It’s that time of year!
There is this really wonderful thing that happens when artists fully internalize their influences: a bit of magic occurs when they successfully create new works which play off the language of those prior ideas. This isn’t some grand new concept, mind you; but, it never ceases to amaze me when it all comes together. This happens in graphic art, sculpture, dance, theater and of course in music.
And, so it goes with Sean Lennon and Les Claypool’s latest. The Claypool-Lennon Delirium‘s new South of Reality has one foot in 1967 and the other in 2525. So, lets try to reverse engineer this fine Owsley-an musical brew:
- – Mix a dose of 1968 “Hurdy Gurdy Man” Donovan…
- -Take a hit of Parachute-era Pretty Things…
- -Chase it down with a mind clearing paper cup of Chris Squire-spiked Yes bass punch (especially Drama-era as well as Fragile) …
- -Follow this with whimsical shots of Atom Heart Mother/Meddle-era Pink Floyd and 1969-71 era King Crimson…
Taken together, you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect musically here. South of Reality may be the most fully realized homage to vintage psychedelic and progressive rock since The Dukes of Stratosphear.
But…. what about the songs? The best compliment I can offer is that they have kept calling me back for repeated listens (and that doesn’t happen for me often these days!). The video for “Blood and Rockets” is as epic as the song itself, with Sean cutting loose on some sweet guitar leads that recall no less than Procol Harum’s Robin Trower. “Boriska” feels almost like a lost early King Crimson track yet with more symphonic orchestral string sounds complementing the Mellotron swells over a kicker of a jam at the end. “Easily Charmed By Fools” takes you to unexpected places all wrapped in a groovy dance groove. I love the Kaleidoscope-like middle eastern-flavored of “Cricket Chronicles Revisited.” And then there is that little Radiohead-esque moment (ala “Fitter Happier” from OK Computer) at the end of “Psyde Effects.” “Like Fleas” hints at Roger Waters but it quickly veers off for other galaxies.
It’s all here on South of Reality: mellifluous (Ian) McDonald-ian Mellotrons, plucky Ace Kefford-esque bass hooks, soaring Gilmour-esque guitar solos, harmonies, jams, jaunts and jollity. And the extra impressive thing is that — again like it’s processor — Sean and Les play all the instruments.
Mix wise, this album kind of picks up where the band’s 2016 debut, Monolith of Phobos, left off and takes it all to another level of sophistication. So — in a very very loose sort of way — if that album touched on the raw underground sounds of 1966-1967 psychedelia in a high fidelity 21st century schizoid manner, South of Reality takes you on a somewhat trippier trip from 1968 into the 1970s and beyond. Still, it somehow sounds timeless and right for the surreal times we are living through today.
The two LP set comes pressed on beautiful three-tone split-pink-purple with blue-splatter standard weight vinyl. I have seen solid pink and blue-splatter variants posted by others on the web so don’t be surprised if you find unique versions out there. Each album side has an animated Zoetrope on the label so the physical vinyl version of the album offers a unique interactive experience (click here for a video the band posted on Facebook showing what to expect and how to do it).
Generally South of Reality sounds great on LP, especially when you turn up the volume on your amplifier. There is, however, some surface noise evident in quieter passages but nothing that ruined the listening experience for me; I have heard some others on social media complain about this so be forewarned if you are bothered by that sort of thing. For me, the noises did not happen frequently enough to annoy. Actually, I’m quite pleased at how warm this recording sounds even when you turn it up loud (and I think South of Reality is at its best if you follow the advice on Sean’s father’s”Instant Karma” single to “Play Loud“!).
Perhaps the only conundrum is that at 47 minutes in length, it is arguable by some that the album could have been squeezed onto a single disc. Personally, I am glad they did not do this as the music would suffer increased noise and distortion especially toward the inner grooves. So, I am totally in support of South of Reality being spread out across four sides and two LPs, especially since they are selling it for essentially the price of a modern day single LP (about $25).
You can find The Claypool Lennon Delirium streaming on Tidal if you have a subscription (in CD quality, 44.1 kHz, 16-bits). Click here for Monolith of Phobos and here for South of Reality. Both sound really quite solid and enjoyable at average listening levels; for louder play, again, I do prefer the vinyl experience.
South of Reality has been a much anticipated release for me that has gone beyond my expectations. Now I just hope The Claypool-Lennon Delirium comes to San Francisco again (they played here on New Years Eve) so more of us will have a chance to hear this music bloom in full flower live on stage.