The Witch and the Robot - On Safari
There was, I admit, a hint of suspicion during the first few spins of On Safari; the whiff of patchouli oil and waccy baccy, of Sixth Form common rooms and hastily underlined copies of Herman Hesse. Bits of opener 'Giants Graves' (the bongos, the Wicker Man vocals) were the source of these concerns - which were not allayed by 'Sex Music ...', a largely spoken word affair invoking time travel, the icy waters of the Lake District and the scorched plains of Africa - the perfect soundtrack for some Spinal Tap woodcraft of the confused dimension kind.
This is English psychedelia of the old school. We're not talking lightweights like Syd Barrett, we're talking Mandrake Paddle Steamer, Tomorrow, Kaleidoscope's 'A Dream For Julie'. We're talking stinking kaftans, undergarments of cheesecloth and soup-in-the beard PSYCH! aided and abetted by flutes and fuzz guitar. It'll have the punk rocker in you reaching for the nearest bag of Bostick.
But it's still kind of cool.
This band of young Cumbrians have hewn strange shapes from their landscape but, pleasingly, they're happy to favour vibe over perfection. So the vocals and harmonies sometimes have a rough edge, but it instills a character that's reflected in the lyrics, unafraid to reference their locality ("Across the sands at Morecambe Bay" in 'A Crocodile Song') or throw in lines others would shy away from in terror ("On his death bed he asked for herring"). It's either the most pretentious album you'll hear all year,or the least. 'The Best Free Show on Earth' opens with aforesaid flute, tumbling into an uncertain verse but the chorus falsetto is definite: watching trees move in the wind is a fascination. Time to pass the dutchie, methinks.
On Safari is incredibly out of time, but strangely compelling. The complex, 'let's try it and see if works' arrangements belying the authors' tender years, adding to the idea that the interesting works are afoot somewhere off the skinny jean radar. The acoustic guitars chime, the bass often has a bit of funk to it (so much classic psych came from r'n'b or white soul outfits who gobbled too many microdots) and the vocals switch to suit the material, meaning it's never just eleven variations on the same song - a mistake so many bands make these days.
You may be reminded of Dawn of the Replikants at times - another oddball band from an unfashionable part of the country. Is there something in the air? Or the water supply?
Good shit, guys.