Singles Reviews: July, Crystal Jacqueline, Octopus Syng, Beautify Junkyards, Neighborhood Strange, She Rocola, Sidewalk Society, Vibravoid, Astralasia, Icarus Peel, Blue Giant Zeta Puppies

1July 

Can I Go Back Again (extended)/Can I Go Back Again (demo)

Fruits de Mer (Crustacean 71)

Scarcely noticed in their late sixties prime, July were one of those bands whose name, if not their (incredibly scarce) LP, were familiar to all who pioneered the psych collecting market of the late 70s and early 80s.

Time passed, compilations obliged, reissues emerged… why, just a couple of years ago, Record Store Day dropped a nifty vinyl repress of the album onto our heads.  By which time, of course, July had reformed and cut a new album of their own, on which “Can I Go Back Again” was a definite highlight.

Well here it is again, an extended version of the album track that doesn’t really add much to the usual version, but is a lot of fun regardless.  A semi-soundscape fusses and flirts around the maniac chant of the chorus, layering geetars and seetars in both isolation and bedlam, mashes acoustic interludes into soaring riffs…

…and then does it all again across a previously unissued demo version which might just have the edge in terms of attack.  There’s a hint of Roger Chapman around the vocal, the ghost of the Broughtons around the chant, and if there’s maybe a taste of psych-by-numbers to the project as a whole at least they’re really good numbers.

2Octopus Syng

Reverberating Garden Number 7/Flaming

Mega Dodo (Mega 4)

Red vinyl for members of the Mega Dodo Singles Club, black for everyone else.

And no, it’s not the title track to the Octopus’s last album (although it is), cos it’s a sneak preview from their next (although it isn’t… it’s a different version, you see) – and what a glorious sound to behold, drifting in on what could have been the Velvet Underground’s“The Ocean”… but, once again, isn’t.

You realize that the moment that the opening surf and sinister murmurs are shunted aside by the wave of sheer ecstasy which not only establishes this among the finest closing cuts any album could ever call out for (because it is), but also as the prelude to one of the greatest covers that the early Floyd could demand.  Just imagine a rendering of “Flaming” that teases through verses of deeply accented aplomb, before unleashing the hounds of psychedelic mayhem on what others might call the instrumental break.  You’ll be halfway there.

3Crystal Jacqueline

Morning Dew EP 

Regal Crabomophone (Winkle 24)

Yes, that “Morning Dew.”  The “Morning Dew” that positively everybody in the entire universe has had a stab at recording, and which has seen so many definitive renderings unleashed that it’s difficult to imagine what else there could be said about it.

Or so we think.

The key to Crystal Jacqueline’s new single, oddly, is not “Morning Dew.”  Is not CJ’s vocal across that opening cut, which is as heartfelt and pristine as ever; nor is it Icarus Peel’s arrangement, which seems to have listened to every other existing version, and then unselfconsciously dismissed them from earshot.   Nor is it Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies’ “Moonsong: Pelog,” wondrously restated as all mood-and-melancholy, topped and tailed by the sound of a crashing gong.

The keys are “Sally Go Round the Roses,” the old Jaynetts’ bippity-bopper, restated with all the menace of a supernatural folk tale; and “Ivy,” a Peel original which is as naked as “Moonsong” is dramatic; as melodic as “Morning Dew” is yearning, and so haunted and haunting in its simplicity that, again, listening to it is like losing yourself in an old favorite paperback of (very) English ghost stories.  If you’ve never heard Boyd Rice and Rose McDowall’s reimagining of classic sixties death songs, Spell, “Sally Go Round” will show you what you’re missing; and if you’ve ever yearned for music that sounds like an abandoned church at midnight feels, “Ivy” will softly whisper the atmosphere.

4The Neighbourhood Strange

The Neighbourhood Strange/Wytches Sky

LSD Records (THENS OOV1)

Such a glorious slab of amped up garage psych, if this wasn’t a record, it would be running up and down your street, throwing stones at your front door and wrapping toilet rolls round your shrubbery – neighborhood strange, indeed.

There’s maybe a hint of “Stepping Stone” in there somewhere, and a pronounced anti-Monkees “here we come, walking down the street… kicking cans” threat to the swaggering lyric; and when you flip it over, “Wytches Sky” sounds exactly as it ought to, a cauldron-swirling guitar that melds with Martin Turner’s oddly-Iggy shaped vocal to leave you putting an extra chain on the front door, and bringing the garden gnomes indoors.  They will thank you for it.

5Sidewalk Society

Can’t Help Thinking About Me EP

Fruits de Mer (Crustacean 73)

Four songs strong, two Action classics and a pair of Bowie oldies, Sidewalk Society’s customary clatter through the authentic barrage of sixties Britbeat might well have hit its peak (so far) here.

Recorded before Ziggy fell in January, the two Bowie songs both hail from his sixties struggles.  But “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” (originally released on FdM’s Bowie covers album last year) and “Let Me Sleep Beside You” not only capture precisely the sound that Bowie was seeking when he himself revisited choice oldies (including “Sleep”) for his unreleasedToy album, but also that which he might have enacted had he cut them both with the Mannish Boys.  Or, for that matter, for Pin Upsi.

Lesser-known, but just as fine, are two cuts from the Action catalog, a storming “Look at the View,” that expertly recaptures the original’s farsighted freakbeatery even as it casts itself as the missing link between the Who and the Misunderstood; and “Strange Roads” – the last track on the EP, and maybe the best as well – adds the early Jam to the brew, and makes you wonder why the Action were never the biggest band in the world.

6She Rocola

Burn The Witch/Molly Leigh of the Mother Town

A Year In The Country (Audiological Case Study #5)

A little late with this one, but as a taster for Spin Cycle’s upcoming exploration of the full Year in the Country catalog, few 45s of the last couple of years can catch up with this one.  She Rocola herself is a London singer-songwriter, but only if you want her to be.  She feels far stranger than that.

“Molly Leigh Of The Mother Town” is the kind of nursery rhyme you never learned at your mother’s knee, but which buried itself in your memory regardless, to peer out of the soil whhile you’re hopscotching past, and wrap bony fingers round your ankle; “Burn the Witch” is freakish fiddles (by Andrea Fiorito) that scratch behind She’s icy vocal and spectral harmonies, a Hammer film condensed to two minutes of sound and effects.

If you’ve heard She Rocola’s Six of the Best album, discount the experience immediately.  That was then, this is… scary.

7various artists

The Fruits de Mer Records Guide to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Fruits de Mer (Crustacean 74)

A follow-up of sorts to the EP of TV themes that highlighted FdM’s output a few years ago, three very different takes on the theme to that most beloved of early eighties sci fi shows – which, in turn, started life as an instrumental on the fourth Eagles album.

Yes, it’s “Journey of the Sorcerer,” as seen through the ears of Astralasia… virulent electronics, redolent of an acid-housed rewiring of the theme from Doctor Who; Icarus Peel… stripped down spacey sounds, eerie and so open-ended that, even after it’s finished, it’s still going on; and the Blue Giant Zeta Puppies, who turn it into a sunburned and blistered surf instrumental, with more than a hint of Peter Gunn on the prowl.  All we need is a few verses of Vogon poetry, and we’d never see the world in the same way again.

Neither does the fun end there.  Three tracks on the single are appended by a bonus CD of remixes, another version of the theme by the most impressively-named Quantum Surf Rocket Garage Dolls, and further cuts by Astralasia and Pete Bingham (of Senedlica).  Which Spin Cycle hasn’t heard, but what the hell.  One day, all TV themes will sound like this.

9Beautify Junkyards

Constant Flux/Pirâmide

Ghost Box (Other Voices 08)

Lisbon’s Beautify Junkyards long ago established themselves firmly in the firmament of bands that feel incapable of taking a wrong step – and while longtime Ghost Box watchers might wonder if this is the moment they do so… they don’t.

The latest in a series of singles that has already given the ghost plenty of chances to step out of its customary box for a time, “Constant Flux” is the Junkyard’s traditional grasp of pastoral folkiness, wired through what ought to be the recurring theme in a slow burning folk horror movie, gently foreboding as it lulls you along, and only your imagination knows what’s happening just out of camera range.

There’s a taste of Broadcast in the air, and a gentle serenity that spreads across the Portuguese language “Pirâmide” too, bed upon bed of acoustics that cushion Rita Vian’s so-captivating vocal with a warmth that deserves far more than the under-four minutes that the song consumes.  Truly, there should be an entire album’s worth of this.

8Vibravoid

In-a-Gadda-da-Vida parts one and two

Fruits de Mer (Crustacean 72)

It’s not the longest version of the old Butterfly chest beater you’re ever going to hear… fifteen minutes, split across two sides of the single, in fact, feels like a radio edit, and torments the mind with visions of an even longer version that lurks in the crypt of Castle Vibravoid, shifting restlessly, growling softly, just waiting for the moment when….

Enough.  Fifteen minutes is quite sufficient for a 45 and what was “In-a-Gadda” anyway, but a great idea for a three minute single, with a bloody great drum solo stuck in the middle?  The percussives are here as well, a-rattling and a-clattering across the final two minutes or so of side one, and they’ll be back in the middle of side two as well.  Love them at your peril.

But still it’s hard to escape the grip of the gadda or even the vice of the vida, because every passing moment brings you that little bit closer to “normal service” being resumed.  And that’s a riff with spider legs, a bass line that slips like banana skins on ice, and a lyric that makes the Ramones’ “gabba gabba hey” sound positively old-fashioned.

Altogether now….

Leave a Reply