Three new releases from Fruits de Mer wilI be joining us at the end of May – and though that seems like a long way off, it isn’t. So pre-order pens at the ready, and….
It’s been a long time since the name Tír Na NÓg last bothered the new releases racks. Leo O’Kelly and Sonny Condell came together as a duo in 1969, taking their name from their native Irish legend of the Land of the Young, and releasing three still stellar albums between 1971-1973 – best of all, a Bill Leader produced, self-titled debut that hangs in much the same musical regions as Pentangle and the Incredibles, but somewhat sweeter, somewhat darker.
Shadows of Nick Drake have been detected in their muse, and ghosts of Steve Ashley too, and if that sounds a peculiar blend for a Fruits de Mer release… it is. No more, it seems, beholden to the solid psych that made the label’s name, this is FdM delving into the heart of folk, and who knows but maybe it foretells further excursions into those realms.
Two further sets followed, A Tear and a Smile in 1972, and the somewhat perplexing Strong in the Sun, which abandoned the complex esoterics of its predecessors, in favor of a Matthew Fisher production that sounded almost rocky. Almost.
Since then, though… well, not quite silence. The live Hibernian confirmed their reunion in the mid-1990; Live at Sirius was a fortieth anniversary live set recorded in 2009 for release the following year; and Spotlight rounds up the band’s BBC output.
Still it was a surprise to hear… and then to hear… five new studio recordings from the duo, four spread across what collectors will know as Crustacean 49; the fifth, “Andria,” currently available only on a fistful of rare FdM promo CDs. Four startling Tír Na NÓg originals, and one cover, Silver Apples’ “I Have Known Love.” Meaning, one of the most original duos of the era make their studio return by covering another of the most original duos of the era.
It’s a great cover, too, sparse and haunting, and if you know the original (and you should), it’s a surprising one, too. Play it and you’ll see what I mean. We’re firmly in traditional Tír Na NÓg territory here, sobering softness and windswept beauty – “You In Yellow” is as melodic and lyrical as anything Tír Na NÓg ever recorded in their prime; just as “The Angelus” is as softly soothing, and uncannily evocative.
None of which prepares you for “I Pick Up Birds at Funerals,” a song about someone who… well, who picks up birds at funerals. “Birds” being over-the-ocean slang for “young ladies.” O’Kelly has suggested it is at least loosely autobiographical, and aside from anything else, it makes a magnificent addition to that so-tragically brief genre of songs devoted to finding love in inopportune places. (Sparks’ “Here Comes Bob” comes to mind round about now.) It’s the shortest song on the EP, just a couple of minutes, but that’s all it needs to be… or does it? Its composer claims to have one more verse involving the undertaker’s daughter, “which I left out for brevity’s and discretion’s sake.”
A fabulous collection then, and if anything bodes well for a full-blood Tír Na NÓg return, this is it.
The band had already been in contact with FdM before the tragedy, although even then the LP had a complicated story as band members came and went, and it might all have ended when Jonas died. But the label persisted and Brev Från Ederstorp emerges today, a play-it-till-your-eardrums-burst slam of six magnificent instrumentals – among them, quite coincidentally, a version of the same George Martin composition that debuted FdM on the release racks in the first place. Back then, “Theme One” was performed by the super-stellar Schizo Fun Addict in the manner of Van der Graaf Generator. Here it sounds as though the Who, circa Tommy, have wandered into the room as well, while Jonas’s guitar positively aches across the so familiar melody line.
The remainder of the album, and the accompanying 45 as well, are the band’s own compositions (the single, incidentally, comprises two tracks, “Signed tp” and “L’esprit d’escaliere,” recorded once the album was complete) and all fall into similar sonic territories. Which means, there’s not really much that you can compare it too, beyond a vague nod in the direction of sundry Anglo obscurities from the early 1970s.
FdM’s Keith Jones compares it to “the best instrumental parts from my Vertigo/RCA Neon/Charisma record collection from the early seventies, with all the embarrassing bits left out,” which is a fair enough comparison – assuming you can think of many/any bands from that period whose vision of purity allowed them to kick the album open with what you’d swear is destined to become the world’s first surf-prog dance hit; flirt amidships around the sounds of the Nice in Space; and hit a whole heap of equally unlikely reference points that might bring names like the Floyd, Orb and Cressida to mind, but are really pure Tor-Peders. Pure and perfect.
The last of the new releases, joining Tor-Peders on the Regal Crabomophone subsidiary, comes from Astralasia, the electro-ambient-space-trance dance band that made such wonderful sounds through the 1990s, and has carried on doing so ever since. Wind on Water might well be their eighteenth album… it’s certainly somewhere around there…. and is the not-totally-unexpected sound of the band getting to grips with classic Krautrock, in a unique Astralasian vein.
Four tracks alternate between five minute shorties and fifteen minute epics, carved and cast in a vein that slips from Neu to Brainticket and onto mid-seventies Tangerine Dream – a world of expression, in other words, and an other-world of sliding, gliding mystery that, like the Tor-Pedos release, does not end when the LP runs out. Another bonus single awaits, comprising the album-alike “Continuim,” and the utterly unexpected cowboyscapes of “The Desert,” all western winds and lonely harp, a storm of sonic tumbleweeds that chill the blood even before the circling vultures touch down.
Regular readers will already know FdM as the premier psych-and-then-some label operating today. With these three releases, the ocean widens even further, but still it remains indisputably fishy. Consistency is not a trait with which long-time collectors necessarily associate even their favorite labels… the aforementioned Vertigo and Charisma put out as many clinkers as classics during even their purple patch. But Fruits de Mer are now some seventy records and six years old, and they haven’t let us down yet.
On the strengths of these three, they’re not going to, either.