A point we’ve wrestled with on several occasions when running the critical rule over releases heading out of the Fruits de Mar sound lab has been their seeming carefree indifference to any notion of commercial suicide. Assured of collector status, achieving a rare feat in modern pop culture of the last few years in being recognised as a branded imprint offering and maintaining a quality release roster, the unwitting founding principle of a strict back to vinyl policy – often coloured at that – which all said might be the rage and fashion these days but way back in the labels formative years was still considered a peculiar two fingered salute to the rising tide of digital by the record buying old guard and into the bargain cultivating a label that whilst still operating uniquely as a mini cottage industry has managed along the way to emerge into something approaching what can only be best described as a familiar friendly family. These days the label is beyond cult status – freed of the trappings of being a mere label – it has become a collective / a fixed point gathering spot, blessed with an array of house bands easily called upon at the drop of a hat to step into the breach with ensembles and like-minded folk remixing each other and bands forming mini spin offs within their ranks jettisoning into other sonic dimensions, hells teeth there are even regular festival soirees while a newly forged sub imprint friends of the fish has been set up as a brand name / flag for bands and friends to release their own stuff which though not financed by FdM does at least have its blessing – obviously the next generic / evolutionary step would be to have bands working together to create new species. As to the releases themselves, both FdM and its sister off spring Regal Crabomophone have steadfastly stuck to the founding principle that – save for special editions / promos and the occasional mailing list freebie – all releases have come out on vinyl, there’s even a subscribers / mailing list where members have upon occasion received various freebies most notably at Christmas / year end, quirky limited editions added to mail out parcels which include ridiculously scarce aborted coloured wax offerings occasioned by a cock up at the pressing plant – there have even been cassettes, quite recently flexis and of late lathe cuts.
‘Side Effects’ like its older sibling ‘Strange Fish’ might be the flexing of over indulgence to which the label every so often subscribes to, a testament to how far the label has come whereby upon a whim its owner can muse over releases enjoyed as his younger self and then seek to replicate and somewhat reconnect to those moments by way of a few well made calls and a handful of requests – a bit like having your own Bank and printing money. For any other label, the marketing concept promoting a four disc set featuring on each of its sides a twenty minute track might flounder before it even got out of the ideas stage, even in these enlightened times whereupon progressive rock has been welcomed in through the back door and all injustices, evils and accusations of muso indulgence oft levelled at its feet have somewhat been forgotten and ignored, there’s still that unerring concern that they weren’t quite forgiven.
So what do you get for your hard earned dosh, well 8 sides of head tripping progian psychoramic groove spread across four vinyl albums all sold individually or collectively together wherein they arrive housed in a humungous box which inside comes tucked a massive poster the artwork provided by the Luck of Eden Hall’s Greg Curvey. The set collectively entitled ‘side effects’ comes subdivided into four more titles – ‘sideshows’, ’sidesteps’, ‘sideways’ and ‘sidetracks’ each containing one side long track pressed onto coloured wax to boot. Each of the eight featured cuts, all covers incidentally, serve as a homage to the epic oft over elaborate golden era of prog before its sudden extinction at the hand of punk / new wave / disco in the mid 70’s and its somewhat sidelining out of history for over 20 years amid critical derision and laughter before salvation from unlikely sources by way of the multi generic dance / trance / ambient crossover scene began to bite at the fall of the 80’s to take hold in the 90’s. the project began, as most great things do, as an accident. Receiving tapes from the Soft Bombs upon which a monumental 18 minute cover of Floyd’s ‘echoes’ sat, it was mooted that the track be split across two sides for a 7 inch, the idea was temporarily shelved when both parties failed to come to a compromise. Within weeks a brace of extended covers arrived from ensembles previously unknown to the FdM staffers and when Sendelica – a band widely known and admired for taking listeners and audiences alike on full on 20 minute marathon odysseys and whose idea of the classic sub 3 minute pop dichotomy is oft mistook as an impish chance to submerge and slowly relocate attending patrons to a point of adjusting their head spaces to their sound world before bringing out the big guns. From that point the seeds were laid. In fact it’s the Soft Bombs who lead us out on this choice spoiling terra-forming two and a half hour head trip with the aforementioned ‘echoes’ for what is an expansive sonic super nova experience both spacey and er – well – frankly funky which I guess is a descriptor that many aren’t used to seeing in the same sentence as Floyd. Add to that the fact that once in your smothered by a full on surround sound experience which at points shifts between light /dark, dreamy / volcanic and cruising / warp factor in such a way you can literally feel your headspace dissolving without the aid of chemical enhancement, however the plus point here is the way the Bombs superbly get to the very core of the Floydian hive mind to not so much cheaply replicate but pic n’ mix the best moments and weave them into a colossal 18 minute terraforming tapestry of delights. New to the Fruits de Mer fold, I suspect not the first or last we’ll be hearing from them either based on the evidence of their take on Aphrodite’s Child’s immortal ‘four horsemen’, Arcade Messiah carve from the original mainframe a hulking post rock-ian epic flexed in the harnessing of natures very own storm moods all curbed in the glorious flicker of magisterial swoons, the intricate sky siren needlework at moments lilting and lulling with the delicate precision of a bruised Quickspace whilst the rage tethered and tamed as though the result of some studio face off enacted between Mountain and Supersister. Those among you with long memories might well recall the mighty Bevis Frond committing to tape an edited version of electric sandwich’s ‘china’ for the labels celebrated ‘Head’ collection many moons ago when we were all so much younger, fresher faced and spotty for the experience. Those wondering where the hell the rumoured full on 23 minute head massage ever got to then wonder no more for stamped on one side of disc 2 sits this mind frying freak head stoned out on its own trip-a-delic vibe as it peaks behind the mystical curtain for a magical third eyeful, out there pristinely turned beatnik-ed psych blues – frazzled, freakish and just a tad fried – most patrons aboard its trip will – I can tell you – not return all in one piece, an absolute perfect lesson in exquisite conscious fracturing wasted groove which is among other things is liable to give you a big beard just for being in close earshot. Sorry to break hearts so early in the review but hands down best moment of the set comes courtesy of the Wreaths rephrasing of Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘sundown’ – frankly the dogs danders which in truth we mentioned way back last November when the band sneaked out early call MP3’s for us to wow over. And wow over you should not with-standing the fact that after about 6 minutes you get the sneaking feeling that the band have switched on the loop effect tapes and buggered off to the local drinking hole. That said some sterling narcotic pop whose snaking slo mo bliss cooled seduction ought to appeal first instance to those much admiring of Cheval Sombre though scratch a little and while there’s an intoxicating wooziness that calls to mind a youthful Mercury Rev sparring with Black Angels, it’s the chemical high hypno-groove haloes of the Spacemen 3 that you ought to be digging for close comparison.
Admired around these here parts following their ‘Coltrane’ split with Earthling Society, Superfjord steady their gaze on the Byrds ‘CTA-102’ and render it anew giving it something of a kraut crusted solar surfing tint a la la dusseldorf before sending it on its way to mooch around the milky way as though the work of eco bots huey and duey from silent running had whiled away the endless days giving their lunar garden a quick makeover sprucing it up to resemble some west coast paradise and into the bargain renaming themselves Jan and Dean and in their down time concocting tripping melodic montages nodding to slipstream and alphastone. One of the sets highlights – and there are many to choose from and on this occasion best experienced heard through headphones with the dials cranked passed 10 that way you get the full submersive experience as you feel your synapses beginning to melt and fade away. As fitting a tribute to Chris Squire as you can get, The Luck of Eden Hall summon up all their collective powers for a damn near faithful visit to Yes’ ‘starship trooper’ and proceed to lose themselves in the moment for a spot of – and pardon the reverting to vernacular here – some seriously head freaked kick ass groove which in truth had I not eyed the listings beforehand would have sworn it had been the handiwork of those Sendelica dudes and something which emerges shrouded in the celestial and somewhere in the last quadrant of its journey goes all mellow and trippy as though phrased through the collective mindset of an out of it and stoned ‘bad orb’ era Walking Seeds. Can’t get any better eh – guess that’s what you are thinking, you’d be wrong for stashed at the back is what for us are the cuts that steal the show (that is if you discount the previously mentioned Wreaths cut). Best kick back and roll yourself a fat one for this for Julie’s Haircut turn in, tune out and turn on matters with a snaking and swarthy drop dead cover of Miles Davis’ ‘shhh peaceful’, looser and more airy than the original, always felt Miles’ take was scribed in a lounge tongue, mind you that might have been the inclusion of some seriously smoked key playing by Joe Zawinul, here though re-trimmed as a bliss kissed noir scratched cutie under a by night lonesome and empty drizzled downtime setting that really does sound like an over mellowed and out of it Bablicon at the height of their powers. Sendelica bring matters to a close though not before taking the Summer / Moroder classic ‘I feel love’ on a cosmic carpet ride, a mind dissolving spectacle that finds Wales’ coolest sonic trippers relocating this game changing disco / electronic face off into a mind expanding and spacey kraut gouged jazz tropicalia event that still retains all the sensual purr of the original mix only here imparted upon a deceptively seductive woozy plane wherein the fleeting visitations of Gong, Embryo and Ariel Kalma swirl amid the groove lines. All said ‘Side effects’ makes for a quite stunning old school listening experience and something which in the passage of time will be looked upon as a critical cornerstone / turning point in both the re-emergence of vinyl and cosmic / prog rock.
Excerpt videos –