F/i - "Space Mantra/Boy Dirt Car Split LP" (Lexicon Devil Records 2000, Lexdev001)
From Aural Innovations #14 (January 2001)
This is the first of a series of F/i reissues to be released by Lexicon Devil Records, who also plan on giving us some more classic F/i gems previously only available as long-out-of-print and very rare vinyl. As F/i have always had a very cult status, hopefully this will at least help to raise them from under-underground to an at least underground space-rock status. (See AI #2 April '98 for an F/i review/Interview.) Appearing first on the CD, and originally released on RRRecords in '86 as half of a split-LP with the group Boy Dirt Car, is...well, the "Boy Dirt Car Split LP", though of course included here is only F/i's half. I don't know what their earlier cassette releases sound like, but by the time of this EP, F/i obviously had mixed feelings concerning their musical direction, this being a rather mixed bunch consisting of two "rock songs" and three shorter industrial electronics pieces buffeting those songs quite symmetrically.
The first track is "Union Grove 1", a brief mess of harsh electronics, samples and industrial machinery. Following is "Trauma at the Beach", the first actual "tune", a medium-paced fuzz-guitar rocker showing their Black Sabbath influences, chugging along heavily with relentless fuzzy lead-guitar. Next is "Another Magic Window", a longer and more rhythmic electronics/samples piece. Then comes my favorite of the EP, "Looking for My Head", another heavy slab of doom-metal but embellished with a wonderfully-evolving Chrome-esque mind-fucking vocal effect. The final track is "Union Grove 2", another mess of harsh electronics.
Now we come to "Space Mantra", originally released on vinyl on RRRecords in '88. With their '87 release "Why Not Now? Alan!" (some of which appeared on the RRRecords F/i compilation "Out of Space and Out of Time"), the group had taken a turn towards a pure and highly Hawkwind-derivative space-rock sound. "Space Mantra" still has definite Hawkwind influences, but not in as blatant a manner. The opening track is mantra #1 "Just to Get Us Off", ten minutes of pure, noisy/wall-of-sound, orgasmic space-rock blanga. There is no slow fade-in nor fade-out, no time-changes whatsoever, with a drum machine that never deviates from the simple one-two one-two (4/4?) beat, setting the earthy backdrop for synth and fuzz-guitar space. This tune is a statement: It says there's absolutely nothing wrong with the simplest of beats if the musicians are willing to travel uninhibited with their more spacious instruments. And it works. The sound here is so spacious that it is almost eternal: no matter how many times you listen, you might never be able to separate the sound into discrete components. Definitely in the spirit of Space-Rock's Bible: Hawkwind's "Space Ritual/Doremi".
Next up is a look back to some of the band's earlier sounds, "Passed in a Blur", a brief electronics piece with a repeating industrial wave. Following is mantra #2 "Shallow Inlet of the Meadow", another ten minutes of blanga, with no drums but a low, brooding acoustic guitar laying the ground-work for synth and guitar explorations. The guitar-work here is definitely the highlight, blasting out numerous and beautifully melodious echo-effects very much in the vein of Dave Brock's "Space Ritual" interludes. The piece culminates with a slight change in rhythm and a perfectly-placed "beep-beep" synth effect. The rest of the album is comprised of shorter 4-6 minute pieces of various moods, including the feverish title-track which adds a sitar-and-tabla attack to the obligatory synth-and-guitar madness. "Sandoza Smiles" features a metallic guitar riff indicative of some of Richard Franecki's (F/i regular through the '80s) Voco Kesh material to come. "Tropic of Capricorn" is another industrial-inflected noisefest, featuring synth by future F/i regular (though apparently recently departed from the group) Grant Richter. "This is the Key, Said Tim" is another super-fuzz guitar rocker somewhat recalling the song-pieces from the BDC EP. The disc's finale is "And So it Goes (Danse Macabre)", a solemn good-bye, with some piercing synth-bleeps rising above the morass of acoustic guitar and synth blanga. The time has come: all serious space-rockers, get this now!
You can email Lexicon Devil at email@example.com.
Contact via snail mail at PO Box 125, Richmond, VIC 3121, Australia.
You can visit F/i at their web site.
Contact via snail c/o F/i; PO Box 511676, Milwaukee, WI 53203 USA.
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Reviewed by Chuck Rosenberg