Monday, August 6, 2012

In the Haze - Psychedelic Jams; featuring Amber, The Machine, and The Crystal Caravan

Amber - Pearls of Amber

Amber are certainly a band I'd never heard of til this disc was dropped on my desk by Postman Sal, and it appears I'm not alone.  Active from 1970-71, Amber were a duo of Keith MacLeod and JulianMcAllister, with a little help on these recordings from Ray Cooper on tabla.  The recordings that make up Pearls of Amber come from their only two studio sessions and date back to those days but were not released until a very limited vinyl press run in 2000.  Now, Merlins Nose Records makes them available world-wide for the first time. 

So, what does it sound like?   Like a time machine.  Like a glimpse back to a day when people were tuning in and dropping out and really thought that if they played that guitar with enough passion and sang with enough honesty, they could change the world.  And that's a good thing.

Sitar is the prominent instrument here, taking the lead role in several of the songs.  And I mean sitar in the hippiest sense of the word.  "She Shell Rock Me" is an ode to free love and hippy days long gone by.  There's two versions here, one a touch more guitar-based in the intro before the sitar comes in, the other a bit more laid back and cool.  Either way, the song is a long-lost hippy anthem, with an absolutely gorgeous melody and vague lyrics about . . . I don't know . . . hippy stuff.  I mean, look at the song title.  These guys weren't necessarily writing "slice of life stories" from the mean streets of Brooklyn.  But it's gorgeous, evocative stuff. You can almost smell the jasmine and frankincense burning.  My lava lamp is calling.

"White Angel" is a bit less hippyish, in the sense that the sitar takes a back seat, instead replaced by acoustic guitar and some percussion.  Still, folky and mellow, it's a moving song, with another perfect melody and arrangement.  And that's one of the things I dig about this album. As tripped out/laid-back hippy commune, love-in vibe as it is, the guys never let the chemicals take them too far astray.  Each song adheres to a structure while leaving plenty of space to move and breathe. 

Overall, it's a killer glimpse back to the long-lost acoustic psych days of yesteryear.  A sneak peak into one bands space.  A dreamy trip into times long gone.  A joyful listen. 


The Machine - Drie

Dutch trio The Machine blast off into the stratosphere of space/psych with this 2011 release, Drie.  Signed to Elektrohasch, (who else?) The Machine proudly take their place next to Colour Haze in their stoner-psych-rock, but toss in more than a thimbleful of Hendrix to really make their space ship take off.

"Pyro" scalds my speakers.  Yeah, I know, cheap pun, but I mean it.  The guitar work searing through the psych groove and melody is positively on fire.  Think Hendrix in the best sense, warped out and fuzzed out.  Full on psych guitar madness.  Yep, that's what the guys load into the spaceship Drie and prepare for liftoff.

"Sunblow" is a full on 9 minute epic of space rock indulgence.  Leaving Earth's feeble gravity behind, our spaceship has no problem reaching into the outer extent of the solar system.  There's lyrics, but I have no idea what they're singing about, I'm too busy doing somersaults and spins in my gravity-less world. Spinning and floating and ever reaching farther.  "Medulla" grounds us a bit with the heavy bass and thunderous riff, but it's a false gravity.  Like passing close to a star but never actually falling into it's field.  Because shortly, we're off soaring again into the cosmosphere.  Nebulas pass.  Red Dwarves fall behind.  I'm sailing.

Start to finish, a fine addition to the Elektrohasch label.


The Crystal Caravan - Against the Rising Tide

Damn do I love this album!  I've had it forever and never reviewed it cause I just can't get it out of my car stereo where it's taken up permanent residence.  Released in 2010 by one of my favorite labels, Transubstans, The Crystal Caravan take a different approach to retro-70's rock.  Rather than mine the more common Zeppelin or Sabbath roads, CC bring in the funk.  And I mean big time funk.

Think later-era Deep Purple, mixed with Sly and the Family Stone.  Maybe some Graham Central Station.  Some Grand Funk Railroad.  A little Free.  No matter who the influences are, the sound is as potent and vibrant as anything I've heard in a long-time. The Crystal Caravan are the latest Swedish retro-rockers to make my radar. In existence since roughly 2002 this seven member outfit have got their sound down pat.

The first thing I notice about this release is the energy.  It bleeds through the blasts of rock/funk like "We Always Lose," and "Love and Direction."   It all sounds so spontaneous and sweaty like the whole thing was recorded live in an intimate club with dancers and alchohol and happy chemicals.  And people are dancing.  They can't help themselves.  

A buring intensity sears through the mix, all filled out with a warm, analog vibe.  The passion is infectious.  And the funk, man, the funk.  I can't stop listening to this one. 

--Racer

Amber


The Machine


The Crystal Caravan

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