From time to time I receive a package of promo CDs in the mail from Fruits de Mer, the UK indie label that releases psychedelic and prog rock on limited edition, colored vinyl. That defiantly retro approach is aptly summed up in the company's motto, "It's as if the last 40 years never happened." Generally, I like the compilations featuring new artists reinventing psych and garage classics the most, but FdM also offers an intrguing variety of recording artists doing their own material. Their latest batch of seven-inch records offers originals, cover versions, and rare live recordings.
It’s a safe bet that anyone hearing Nick Nicely’s “49 Cigars” for the first time would not guess 1982 as the year this song first came out. It’s a hypnotic swirl of guitars, keyboards, and imaginative imagery that sounds like it could have sprung from the unbridled mind of Syd Barrett when he was with Pink Floyd. Nicely has an engaging, eccentric vocal style and he packs a lot into this spacey two-and-a-half minute masterpiece. It was originally the B-Side of his cult hit “Hilly Fields,” a song with more 1982-appropriate synth beats and vinyl scratching. “49 Cigars” is part of a four-song EP that includes an even more adventurous live version with extended jamming and an operatic coda; a slow and dreamy remix of “Belinda,” one of Nicely's newest songs; and “Lobster Dobbs,” a murky track from 2014 that evokes the theme song of a secret agent or detective TV show.
The FdM press material describes Vibravoid as “Quite possibly Fruits de Mer Records followers’ favourite band,” and the Dusseldorf-based trio definitely displays an acid rock/psychedelic expertise on its new three-song EP. It opens with a musclebound take on The Monkees' "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone" that features echo vocals and instrumental passages fueled by energetic guitar playing. The band enlists Italian jazz vocalist Viola Road to sing over an exotic sitar and percussion arrangement on Traffic's "Hole In My Shoe," making the experience of getting one's feet wet seem festive. The vocals on "The White Ship," originally done by Chicago's own late-1960s psychedelic rockers H.P. Lovecraft, emerge from a massive echo chamber while solemn synthesizer playing gives the proceedings a ceremonial feel.
The English band Magic Bus begins its cover of The Byrds' "Eight Miles High" in slow motion before sliding into a more swinging mix of acoustic guitar and flute playing. It comes across as very 1970s and could justifiably be labeled 'groovy.' "Seven Wonders," the other track on this two-song release, is taken from the band's latest release Transmission From Sogmore's Garden. The song goes through various tempo changes for over five minutes and showcases Magic Bus's well-crafted and ambitious vocal interplay.
Tir na nOg (the name means "land of eternal youth" in Gaelic) is a well-known Irish duo that recently released The Dark Dance, its first studio album in 40 years. "Ricochet," a track from that long-awaited effort, is an exotic blend of folk and prog rock. The second track is a previously unreleased live recording of "Tir na nOg," a song that first appeared on Tir na nOg's 1971 self-titled debut. It's a fanciful tale steeped in Celtic folklore that should resonate with fans of Steeleye Span and Airport Convention.