Thursday, December 11, 2008
Greetings readers! Happily ensconced in the new-and taking shape slowly, underground lab', I'm fittingly bedecked in paisley and gazing at a large hookah from the streets of Cairo. (O' that it were filled!)
We've another duo taking the plunge today and we're all going to be happier for it. You'll laugh a little, too. Most assuredly.
Who are they? Hmmm. Not so fast. Not our style now is it? Of their 1998 debut Amplifier magazine said:
"If ever a record should have come with a lava lamp and some mind-altering materials, this is it." Adding further, and possibly giving the game away to you:
"Get through the oddball Sniff 'n' the Tears affections on "The Fat Girl's Gonna Dance Naked" (really!) and you're in for a rollercoaster ride through Bongland. Theramin nightmares revolve around "Pleasant Valley Sequel" -- yes, it's what you think it's about -- and "Crystal Clear" conjures up old Traffic riffs reborn in pop glory. Talented enough to not take themselves seriously and both lampoon and pay tribute to the genre, songs like the hilarious "Tortured Artist Song" and "Wesley Willus" (misspelled so the bus loon can't sue?) have to be heard to be believed. And just like the spiritual predecessors the Durocs, check out their dead-on loving cover of "Lady-O" to see where their hearts lie. Don't judge this book by its goofy cover -- this is one smart record."
(Editor's Note: I'm unsure of that "..Sniff 'n' the Tears affections..."; more like Professor Longhair ate six dried grams and is now inside the carnival funhouse...to these ears.)
The (mighty) Big Takeover said:
"Even if this Chicago group didn't have a song entitled "Brian (Hello High Llamas)," its debut LP hints that these folks are enamored by both the last remaining Wilson brother (Dennis and Carl R.I.P.), and his remarkable '66-'69 run so endlessly, painstakingly translated into modern studios by the newer group. But unlike the Llamas, this is no homage: More like U.K. eccentric Martin Newell (Cleaners from Venus, Brotherhood of Lizards), and especially Newell's recent LP collaborations with XTC's Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory, Epicycle play with the style of that whole period without donning anyone's clothes (except the Sgt. Pepper-like psychedelic garb and Blues Brothers sunglasses the members wear on this back sleeve!)...
...now the cat's well outta' the bag............
It's the Clark brothers, of Epicycle!
Fast-forwarding to 2002's Swirl album:
"Melodies are delicately spun, as far as workmanship this is akin to cherry picking from the top of the tree, the inclusion of David Bowie’s ‘Rubber Band’ is delivered with such tripping panache that even the Thin White Duke himself will draw breathe in awe. Yet it’s this track in particular which sums up the underlying flavour of the album in the way it transmits an exquisite dimension. ‘Rubber Band’ comes from Bowie’s often-overlooked career periods, the Deram years, and is a skewed take on the Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper’ era material, however in the hands of Epicycle it is endowed with a macabre sheen that, dare I say it, betters the original by some length, and let’s face it it’s not often that that happens. ‘Swirl’ opens with ‘Rings’ steeped in Modish Englishness, it draws upon one part Bunnymen and three parts classic Jam being classic Who, sneaked references to ‘All around the world’ and ‘David Watts’ abound, you are instantly transported back to 60’s heyday Carnaby Street.
The puzzlingly titled ‘Rattlesnake and Cricket’ borrows spiritually from Ian Dury’s ‘Sex and drugs and rock n roll’, an ominous and thoroughly spellbinding excursion into mind bending brass arrangements and laid back coolness. Then there’s the heartbreaking pop ramble of the sophisticated ballad-esque ‘Six in the morning’. ‘Sunday girl’ will simply have you begging for more, Beach Boys harmonies act by of introduction before the onset of the alarm bell triggers a metamorphis into strange folky pastures replete with flutes, banjos and kazoos that have all the tangy appeal of the Elephant 6 collective, very McCartney ‘Fool on the Hill’. Then there are the humour filled touches on the decidedly creepy ‘I’m so cool’ and the wayward atmospheric key changes on ‘Nimoby’ which sounds like White Town trapped in Major Tom’s lunatic capsule on a bizarre kitsch musical set. Then there’s the surprising Baccarach like bubblegum wrap and sweeping orchestrations of ‘Big Day’ while the shrills of ‘Summersun’ with it’s haunting trumpets, flowing strings, dream sequences and classy chorus lines will captivate you. ‘You should know it’ wraps up the set perfectly, a streaming of precision perfect love arrows that recall Gilbert O’Sullivan. ‘Swirl’ is a must have album for curators of well-honed crafted pop, unmissable stuff." (Mark Barton, Losing Today)
"At the end of each year, this column enumerates at least 10 reasons why Chicago's independent music scene is second to none. As 2002 wraps up, I had to expand to a dozen indie albums to accommodate all my local favorites from the last 12 months...
5. Epicycle, "Swirl" (Cirkle): Downshifting from astral Pink Floydisms to "Smile"-era banjos and string sections, Epicycle's Ellis and Tom Clark make no small plans as retro-cool visionaries, and have the chops as producers to pull them off. Their work with Kevin Tihista has brought them a measure of acclaim as studio gurus, but for my money no one in town is making more rapturous pop music." (Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune, 12/20/02)
"Sometimes you need to hear something different. In a world overpopulated with soundalike bands that refuse to make any demands on a listener, and radio whose corporate monopoly ownership dictates such sameness, it is my pleasure to relate the existence of Epicycle and their most ambitious release Swirl...
Overall, Swirl is an incredible mélange of sounds and instruments captured in songs presented as mini-epics. The Ellis brothers present their formidable talents in ways that at the very least fascinate and quite often transcend beyond one's expectations. Swirl is a fair distance from easy listening, but it's a most rewarding journey if you're a more adventurous listener. Are you a fan of Pink Floyd that's bored by most of the music that's currently out there? Perhaps you should sample the skewed musical vision that is Epicycle's impressive sophomore collection." (Gary Glauber, PopMatters)
Indeed. They've just released their third album, Jingo Jangle.
(A review by Mike Bennett [!] of Hablo Ennui, and formerly of Fufkin, is here.)
...found my way upstairs and had a smoke and somebody spoke and I went into a dream:
Hello readers of Valis… Valis asked us to do this psychedelic music survey and we completely enjoyed doing so!…. Hope you laugh a little at some of our silly answers even though we are serious about this! There's so much more of this music we love but here is what came to mind quickly.
Peace… Love, ellis & tom clark of Epicycle
1. In ten words-or less, define "psychedelic music."
East Meets West…throw the rule book out. Eight!
2. What is the most psychedelic instrument, why?
Stick it in a Big Muff and the guitar becomes one hell of a sexed up multi-colored lollipop. Why? Because the purists hate that sort of thing!
3. Favorite psychedelic album of all time?
Their Satanic Majesties Request. Listen to it in a dark room and drift off into a surreal cream-puffed world roaming with trolls a place where moms and dads don’t rule. The Stones say they hated that record but don’t believe it! Plus you can’t beat an album with a 3D cover! “Why don’t we sing this song altogether!”
4. You can go back in time and save one psychedelic musician from his or her self; who would it be and why?
We’d tell that Syd Barrett to stop eating so many pork chops and get back in the studio.
5. Given that "it is what it is", is there an advantage in being the pioneers (60s psychedelic bands), or being the continuing explorers armed with the knowledge of those pioneers work (the modern psychedelic bands)? Why?
We’re going for continuing explorer because we wouldn’t want to have been found dead in a pool drowned from a drug overdose beaten up by violent gardeners. Plus we’d still be able to pay our taxes and dust for vomit.
6. What psychedelic album do you wish more people knew about?
Spirit’s “Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus”. Production still sounds great too. Awesome songs… awesome performances. You’d think you were listening to a best of collection because all of tracks blow us away.
7. What band, active today, most defines "psychedelic" to you?
Plasticland… We caught a show of theirs last year and it blew our minds! Even though they’ve been around since the 80’s they’re still somewhat active. Great people too! Love their album “Wonder Wonderful Wonderland”.
(Editor's Note: I was at that show, too. Chicago. The Empty Bottle.)
(Photo by Insomnia Jones, thanks! She was at this show as well.)
8. What album would you most like to cover in its entirety; why? (Even if you were the only one who would ever hear it.)
The Mothers Of Invention’s “We’re Only In It For The Money” although that would be one hell of a challenge! Anyone up for it give us a call. “Revolution #9” would be something to see performed live…. We’d pay to see that done too!
9. Top Ten Psychedelic Songs?
These are some that come to mind but who knows! We love these songs.
Hole In My Shoe by Traffic (all time favorite psychedelic song!)
Cheese & Onions/The Rutles
The Last Thing I Remember/The Turtles from The Battle Of The Bands
The Porpoise Song/The Monkees from The Soundtrack Album To Head
Indian Summer/The Doors from Morrison Hotel
Within Without You/The Beatles from Pepper
Armenia City In The Sky/The Who from The Who Sell Out
Citadel/The Stones from Satanic Majesties
Party Seacombe/George Harrison from the Wonderwall Movie Soundtrack Album
10. Turn the tables, if you'd like, and ask me a question.
Epicycle: If Syd Barett had remained in Pink Floyd would they have made Dark Side Of The Moon? How’s that for a brain teaser!
-valis: Not impossible, nor improbable. It would've been a different album methinks though. More growl. My two cents plain. Any readers have thoughts on this question?
Valis… Thanks for asking Epicycle to take part in this…. Sorry for some of the goofy answers!
No apologies necessary, at all. Thank you Tom and Ellis! Best wishes for the new album!