Ballet school. It sounds so elegant, doesn’t it. Steeped in beauty, laced in loveliness... and a bigger nest of vipers you’ll never stumble upon. Remember Vicky in The Red Shoes, tumbling in front of an on-coming train? Remember Black Swan, with Nina on a crash course to tragedy?
And remember Suspiria, which is not only the first and probably only movie ever to unleash a serial killer on the luckless students at a top dance academy, but could also be credited with igniting that run of house/camp/town/convent-under-siege slashers that followed in its late seventies wake.
“Oh look, Friday the Thirteenth falls on Halloween this year. Lets all go spent the night in that creepy abandoned asylum in the woods where the lunatic fallen rock star carved up a Music Writers Convention fifty years ago exactly.”
Schizo Fun Addict, whose name already kind of hints at an interest in less than wholesome activities, could probably soundtrack that movie in their sleep. But while they’re awake, they turn back to Suspiria, for their first Fruits de Mer 45 (cat no. Crustacean 48, fact fans) since they debuted the label in the first place. Many years and a mountain of collectible releases ago.
It’s a faithful recounting, and a thrilling one, too. Recorded, it says here, in a room above a New Jersey funeral home... which may or may not add to the ambience, but it’s certainly fun to think about... a quartet of interwoven vocalists Jayne Gabriel and Ilona Virostek, drumming guitarist Patrick Flynn, and Jet Wintzer positively piling up synth sounds to fill your ears with all the sinister sibilance you could ever care to be creeped out by, “Theme from Suspiria” will sit in the corner of your bedroom at night, and watch you even when you’re not listening to it.
Which you won’t be, not all of the time, because the b-side is a cinematic masterpiece too, taking us back to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls with a song (“In The Long Run”) that is so sweet, so sixties, so innocent, bouncy and beautiful, that you just know there’s something nasty going on beneath the surface. Probably involving Z-Man.
Crystal Jacqueline and the Honey Pot sounds like it could be a new tale of Winnie the Pooh. Presumably deliberately but delightfully too, as a new single from the indeed crystalline Jacqueline (Crustacean 47), accompanied by her Honey Pot bandmates, delves deep into another side of the sixties experience - a mix tape of all your fave forgotten 45s (plus “White Rabbit”) that recasts them in a fashion that actually sounds even more like the era than the originals.
Seven songs rejoice across four sides of seven-inch vinyl, with the blanco bunny joined by Mighty Baby’s “Egyptian Tomb,” the Prunes’ “Too Much to Dream,” Fleur de Lys’s “Tick Tock,” Curved Air’s “Puppets” (chronologically skewed but hush. It works) and one slab of modernity, Icarus Peel’s “It’s Raining.”
And Pink Floyd’s “Remember A Day,” which opens the platter in the first place by effectively taking all of your favorite moments from A Saucerful of Secrets - Nick Mason’s symphonic drumming included - and compresses them into less than four minutes of Richard Wright’s finest hour.
It’s a deceptive opener, too, bright and breezy and so utterly devoid of menace that no way do you expect the Airplane’s albino hoppity to sweep in like an understated storm cloud, the tempo upped, the guitar howling, and Jacqueline almost threatening the lyric that Grace Slick left echoing through an emotionless void.
“Tick Tock” is delivered with a fine, funky swagger; “Too Much to Dream” with a truly dreamlike air; and “Puppets” makes you realize just how close to Sonja Kristina Jacqueline’s vocals sometimes sound. Which is such a good thing that we should all go run around the room and wave our arms round for the duration of the song. No matter how silly we look while we do it.
A new EP from Us and Them (Winkle 14) means three new slices of magical melancholy, cunningly disguised among the loveliest sounds you’ll hear this year. One of which is their own “Do I Know You,” to which you’ll repeat the same question as their flawless absorption of all the right influences bleeds into a sparse, drifting and deeply absorbing soundscape, over which vocals rise just this side of murmured, to haunt your very dreams. Spellbinding!
But flip the disc and you will melt.... and I mean seriously, literally, disintegrate into a little puddle of goo on the carpet... as Britt and Anders turn their attention to a couple of songs, by a couple of singers, that very few people indeed have ever truly triumphed over.
Donovan’s reading of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwock” is so enshrined in the folklore of late psychedelia that even attempting to echo it should receive a ticket to that unpleasant asylum we popped into a few paragraphs back. But Britt does it, and having done so, she then turns in one of the best Sandy Denny covers you have, or will, ever hear.
“By The Time It Gets Dark” never actually made it onto any of Denny’s official albums; demoed in 1974 and recorded in 1976 (during the Rendezvous sessions), for many years it was available only as the cover that Julie Covington included on her self-titled, Joe Boyd produced debut album in 1979.
Slowly, though, the Denny demo crept out, and the Rendezvous out-take as well, and there’s at least a dozen other covers going the rounds right now. From which Us and Them really don’t deviate too far, but rise above them regardless through the sheer warmth of a pristine, simple vocal, and an accompaniment that paces it perfectly.
Oddly, there’s a hint of Saint Etienne around the chorus, a “Hobart Paving”-y heartbreak that may or may not have been intended. Either way, it works in a way that precious few Denny covers ever have.
Bronco Bullfrog may or may not have named themselves for Bronco Bulldog, a lovely slice of cult Brit cinerama that locked so tightly into late 60s delinquency and crime that the only time their London ever swung would be on the end of a rope.
Since 1996, however (albeit with a monster hiatus before they reformed in 2011), Bronco Bullfrog have been painstakingly recreating that same era with a string of singles that you could slip onto any period pop sampler and no-one would be any the wiser. And doing so without even the merest soupcon of revivalist self-consciousness. And here they are again (Winkle 15).
Not that they hide their influences. The irresistible “Rocking Horse Mender” is the Bullfrog’s love song to Kaleidoscope, a band with whom they once dreamed of collaborating, but it didn’t work out. “Listen To The Sky” was originally recorded by the Sands for Robert Stigwood’s Reaction label, and is re-envisioned here with an air that also conjures Thunderclap Newman into view.
And “Time Waits for Norman” is the sort of title that the Rolling Stones might have intended, had Jagger not been feeling so philosophical one day, and starts out as another tale of light-fingered larceny a la Arnold Layne. But naughty Norman Jones stealing soda from the corner shop is only the opening salvo in a catalog of utterly English social mundanity; jackdaws going whoopsie on the car, the radio burbling whatever pap is playing, a jar of chicken paste...
...you can almost smell the lawns mowing and the Sunday dinners cooking. But there’s also the distant clatter of breaking glass and burglar alarms, the calling card of the old Bronco, Bulldog, there to remind us that behind every facade of suburban grass, there’s urban gravel waiting to burst through.
Either that or your older brother, sequestered in the bedroom where you’re not allowed to go, is playing his new-fangled prog rock loudly, as though anyone can make any sense of a song that plays sixteen tunes at once, bound together by a beat that wallops eighteen to the bar and ...
And so forth. Hailing from the city of Bristol, Schnauser set forth to correct what Fruits de Mer’s own website acknowledges is a major oversight in their catalog. “Five years old and not a Yes or Soft Machine cover to be seen.”
Faithful to all that you would hope they’d recreate, “Astral Traveller” and “As Long as He Lies Perfectly Still” hop, skip and percolate through all the extremes that they ought to, with the vocals on the latter even poised in the mix in precisely the same place as Robert Wyatt’s once were. Before, as the band admit, they put the soft machinery behind them and wind up heading distinctly Gongwards - which is where things grow even more interesting.
Floydy organ swoops and disconnected vocal yelps, reinforce the wildness, and in terms of taking something that is distinctly someone else’s (seriously, how many decent Softs covers have you heard before? Or Yes, for that matter) and carving both tribute and triumph from its flesh, Schnauser even give jazz rock a good name. Or a better name than it has right now.
That name is Crustacean 46.