By Ian McFarlane.
“Be prepared to have the parameters of your consciousness expanded or even blown to smithereens…”
Various Artists – A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble (Exploding In Your Mind) The Wizards Of Oz
Compiled and Mixed by The Amorphous Androgynous (Warner Music/Monstrous Bubble)
I thought I was adequately prepared to have the parameters of my consciousness expanded but to have said parameters blown to smithereens wasn’t exactly a comfortable experience. Like a subterranean spaceship coursing through the mashed potato of my (frazzled) brain A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble (Exploding In Your Mind) The Wizards Of Oz is a challenge. As with all the great challenges that life can throw up I can now state comfortably that, after repeated airings it was a rewarding experience.
I shouldn’t give away so much this early in the game but, you see, I’m a neophyte when it comes to the world of The Amorphous Androgynous. Yes, I know that this edition of A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble (Exploding In Your Mind) is the fourth volume in a series that head mixer Gaz Cobain (aka The Amorphous Androgynous aka The Future Sound Of London) has been issuing since 2008. I just haven’t listened before. Of course, this Wizards Of Oz volume (subtitled An Antipodean Cosmic Space Music Odyssey from 1966 to the Present) is more aligned with my tastes anyway.
The basic concept doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me – jamming together a bunch of seemingly disparate tracks with linking segments to create some kind of alternate narrative. Yet the juxtapositions can throw out some intriguing possibilities. I finally twigged that you can’t come at this compilation in the normal sense, you have to discard any preconceived notions and just go with the flow. The fundamental difference is that Cobain comes from the DJ culture where mixing and matching when done effectively can be exceedingly liberating. And what I do like is that Cobain isn’t afraid to stomp all over such genre descriptions as ‘psychedelia’ – in the world of The Amorphous Androgynous anything is fair game for exploitation.
Okay, on to the music. Many of the individual tracks are excellent in and of themselves. Any Double CD compilation that starts with Russell Morris’ ‘The Real Thing’ and ends with the incandescent, 10-minute ‘Waves Of Aquarius’ by Kanguru – with generous helpings of Tame Impala, Cybotron, The Sunset Strip, Sons Of The Vegetal Mother, Pond and Madder Lake in between – can only be a good thing. Most of the time the tracks are treated with respect, in the sense that they play out in their entirety yet at other times Cobain throws in edits and remixes.
For example, he takes only 24 seconds of The Missing Links’ ‘H’Tuom Tuhs’ (the original cut is 5:40 of reversed tape of their version of ‘Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut’), trims the 8-minute ‘Love Is The Law’ by Sons Of The Vegetal Mother down to a more pertinent length of 2:28 and the massive 15:37 of ‘Raga In Asia Minor’ by Cybotron to a more manageable 7:20 – all of which makes perfect sense to the flow of Disc One for example. What doesn’t make as much sense to me is the way he remixes Madder Lake’s ‘12-lb Toothbrush’ and Tyrnaround’s ‘Colour Your Mind’ with his own psych / phasing elements underpinning the basic tracks, making them even more psychedelic – they sound fine but then again, I’m not a fan of hip-hop or rave either.
Where this manipulation process does work is with a track such as ‘The Sea’ by Air. This was a mid-70s group that played a brand of good old fashioned soft rock (think Dove, The Carpenters, The Cowsills etc). Yet their sole album from 1974 nowadays is being touted by (enterprising) on-line sellers under the retroactively coined genre description “psych-folk”, all because of this one track which does have genuine folksy overtones. So what Cobain has cleverly done (like all good crate-digging DJs) is dub the one and only good track from the album and presented it in a new setting with appropriate manipulation and all of a sudden it becomes a staggering track – sort of a heavenly mix of early Fairport Convention and The Cocteau Twins.
A few other tracks that work well in their own right are Mandu’s version of ‘Gimme Shelter’, New Zealander Doug Jerebine’s astonishingly overdriven Hendrix-inspired ‘Ain’t So Hard To Do’, The Sunset Strip’s monumental sludge-blues fest ‘Mercy Killing’ and Railroad Gin’s ‘Matter Of Time’. The full 5-minute version of ‘Matter Of Time’ – with the orchestral intro that sounds straight out of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack – once again benefits from being taken out of context and placed in this new and unfamiliar setting.
It might be churlish to quibble about track selection, because everything here is so out of the ordinary but I’ll venture to make a few comments. Of course, ‘The Real Thing’ is the acknowledged apotheosis of Aussie psychedelia but maybe ‘Part Three Into Paper Walls’ would have provided an even stranger listening experience. (There’s always the possibility of Wizards Of Oz Vol. 2, I guess.)
And so on to the previously unreleased ‘Eyes Of The Witness’ by Kongress: as Cobain notes, “New York’s Kongress were indeed not Antipodean, but are considered honorary Australians for our purposes here because the late great Melbourne magician Geoffrey Crozier was a one-time member”. Okay, I get that, however – and this is another example of Cobain’s natural tendency to rip up history – this track was recorded in 1973 and Crozier didn’t join until at least 1977. The final irony might be that it’s one of the best tracks here, like some maniacal fusion of Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come and Drimble Wedge and The Vegetation.