Sunday 23 August 2009

THE SEEDS: 'A Web Of Sound'


Album Retrospect of:
(GNP Crescendo 1966, Music-Box SMB 136, 1982
Diablo 2-CD with ‘The Seeds’, 2001)

Some bands – above and beyond, below and before whatever they actually achieve on vinyl, are just right for the moment. Such a band was the Seeds. The nearest they ever came to a chart hit, and arguably the best thing they ever did, “Pushing Too Hard”, contains all the essential ingredients you really need from a Seeds record. Sky Saxon – a vocalist with a name like some heroic Aryan Sci-Fi picture-strip rival to ‘Flash Gordon’, leads with his uniquely-strange high-pitched quaver. An accelerating keyboard riff vaguely reminiscent of a dumbed-down Doors’ Ray Manzarek, and single-note guitar runs powered on raggedly attractive acid-garage energy. A US No.36 in February 1967 it provided their most high-visibility moment. Already big on the LA Folk-Punk circuit it shoved their name nationwide, and further, all the way to my sympathetic ears in far-away East Yorkshire, where – issued on Vocalion, their promise defined a new-coming hipness. ‘A Web Of Sound’ – from the Crescendo label, October 1966, was their second album, with the core personnel of lead-Seed bassist Sky on vocals, Daryl Hooper’s keyboards (Farfisa organ and piano), Jan Savage on guitar, and drummer Rick Andridge augmented by production and writerly inputs from poet-activist Marcus Tybalt. Sleeve-concept ‘conceived and created by Sky Saxon’ resembles a lost frame from ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’, with the four Seeds – all hipster-pants, immaculately fringed shoulder-length hair, discrete beads and floral blouses, caught in a giant spider’s web.

Stylus to the groove, it runs in with Sky’s “Mr Farmer” who ‘quit an apartment in a big old city’, to align with the hippie’s idealisation of the honest simplicity of getting back to the pastoral values of the soil. Not that there’s much Rousseau-style philosophy here. Sky – ‘Mr Farmer, I want to be just like you’, was never actually much of a poet, even though he sneaks punning references in there about the Farmer wearing ‘seedy clothes’ and ‘watering green seeds just to come alive’. The images of germination, growth, ‘crops-s-s-s-s’, renewal, ‘seeds are starting to grow’ – both social and organic, are all in there, even if more by implication than design. Further into the track-listing, his shot at sensitive reflections on regressing to childhood innocence – done so much more convincingly by Carole King’s “Going Back”, are slurred into ‘Fayded Pict-yures’. Sound-wise, “Pictures & Designs” runs a bratty guttersnipe whine over a pleasing cacophony recalling Nashville Teens “Tobacco Road”. At the crescendo of the track, Julian Cope detects an ‘overdriven organ and what sounds like a cranked guitar amp being kicked over, KABLOOIE!’ (in his ‘Head Heritage’ column). Then a guest-guitarist credited as Cooker adds bottleneck slide boings to slowed-down “I Tell Myself”, and “Tripmaker” – another paean to the dealer, adds ‘Highway 61’ whizzes. Using the same “Pushing Too Hard” E-to-D template, propelled on lumpy jerky-rhythms and Rick’s surf-drums, the Tripmaker is ‘planning your dreams’ in a ‘petrified cave that’s made of stone’, the lyric yelping – or promising ‘watch-out watch-out, he’s coming your way, with a lot of good things you want to try’. Closing side one of the original vinyl, Sky’s “Rollin’ Machine” invites all the ‘big-eyed girls’ to enjoy the dubious delights of his body, and – flipping over onto side two, “Just Let Go” urges ‘just-a just-a just-a, set yourself free’ from outmoded moral constraints on vocal train noise momentum. It seems lyrical content barely extends beyond adenoidal wheedling appeals for unconstrained freedom, and celebrations of the instant guilt-free gratification that results – a more urgent need then, in times of drab repressive conformity, than it is now. But if Sky felt but one emotion, he felt it intensely. And if you consider fighting for the right to party as no big deal, politicians are still fiercely contesting the legacy of the sixties permissiveness the Seeds are urging. “Up In Her Room” manages to fuse the hallucinogenic with the sensual. Over stinging fuzz-guitar and carnival organ, it’s essentially a free-association rambling one-line reiteration of all the juvie-sex and narcotic delights to be found ‘where the incense burns’. The luring anticipation of her room amplifies into a witchy pharmaceutical nirvana, a sensory garden of earthly delights. Sky lifts ‘the cigarette off her shelf, puts it in my mouth…’ then ‘taking a drag’ with sharp intakes of breath and blissed-outs moans, ‘the room starts spinning’ and the ‘beautiful dreams start’, as his mumble-drawl submerges in spiralling keyboards and disintegrates into phonetic sha-la-la subvocals. At 14:27 it’s around ten minutes longer than it needs to be. It might benefit from some Punk-brevity edits. But long is serious, right? Over at Elektra, the Doors make it work, but they know how to structure variation into length. Love devote the entire second side of ‘Da Capo’ to just one track, even if it is the poorest piece they ever recorded. And when it comes to creative chaos, despite claims to the contrary, this is nowhere near Velvet Underground’s extended “Sister Ray”.

The LP’s original unimpressed review in ‘Record Mirror’ notes that ‘the Seeds have obviously been influenced by the Rolling Stones, Dylan and Bo Diddley and although their instrumental work is powerful, their vocals are a bit too strained’. Immune to such slights, ‘sticks, sticks and eight are ten’ oozes Tybalt’s stoned liner-notes, ‘four weary travellers from night to light as the burden that they bear grows heavy in the cloak of dark’. And it’s easy to envisage how those four weary travellers’ attractive candy-punk roughness must have seemed exciting in the psychedelic dungeons of rippling lights, even if it fails to fully transfer to low-fi analogue small-studio record. The Seeds never crafted a single as meticulously immaculate as “White Rabbit”, they were never as terminally manic as some other less celebrated bands, such as the Other Half’s “Mr Pharmacist”, or as studio-deranged as Electric Prunes (Dave Hassinger engineers for both group’s albums). They went on to greater excess, their psychedelic flower-child ‘Future’ album making it three studio and one brilliantly faked ‘Raw and Alive’ one, before falling apart in 1969. As the focus became hazier Sky roped Muddy Waters in to write sleeve-notes for a ridiculous Blues album. The charismatic Sky – Richard Marsh, devolved into legendary acid-casualty status alongside Roky Erickson, Peter Green, Arthur Lee and Syd Barrett, living at a tangent to the rest of the cosmos, then periodically scraping himself off the floor to reappear with eccentric new projects. Before the darkness finally took him, and he died in 25th June 2009. The Seeds – proclaims Tybalt, ‘will mount the great white stallion and go forth into the land of darkness and look for the switch to make it light’. They didn’t. But with ‘A Web Of Sound’, they were there at exactly the right moment, with the right image and the right sound to most perfectly define it.

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