The Surprise Symphony - s/t
(Blackberry Records 1998, CM 00316)
From Aural Innovations #7 (July 1999)
The Surprise Symphony plays valium-paced drifting psychedlia that is dark and haunting in atmosphere, and quite intriguing due to the varied instrumentation and thematic development. This is drugged psychedelia that kind of plods along so you really have sit back and relax to enjoy it. The CD liner notes contain absolutely no information on the band and an internet search turned up nothing except that there are common members with the bands Magic Island and Damien Youth.
What I hear is electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums, piano, synths, and I think I hear mandolin, sitar, and cello. The vocalist sometimes sounds like Daevid Allen during his more laid back moments, but mostly he sings VERY softly. The cello on several songs appears to be where the symphony part of the band's name comes from because it certainly does make the band sound like a small chamber ensemble. It sounds like this may be some kind of concept album as there is a clear sense of development to the music which weaves in and out of various themes.
The disc starts off with the cello playing the lead melody while a drugged guitar plucks away and is later joined by the mandolin. Throughout the fifteen songs we move through Eastern influenced psych played on sitar, and encounter various overture and transitional pieces. Much like a symphony right? For example, between "regular" songs we get tracks like "Promenade" with it's wild sounds and crazed laughter, and "The Symphony Has Started" which features a carnival atmosphere with bells and organ grinder rhythms.
My favorite track is "Untitled (Love Song)" which is the most animated the band gets. The singer wakes up and the music takes on a trippy early 70's Amon Düül II meets Pink Floyd quality. Synths are introduced for the first time and there is a tasteful early Floyd-styled guitar solo. Two very nice piano based tunes are "Very Lovely Girl" and "Hang On To Your Dreams" which are like the other more plodding tunes but just seemed to grab me more than the others.
In summary, The Surprise Symphony's music isn't particularly interesting unless you listen to the disc as a whole. Otherwise you'll miss all the changes in mood and atmosphere and be left with just individual trippy psych tunes. Still, the band has certainly produced something a bit different to offer psych fans.
For more information visit the Blackberry Records web site.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz