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Monday, 24 December 2012

Alexander Spence – All My Life (I Love You) / Land of the Sun (1999)

Out of all the 1960s lost souls Alexander Spence was one of the most far-gone. What a pity the acid was so strong back then; fragile guys like Spence just didn’t stand a chance trying to keep it together. Never heard of him? Well the cliché is that Spence was the U.S answer to Syd Barrett, which is shorthand for wayward genius cut short by drugs and mental illness.

Like Syd, Spence had loads of talent and started out drumming for Jefferson Airplane on their first album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off (1966). He left to join Moby Grape as a guitarist and contributed strongly to their mega debut album – Moby Grape (1967), most notably with the song Omaha, which is one the greatest guitar oriented songs ever. Unfortunately Spence was later sectioned after attacking one his band-mates at a hotel with a fire axe. He never fully recovered, but before he started to fadeout he recorded his one and only solo album – Oar (1969) on a three track.* On Oar Spence played every instrument himself and totally manifested the sound of mental confusion with flair and charm. The album is justly regarded as an obscure cult classic and is well worth checking out.

This beautifully packaged and pressed single features two rare works from Spence post Oar. I haven’t found any meaningful information about All My Life except that it was recorded in 1972 in San Mateo, California. It has a great crunchy riff and vocals that are very different to the way he sung on Oar. Perhaps Moby Grape recorded it in 1972 with (or without) Spence? Do any Moby Grape freaks know?

Land of the Sun is a totally different proposition. I still remember the first time I heard this seriously creepy song – I was amazed at how well it encapsulates nameless dread. Listen to it really loud and it will totally weird you out. Known as the last Spence recording, it was made for an X-Files soundtrack, but didn’t end up on the subsequent album. The song was recorded in 1996 and Spence died in 1999. I guess that the excellent reissue label Sundazed released it in 1999 to mark his passing and give the song a chance to freak people out (it is still readily available). I’m going to play it again, just in time for Christmas.

* Legend has it that when Spence was let out of the psychiatric ward in New York he rode a motorcycle non stop dressed only in his pajamas to a Nashville studio to begin recording the album. An apocryphal tale no doubt, but I like to believe that it is true.

Skip Spence - man he had great hair!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Tame Impala – Lonerism (2012)

It’s already that time of year when critics begin to list the best albums of the year. The NME has just published its list of top fifty albums on its website and I was pleased to find that they have placed Perth band Tame Impala at number one for their album Lonerism. Whether the NME is relevant these days or not doesn’t matter, what counts is that the accolade is deserved. No doubt the album will be towards the top of most magazines best of lists, oh and perhaps Pitchfork as well, maybe they’ll give it a 9.2 or something.

Lonerism is a superb blast of deep psychedelia. If their debut РInnerspeaker, sounds like the inflation of the universe, then Lonerism is the equivalent of white light passing through a prism, revealing itself as a rainbow of colours (such cosmic clich̩s are necessary when it comes to Tame Impala, just to keep up the established tradition).

Lonerism has been reviewed to the nth degree since its release a few months ago, so I will not bother to add to the collection. All I can say is that like The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Tame Impala take old musical tropes and make them sound new again. But really it’s lazy and inaccurate to think of them as being retro. They are making a kind of psychedelic music, but it’s more rooted in the tradition of The Flaming Lips, rather than any late 60’s band.Comparisons are a moot point though, because Tame Impala have minted their own sound and have backed it up with superb songwriting.

Tame Impala’s music is made for vinyl, with its deeply layered arrangements and a guitar sound that’s like fairy-floss being melted and stretched. The production is warm and full and although many of the instruments sound heavily treated, it’s not an over-produced album. It demands multiple listens to really appreciate its quality, so get out and buy a pressing and give it a spin. If you get the vinyl version you can also check out more easily what all those people are doing on the cover, which looks like it was shot in France. The back cover looks like Kevin Parker’s bedroom in Perth, where he single-handedly recorded much of the album. Looks like he had fun.

Also check out just why my hometown scene is worthy of attention and why Pond is right up there with Tame Impala. Then have a look at some of the highlights from Lonerism on Youtube, not as good as vinyl, but you’ll have to sort that out for yourself: It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards, Elephant, Why Won’t They Talk To Me? and Apocalypse Dreams.

I get to see them live for the first time in ages on December 15 in Fremantle – lucky me!

Sometimes the band had to line up for the back stage toilet