The Striped Bananas
CD: Cosmic Carnival
7-inch: “Girl You Got Me Feeling Alright”
Well wipe my nose and call me Jorma, but if this album doesn’t kick off with every single reason you ever listened to the Baxters/Crownof Creation era Airplane, then obviously you’re one of those people who prefers Surrealistic Pillow. Or maybe Long John Silver.
A three-piece locked and loaded in the heart of late sixties psych, the stripy bendy yellow things have been compared, elsewhere, to the Doors, the Beach Boys and Dinosaur Jr. Which maybe they should be. But what they really are is the box you keep in the attic of your mind, where you drop favorite riffs and favorite records alongside forgotten toys and plastic nick-nacks… and Cosmic Carnival really is a carnival, because where else are you going to hear Del Shannon shot out of a cannon made from souped-up Love licks? Or find yourself wondering what might have happened if the Shangri-Las had discovered acid instead of heartache?
“Life Goes On” has an intro that can best be described as the Anti-Mamas and Papas, “California Dreaming” for people who really, really hate California. And dreaming. “Captain Merwin” feels oddly like a mid-period Cure song, voiced again by an Airplane fronted by Raggedy Ann and a super rare GI Joe “Conscientous Objector” doll; “Open Eyes” is a box full of insects playing sitars and things, and daring you to order the papadums.
It’s all excellent entertainment, full-blooded psych, and full-bodied more-fun than you could ever have with the po-faced originals with whom they’ve been allied. The Striped Bananas’ very name suggests they don’t expect you to take them too seriously. But in that lack of seriousness, there’s some crucial deeds afoot, indeed.
7-inch: “49 Cigars”
(Fruits de Mer)
If your first single in an eternity was a reissue of a classic, thirty-year old a-side, what better choice for your follow-up could there be than its b-side? nick nicely’s “Hilly Fields” was originally released in 1982, when his vision of twisted UK psych scarcely had a peer in the land.
Reissued by Fruits de Mer a few years back, of course it landed on far fruitier pastures, and so here comes its other side. "49 Cigars” is a genuinely bat crazy mash of backward bits, sideways slants, oddball echoes and more… much more. The NME review back in the eighties called the coupling “the best psych single since the 60s,” and it’s probably still up there today.
Moving on through this new four track EP, we catch a live take on “49 Cigar”; twice the length of the original and making up in raw energy and guitar noise for what it lacks in studio frippery; “Belinda,” a remixed cut from nicely’s new album, which sounds like five different songs all playing at once, while a manitou works the fader; and “Lobster Dobbs,” which is precisely the kind of title you’d expect to find on Fruits de Mer.
Tír na nÓg
CD: The Dark Dance
(Tir na nOg Records)
7-inch: Ricochet/Tir na nOg (live)
(Fruits de Mer)
You wait four decades for a new Tír na nÓg release, and then a bus load come along at once. Following up the EP that renewed our acquaintance last year, and the one- off produced for the Games for May gig, Sonny Condell and Leo Kelly’s first new studio album in forty years (and their first new single since the last one) is less a rolling back of the years, than a restatement of all the reasons why we’ve been awaiting their return.
The four songs that made up the EP, I Have Known Love, reappear here; and so do"Sympathetic Love" and “Ricochet,” meaning hardcore Fruits collectors will already have half the album’s bodyweight on vinyl. But so what? The Dark Dance is not a collection of songs so much as a singular statement that just happens to be divided into ten pieces, opening with the gentle “You in Yellow” and “I Have Known Love” itself, before “The Angelus” steps out into the sideways-shifted melodicism that was always the duo’s strongest aspect.
“I Pick Up Birds at Funerals” is exactly how it ought to be with a title like that; “Ricochet” is the kind of dance that sends you bouncing off walls; the title track stalks forebodingly through the fog, the closest Tír na nÓg come to acknowledging their traditional Irish roots, but distant from them too, a gorgeous melody penned by Elly Lucas, and delivered with likeminded deliberation.
The result is an album that sits quietly on the CD player, but which calls out loudly, regardless. Welcome back.
The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies
12 Theories of Time Travel
(Blue Giant Zeta Puppies)
First encountered via the Active Listener last fall, this is the expanded version of the Puppies' debut album, with added podcast and radio session goodness, sixteen tracks that begin and almost-end with what is probably the Puppies’ statement of intent, the psychobilly psych of “Martians Don’t Surf.”
From there, however, it rolls, rattles and shakes out across a galaxy of garage-flavored favorites, so defiantly cut in that dark, monochrome alleyway where the Shadows used to meet Joe Meek that you don’t even notice the snatches of modernity that filter through the echo and eerieness… the organ line that once bedecked the Teardrop Explodes’s “Reward,” for instance, returned to its natural habitat. Wherever that ought to be.
The 13th Floor Elevators crash heavily through the kennel, together with a bountiful crop of period pioneers that sharp ears can have a fun time discerning. The Puppies certainly don’t allow their influences to have it all their own way, though, as anyone who has caught them on a crop of past singles, downloads and the like will know - “One for Sorrow” is mellow desolation with a Birthday Party bent; “What Don’t Kill” could almost be country; and “The Heretic’s Song” is one part beach party twang, one part something you’d expect the Fugs to have come up with.
All of which renders this one of the wildest, weirdest festivals of wacked-out fuzz that you’ve heard since the likes of the Hoodoo Gurus, Cramps and Fleshtones walked this earth with such gorgeous aplomb. They all had theories about time travel, too.
The Snow-White Ghost-White Stag
(Deep Water Acres)
Within the darkest recesses of the current fascination for wyrd folk, Pennsylvania’s Stone Breath are both one of the best kept secrets and the most astonishing practitioners of all. A long running saga that nevertheless dipped from view for a time, the band regrouped a few years back and, in March 2012, played the live show that is captured with such crystalline beauty here.
Ten songs long, with that same year’s The Night Bird’s Psalm freshly released, The Snow-White Ghost-White Stag certainly draws from the same waters as so many other (British) bands in the same musical arena, with the traditional “Bedlam Boys” only the most obvious reference point. But they draw, too, from sonic touchstones as disparate as John Fahey and Richard and Mimi Farina, stark Americana at its most haunted extremes, bedeviled by guitars and sundry string driven things that should not be able to play so many notes, and latticed vocals that twist and twine as intricate as gorse.
Yet it is by no means easy listening, even within the disquieting hallows of their sphere. The instrumentation is purposefully jarring in its gentleness; the voices stark and untreated, sometimes ancient, sometimes sepulchral, always snagging your notice with another dip or rise. And then, when it’s over, it will remain with you, because sounds like these cast very long shadows.
7-inch: “Stepping Stone”
(Fruits de Mer)
Now this is… something.
We all know by now the tale of how the Monkees’ “Stepping Stone” became the blueprint from which the Sex Pistols cast their charms. But imagine if Question Mark and the Mysterians had got their hands on it first; had layered it with that all-devouring organ sound, washed it in a sonic soup that sent your ears sailing through the third wormhole on the left, and then, just when you thought it was all over and done with, twisted “Hole in my Shoe” through a crack in the universe.
Welcome to the world of Vibravoid, who have more or less rewritten everything you ever thought you wanted to know about either song… when the spoken word section in the Traffic classic is replayed like the jingle from a sliced bread commercial, then even the back of a giant albatross isn’t safe any longer.
HP Lovecraft’s “The White Ship” closes the EP, a six minute leviathan that shudders, shivers, fuzzes and generally froths around the boundaries that the last two tracks shattered so resolutely, and it has no intention of clearing up the mess.
Twelve minutes of brain damage start here.