Nick Riff - "Sublime Prescription" b/w "Area 51" 7" (Sonic Swirl 1996, 011)
Nick Riff's Freak Element - 4 track promo CD-R (self-released 1998)
From Aural Innovations #6 (April 1999)
Time to catch up on the activities of Ohio's best-known psych-rocker Nick Riff. The band 'Freak Element' has evolved over the years since Riff's Delerium days, and is now the quartet of Riff on guitar/vocals, Peter Platten on keys, Kevin Hines on bass and Rob King on drums. A few years back, the same band (except with Tim Lane on drums) released the "Sublime Prescription" single. This is another one of Riff's poppy-psych tunes that move along briskly and infuses that trademark party atmosphere. The B-side 'Area 51' is actually one of Riff's more stimulating tunes, an instrumental jam with a strong punch and impressive freaky guitar soloing throughout. Additional embellishments from atmospheric synths and various incidentals work to fill out the 'wall of sound.'
In the past year, Riff and company have recorded a full-length CD's worth of material (10 tracks) and self-produced a promo CD-R for attracting a label's interest. My first thought for an appropriate issuing label would be Woronzow (Bevis Frond & friends), but then perhaps Riff is looking domestically. The four tracks on this disc continue in the 60s psych tradition, though it explicitly claims in the liner notes that it 'is not a hippie trip or 60's nostalgia revival.' While I feel this is only marginally true, there is a distinct quality to Riff's cherubic voice and upbeat writing style that supplies some freshness to the music. "The World's Alive" is truly a pop tune, but is flavored with tasty synths and piano passages from Platten and particularly soaring vocals from Riff. In fact, I think the vocals add as much cosmic flavor to the songs as any other instrument. "Calling You" starts out with a heavier riff and countering lead guitar, blazes through a couple verses, and then several bridge sections of relative quiet where the spacey synths shine through. "Into the Zone" falls along similar lines, Platten and Riff again swapping the spotlight. The 'quick peek' wraps up with "Same Thing Twice," an uncommonly dark, slower piece that at once displays versatility, but then also gets away from what the band does best. With these brand new tunes, it's nice to see that Freak Element is back going strong again, and here's hoping that an American label will actually see fit to release some home-grown psychedelic psounds for a change.
For more information contact: Nick Riff, P.O. Box 110395, Cleveland, OH 44111
Reviewed by Keith Henderson