Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hunting the wily record album.

A visit to a local antique market netted me a couple of records. Yes, vinyl records are considered antiques these days.

The best one first: a Shadows of Night single “Gloria b/w Dark Side” which is a fine garage rock stomper, but I’m sure you already knew that. A little noisy sounding, but playable. Also purchased was a single by The Poppy Family “I Was Wondering” b/w “Where Evil Grows”. The A side is the sort of light and breezy song that got them airplay back in the seventies, but it is the songs typical of the B side that add to their legend of recording dark, cracked and creepy pop songs. “Where Evil Grows” definitely has a place on my next mixdisk, no question.

What else? Leo Kottke’s ”6 and 12 String Guitar” on John Fahey’s Takoma label. It’s a great collection of instrumentals with strange song titles such as “Vaseline Machine Gun” and “The Brain of the Purple Mountain” which may perhaps suggest a more whimsical approach than is apparent in the performances. At $3.00, a bargain to be sure.

The final two were found in the International bin. I always check this section because this is where the oddest or must unusual records can be found (either that or the bin labeled “Misc.”). Records such as “Türk San’at Müziginden Seçmeler – Turkish Hit Parade” on the Request label. Despite what the title may suggest, it is a collection of traditional music: one side of wild-sounding ensemble playing and one of Taksim (solo instrument improvisations). Glad I bought this one.

Lastly, “Grand Prix/Folk – 3rd All Japan Light Music Contest” on the Polydor label. Oh wow, but this is great! Yes, the folk music, hoedown, and jamboree boom of the early sixties (a la Peter, Paul & Mary, and Kingston Trio) had admirers in Japan and here’s the proof in glorious mono.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Syrinx – “Syrinx” [True North Records. 1970]/”Long Lost Relatives” [True North Records 1971]

I was just a kid at the time, but I remember a show called “Here Comes the Seventies” on Canadian TV. I can’t say that I remember much about the show except that it featured ‘future shock’type stories on what we could look forward to in that forthcoming magical (ahem) decade. What stands out most clearly in my mind was the opening and closing credits. The closing credits featured a nude woman walking into the ocean and the opener had an unusual band performing the show’s theme. The unusual band was called Syrinx.

Syrinx featured John Mills-Cockell on Arp and Moog synthesizers and keyboards (previously of the electro-acoustic outfit Intersystems), Doug Pringle on sax, guiro, bongos, and bells and Alan Wells on congas, tympanis, gong and tambourine. The odd combination of instrumentation ensured that the band sounded like few others, then or now. What they did manage to create was an exotic instrumental music that was both melodic and adventurous.

“Syrinx” was a strong debut which, although marred by a murky production, featured memorable soundscapes of pulsating synths and acoustic instrumentation in free-flight, just give a listen to “Melina’s Torch” or “Hollywood Dream Trip” and you’ll see what I mean.

“Long Lost Relatives” is however the masterpiece: a complete success from beginning to end. The band had expanded the template with the addition of a string section and a small choir for vocals on a couple of cuts. The high point for me is “Tillicum” (the theme for "Here Comes the Seventies") which is one minute and fifty-four seconds of moog pop bliss. That and “Aurora Spinray” have made their way on more than one mix tape of mine.

The LPs haven’t been rediscovered by a new generation of music fans and consequently can be found for only a few dollars at most. So, act now before their material starts appearing on rare groove collections.

A couple of final notes: Syrinx are often listed as being progressive rock or a psych band, of which they are neither. So if you buy the albums expecting the 13th Floor Elevators or (god forbid) Yes, you will be very disappointed. However if you enjoy Popol Vuh, Yatha Sidhra, The Third Ear Band or Tuxedomoon you’ll marvel how you might have missed this group in the first place.

Syrinx is a name that was been used more than once. My memory tells me that there was a string quartet who used the name, as well as a group who recorded an LP called “Pan Pipe Explosion”. These are not the Syrinx I’m talking about.

Some discographies include Mills-Cockell’s solo albums as Syrinx titles. Be aware that “Heartbeat”, “A Third Testament” and “Gateway” have their moments but are somewhat uneven. By all means, buy them if you see them, but they are not the place to start in my opinion.
Locations of visitors to this page