Mandragora - "Pollen"
(Delerium 1998, DELEC CD 070)
From Aural Innovations #6 (April 1999)
I guess it's time to put a lid on the British 'Free Festival' psychedelic rock scene, championed by the Ozric Tentacles and safely housed at the Delerium headquarters for the last decade. After so many great bands (Dead Flowers, Soma, Ship of Fools, Omnia Opera, etc.) have done their thing, it looks like all the best music has now been completely wrung out. Mandragora (not to be confused with the German Mandragora Light Show Society) has long been part of the free-festy scene, but like most of the other survivors has shifted over into the electronica domain.
When the programmed linear dance beat kicks in during "Abu Zeluf," I immediately cringe and think this album's gonna suck. However, the irresistible psychy eastern touches and reggae-dub rhythms manage to change my mind around, quite surprisingly I might add. "Dub Jig" is pure unadulterated reggae, mon, and capably done. "Coffee Shop Jig" is one part Kathmandu, one part French Riviera, and one part acid-house techno. I shouldn't like it, but I do... particularly when Simon Williams' psychedelic guitar soloing screams through. One of the most interesting bits is Arthur Brown's guest appearance on "Rewind... Everything's OK," adding vocals which I can only describe as 'pained.' Ben Paley's violin colors "Rebuk," a nice Chris Karrer-style eastern number that is nearly ruined by the sequenced backing beat, but the bulk of the music is too good to ignore. Al Jenkins cruises on his fretless bass, and a swirling array of synths, guitars, and sampled chants spin overhead. On "Jazz Message," Ron Williams' trumpet solo plays against a groovy bass line and Mick Reed's *real* drums... you might have a bit of trouble dancing to this one. "Bliss the Sky" samples classic Can percussion and what could easily be late-70's Steve Hillage synthesizers; this one works, but the finale "El Paso" is just too dancey and kills the mood.
The comparisons one might make to "Pollen" are obvious - recent works by the Ozrics and/or Eat Static, and Mandragora's label-mate Electric Orange. The latter's "Cyberdelic" I couldn't much take, and have sold that off. "Pollen" is more digestible to the space/psych-head who wants a taste of techno/trance every so often without being choked by it. In that sense, it fills a space in my collection previously held only by Korai Öröm. I may be getting older, but I'm not yet unable to catch on to some new trends in music. I ain't gonna start hanging out at raves or anything, but I'll give "Pollen" some future spins and pretend.
Available through Delerium Records.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson