- by Rich Morris Release Date: Label:
An odd one, this, for me to write about. Not because Pungent Effulgent isn’t an awesome slab of psych-stoner-prog-rock mentalness – it is and then some. It’s strange for me because Pungent Effulgent is one of the first albums I ever got into, when I was 11-years-old and two of my sisters were fans of free festival mavens Ozric Tentacles (I had very cool sisters. I really owe my music taste to the many compilation tapes they made me as a nipper).
To a sci-fi-obsessed, nature-loving kid who’d just hit the age where I wanted to find something that was ‘my own’, to start building my own identity, it’s easy to see why the far-out, space-venturing, listen-to-the-grass-grow sounds of Ozric appealed. My 11-year-old self’s other musical loves were Pink Floyd and psych-jazz-rockers Gong, so you can see where my young head was at. The chart music my friends and peers were enjoying, including the whole Britpop caboodle, didn’t make an impression on me until a while later.
Of course, there are many things we love in childhood and early adolescence which simply fail to resonate with us in adulthood, or worse, are actively embarrassing. Certainly you would never catch me rocking out to Skunk Anansie now, even though I thought they were the most amazing band that had ever existed when I was 13. So imagine my surprise when I listened to Pungent Effulgent for the first time in maybe a decade and discovered that, yeah, it actually is as good as I remembered.
It opens with ‘Dissolution (The Clouds Disperse)’ and a portentous, clipped guitar figure similar to the one that opens Pink Floyd’s ‘Let There Be More Light’ and which, appropriately, sounds like it’s echoing forward from the beginning of time itself. Drums, bass and synth kick in and everything slowly builds until the music erupts into the first of many supersonic wig-outs, and a bloody doozy it is too.
Over ethereal, electrical-storm guitar, tumbling drums, spasming synth and unfeasibly funky bass, someone (probably flutist – yes, flutist - John Egan) starts spewing some industrial-strength hippy cobblers: “Illumination… Dissolution… Devolution… Evolution… Illusive illusion… Insane… Unsane…” Child-me thought this was really deep. Now I just revel in the sheer, unashamed ridiculousness of it.
Second track ‘O-I’ is even better; harder, sharper, even more cosmic, with splatters of flute lending an Eastern flavour to its stuttering space-rock. About a minute in, we get an outrageously silly, spluttering, slithering, somehow undeniably sexy synth solo, making it clear why these guys were the top act on the free festival circuit in the 80s and early 90s, and why they were as popular with female festival-goers as chin-stroking, prog-loving men: Ozric make you want to dance, and not just in a hand-wavey, feel-the-vibes way. ‘O-I’s combination of relentless bongos, Hammond organ freak-out, and squelchy synth madness makes it the funkiest track on the album.
Third track ‘Phalarn Dawn’ (Yes, all the track titles sound like something from Lord of the Rings – just embrace it) is a total change of pace. Acoustic guitar flourishes give way to tense, monolithic drums and Eno-esque synths which are at once beautiful and unsettling.
After seven-and-a-half minutes of moody ambience, ‘The Domes of G'Bal’ (See? Told you) lightens the mood significantly with some gently skanking dub-reggae. Now, I am no white-reggae apologist. The thought of pasty white boys, with their ratty, tangled dreads, indulging in some reefer-fuelled cultural appropriation turns my stomach, frankly. But ‘The Domes of G'Bal’ does at least have some scintillating cosmic synth weaving through it, and an incongruously heavy, doom-laden coda. It could be much worse. No one attempts a fake patois accent.
‘Shaping the Pelm’ and ‘Ayurvedic’ provide more slices of superior synth-led space exploration; the first light and airy, the latter zipping through the inky darkness on a witty, jazzy guitar-line which recalls Gong’s ‘Flying Teapot’, before exploding in an acid-fried freak-out and reforming as the kind of rumbling, bass-led, urban dub-quake I can totally get on board with. Its bricolage of found-sounds and stuttering voices also reminds you that Ozric embraced sampling at a time (1989) when most guitar bands were still struggling with the existence of house music.
As excellent as ‘Ayurvedic’ is, nothing prepares you for the full-on psych-punk assault of the album’s greatest moment, ‘Kick Muck’. Four minutes of skull-pounding, heavily-phased guitars, unstoppable beats and unearthly, discordant effects, it’s a bad-acid meltdown put to music, as heavy and vicious as Hawkwind jamming with The Sex Pistols. And it still makes you want to dance. After this deranged rampage, the softly undulating ‘Agog in the Ether’ provides necessary TLC, floating serenely by until an outbreak of intense tribal drumming makes you feel that, like Jarvis in ‘Sorted for E’s and Wizz’, it’s time to call your mum and sort out a lift home.
‘Wreltch’, meanwhile, is as odd as its name; a Jean Michel Jarre stadium-synth-prog number curdled on a druggy cocktail of freaked guitar and speeding, crashing, Neu!-style drums. And that’s your lot, unless you’ve got hold of the CD or bought the album on iTunes (which is going to be most people these days). In that case, you also get ‘Ayurvedism’, a 19-minute live version of ‘Ayurvedic’ which is as heavy, trippy and fucking out-there as one could hope.
So, Pungent Effulgent: The childhood love that didn’t let the adult me down (unlike James Bond. Imagine coming back to that as an adult and realising he was just a prissy sex-pest with a pathetic line in crushingly obvious puns. Ugh.) That Pungent Effulgent is a must for any space-rock fan goes without saying. But it’s more than that. Within its joyful, fearlessly experimental grooves you’ll find the secret to eternal childhood – an album of evergreen adventure and excitement. Take a trip with Ozric.