Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Smoke Signals - 16 Psychin' Hits (c. 1985?)


This is it. 

This is the album I wish someone could’ve given me 20-some years ago when — head full of Human Instinct and Jesse Harper — I arrived on these fair shores expecting a plethora of the same: head music. I’ve since tried everything I could find: Ticket, Think & Taylor, Space Farm, Space Waltz & Space Case (etc.). I’ve learned about and loved garage psych and paisley pop, academic electronics and exploratory noisescapes. 

But only snippets pop up of smoky, speculative psychedelia, the sort just chockablock with epic groovy noodlin' and lyrics psycho-logically philosophisin' on reality, truth, outer-space and suchlike. 

A recent deep dive into NZ Brass- and Jazz-Rock, and the Fusion connections to the Canterbury (UK) Scene, led unswervingly toward finally sorting this compilation. Brass Rock is a vibe I still struggle with (I’m sorry, Quincy Conserve, I’ve tried) and Jazz-Fusion is a genre so shunned that even its secret fans dare not speak its name. But horns in Aotearoa make sense: brass bands were part of the fabric of society; one only needs the disappointment of op shop record bins to show how many albums of this stuff were released.  

There’s a fair amount of Blues-Rock on NZ records too presenting as heavy psych; despite the sometimes eye-watering tripadelia of the cover art, the sound inside the sleeve is just young dudes riffin’ on old tropes (and I mean dudes — there are only two women on this whole collection). I hear snotty drunken aggression, more booze than pot, and sometimes a chest-puffing competitive cleverness. 

This lot, though, concentrates on grunty grooves -- finding that pocket and digging deeper -- cool-ass sounds to tickle your noodle while nodding that noggin in deep agreement with your personally sparkly inner travelogue: yeah, maaan, yeeeeeah!

I've left off the two biggest hitters, Human Instinct (and Jesse Harper) and Space Farm to kick straight in with a brass-led track from Dr Tree, who are joined by The Fourth Way and the 1860 Band to fuse head with hips; semi-acoustic psych from second-phase Tamburlaine, the mysterious KD3, Lutha and Chris Thompson; Ian Carr's Nucleus and Pacific Eardrum repping the Canterbury Sound; heavy rock from Ticket and the pre-Bitch/post-Clevedonaires Cleves; proggy Ragnarok and Aellian Blade; spiritual soaring from Powerhouse; and electro-psych from Free Radicals.

One wee treat for me is Golden Harvest’s cover of Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’, which reflects Kevin Kaukau’s heavy Hendrix fixation, but swaddled in the glossy disco-funk they’re known for. Stick around for that track's instrumental second half: a kaleidoscopic Kaukau quest drenched in effects, electronics and studio wizardry.

The cover art is from a photo by Theo Schoon of Rotorua mudpools, which has been painted over [Schoon -- who selfishly appropriated Māori art and literally painted over priceless rock art taoka of Te Waipounamu -- can get stuffed]. 

This is the first comp I've seen of just relentlessly heavy EnZed psych jams, and believe me it hits.  

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