Where one ends and the other begins is inherently confused and cluttered, pockmarked with varying degrees of interpretation and ensuing condemnation. Music presents a most difficult testing ground when seeking to clarify a distinction between theft and inspiration. To mark clearly the blurred, skewed and dimly lit border of ownership and originality is near impossible. With this in mind, I give you Donovan. "What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid" or "Catch the Wind" (depending on where you hail from) is the 1965 debut album of British folk singer Donovan. Light on the ears and entirely enjoyable, I’m not actually going to say all that much about the album, except that there is something familiar about it,  instantly familiar, and it is precisely this familiarity that has made the album as infamous as it is famous.

Heralded by many denouncers as the key piece of evidence in dubbing Donovan as nothing more than Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan, a cheap knock off or folk music’s incarnation of The Monkeys; endless interrogation has left the album scarred and the artist - branded by many Dylan fans - a charlatan. I get that branding. I really do, but I feel that there is more to Donovan and less to the comparison than those at the pulpit of musical conspiracy would have you believe. Much of the hype that fuels such detraction is based on Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of Britain, and the subsequent documentation of that tour contained in D.A Pennebaker’s film, Don't Look Back. The film helps to highlight the obsession in the British press for creating trans-Atlantic music rivalries, like that of Dylan and Donovan or The Byrds and The Beatles. Donovan, in an odd twist of fate, actually came to the defence of The Byrds after New Musical Express trashed their London shows because they supposedly didn't live up to the manufactured hype of being America’s answer to the Beatles.

What makes it into Pennebaker’s film, besides Dylan light heartedly mocking the press’s obsession with Donovan, is their first meeting at The Savoy Hotel. The atmosphere that the film conjures is hard to pinpoint, but seems to be one of mutual regard, between a visibly nervous Donovan and a characteristically distracted and hard to read Dylan. Donovan plays "To Sing for You" before Dylan responds with a stirring rendition of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue". Pennebaker insists the broader scene involved Dylan condemning an unknown Donovan song called "My Darling Tangerine Eyes" for blatantly plagiarising his "Mr. Tambourine Man" chord structure, saying, "Well, you know, that tune. I have to admit that I haven't written all the tunes I'm credited with, but that happens to be one that I did write!"

What makes the assertion by Pennebaker so interesting is the fact that Dylan refused to allow this scene to be included in the final cut of the film. If the embarrassment of Donovan by Dylan did occur, perhaps Dylan didn’t want the world to see it. There is a barely audible moment in the film that might explain why, and possibly why "What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid" has so many moments of structural similarity to Dylan's work: as Donovan begins strumming the guitar, Dylan excitedly remarks, "He plays like Jack, man!" referring almost certainly to the great Ramblin' Jack Elliot.

Ramblin’ Jack is worthy of more space than I’m going to allow him in this brief synopsis, but his part in Donovan’s story is worth mentioning, if only briefly. Ramblin' Jack is inexorably linked to Woody Guthrie, a hero of Dylan’s and an icon in folk music, who has only really ever been eclipsed by Dylan himself. Ramblin' Jack was a student come friend of Guthrie’s and became a master of his songs and playing style. He is said to have later taught an Englishman that fingerpicking style while performing in Paris in the early 1960's. That Englishman’s name: Mick Softley. Softley then met Donovan after returning to the UK and, while working together, Donovan acquired a new style of picking in order to perform a song by Softley called: "Gold Watch Blues". So, Donovan learned his style from a student of Ramblin’ Jack, who was first a student of Guthrie’s, who was Dylan’s hero. Inspiration rather than direct imitation seems a bit more tangible regarding Donovan’s work when armed with these facts.

With all this in mind, the fact remains that "What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid" is incredibly reminiscent of Dylan’s work and the structure of some of his tracks; however, this doesn’t condemn it to be labelled a knock-off. Just as some of Dylan’s early work is reminiscent of Guthrie’s, so is Donovan's of Dylan's. "Catch the Wind" no more plagiarises "Chimes of Freedom" than "Bear Mountain Picnic" does Guthrie’s "Talking Sailor" - inspired no doubt, but more than able to hold their own as unique tracks. My personal Vinyl version of the recording is a re-issue from 1969. Originally the first Donovan album had been released on Pye Records way back in 1965.

For those who still aren’t convinced, Donovan's later work digresses into a musical realm all its own, blending a uniquely eclectic psychedelic fusion - and pairing with some artists that went on to create a little known band called The New Yardbirds - but that's for a later article. For now I'd throw on "What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid" and revel in the work of a man who, in a back room of London’s Savoy Hotel, got Bob Dylan to say: "Hey - that’s a good song, man!"