Octopus Syng - Victorian Wonders - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Octopus Syng - Victorian Wonders

by Bill Golembeski Rating:8 Release Date:2018-11-16
Octopus Syng - Victorian Wonders
Octopus Syng - Victorian Wonders

Band monikers are really important. I mean, anything to do with some sort of pestilential disease, an amputated limb, or a serious brain dysfunction is probably a pretty strong compass needle pointing due death metal. Let’s face it: No one is going to confuse the latest release by Goblin Cock with a folk album of reverie that eagerly anticipates the final leaves of autumn, a prog epic that transcends both space and time and travels to a utopian world (perhaps our own in the friendly future) that has done away with all of those pestilential diseases, amputated limbs, serious brain dysfunctions, and (for that matter) the interest or even the possibility for a new album by Goblin Cock, or, of course, a record of way too clever jazz rock from a band that plays fifteen beats per measure euphoria.

Now, call me a clairvoyant, but the name Octopus Syng evokes all those calendar pages (like in the old movies) flying backward in the winds of celluloid time. Yeah, this record is like candle wax slowly dripping backwards in time to the year 1969 when pop music oozed with bizarre sounds, thick beautiful sunshade notes, huge damp atmosphere, and a ticket to the local (and very hip) art school dance.  

And I wasn’t wrong. This is Syd Barrett and Kevin Ayers stuff. It’s folk-pop-rock-psych Canterbury musical tales, oddly, by way of Helsinki, Finland. The players (as fitting this music) have only first names--Jaire (guitar and vocals), Joni (guitar and backing vocals), Mikael (bass), and, of course, Jukka (drums). This is delicate, intimate, slightly skewed, and often very beautiful music. There are for this record, to (almost) quote Phil Collins No surnames required. It’s that sort of album.

My friend, Kilda Defnut, often says there is a difference between being cleverly odd and oddly clever. I don’t know. I think this music covers both bases.

“One Day at the Amusement Part” begins the album with a wishful Robert Wyatt sound. This is Soft Machine magic. The tune descends into laughter and then resuscitates itself into a languid phase two of the song, which pauses, and ends with a short drum and vocal bit. It’s all very distinct minutia, sort of like The Pretty Thing’s psych single “Defecting Grey” from very long ago.

There’s more dreamy stuff. “If You Were a Flower” has Canterbury Caravan’s Richard Sinclair sound-a-like vocals with the honest hope that “if you were a flower,” the singer would like to be a “sunbeam.” So, well, you, as those Pretty Things once said, get the picture. “19th Century Romanticism” speaks for itself. Talk about a GPS directive straight to the heart of The Lake District’s Dove Cottage! I mean, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and Shelley: this is “Grecian Urn” stuff. And lead vocalist Jaire delivers a monologue that is dark, deep, and (probably) a tad silly, but what the heck, this is only rock ‘n’ roll; so “Born to Run” this isn’t, but that’s all right, and “Anarchy in the UK” it also isn’t, but that’s all right, too. And, to make up for those missing surnames (not required), there are added bird calls (which are both quite expected and required). The wonderfully titled “Otto Rank Is a Traitor” continues the cleverness in its minute detail with great but tiny backing vocals and even more eerily spoken words with an off-kilter guitar solo.

But, let me tell you, “Go Away Damn Raindrops” is an absolutely beautiful tune. It’s 1969 suspended in warm vinyl sound and slowly vibrating swaddling cloth. This song stops the hands of time as keyboards float in juxtaposition to yet another quirky guitar bit. Then “Let It Rain—Let It Shine” continues in the same comforting pace, this time with a flute and Eastern sitar-enhanced vibe. This song urges hope. Rock music way back then did that sort of thing.

There’s more variety. “Sunday’s Jackdaws” lightly steps on piano keys and chants with music that simply desires to extend itself outward out to the width of a circle and then becomes dense with dominate drums and electric guitar that push the music into prog territory.

But suddenly, “Roundabout” is up-tempo like The Lilac Time or The Wild Swans.

The final songs are soft. “Spider Web” captures an acoustic beauty. As does “Early Spring,” which is sort of an onomatopoeic tone poem. And, of course (the great) Dylan Thomas warned: “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” but the final tune “These Precious Summer Nights” sort of does just that, despite a quiet rage of a guitar solo that certainly fulfills the promise of the album’s lovely muse.  

Oh, by the way, any fan of XTC’s alter-ego Dukes of Stratosphere will love this album because, well, as the old saying goes, somewhere on the planet, it’s 25 o’ clock.

So, of course, I’m not waiting in line to score that new Goblin Cock record. But as Gordon Lightfoot once sang, “Heaven help the devil,” so somebody out there is probably patiently waiting for Lord Phallus, Lick Myheart, Tinnitus Island, and Loki Sinjuggler (surnames are apparently required in this band) to record GC’s follow up to Necronomidonkeykongimicon.  

But, you know, (What’ so funny ‘bout) peace love and understanding…and having a good laugh and a derisory glance at your own precious rock ‘n’ roll? 

And in equal truth, this Octopus Syng record isn’t for everyone. But for those of us who viewed life through the ironic lens and loved the weird Canterbury pop/rock music of a band like Soft Machine with its tune “Esther’s Nosejob,” or for neophytes who have willing ears for weird sounds, it may be worth the time and bother to avoid all those pestilential, amputated limbs, serious brain dysfunctions, and an album or two, for that matter, by anybody on Billboard’s Hot One Hundred, and enjoy strange melodic music that is created just for the joy of being, well, the joy of being cleverly odd, oddly clever or, perhaps, a bit of both, and strangely enough, at the very same time.

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