"Imagine you're watching 1970s kids TV, probably the BBC, its 3 o clock and it's time for the educational “make your own instrument from a car wheel then play it in an orchestra with your mates” hippy nonsense that pervaded the airwaves at the time. You know the sort of thing, lots of well scrubbed kids playing recorders, usually presided over by Play Away's Brian Cant, or Heads and Tails' Derek Griffiths. Only this time don Van Vliet's in the studio. And he's pissed. "
The Witch and the Robot – Dying Mancake and the Creature Feature
Hell's teeth. What reserves of purple prose can I draw on to fully give this LP its due?
Well, I can try to be phlegmatic and tell you that you simply must beg steal buy or borrow this LP. From the opener Back Back Baby, which in itself sounds like a peculiar lo-fi mix of Safe as Milk era Captain Beefheart and a seventies children's music programme, right through to the dementia of Together We Are Explosions, you know something very rum indeed is going on.
But let's go back to Back Back Baby. Imagine you're watching 1970s kids TV, probably the BBC, its 3 o clock and it's time for the educational "make your own instrument from a car wheel then play it in an orchestra with your mates" hippy nonsense that pervaded the airwaves at the time. You know the sort of thing, lots of well scrubbed kids playing recorders, usually presided over by Play Away's Brian Cant, or Heads and Tails' Derek Griffiths. Only this time don Van Vliet's in the studio. And he's pissed. It's accessible but quite surreal at the same time, and full of indescribable menace. Indeed, what are we, the poor listening public to make of I'm a Human Being on the Planet Earth? It's grubby guitar riffs guitar dovetail with Bowie-esque squeals and synth flourishes.
Absurdly basic, the bastard offspring of Super Furry Animals, but locked in a cupboard... that kind of thing. The Haunter and the Haunted sees a strange choir fantasizing over an eerie acoustic backdrop, very Paradieswarts Amon Duul in its sound.
Dying Mancake is very much in love with Barrett's Pow R Toc H but somehow borrows a Lancashire Witch to do some screeching along the way. And how do you raise a mancake? We are none the wiser. Saluting Magpies is, by reference to what has gone on before, much more subdued. Still, there's plenty of lyrical content to get concerned about; I mean, when you listen to a seemingly pleasant pastoral piece (you know, flutes, bongos, wistful guitar) and you realise the singer is talking about a leg that has been blown from a body well... it's not common is it?
Amazing Sums returns to Amon Duul territory, albeit with more emphasis on a spooky psychedelic conversation twixt drippy girl and rampantly deranged man. Following this is Turn the Music Down, a spooky piece; very Space Oddity-era Bowie in its use of acoustic guitars and nasal vocals. Its dolorous message is perfectly set against a very drunk-sounding guitar.
The Creaking Gate is fantastically stoned, airy stuff; it's as if Steve Hillage and Peter Hammill are hanging out in a caravan pretending to be gypsies. People flying through the air, fairy stories, that kind of nonsense. (You may not have noticed during your perusal of this review, but I think this LP is very prog indeed. Prog in the good, mildly psychotic, otherworldly way).
Suddenly the fairies are sent to bed, as a German voice, very Hitlerian in tone (I'm not sure who it is but its either Josef or Adolf) intones one or two strident sentences on Same Walk Every Day. Then a mournful guitar takes over, leading the track down a doleful walk. The voice catches up with the instruments and finally drowns them out.
Last up is Together We Are Explosions, a fabulously stuttering, wilful yet slothful piece of proggy folk. It revels in its slacker-style passive aggression. Of course it all builds up into a crescendo. It is very, very reminiscent of All Night Movies Late Night Brainstorms. Brilliant.
There. I think you know what I think. Go find.
Words: Richard Foster.