Various Artists - "Serotonin Ronin II"
(Camera Obscura 2000, CAM 029/030 CD)
From Aural Innovations #14 (January 2001)
Here are two full-length CDs of music comprised of bands on Australia's Camera Obscura label. 20 bands and 26 tracks, which cover a lot of ground in the psyche, pop-psyche and related genres (not all tracks are psyche per se, but at the very least "atmospheric"). Many tracks are previously available on CO releases, but if you're like me, you've rarely come across most of those anyway, so here is a perfect way to sample those many hard-to-find albums and bands. Most tracks were recorded between '96 and '98. Track-by-track break-down:
1. GREEN PAJAMAS--"Morning in Myra's Room" The first of three tracks by this
group, pop-psyche with a strong vocal melody, solid.
2. ABUNAI!--"Learning to Ask" Pop-psyche again, just plain HAPPY, including a
hooky-ass chorus (though plenty of wah'd guitar). One to break some charts
3. LOVE AND DEATH--"Mean Otto" Short piece, starts with some sped-up tape
sounds; darker than the first 2 tracks, but not as good.
4. WITCH HAZEL SOUND--"Hawthorn" REAL laid-back pop-psyche, with some light
keys and a trumpet melody; not too bad, but not great.
5. GREEN PAJAMAS--"Sweet Sorrow" Has a cool synthesized (I think) violin
melody in the catchy chorus that reminds me of some Beatles tune or era,
can't put my finger on which. Again, solid, and the PJ's are two-fer-two.
6. OUR GLASSIE AZOTH--"Euterpe" ...the Mood is changing... this is
multi-layered dark ambience that builds in intensity; powerful, setting the
stage for many dark brooding songs of grief and foreboding, icy bodies of
water...it's the right time of year for this...(except here in SoCal)...
7. GENTLE TASADAY--"Walking on the Coals of Coldest Despair" This band is part
of the Skye Klad/Salamander family out of Minnesota. Depressing eastern
acoustic guitar reminiscent of Tommy Chong's "desert music" in "Things are
Tough All Over", with a spoken prayer to God bemoaning the loss of a loved
8. VORTEX NAVIGATION COMPANY--"The Welcoming River" More creepy acoustic
guitar, some chirping of swamp-bugs and closely-miked vocals which state:
"Something good is gone very far away..."
9. SALAMANDER--"Old Mr. Jones" More lost souls float through the ether, and
"Old Mr. Jones has stuck his head in a hole", then the piece turns into a
dank/damp "Angels of Death"-jam, w/a freaky siren effect and loads of
wah-guitar. As the liners state: "Hawkwind Nation", though with a bit of
10. LOTHARS--"The Coronation of King Lothar" Drone-city here with wailing
guitar and effects laid over some guitar strumming, medieval violin and
death-drum. Kinda reminds of some Third Eye Foundation. Thumbs up.
11. WITCH HAZEL SOUND--"Sketches of the Insane" Different than their earlier
tune, more along the lines of the latter part of the CD, but I'm less
impressed with these folks than most of the others.
12. ALPHANE MOON--"Saltsea/In the Vortex of Celestial Influences (Edit)" Some
Irish/Scottish-sounding vocals over more acoustic guitar; decent.
13. RAKE--"Resume the Cosmos" Some low-key free-sax over spoken
improvised-sounding space-poetry; a distinct mood is definitely created,
though I'm not altogether convinced by the recitation. Mixed feelings.
CD #2: From the Camera Obscura MP3 Singles Club (see web-address at bottom)
1. ABUNAI!--"Barbara Allen" Starts with a display of space-synth but then
launches into another Irish motif about the fair maiden BA, though after
several listens I realized that some keyboard remains dwellin' beneath,
adding to this tune's great atmosphere. Two-fer-two for Abu.
2. SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE--"Hermitage Song" Psyche/folk with layered
acoustic guitar and some classic vocals, circa '67-'71. Too brief...or maybe
I should just buy the album!
3. ASHTRAY NAVIGATIONS--"Icing Sugar Ceiling Rain" Far out! Nice layered
electronics with tons of bells chiming at once, but in beautiful harmony.
According to the liners, the parent group is Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers.
4. GREEN PAJAMAS--"Song for Christina/A Nightmare" More poppy catchiness with
the Beatles violin again (what IS that? Help!) and a reading of a Christina
Rossetti poem. This group doesn't blow my mind, but they're just plain
pleasant. Should have named themselves Solid. 3-fer-3 for GP.
5. EASON--"Klondyke Fitzgerald" Back to the '60s and the Beatles again (the
liners refer to the Kinks). Catchy, kinda Barrett-esque, but no sign of
noise-damage. Pre-psychedelic psyche. Me, I'll probably be skipping this one
for now on.
6. TADPOLES--"Whirlaway (Radio Edit)" Drumroll for a beat, but otherwise:
7. VORTEX NAVIGATION COMPANY--"Poison in the Water" Back to the mood of the
2nd half of Disc 1. Decent. Get your scuba-suit back on.
8. LATE--"Glass Tuning" According to the liners, just "a guitar, amp cord and
amp"; pure guitar textured ambience; electronic sounds supplied by the
electric amp-drone itself (ampbient) and natural incidental static are a
back-drop for klangs, tinkles and string reverberation. Successfully
9. LAZILY SPUN--"The Whole" Good psyche with added swooshing effects to set
off the vocals.
10. PHINEAS GAGE--"Kite" Decent psyche with a nice lofty vocal effect. Isn't
there a prog band with the same name but spelled "Finneus"?
11. DOLDRUMS--"Mahatma Wants His Rice Back" Fantastic improvised
eastern-psyche jam with active drum fills and a gorgeous guitar lick during
the come-down at the end. Does it remind anyone else of Amon Düül 2's "Yeti"?
12. CHARALAMBIDES--"One Song" From Texas, the Carters serve up a beautiful
vocals-and-acoustic-guitar piece. The hummed/moaned vocals feel more profound
than words probably would have. Tears well up. Is the mood forlorn or
hopeful? Both? Depends on the individual's personal reaction. Maybe my
favorite tune of the whole set.
13. RAKE/PELT ORCHESTRA--"Live Richmond 4/12/97" Dunno if that's Dec. 4 or
April 12, but this is good jambience with tribal percussion amidst improvised
instrumentation, including squealing guitar and sax.
That's it! I think if you shaved off some tunes, this could have been one of the greatest single-CD compilations ever released, but it's good that this many obscure groups have been covered on one release, and some people might dig many of the tunes herein. It may be more a matter of taste, since even the tunes I didn't like that much are, for the most part, well-done.
You can visit the Camera Obscura label at their web site.
Contact via snail mail at Camera Obscura; PO Box 5069; Burnley VIC 3121; Australia.
Reviewed by Chuck Rosenberg
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