Review: Postcards from the Deep

Flexi Disc Box Set. Fruits de Mer Records

Planning a limited boxset of 10 flexi-discs and other sundry trinkets may seem the belligerent war talk of hipster novices with rich parents, but there is at least some logic to be found here. The plan to fill the square (yes, yes, stay with us) flexi discs with walls of fuzzy, bleary-eyed freakbeat does seem strangely apt – the odd and anonymous flexi discs, manufactured in places oblivious to the turning of the 60’s, never mind the century, are in some ways a perfect fit; out of time and never really destined for the mainstream even first time around.

Ten different bands offer their takes on garage standards, TV themes and pseudo-kraut rock, none of the acts attempting to reinvent the wheel, seemingly happy to wave the old skull and crossbones to remind the rest of the world these gems still exist. Doggedly determined troopers The Luck of Eden Hall kick things off with probably the most well-known of the tracks, The Count Five’s Psychotic Reaction, a slightly poppier, friendlier take on the old standard but loveably perky and a relief for those of you who will pay upwards of 27 beans for this limited release, that you haven’t shelled out for a complete dud.

Venturing into denser psychedelic foliage are The Loons, who choose to cover the relatively obscure Dutch masterpiece, Celestial Empire by Dragonfly. The original is an immediately purple-scented purr of woozy pop splendour, The Loons opting for a rather more aggressive take, the scratchy guitar work sounding like metal eels being thrown at one another. If the idea of a psychedelic band from Blackpool covering The Calico Wall’s I’m a Living Sickness doesn’t convince you this set is worth considering, we should probably shake hands and walk solemnly in opposite directions at this point. The original version, an unremittingly harrowing howl in the storm, as affecting now as it ever was, is given reverential treatment, although it’s a bit too clean and the lyrics a little too distinct to cause you to turn the lights on in fear.

The Thanes’ take on The Pretty Thing’s LSD is a stark reminder of how one of the best bands of the 60’s were elbowed out of their rightful place on the throne by the likes of the Rolling Stones. The Pretty’s rakishly perched top hat of a song is given a brilliant makeover, an instrumental with liver-bruising jangle and pep, punctuated by a lung-draining harmonica; a throwback to a time which now feels like a million years ago, where bands covering tunes knew them so well that they had distilled the essence, not even considering formulaic by-numbers photocopies but offering the choice offal for connoisseurs.

I had to look up who Satori were – 60’s Texan psych, no doubt on one of the towering pile of comps of that most productive of mini-scenes, an incredibly speedy wasp on helium blast which doesn’t immediately suggest ‘cover me’. In the hands of The Blue Giant Zeta Puppies (it’s not a good name, whichever angle I look at it from) it’s a slightly more controlled space rock rabbit punch, actually a bit better than the source material. Less intense is The Past Tense’s Soul Fiction, a cover of The Hippies track, very summery and good driving music I suspect…should you have a recordogram in your automobile, of course.

Schizo Fun Addict (don’t worry, that’s the worst of the band names) are clearly the only band to have read the memo fully, opting to cover one of Freakbeat’s big hitters, The Sorrows, their weapon of choice being their most famous song, Take a Heart. I’ve always found The Sorrows to be too po-faced for my liking, so any take on their output has always got a better than usual chance of being an improvement to my ears. Indeed it is, the earnest vocals replaced by both male and female voices, throwing the tone of the song into more galactic and comforting throes – again, source material being snorted and exhaled in new and exciting ways.

Crystal Jacqueline’s interpretation of Dana Gillespie’s You Just Gotta Know My Mind, is probably the track you’ll play the least, the bonus being we’ve got up to track 8 by this stage and even now, I’m not suggesting this is poor, just a little run of the mill compared to the rest of the collection. Astralasia are a difficult band to pin down at the best of times, their dabbling in the dance scene and drug of choice (ecstasy) being an unusual bedfellow on occasion but when hitting their stride, a creditable Hawkwind-lite, spacey, meandering and starchy carbohydrate for the brain. You may not be familiar with the source of their cover, Belgian band, Brainticket. Good name.

Matters conclude with Icarus Peel’s Avengers Theme (as in Laurie Johnson’s TV theme), a bit of a cheat really, a fun workout but clearly not what was requested. As it is, it’s a purposefully shambolic tremolo-heavy hip thrust, which, while being very good, still made me feel oddly sad. Along with the square flexi discs, you also get accompanying square postcards (they’re very pretty but I never really understand what you’re meant to do with them – clearly not post them), as well as a cd with all the flexi tracks but with some of the artists taking the opportunity to expand upon their tracks either length-wise or by adding vocals to instrumentals. It’s genuinely an excellent package, one which if you don’t take seriously, leaves you looking like a callous wretch.