New River Head
As the Bevis Frond reissue campaign rumbles on, I find myself in possession of the expanded edition of New River Head, a definite high watermark in mainman Nick Saloman’s lonely idylls. New River Head is the point where Bevis Frond start making leaps and bounds, both in terms of technical acumen and songwriting reach. There’s that rich tradition of English eccentricity that guides the whole thing, but not all parochial and annoying like The Kinks or Herman’s Hermits (A one-man White Album without the Music Hall whimsy), but all epic and adventurous like Syd Barrett and My Bloody Valentine and King Crimson. This ‘un gits in well with the single-minded obsession towards pushing music and melodic brilliance of other lone wolf geniuses like Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, Greg Sage of the Wipers and maybe even J. Mascis at one point. Like Mascis and Sage (and Hendrix shhhh), he’s a guitar hero, yeah, check out the blazing solo that uncoils throughout “Solar Marmalade,” but he’s more beholden to the power of the song than of the axe. And that is to be encouraged above all.
The instrumental “White Sun” has some blazing, eastern-influenced soloing. No seriously, George Harrison would have been way jealous of this. “Drowned” comes off like a more restrained and chilled-out early Pink Floyd or that slow song off the King Crimson record with the crazy mouth: some evocative electric piano and phased guitar. The freaked-out brutality of “She’s Entitled To” redeems the wah pedal from years of porn movie misuse. “Waving” switches abruptly to Irish-inspired folk, simply built around fiddles, acoustic guitar and Saloman’s murmured vocals. “Down In The Well” is like Dinosaur Jr’s more-talented English cousin, the brutal fuzz of the guitars clashes so wonderfully with the strained-yet-deadpan vocals. Ditto for “Undertaker,” with its raucous Stooges-esque shake and feedback dripping through the cracks. “Wild Jack Marmalade” sees Saloman inexplicably aping Elvis Costello’s gasps and grunts over some awesomely Hendrix-ian backing, just garage power trio type brilliance. Of course, Mascis could never have followed his fuzz-stomps up with a song of such raw beauty as “Stain On The Sun” (that’s why Lou Barlow left). It’s so full of aching and longing, yet so beautifully orchestrated that it could have easily been the BIG HIT. Seriously. It stops you in your tracks, honestly; and dig the guitar soloing. Saloman is God. The demo version on the second disc is fab too. “Son Of Many Mothers” is impressive for its weird aural off-ramps while still using the most rudimentary tools of the rock trade, it’s up there with a Pixies’ level of shifts of dynamic and time changes, but way more subtle and less exhibitionistic. “God Speed You To Earth” boasts the same riff as U2’s track for “Wings of Desire’s” sequel, a few years early (!), and naught else but a haunting falsetto for maximum longing, before exploding into intermittent bursts of Spaceman 3-esque white noise, to totally scrape the heavens.
On to disc two. “Motherdust” is a repetitive psychedelic three-chord stomp that slows things down to a notch above the Melvins, but with a T Rex feel. Hey! “Cuvie” is like guitar meiosis, strange replications of guitar squiggles and organ noise that form patterns organically. “Chinese Burn” = classic “96 Tears-esque” garage rock. Absolutely brilliant organ driven scuzz. “Thankless Task” returns to the Irish folk theme, but with a slower more elegant pace, and the Costello-isms abound. Good stuff. “Miskatonic Variations II” (sequel 2) is the finale, a mind-blowing sixteen-minutes of cosmic consciousness in the form of every instrument known to man massed together for a new Hallelujah Chorus. This type of clear-eyed adventure, man… There’s a clutch of nine bonus tracks and demos at the end too, all excellent (particularly “Snow”), all amazing.
Christ, how do you make a fucking double-album seem too crowded and bursting with ideas? Bring on the triple gatefold!
Rubric Records: www.rubricrecords.com