Tag Archives: Pink Floyd

Check Out This Video For “Approximately 900 Miles” by Harrison Fjord

Arizona musicians Harrison Fjord have a couple of really great things going for them. For starters, they have one of the best pun band names this side of Ringo Deathstarr. Secondly, they make awesomely atmospheric music that falls somewhere between jazz and psychedelic rock. The band sounds like a mellow, laid back Pink Floyd. I ran across them because they gained a bit of Internet fame thanks to a super-cool music video for their track “Approximately 900 Miles.” The song is a cornerstone of their most recent EP, PUSPA IN SPACE.

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The band apparently shot the video high up on the Mogollon Rim, bringing a generator to power their gear. I really dig the song and respect the hell out of them for putting out such a cool, creative video in this day and age (aren’t music videos all but dead?). If you enjoy indie rock that’s a bit quiet and a whole lot spacey, give Harrison Fjord a listen.

And even if you aren’t interested in jazzy-psych-rock from Arizona, check out this rad music video:

They don’t make ’em like they used to…

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All I Want For X-Mas: 9 Terrible, Weird, Strange Rock ‘n Roll Gifts

As we approach the “silly” season, my thoughts turn to shameless consumerism. I’m not a “reason for the season” kinda guy, but the older I get the more gift giving turns my stomach. A once proud element of fringe culture, rock ‘n roll has long be co-opted by “Big Gift.”

Earlier this week I fell down the rabbit-hole of tacky/puzzling/bizarre rock gifts. Here are my favorites.  And please, if I’m on your shopping list this holiday season…take notes.

1. Rolling Stone Brand Wine: I don’t know about you, but The Grateful Dead I always make me think of red wine. Rolling Stone, the purveyors of cool since before I was born, must have thought the same thing because they now have a line of classic rock-themed red wines that includes the famous jam band. There’s also a SYNCHRONICITY wine featuring the artwork from the Police album. And a DARK SIDE OF THE MOON-themed wine called, naturally, The Dark Side of The Merlot. The Rolling Stones wine, FORTY LICKS, feels like a cash grab too late (that compilation came out 12 years ago!!!).  The wine is red but could this be any whiter? If you’re a rock band and you want to put your name on a beverage (please don’t) at least make it a beer or whiskey.

Because when you think Jerry Garcia you think wine.

Because when you think Jerry Garcia you think wine.

2. Holiday Sweaters: Nothing says the holidays like cold nights and warm sweaters. I personally own two: a way-too-big designer sweater I bought at a thrift store a number of years back and a nice charcoal-colored Hemingway I bought because I wanted to feel masculine. For the longest time I thought two sweaters was enough, but these music-themed sweaters have changed my mind. Can you believe there’s a MASTER OF PUPPETS-themed sweater?

Nothing says "Let's celebrate the birth of Jesus" like an upside-down cross.

Nothing says “Let’s celebrate the birth of Jesus” like an upside-down cross.

My friend Bianca is partial to the Wu-Tang Clan sweater, which admittedly does kick major ass:

This sweater ain't nothing to fuck with.

This sweater ain’t nothing to fuck with.

The Slayer sweater is probably the blackest, heaviest sweater of the bunch though.

Is that snow outside? No, it's RAINING BLOOD!!!

Is that snow outside? No, it’s RAINING BLOOD!!!

I hope they’re using wool from only the evilest, most brutal sheep they can find.

3. Merry Kissmas Blanket: We all knew that Kiss was going to be somewhere on this list, right? Kiss is without a doubt the most over-merchandised band in all of rock. In fact, the ratio of merch to music is probably so high kids today probably don’t even know that Kiss started as a band and not a brand of condom. I waded through a metric ton of crappy Kiss products and the one that made me laugh the most was this “Merry Kissmas” blanket. Can you imagine snuggling up beneath this thing on a cold Christmas Eve?  Gene Simmons is Jewish which makes this even more ridiculous. And “Kissmas” are you kidding? That’s some ballsy branding.

No phallic imagery here...

No phallic imagery here…

4. Daft Punk Action Figures: Kids today have it made. When I was a kid, I had to use my Chewbacca action figure as a stand-in for Worf (the STAR TREK character). When I played with my X-Men toys, Wolverine sliced through coathangers because they didn’t make toy Sentinels. The point I’m trying to make? Growing up in the late 80’s/early 90’s action figures were very protagonist-centric, meaning my Laura Dern JURASSIC PARK figure did a lot of double-duty (that is not a sexual pun or is it?). Anyway, kids today have access to action figure toy lines featuring thousands of characters. Every extra lurking in the background from the MATRIX sequels has his own figure.

The first rock band action figures I ever encountered was, of course, Kiss. I rolled my eyes and thought the notion of rock band action figures was stupid. But then I saw some really cool SGT.PEPPER-themed Beatles figures and changed my mind. I came close to buying those once, but I didn’t because I can never decide if I’m going to take them out of the packaging or leave them sealed up.  Anyway, the Kiss and Beatles figures sorta make sense…but Daft Punk action figures are too weird for me. On one hand I get it, with their trademark black helmets Daft Punk is the musical equivalent of Cobra Commander, so why not have an action figure? But Daft Punk’s funky club music makes me think of designer drugs and flashing lights…two things I don’t associate with toys.

These toys are out to get lucky.

These toys are out to get lucky.

5. Incubus longboard: Do people associate Incubus with skateboarding? I don’t. I associate it with crappy Junior High School dances and Smirnoff Ice. Anyway, if you want your…skateboard chums…to think you’re cool stay the hell away from this this board. I mean, check out the super-exaggerated poses of the members of the band. You got one guy about to take flight Superman-style. Another guy appears to be slipping on a banana peel. Then there’s the dred-head dude who’s hair appears to be attacking his bandmate. And don’t get me started on the frogman with his hands held over his head. What the fuck Incubus? This product is anything but “Stellar.”

Those dreds look like alien tentacles, right?

Those dreds look like alien tentacles, right?

6. Muse “booty” shorts: I look at Muse and wonder “who likes this band?” I’ve never met a Muse fan, let alone a Muse superfan that would want Muse-themed underwear. Seeing these underoos on a lady would be a total mood killer for me. At a certain point fandom stops being cute and becomes scary, I think band-themed underwear is that demarcation line.

Not sure if you want to associate your band with "ass."

Not sure if you want to associate your band with “ass.”

7. Green Day Coasters: First, let me make the obvious joke: who needs TRE drink coasters when you can just use the CD’s? Look, I’m going to be honest and admit I only listened to part of UNO, so maybe DOS and TRE aren’t that bad. Maybe Green Day really is still making good music. Maybe I’m actually getting more hair, rather than losing it. Maybe.

Now that I got that out of the way let’s explore punk and drink coasters. Is there anything more un-punk than worrying about those wet circles on your coffee table? Is there anything less punk than owning a fucking coffee table? At this point, music nerds will point out that Green Day stopped being punk back when Bill Clinton was president. Fair point, nerds. The notion that Green Day has entered the extreme merchandising phase of their career makes me feel old and sad.

Whatever happened to living without warning?                                     Coasters are not risky.

Whatever happened to living without warning? Coasters are not risky.

8. Guns N’ Roses Poker Chips N’ Cards: This is perplexing. Elvis themed cards and poker chips would make sense, after all he has a really famous song about Las Vegas. GNR? Not so much. I only associate GNR with Vegas these days because that’s the only place in North America where Axl seems to want to play live. Why not a Guns ‘N Roses handgun? Surely such a thing exists. Just don’t give one to Axl.

Insert joke here.

Insert joke here.

9. Nickelback Shot Glass: Now this product actually makes a lot of sense! The only way I’m going to listen to Nickelback is in a state of extreme inebriation. Really the only thing wrong with this shot glass is that it’s too small.  I think that they should have made this a 2oz. glass rather than a traditional 1oz. glass. Not that 2oz. of booze is going to be enough to get me in the mood to hear Nickelback, mind you. The website where I found this product was also selling “Official 2012 Tour Booty Shorts.” What is it with shitty bands and booty shorts? I opted to not display these here because the notion of women debasing themselves with Nickelback underwear is too much, even for a joke-post like this one. Please do yourself and favor and never Google “Nickelback merchandise.”

If somebody wants to buy me this shot glass I’ll totally use it though.

Their music sounds tolerable when you're black-out drunk.

Their music sounds tolerable when you’re black-out drunk.

So how about it? Which one of these things do YOU want Santa to bring you this year? Chime-in below in the comments section.

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El Monstero & The Tribute-Band Phenomenon

Last night I saw the most amazing rock show I’ve ever seen.  Local Pink Floyd tribute band/St. Louis heroes El Monstero didn’t just put on a concert, it was a full-on spectacle.  The music of Pink Floyd was faithfully performed with not only a band, but with classy female back-up singers, sax players, a children’s choir (you know what song that was for), and a bitchin’ laser show.  There were costume changes, towers of multi-colored flames, confetti cannons, and an honest-to-God 70’s mirror ball.  They also landed a helicopter for the opening of “Another Brick In The Wall.”

The alternate name for El Monstero should be “Pigs N’ Hammers.”

Back in the 1970’s, this level of excess was commonplace, but not so in today’s cash-strapped times.  Oh sure, you can see U2 put on a rock-spectacle, but they are one of the few bands big enough to pull-off (and afford) such dizzying overindulgent rock theatre.  I think gimmicks are stupid as a rule, but if you’ve got the music down, a little spectacle can push the amazing into the awesome (as in actually inspiring awe).

El Monstero is not a good Pink Floyd tribute band, they’re an exceptional one.  I don’t know if they sounded like Floyd sounded live, I am too young to know, what I can tell you is that El Monstero perfectly replicates the way the albums of Pink Floyd sound, in every single detail.  That by itself is no small feat, and worthy of much praise.  The band’s been around for over a decade here in St. Louis, slowly building a rabid fan-base.  Apparently the band started out in the (sadly gone) Mississippi Nights night club, playing for a few hundred people.  Last night, the band upped their game playing for a few thousand.  Rather than just “merely” replicating the sound of Pink Floyd, the band replicated the theatrical nature of the band, and their famous 70’s tours (like the one they did in support of THE WALL).  Equal parts rock show, opera, circus, and LSD trip, the concert at Riverport (aka The Verizon Wireless Amphitheater) blew just about every other tribute band I’ve seen out of the water.

Tribute bands are a funny thing.  On one hand, you have grown men dressing up like 20-something-Liverpudlians, singing “She Loves You” while praying their wigs don’t fall off.  At the other end of the spectrum, you have serious musicians studying, mastering, and performing classic rock–basically treating Pink Floyd like it’s Beethoven.  And why shouldn’t Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin be treated like Beethoven or Bach?  Why do some fans cringe at the mere mention of the term “tribute band”? Rock ‘n roll has always been about celebrity, but I think it was MTV that cemented the notion that anyone playing the songs of Pink Floyd that isn’t Pink Floyd are only imitators.  I find this funny, because when the St. Louis Symphony plays the music of Beethoven no one considers that to be “low rent” or “low brow.”  Or ridiculous.  A symphony isn’t imitating Beethoven; they’re just playing his music.

Part of the issue is the fact that, as I’ve said, rock music is just as much about personalities/celebrities as it is about music.  That’s petty and sad, but unfortunately the truth.  Another part of the issue, though, are how these tribute bands focus on the wrong elements of their act–I think it’s better for a band to replicate the sound of Led Zeppelin than to necessarily look like Led Zeppelin.  Many of the Beatles tribute bands that I’ve seen over the years fall into this trap, sacrificing quality of sound for quality of visual presentation. El Monstero, for example, don’t go out of their way to “become” Roger Waters or David Gilmour. They don’t mess with fake mustaches or wigs; instead they’re about recreating sounds.

*Sigh*

The spectacle I witnessed last night, while not a direct copy of a classic Pink Floyd concert, captured the essence of the band’s giant circus-like tours.  Rather than being actors sticking to a script, a great tribute band will use creative license to replicate the music.  I know that seems pretty obvious, but I’ve seen Beatles tribute bands that tell actual jokes John Lennon said at early Beatles concerts.  I’ve seen jittery “actors” playing Paul McCartney do mannerisms that Paul did on film, often doing these McCartney-isms 50 times during a performance because it was something that Paul actually did (even though there’s no way he was that fidgety).

One thing that takes the so-called “cheese factor” off of El Monstero is that the band doesn’t stumble onto the stage, with fake British accents, and pretend that they’re actually Pink Floyd.  Instead El Monstero is just a band that just happens to play Pink Floyd tunes.  As time marches on, and we lose more classic rock bands (and the people who’ve seen them in concert), I think the demand for professional tribute bands will greatly increase.  I also think the “stink” of being a tribute band will also lessen.  It may take a very, very long time…but if we don’t blow up the Earth with nuclear war, I can foresee a time when elegant men and women will go to their local Opera Houses to see professional musicians perform the works of Lennon and McCartney sans-stigma, like they were going to see a classical music concert.

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Highly-Unscientific Rock Poll: Best Psychedelic Rock Band

Sometimes there are questions too big for one man. Sometimes, in the search for ultimate truth, we must seek the guidance of others. And then there are times when one wants to increase traffic to one’s blog by actively seeking participation of one’s small readership by stoking the fires of eternal debate…

Yes friends, it’s time to review the lastest statistical disaster I like to call my HIGHLY-UNSCIENTIFIC ROCK POLL! This week I wrote a nerd-tastic article about NUGGETS, a boxset of trippy psychedelic rock from the 1960’s. It got me thinking about psychedelic rock bands in general and thus was born a poll.

Let’s break-down/over analyze what happened:

7, 6, and 5 (no votes) Iron Butterfly, T. Rex, and Steppenwolf: all three bands received exactly zero votes. Now, it should be noted right off the bat that only 10 people (myself included) participated in this survey (hence the “highly-unscientific” nature of the poll results) however I strongly agree and disagree with the votes these bands (didn’t) got.

First, let me address T. Rex. Marc Bolan and company were the last band I added to the list. I basically ran out of bands and didn’t want to add a band like The Beatles (which would have been too obvious and would have sweeped the poll). So I reluctantly added T. Rex. Although, to be honest, I don’t think T. Rex fits. They were more “glam” than “psychedelic” rock. True, they have some pretty trippy songs (especially in their early stuff). But for the most part, I think T. Rex was a mistake on my part. They didn’t belong on the list.

Iron Butterfly, and to a lesser extent Steppenwolf, didn’t get any votes probably because they were too psychedelic. I think most people dismiss Steppenwolf outright because their singles have been played so much on the radio they’ve lost their edge and have been relegated (unfairly) to parody. Iron Butterfly is a one-hit wonder–but that one hit “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is probably the greatest pscyh-freakout song ever. But one song does not a “greatest band” make, does it? I approve of Iron Butterfly’s lack of votes, but feel bad for The ‘wolf.

3. (tie) Cream and The Strawberry Alarm Clock: all three bands (ironically)tied for third place. Just to be completely transparent in my reporting, let the record show that the one vote for Cream was my vote. I think that Cream should have been #1. I think that in general Cream has the best psychedelic songs of the bunch. As a power trio, Cream created the most dynamic, textured, weird-ass sounds of any band on the list. But that’s just my opinion. The Strawberry Alarm Clock are, like Iron Butterfly, one-hit wonders. Their one-hit, “Incense and Peppermints” is pretty much a textbook example of psychedelic rock. And like Steppenwolf’s many radio hits, the song has been over-played and (thanks to use in films like AUSTIN POWERS) is now a parody of the era in which it was created.

2. The Grateful Dead: The poll was dominated by bands with a massive cult following, which shouldn’t be too surprising. The Dead are a another band that I added to the poll but ultimately regretted, like T. Rex. I don’t think they’re the best example of psychedelic rock. Still, they made some freaky-ass music and God know’s their is a massive contingent of people that worship they at their tied-dyed altar.

And the winner…

1. Pink Floyd: Winning by a landslide, Pink Floyd came out on top as the “greatest psychedelic rock band ever.” While I didn’t vote for them, I can’t help but approve of this choice. Pink Floyd have always been innovators in sonic freakiness. Whereas psychedelia might have been a fad or genre that some bands might have tired (like The Beatles), for Pink Floyd psychedelic sounds were a way of life. Hell, founding member Syd Barrett did so much LSD that he completely lost his mind. DARK SIDE OF THE MOON is pretty much universally regarded as the freak-out album. Earlier Floyd albums are even trippier and go to even darker places.

So there you have it. Disagree with the results? Well then head on over to Facebook and “like” DEFENDING AXL ROSE. Then the next time I have a poll you can VOTE!!!

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NUGGETS and The Dukes of Stratosphear

Psychedelic. What does that word kick up in your mind? Drugs. Drugs that make you see bright, shiny, other-worldly colors. Back in 1960’s, when LSD was “discovered” popular music was altered (for the better in my opinion) when artists began experimenting in the studio to create songs that recreated and enhanced the “trippy” effect LSD gave it’s users. I have no interest in going on a real-life, honest-to-God psychedelic journey…but I’m always ready to dip my mind in the vibrant colors of psychedelic music. Back in 1972, near the end of the “Psychedelic Era,” a dude named Jac Holzman at Elektra Records assembled one of the greatest collections of American and British Psych-rock/pop. The 2-LP was called NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE FIRST PSYCHEDELIC ERA 1965-1968. Anyone wishing to earn a million-bajillion brownie points with me can do so by tracking this thing down and buying it for me…

Nuggets. Get your rainbow-shimmering dipping sauce ready...

Anyway, NUGGETS didn’t feature any bands that today are very well known…in fact, one of the reasons Holzman put NUGGETS out was to preserve these rare gems (or “nuggets”) of great 60’s music before they were lost to the ages. Despite being a bit random and obscure, this box-set influenced a shit-load of musicians (and critics).

One-hit-wonders have always fascinated me. I could, in fact, write a whole blog post about that strange musical phenomenon, but instead my focus is The Dukes of Stratosphear.

Flash forward from the 1960s, past 1972 and NUGGETS…all the way to 1980’s. The eighties music scene did not look kindly on the 1960s. The era of excess, for the most part, rejected the idealism of 60s–and psychedelic music. Which is why British rockers XTC probably adopted the guise of “The Dukes of Stratosphear.” Already heavily influenced by classic 60’s English pop, XTC admitted to being fans of The Beatles in a time when The Clash were pissing on the Fab Four (and selling lots of records). Going against the grain, XTC released two EP’s that hearkened back to an earlier, “trippier” time–1985’s 25 O’CLOCK and 1987’s PSONIC PSUNSPOT.

CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL is a 1987 CD-only compilation that combines both shorter records into one larger package. Consisting of sixteen short, strange tracks, CHIPS is a great band both aping and embracing the music they grew up loving. Under the moniker of The Dukes, XTC imitate the styles of The Byrds, The Hollies, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Jefferson Airplane, and yes…Iron Butterfly.

Lots and lots of Iron Butterfly. You know Iron Butterfly from their one (and only) great song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” That song featured a shit-ton of hypnotic organ playing. That’s the sort of thing found of CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL. Except it’s not annoying. The record has a a lot of ALICE AND WONDERLAND-like spoken word bits in between tracks. It’s all really freaky man. Really freaky.

25 O'Clock, time to put up your DUKES.

25 O’CLOCK was released on April Fool’s Day, so this stuff is not meant to be taken seriously–however it’s hard to listen to the the Pink Floyd-eque “Bike Ride to the Moon” and not be impressed. Sure, it sounds like a Pink Floyd rip-off…but have you ever tried writing a Pink Floyd song? It’s not easy. Hell, Pink Floyd can’t even write Pink Floyd song anymore. I guess what I’m saying is, it would be wrong to dismiss this record on the basis that the songs are so derivative.

Consider, for example, The Hollies-influenced “Vanishing Girl.” This song has all the trademarks of The Hollies…the distinctive vocal harmonies, the jangly 60’s guitar flourishes, the intricate story-like lyrics. This song sounds like it was recorded in the 1960s. You could go back in time and play it on the radio, and not only would it sound of the era–it would have been a hit. Sure, it’s unlikely that the song could exist without The Hollies…

This is the case for many of the albums more memorable songs. “Brainiac’s Daughter” is a whimsical ode to the daughter of Superman’s nemesis that’s very similar to Paul McCartney’s 1975 B-Side “Magneto and Titanium Man” (both songs are wacky with lyrics that reflect the songwriters rather shallow understanding of their comic book subject matter–Brainiac has no daughter). Though it’s a bit too cute for it’s own good, the song works for me only because it’s so far “out there” with it’s psuedo-vaudevillian sensibility. Like “When I’m 64” it’s a throw-back to a throw-back.

While “Brainiac’s Daughter” may very simple, repetitious lyrics, a particularly clever set of lyrics on “You’re My Drug” (Byrds-style song) really showcase how versatile the Andy Partridge and company were at adapting differing styles of psychedelic music. Bouncing between American and British psych-rock can’t be easy. Compare the frenetic, bouncy roller coaster that is “You’re My Drug” to the Beach Boys-inspired “Pale and Precious” and it’s hard to believe they were composed by the same band (let alone performed by the same men in the same time frame).

The material from 25 O’CLOCK sounds nothing like XTC or 80’s music. This cannot be said of all the songs from PSONIC PSUNSPOT. “Have You Seen Jackie?” and “Little Lighthouse” sound a bit too polished, a bit too modern…here The Dukes drop their false beards and XTC shine though–not that it’s a bad thing but some of the magic is lost towards the end of the record. I would say about 85% of this record is perfect, and totally captures the spirit of the 60’s track they’re mean to emulate/pay homage to.

Many critics regard CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL to be the best work from the musicians in XTC. The argument made is that by using another name (The Dukes…) the band felt free to experiment more and were generally more relaxed. I disagree with this partially. XTC is a great band, whose last two records were an amazing capstone to a storied career. That said, The Dukes of Stratosphear recordings were an astonishing feat of musicianship. The attention to detail and history that went into these songs are top notch.

I’m not the only one that feels this way. In August of 2005 Rhino Records released a four disc box-set titled CHILDREN OF NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE SECOND PSYCHEDELIC ERA 1976-1995. Among the many artists in the psychedelic/garage rock world included on this new compilation, were The Dukes of Stratosphear. In fact, “Vanishing Girl” is the first song on the first disc.

This inclusion on the “second generation” of NUGGETS is a fitting tribute to such an interesting band/project.

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NUGGETS and The Dukes of Stratosphear

Psychedelic. What does that word kick up in your mind? Drugs. Drugs that make you see bright, shiny, other-worldly colors. Back in 1960’s, when LSD was “discovered” popular music was altered (for the better in my opinion) when artists began experimenting in the studio to create songs that recreated and enhanced the “trippy” effect LSD gave it’s users. I have no interest in going on a real-life, honest-to-God psychedelic journey…but I’m always ready to dip my mind in the vibrant colors of psychedelic music. Back in 1972, near the end of the “Psychedelic Era,” a dude named Jac Holzman at Elektra Records assembled one of the greatest collections of American and British Psych-rock/pop. The 2-LP was called NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE FIRST PSYCHEDELIC ERA 1965-1968. Anyone wishing to earn a million-bajillion brownie points with me can do so by tracking this thing down and buying it for me…

Nuggets. Get your rainbow-shimmering dipping sauce ready...

Anyway, NUGGETS didn’t feature any bands that today are very well known…in fact, one of the reasons Holzman put NUGGETS out was to preserve these rare gems (or “nuggets”) of great 60’s music before they were lost to the ages. Despite being a bit random and obscure, this box-set influenced a shit-load of musicians (and critics).

One-hit-wonders have always fascinated me. I could, in fact, write a whole blog post about that strange musical phenomenon, but instead my focus is The Dukes of Stratosphear.

Flash forward from the 1960s, past 1972 and NUGGETS…all the way to 1980’s. The eighties music scene did not look kindly on the 1960s. The era of excess, for the most part, rejected the idealism of 60s–and psychedelic music. Which is why British rockers XTC probably adopted the guise of “The Dukes of Stratosphear.” Already heavily influenced by classic 60’s English pop, XTC admitted to being fans of The Beatles in a time when The Clash were pissing on the Fab Four (and selling lots of records). Going against the grain, XTC released two EP’s that hearkened back to an earlier, “trippier” time–1985’s 25 O’CLOCK and 1987’s PSONIC PSUNSPOT.

CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL is a 1987 CD-only compilation that combines both shorter records into one larger package. Consisting of sixteen short, strange tracks, CHIPS is a great band both aping and embracing the music they grew up loving. Under the moniker of The Dukes, XTC imitate the styles of The Byrds, The Hollies, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Jefferson Airplane, and yes…Iron Butterfly.

Lots and lots of Iron Butterfly. You know Iron Butterfly from their one (and only) great song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” That song featured a shit-ton of hypnotic organ playing. That’s the sort of thing found of CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL. Except it’s not annoying. The record has a a lot of ALICE AND WONDERLAND-like spoken word bits in between tracks. It’s all really freaky man. Really freaky.

25 O'Clock, time to put up your DUKES.

25 O’CLOCK was released on April Fool’s Day, so this stuff is not meant to be taken seriously–however it’s hard to listen to the the Pink Floyd-eque “Bike Ride to the Moon” and not be impressed. Sure, it sounds like a Pink Floyd rip-off…but have you ever tried writing a Pink Floyd song? It’s not easy. Hell, Pink Floyd can’t even write Pink Floyd song anymore. I guess what I’m saying is, it would be wrong to dismiss this record on the basis that the songs are so derivative.

Consider, for example, The Hollies-influenced “Vanishing Girl.” This song has all the trademarks of The Hollies…the distinctive vocal harmonies, the jangly 60’s guitar flourishes, the intricate story-like lyrics. This song sounds like it was recorded in the 1960s. You could go back in time and play it on the radio, and not only would it sound of the era–it would have been a hit. Sure, it’s unlikely that the song could exist without The Hollies…

This is the case for many of the albums more memorable songs. “Brainiac’s Daughter” is a whimsical ode to the daughter of Superman’s nemesis that’s very similar to Paul McCartney’s 1975 B-Side “Magneto and Titanium Man” (both songs are wacky with lyrics that reflect the songwriters rather shallow understanding of their comic book subject matter–Brainiac has no daughter). Though it’s a bit too cute for it’s own good, the song works for me only because it’s so far “out there” with it’s psuedo-vaudevillian sensibility. Like “When I’m 64” it’s a throw-back to a throw-back.

While “Brainiac’s Daughter” may very simple, repetitious lyrics, a particularly clever set of lyrics on “You’re My Drug” (Byrds-style song) really showcase how versatile the Andy Partridge and company were at adapting differing styles of psychedelic music. Bouncing between American and British psych-rock can’t be easy. Compare the frenetic, bouncy roller coaster that is “You’re My Drug” to the Beach Boys-inspired “Pale and Precious” and it’s hard to believe they were composed by the same band (let alone performed by the same men in the same time frame).

The material from 25 O’CLOCK sounds nothing like XTC or 80’s music. This cannot be said of all the songs from PSONIC PSUNSPOT. “Have You Seen Jackie?” and “Little Lighthouse” sound a bit too polished, a bit too modern…here The Dukes drop their false beards and XTC shine though–not that it’s a bad thing but some of the magic is lost towards the end of the record. I would say about 85% of this record is perfect, and totally captures the spirit of the 60’s track they’re mean to emulate/pay homage to.

Many critics regard CHIPS FROM THE CHOCOLATE FIREBALL to be the best work from the musicians in XTC. The argument made is that by using another name (The Dukes…) the band felt free to experiment more and were generally more relaxed. I disagree with this partially. XTC is a great band, whose last two records were an amazing capstone to a storied career. That said, The Dukes of Stratosphear recordings were an astonishing feat of musicianship. The attention to detail and history that went into these songs are top notch.

I’m not the only one that feels this way. In August of 2005 Rhino Records released a four disc box-set titled CHILDREN OF NUGGETS: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE SECOND PSYCHEDELIC ERA 1976-1995. Among the many artists in the psychedelic/garage rock world included on this new compilation, were The Dukes of Stratosphear. In fact, “Vanishing Girl” is the first song on the first disc.

This inclusion on the “second generation” of NUGGETS is a fitting tribute to such an interesting band/project.

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