Artist: Amorphous Androgynous (FSOL)
Title: Alice in Ultraland
Format: CD, 12”
Genre: Psyche, neo psyche, abstract, prog rock
I remember being very excited about this album being released and, subsequently, having such mixed feelings about it afterward that I never finished giving this album a full spin. I think I was expecting something ambient and was in utter shock about it being psyche rock instead. It’s about time I gave it another shot, because psyche rock is awesome.
Mickey Rowe sets things in motion with some soaring piano and organ jamming on the first track. You might remember him from sessions on “Isness” and “Translations.” And, to be honest, as I give this a second spin, I kind of feel the same way I did when I played “Isness” for the first time: I’m in a sense of awe and am completely speechless. This is surprisingly good and well formed. Who would have thought these guys would make psyche music interesting again?
As we enter track two, “The Witchfinder,” I begin to realize a lot of the session musicians from the last two albums were jamming on this one, but despite that similarity, the sound isn’t as timid. Here, it is loud and bold. The vocalists here really howl and throw themselves into it; there’s feeling here that is amazingly palpable. It’s no surprise the duo tried to push this as a radio single, it’s a very strong representation of the work as a whole.
“The Witch Hunt” sends us flying on a raging psyche jam that hints a bit at FSOL’s more abstract side, but things come to a slow drip with “All is Harvest.” It’s a nice change of pace from the rapidness of the earlier tracks but I feel at times this track drags its feet a little. Despite this, it’s calm and soothing and does well on its own. “The Prophet” recycles “ISDN” and “Isness” guitar and bass samples (specifically “A Study of Six Guitars” and “Yes My Brother”), though to be fair, the “Isness” track was only on the mispressed version… but still, even while this track is restructured, it isn’t too far of the ISDN rendition. It seems lazy, in a way.
“High and Dry,” with its catchy guitar riffs and mellow vocals, is a definite throw back to the 60s and could have done well as its own single. I really like this track; it holds a lot of replay value. “Yes My Brother – You’ve got to Turn Yourself Around,” doesn’t reference the original “Isness” track, but sounds fairly decent. There is one guitar riff that sounds suspiciously like the riff from Moby’s “Extreme Ways,” but I may just let that slide. It fits and I don’t think Moby’s complained… maybe they sampled the same source material?
“In the Summertime of Consciousness,” is a playful romp, hinting a bit at “Isness” era goofiness. This isn’t as off the wall as “Goodbye Sky” but trust me, it’s really absurd. Some folks may find this track annoying and others may find it fun and use it for drunken sing-alongs. “Billy the Onion” kicks out the twangy slide guitar, blues-ish harmonica and sweet distortion. This song provides a nice jam for country road cruising.
Things again slow down and almost stop with “Another Fairytale Ending.” It’s a bit noisy in spots and the vocals at times feel misplaced, but well used in others… I really have a hard time with this track… at moments, it’s great and at others, I feel like scrambling for the skip button. I guess this one is a take it or leave it track. “The World is Full of Plankton” leaves me feeling hollow. When the band was featured on the Mojo Magazine tribute to “Let It Be,” a version of this song appeared as they attempted to slap a cover of “Across the Universe” at the end of their segment. A lot of folks deemed that ‘unforgivable’ and it’s now hard for them to even like this song. Harsh, but it’s hard to shake that feeling, even for me.
With some piano/keyboard samples from Daniel Pemberton (who’s “Bedroom” album from Fax Records is where you might remember this guy from…), we close out this album. This track, “The Wicker Doll.” by far is the most ambient track on the album, and really settles things down after such a lively album.
This album was released on Harvest Records, a label traditionally geared towards the more progressive side of rock. You could argue that this album is progressive in the sense that it moved the neo-psyche genre into a more free spirited direction. It also toyed with sophisticated production and some techniques that haven’t been employed since psyche rock’s rise in 1967. However, some might feel this album simply fuels from the “good times” of that time period and doesn’t actually stand for anything important or move to change society, like some psyche artists/folk singers of the 60s. A lot of hype dances around neo-psyche at times and while this album didn’t go the rout of “let’s take LSD and make love, dude,” some folks may feel that it plays off of it enough to be the opposite of what the ‘scene’ once was. Personally, I don’t feel it used that hype at all, and this record does very well as its own entity. It’s profound but also a lot of fun.
Should you buy this? If you’re looking for the more wild side of psyche in a modern format, this is for you. Fans of “Isness” and “Translations” will enjoy this. If you’re looking for the more ambient side of FSOL, it’s not here, but this album won’t steer you wrong. I would highly recommend this album.
4.8 out of 5.