The Bevis Frond - Sprawl

by Jeff Penczak Rating:8 Release Date:2016-09-30

As one of our most generous artists when it comes to value for money, Nick Saloman (aka The Bevis Frond) typically rewards his fans and listeners with double albums full of his melodic pop, carefully constructed psych, and formidable rock and roll. So Sprawl could literally refer to any of his albums, really, but this, his tenth album overall (and fourth consecutive double) lives up to its title by delivering examples of his myriad styles mentioned above. From his penchant for silly soundbytes (opener ‘I Know We’re Going’ begins with what sounds like the ramblings of an inmate escaped from the local insane asylum – his drop ins are never identified in the liners, although a quick trip to Encyclopaedia Google reveals that the opening banter to ‘Awake’ excerpts a quote from Edd “Kookie” Byrnes’ ‘Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)’ novelty tune) to some of his mellower navel-gazers (the hallucinogenically dreamy, ahem, ‘Awake’, featuring mesmerising flute flourishes from Jimmy Hastings, and the sidelong nostalgic headswirler ‘Right On (Hippie Dream)’ – at 21+ minutes, the longest Frond recording from the man who specializes in song lengths entering double digits and featuring more amazing flutework from Hastings alongside Current 93’s David Tibet reading actual letters from vintage British music magazines) to some of his best story songs/rockers (‘The Puller’, featuring wild violin scraping from Tony Aldridge; ‘Oh Gideon’, highlighted by some of Andy Ward’s best drumming on a Frond album; ‘I Bought My Love A Lap Dog’), the tender heart-tugging ‘New Alexandria’, the decidedly proggy ‘Madrigal’, and closing salutation, ‘See You’, Sprawl is the Frond’s best album since his acknowledged masterpiece New River Head and is highly recommended to listeners just discovering his back catalogue via Fire’s extensive reissue campaign.

The Eastern-tinged ‘Innerwheel’ is a freaky, frightening organ-driven instro with nerve-rattling percussion, ’41 Years’ sounds like a Pete Townshend autobiographical confessional off one of his numerous Splunk compilations, and there’s plenty of trademark guitar shredding (‘I Know We’re Going’, ‘Love You More’, ’74/Gingham Rag’, ‘Boa Constrictor’) to keep the air guitarists satiated.

The double-CD version appends an album’s worth of bonus tracks, eight hard-to-find goodies that will have completists salivating. ‘Sister John’ (from a split 7” with Sandoz Lime) is another jangly pop tune that introduces synths to the Frond arsenal before ending with a searing solo; ‘Dry Rain’ (their contribution to the Ptolemaic Terrascope benefit disc, Succor) harkens back to the gnarly, fuzzy solo material on his earliest albums, while the dreamy ‘Hard Life’ is taken from a second Ptolemaic Terrascope compilation, Audio Rumbles Vol. 1; a 13-minute jam (‘The Illegal Raffling Of The Equator’, whose title Nick pilfered from Goon, Spike Milligan) from the fan-only compilation of The Long Stuff that was only made available to The Bevis Frond online community; some tracks from the rare Vaultscan cassette series (the awful mess, ‘Untogether’ and the gorgeous acoustic rumination, ‘Christmas Eve’); and a couple of tracks from Greek magazine compilations, the instrumental jam ‘Melmex Hill’ (from Overdub magazine’s Inflamable [sic] Material) features more stellar soloing and some familiar riffs that may have found there way into official songs, and the Hendrixy ‘Three Mile Wall’ (from Psychedelic Gew-Gaw’s Universal Mind and Journey To Nowhere Street compilations).

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