archive review originally posted on the losing today site c. 2002/3
OF ARROWE HILL
THE SPRING HEELED PENNY DREADFUL – AND OTHER TALES
These are indeed strange days and just what you need in times like these is a strange band to mirror or more so vocalise that collective mood. Step up to the stage Of Arrowe Hill, a band who will in time become essential to your very existence let alone your record collection.
After two ultra limited seven inch singles in the space of two years, the debut ‘A dull today is a darker yesterdays bright tomorrow’ was a white labelled disc housed in a brown bag with two inked stamps: one bearing their name the other it’s numbered issue (mine was 328 / 350 pop pickers) with no other information to boot other than a bingo ticket, a deliciously numbing cocktail of enriched English psychedelia at it’s most darkly abstract. Several months later ‘Gadfly Adolescence’ was about and walking among us, a razored lysergic version of the Who circa ‘Pictures of Lily’.
What makes the OAH crew so invigorating can be viewed on three levels; firstly, their ability to tease out authentic English psychedelia and mess it up with West Coast pastel tinted pop, elements of the Elephant 6 collective get tangled with variants of early Floyd and the Who to create twisted kaleidoscopic mirages, a real witches brew. Secondly, like all great debuts they are not pre-disposed to fashion, like last years Oddfellows Casino long player and Jumbo’s debut from 2000 to name but two in recent memory, and it’s by no accident that both are mentioned since OAH conjure with the formers soothing refinement best tested on ‘Grandmother’s steps’ even if it does come across uneasily sinister and the latter’s take on a resolute determination to ignore the songbook guide to making logical pop, yet each are musically distant though share that bond of arriving sounding like nothing on earth at that moment, so to ‘The Spring Heel Penny Dreadful’ can add itself to the exalted list. Thirdly, OAH arrive it what can be viewed as a renaissance period for Liverpudlian pop, bands like the Coral, Zutons, the Moonies are all making their instinctive marks amid a growing scene that is thriving on everything from punk to folk. However you feel that despite their more roughened exterior, OAH stand high above their collective peers in terms of creative nouse, the offspring of a Floyd devouring city in the early 80’s has 20 odd years on yielded a monster of it’s own making.
The current single ‘I are becoming instinct’ opens to the sounds of the blissful rural country side the idyllic imagery of lazy hazed afternoons in the sun amid the green splendour as often visited by the Beatles, the gentle ramblings are quickly shattered by the ferocious onslaught of raging friction that sounds like the Byrds after a bad acid intake. Not to be outdone ‘The push button deities’ sparks and lifts off with anthemic rage, just when it gets going a comedy Black and White horror movie piano backdrop pops in to throw a vexed spanner in the machinery. The strangely titled ‘Psychic vampire supply teacher’ takes it’s cue from the Teenage Fanclub in a jamming session with Velvet Crush, sharpened hooks that fizz, bop and boom. ‘Coming up on the inside’ sees them nicking the Oasis handbook for a spot of in your face semantics, a scorching, and oddly straightforward rocker.
From therein the album takes up a life of it’s own. ‘Carry on Darkly’ picks off the Floyd borrowing chunks of the very essence of ‘Shine on you crazy diamond’ and supplanting a warped creeping hotwired psychedelic swirl that Porcupine Tree would kill for, pure freak beat. The albums best moments are tripped by the trio of tracks that begin with the searing take no prisoners onslaught of ‘All over the place’, and true to it’s word it is, a barnstorming revved up roller coater ride, totally screwed.
By contrast ‘Grandmothers Steps’ with its sinisterish sliding guitars and sweeping acoustics proffering a lazy country tinged pastoral feel that numbs the defences, capped by the flip your wig antics of the unhinged kaleidoscopic acid drenched ‘Gadfly Adolescence’.
Leave the CD running and you get a few unlisted tracks, five in fact including the bands finest moment in my opinion, ‘Cuckoo Spit’ a glazed, dozing slab of unfurling trippyness that recalls classic Barrett Floyd, followed by one cut from the debut single and three untitled gems the last of which is a raw stoner blues tub-thumper.
Like ‘Gigglegoo’ by the Freed Unit and Porcupine Tree’s ‘Stupid Dream’ this album manages to harness the intensity and the ageless beauty of Britain’s idyllic psychedelic pastures, a modern day ‘White Album’ that trips all the switches. One day all debuts will be as good as this.