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Various Artists: A Psychedelic Guide to Monsterism Island

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Various Artists

A Psychedelic Guide to Monsterism Island

Rating: 2.5

Label: Lo Recordings

To be perfectly honest, I was dreading writing this review. You see, I’d picked the A Psychedelic Guide to Monsterism Island compilation from a long list of records released on its date simply for the fact that “psychedelic” was in the title. I’m a sucker for theremins and fuzz guitar. I’m not proud. Instead, what I’d received was a 17-track instrumental exploration of vaguely Muzaky calypso and gleamingly polished keyboards doing robotic dances with snap-crackle-popping drum machines. All this was very loosely serving as a sort of soundtrack to a whimsical comic strip created by Pete Fowler, also artist to the UK’s Super Furry Animals. Holy shit, was I really going to have to write a review of the soundtrack to The Legend of Zelda?

Earlier this morning, I’d gone to the barber for a haircut and followed that, as I usually do, with a visit to Seattle’s premier used record store, Bop Street. I’ve been long in the hunt for a copy of motorcycle movie guitarist Davie Allan’s Cycle-delic album and I’d asked the owner/expert Dave Voorhees whether he had any Allan kicking around. Dave led me to a back room, where hundreds of 45s were stashed, in the middle of being sorted. Dave had just acquired this collection from the estate of someone recently deceased and sure enough, there was a 45 of Allan’s fuzzed-out semi hit, “Blue’s Theme.” “I bet you like the Tornados, too,” Dave said, handing me a copy of the British studio group’s “Telstar” 45. “Go ahead, it’s free.” That particular song was named after an early communications satellite and it appeared that Joe Meek and the Tornados tried to get whatever mileage they could from the dawn of the space age. The next record we played was a follow up single, “Robot,” complete with laser beam sound effects.

Upon listening to Monsterism Island once more, I can’t help but be reminded of the wide-eyed goofiness of “Telstar” or “Robot.” The songs that make up this collection seem to exist as heartfelt, if strange, approximations of the music of an era long gone. A band today has a hell of a hard time sounding psychedelic without sounding rote; the bands here sometimes border on uninteresting (Luke Vibert’s “Silver Snorse Hotel”) or irritating (Gruff Rhys’ “Wild Robots Power Up”), though sometimes there is a kind of good-naturedness to the sort-of psychedelic confections that highlight this compilation. London’s Wolf People boogie along at a leisurely pace, like early Jethro Tull sans flute with “Village Strollin.'” And holy shit, have you ever heard of Circulus? Also from England, they specialize in some kind of medieval-indie fusion, going so far as to profess a belief in fairies and use authentic ancient instruments. “‘Til We Meet Merry Again” sounds exactly how you think it does. Working under one of a myriad of aliases, the Future Sound of London contributes a piece entitled “Mr S. Sponge’s Groovy Oscillations,” a synth workout that sounds like an entire track inspired by the piercing solo toward the end of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s “Lucky Man.” The Cherrystones make a Ventures reference with the fuzzy “Seven Thousand Pound Bee,” while Monsters At Work provide the closest thing to a straight-ahead rock song with the mysterious “Fisherman’s Jam.”

As friendly as the disc is, it’s hard to imagine anyone not into the comic aspect of this album, or a fan of a band on it, seeking it out. The disc is too bloated, too bogged down with instrumentals that add nothing to the whole. As background music, it does a fair job of being unobtrusive, neither stopping the listener from balancing a check book out of sheer annoyance or through the presence of mind-blowing jams. I’m not tempted to start reading the strip and I’d only be interesting in hearing more of Wolf People, so I guess it doesn’t do too much in its role as sampler. It’s all perfectly agreeable and is likely to be filed away somewhere for me to pull out 12 years from now. Just like the copy of “Telstar” I bought today.

by Chris Middleman

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