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Friday, May 20, 2022

The Now (Tripsichord) - "I Want" / "Like A Flying Bird" (1967) [Mono 45]

The Now - "I Want" b/w "Like A Flying Bird"

Original 1967 Mono 45 RPM Single
Embassy Records – C-1968  (Discogs)
~ThePoodleBites rip at 96 kHz / 24 bit FLAC + full high-res scans!~

Before the band was renamed to "Tripsichord Music Box" by San Francisco producer Matthew Katz, Tripsichord was previously known as "The Now", and in fact released a single 45 under that moniker on a tiny label out of Hollywood. The A-side of this disc is especially killer, and certainly rivals their later recordings, even as a garage-y band in-development.It's a pity that there are not more recordings of the band from this era. (There was also an even earlier 45 on the Brent label, released by an earlier incarnation of the band known as "The Ban". This is not something that I have found yet, so the search continues...)

Many thanks to C.F. for loaning out this 45 from his archives!

Track Listing:
1) "I Want" -- 2:21
2) "Like A Flying Bird" -- 2:21

Vinyl condition: VG+
Dynamic Range: DR 11

Equipment Lineage:
– Audio-Technica VMN40ML stylus on AT150MLx dual moving-magnet cartridge
– Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB direct drive professional turntable (internal stock preamp/ADC removed)
– Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra preamp with dedicated Zero Zone linear power supply
– Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 MkII (96kHz / 24bit)
– Adobe Audition CC 2020 (recording)
– iZotope RX 9 audio editor (manual declicking, EQ subtraction, additional adjustments)
– Audacity 2.3.3 (fades between tracks, split tracks)
– Foobar2000 v1.6.9 (tagging, dynamic range analysis)

The B-side is also available on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6T0A4IXFw4
 
Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and check out my blog. I'd greatly appreciate it if you leave a small comment below. Notes from my readers are what inspire me to keep going. Thanks!
MEGA: https://mega.nz/folder/E0hiEDwT#HthJM6TsT0tpbAeH66gHMg

Enjoy ... :)

The Now circa 1966/67: (L-R) Oliver McKinney, Randy Gordon, Frank Straight, David Zandonatti

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Blossom Toes - We Are Ever So Clean (1967) [Mono Mix]

Blossom Toes - We Are Ever So Clean (1967)

Original 1967 UK Mono Pressing
Marmalade – 607001 (Discogs)
~ThePoodleBites rip at 96 kHz / 24 bit FLAC + full high-res scans!~

For some reason, those who regularly distribute praise of "underground" UK pop-psych gems such as the Small Faces' Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake or the Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow consistently let the Blossom Toes albums slip by unmentioned. The sound of the Blossom Toes debut, though unknown to most, is probably best compared to Magical Mystery Tour, which is a comparison that should be enough to make any '60s nut flip. For me, hearing "Look At Me I'm You" for the first time was absolutely like discovering an unknown (to me) jewel. With the George Martin-esque full-scale production and obvious major-label polish, it's a shame that this record has been overshadowed by the numerous timeless masterpieces released in the same year, the names of which even casual music fans are fondly aware.

Since the stereo version is the only variant commercially available these days, I was curious for several years what the original mono mix of this album might sound like. No transfer of the mono LP has ever been published online, making this post its public digital debut. After M.H. sent me a dub of his copy, and I realized that it featured a dedicated mix -- and indeed, quite different from the stereo one -- I became determined to track down a mint copy for the proper audio restoration project. After some searching, luck, and much labor, I've finally finished that task.

Apart from the opening track, truly mind-melting freak-psych is sadly not this record's forte. Perfect acid storms like "Look At Me I'm You" are strewn around next to dull British humor and boring, straight-ahead pop. Furthermore, this mono mix is much lower-fi than the stereo. While the latter mix of "Look At Me I'm You" (here) lunges out of the speakers to tickle your ears with unexpected dissonances, backwards guitar, vocal harmonies, strange structures, and unusual surprises of every sort, the mono mix just kinda rolls over and dies. The treble is nearly nonexistent, and there are phase cancellation issues in the percussion. It's disappointing as all hell, to be totally honest.

But this mono variant is not altogether disposable; side 2 in particular seems to boast the most improvement from that famously "punchy" mono sound. And it wasn't until I heard this mono disc that I realized what a cool song "What On Earth" is. While admittedly not as totally tripped-out as the side 1 opener, the extra overdubs and better balance on the mono version give that track a character at least as good as any song on the canonical records I mentioned in the header above. It's still unmistakably British, with horn overdubs and a lyrical style that tea-sippers of all ages could enjoy, but while maybe a bit flimsy, its altogether different ambience from the edgier, blues-oriented stuff that was beginning to appear around this time makes it quite its own worthwhile experience.

Decent reissues of this album (in stereo) can be found online without issue; in fact, a remastered 3CD box was released earlier this year. There's a nice review by Ian Canty, which I will point you to in lieu of a longer blog post: he sums up several points quite nicely. The lack of a mono disc on that deluxe set seems to suggest missing or destroyed master tapes. While the bonus tracks are interesting, unfortunately no one seems to have instructed engineer Ben Wiseman to keep his hands off the damn gain knob, which means that the (still cheap!) 1992 Japanese Polydor CD remains the best way to hear the stereo mix in the digital domain. If you somehow haven't heard this record in your thus-far pitiful life, you must cease your dilly-dallying and acquire a copy of that disc now!

For all the speedy freaks who don't have time to listen to the whole LP, it's worthwhile to denote some of the most significant differences between the two mixes. It's also useful to denote which mix, STEREO or MONO, that my brain prefers on a track-by-track basis, though of course your own ears should be the final judge... also note that my comparisons are from the mono LP to the 1992 stereo CD mentioned above, which isn't totally apples-to-apples.

Look At Me I'm You: STEREO
Marginally longer (~2 seconds) fade-in on the mono mix, with drastically muted percussion and AM-radio-quality sound throughout. Volume of the vocal tracks is increased relative to the instrumental. The acoustic guitar fades in much later in the middle section, leaving several seconds of a capella vocals. Much slower fade-out at the end, leaving the final repetitions of "look at me, I'm you!" louder than on the stereo mix.

I'll Be Late For Tea: STEREO
Immediate and obvious improvement in fidelity from the mono opener. Vocals again louder on the mono mix, in addition to auxiliary percussion, and it sounds overall more balanced than a mono fold of the stereo mix. Unfolded, though, the stereo sounds fine, and still has marginally better sound quality.

The Remarkable Saga Of The Frozen Dog: MONO
Vocals are dramatically reduced compared to the stereo version, yielding a much more balanced sound. The louder instrumental track makes this song feel a little less silly than it is. The mono version fades out more than 15 seconds earlier than the stereo mix, and although it's obviously lower fidelity, it just seems to be a bit more well-rounded.

Telegram Tuesday: STEREO
No huge differences, apart from the major fidelity upgrade on the stereo mix. A mono fold can fix those drums in the right channel, if you're so inclined.

Love Is: STEREO
The mono has a slightly quieter flute on the intro, and more carefully blended vocals. For a cheesy track like this, though, the vocal boost on the stereo is more fitting, and the better treble makes this sound less like a lame '50s orchestral group's B-side (and more like a lame '60s B-side).

What's It For: MONO
Better balance on the mono mix, with lower vocals and none of the annoying, super-wide mixing choices (drums are all the way on the right on the stereo). The fidelity argument doesn't trump the superior mix on this one, for me. The vocals on the stereo mix are clearly double-tracked, whereas I can barely hear the second vocal on the mono.

People Of The Royal Parks: MONO
I don't like this song, but the mono seems to offer the best experience to those that do. The stereo feels echo-heavy and unbalanced, almost like the EQ is too bright, or like it's not even a true stereo mix (though it is). 

What On Earth: MONO
This is the highlight of the mono LP. This superior mix can also be found on the mono 45. It has much better balance, mostly attributed to quieter vocals, while the sound effects and orchestral flares really add to the potion instead of distracting from its crux. There's an extra scream after the washing machine line, some tambourine towards the end, and the fade-out starts a little later than on the stereo version. This track was meant to be heard in monaural sound!

Mrs. Murphy's Budgerigar: MONO
The enhanced clarity of the stereo mix is a plus, but the wonky channel positioning of the lead vocals (in only the left channel for much of the song) ruins it for me. Fade-out again begins later on the mono.

I Will Bring You This And That: MONO
There's marginally better balance on the mono mix (quieter vocals) and the audio fidelity is surprisingly similar. Fade-out is more gradual on the mono.

Mister Watchmaker: MONO
A boring ballad, but the mono is a bit better-balanced and less "wonky" than the stereo.

When The Alarm Clock Rings: STEREO
Same story as "Telegram Tuesday."

The Intrepid Balloonist's Handbook, Volume One: MONO
This record would be better without this song on it, but the mono at least improves the instrument balance and removes the wide-channel mixing.

You: MONO
This is another track where the balance improvement on the mono is obvious, even though the percussion isn't quite as snappy as a mono fold-down of the stereo. The mono also fades out a bit later, revealing an extra 4 seconds of audio.

Track For Speedy Freaks (Or Instant LP Digest): STEREO
This track must've sounded pretty freaky indeed in the pre-Audacity days. (I wonder if these guys had ever heard of the Red Crayola?) It'd be quite interesting to see the multi-track layout for this song, as both mixes seem to feature the same track collage -- but with the added separation on the stereo, there's an extra dimension to the noise.


Blossom Toes promo photo, ca. 1968
Track Listing:
1) "Look At Me I'm You" -- 3:58
2) "I'll Be Late For Tea" -- 2:41
3) "The Remarkable Saga Of The Frozen Dog" -- 2:46
4) "Telegram Tuesday" -- 2:37
5) "Love Is" -- 2:40
6) "What's It For" -- 3:03
7) "People Of The Royal Parks" -- 2:24
8) "What On Earth" -- 2:54
9) "Mrs. Murphy's Budgerigar" -- 2:39
10) "I Will Bring You This And That" -- 2:56
11) "Mister Watchmaker" -- 2:22
12) "When The Alarm Clock Rings" -- 2:27
13) "The Intrepid Balloonist's Handbook, Volume One" -- 2:12
14) "You" -- 2:50
15) "Track For Speedy Freaks (Or Instant LP Digest)" -- 1:26

Vinyl condition: M-

Dynamic Range: DR 11

Equipment Lineage:
– Audio-Technica VMN40ML stylus on AT150MLx dual moving-magnet cartridge
– Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB direct drive professional turntable (internal stock preamp/ADC removed)
– Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra preamp with dedicated Zero Zone linear power supply
– Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 MkII (96kHz / 24bit)
– Adobe Audition CC 2020 (recording)
– iZotope RX 9 audio editor (manual declicking, EQ subtraction, additional adjustments)
– Audacity 2.3.3 (fades between tracks, split tracks)
– Foobar2000 v1.6.9 (tagging, dynamic range analysis)

Full album available on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adCuPL9l-Qg
 
Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and check out my blog. I'd greatly appreciate it if you leave a small comment below. Notes from my readers are what inspire me to keep going. Thanks!
MEGA: https://mega.nz/folder/x8U00BYC#bqtfLvg6XD5F3v0QloreNg

Enjoy ... :)


Thursday, February 17, 2022

Krokodil - An Invisible World Revealed (1971) [German Original]

Krokodil - An Invisible World Revealed

Original 1971 German LP
United Artists Records UAS 29 250 I (Discogs)
~ThePoodleBites rip at 96 kHz / 24 bit FLAC + full high-res scans!~

The first Krokodil record to reach my turntable was the debut, and though I almost instantly loved it, C.F. did give me fair warning: "The Kroks get better. Swamp is twice as good as the 1st LP, and Invisible World is f*ckin' killer."

Most collectors seem to agree that this is band's strongest LP. It certainly is an evolution from the previous two; for example, while the blues harp that featured prominently on the previous albums is still here, you'll be surprised to find that it's now been run through analog delay and reverb... it's hard to classify this record's sound, as it's pretty unique; Krokodil usually gets grouped with the early-'70s "krautrock" scene -- which I'm not sure is fair, given that the band is Swiss, not German, and the (admittedly broad) electronic-based exploratory style which spans from Neu! to Kraftwerk to Can to Faust to Agitation Free, for me, doesn't seem to capture what's happening in the grooves on this tremendous psychedelic, progressive, experimental rock LP. Okay, I could see an argument for Guru Guru, but this is way better...

It goes without saying this post wouldn't have been possible without C.F. -- major thanks, man!

The cover for the third Krokodil album again features the beautiful artwork of the multi-talented Düde Dürst, also the band's percussionist

Psychedelic influence immediately makes its presence known: the spacey "Odyssey In Om" gives a mood not dissimilar to the Jimi Hendrix Experience's "1983"; the sound collage towards the end of "Looking At Time" reminds me of similar moments on Jefferson Airplane's After Bathing At Baxter's; and I can almost feel the grade-A Swiss Sandoz kicking in as ground begins to swell with the vocal harmonies of "With Little Miss Trimmings." I think it's fair to simultaneously call this "progressive" as well, given that two of its tracks are over 14 minutes long, but it's not at all prog like Tull or ELP or Yes. The compositions are much more tastefully heady and experimental, rather than being noodling and show-offy. Even the relatively proggy "Green Fly" (later retitled "The Morning Sun") reminds me more of The Moody Blues or Spring than of King Crimson or Pink Floyd.

The album lifts off with "Lady Of Attraction," one of the band's strongest tracks. The accompaniment is acoustic guitar and a simple mellotron bass line, but Walty Anselmo's vocal deliverance is haunting, sounding like it's been double-tracked through a Leslie. There are accents from a tabla through a phaser, a flute, and a trippy harmonica solo though the same vocal effect, which sounds like an instrument from another planet. I wonder if the lady on the cover -- complete with fangs and blood dripping out of her mouth -- is the embodiment of Walty's "trap." This eerie mood reflected in the artwork also extends to the off-color, ritualistic image that graces the gatefold.

Gatefold design, with a red-tinted photo of the band in a graveyard surrounded by candles

Like the other Krok LPs, this album was reissued on CD on the Second Battle label in 1999, but unfortunately the mastering suffered extreme levels of gain and peak limiting. The difference between this master and the CD remaster is nearly 7 dB! The speed is also marginally different, and "Lady Of Attraction" has an added fade-out, whereas the original audio seamlessly streams into the second track. Luckily these original German pressings have unbelievably great sound quality, and this copy in possession of C.F. had only been spun once or twice before, originally coming from a cache of unplayed copies that turned up in Australia, of all places.

The original master tape has some static here and there, for example during the reverb-drenched flute intro to "Odyssey In Om," which seem to be from tape saturation. I did remove some non-musical clicks in other places, such as the car-screeching intro to track 2, where they really distracted from the album's gentle flow, along with carefully mitigating the 50 Hz AC hum where it was noticeably audible. I also experimented with rotating the phase to bring up the album's levels a little closer to its reissue, but I decided to leave it as-is, so that the grandiose dynamics can come through unhindered by limited headroom. The channel separation isn't quite as good as the CD, but it's damn close, and given the flatter mastering, this new digital master sounds much more natural than the old.

And so, I hope you will grab a Rivella and enjoy the band's third album as it was meant to be heard in 1971...

Mojo enlisting some chemical assistance
while recording at Dierks Studio

Track Listing:
1) "Lady Of Attraction" -- 4:22
2) "With Little Miss Trimmings" -- 1:46
3) "Odyssey In Om" -- 15:26
4) "Green Fly" -- 4:22
5) "Looking At Time" -- 14:08
6) "Last Doors" -- 3:58

Vinyl condition: M-

Dynamic Range: DR 11

Equipment Lineage:
– Audio-Technica VMN40ML stylus on AT150MLx dual moving-magnet cartridge
– Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB direct drive professional turntable (internal stock preamp/ADC removed)
– Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra preamp with dedicated Zero Zone linear power supply
– Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 MkII (96kHz / 24bit)
– Adobe Audition CC 2020 (recording)
– iZotope RX 9 audio editor (manual declicking, EQ subtraction, additional adjustments)
– Audacity 2.3.3 (fades between tracks, split tracks)
– Foobar2000 v1.6.9 (tagging, dynamic range analysis)

Full album available on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFfkQQQHaOU
 
Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and check out my blog. I'd greatly appreciate it if you leave a small comment below. Notes from my readers are what inspire me to keep going. Thanks!
MEGA: https://mega.nz/folder/XhJzhYxD#RtBKrlIvJMf-o_8CqIOa8Q

Enjoy, and keep on krockin'!  :)

Walty Anselmo with sitar

I again highly recommend checking out Klemen Breznikar's interview with Düde Dürst: https://www.psychedelicbabymag.com/2019/07/krokodil-interview-with-dude-durst.html

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band - Part One (1967) [Mono Mix]

The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band - Part One

Original 1967 Mono Promo LP
Reprise Records R 6247 (Discogs)
~ThePoodleBites rip at 96 kHz / 24 bit + full high-res scans!~

"Formed in Los Angeles, California in 1965, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band created music
that possesses an eerily atmospheric and at times sinister quality that is bluntly political, childlike, and bizarre."
~Jackpot Records reissue sticker

The major-label debut from the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (what a mouthful!) is probably one of the strongest contenders for the band's best LP output. Fittingly matching with the band's title, the album is basically a '60s pop LP comprising, yes, some experimental moments, along with the more mainstream-sounding tracks. A long-time favorite for many collectors, many of the band's most well-remembered recordings fill these grooves. The trippy painting which envelops the sleeve has undoubtedly only contributed to its allure. While not quite attaining "masterpiece" status for me, this record is certainly still a cool and unique part of California hippie-rock history and remains very enjoyable from beginning to end, even 55 years after its release.

Front cover illustration on the first mono pressing of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band Part One

Perhaps most importantly, the band's main detractor, the controversial lyrics of Bob Markley, seem to make little appearance here, apart from perhaps the tracks "I Won't Hurt You" and "Leiyla". But being pinched between the heavily-stoned compositions like "Shifting Sands" and "1906", and even being heavily stoned-out themselves, it's pretty hard to notice. Other highlights include the great psych-rocker "Transparent Day" and the garagey mushroom-eater "'Scuse Me, Miss Rose". The song credited solely to Dan Harris, "Will You Walk With Me", is actually a cover of the classic Bonnie Dobson track "Morning Dew", though it is so different from the Tim Rose and Grateful Dead versions that you may not recognize it at first. (Unfortunately I've heard so many versions of that song now that it's hard not to liken it to the "Louie, Louie" of psych-folk.)

A cover of Frank Zappa's "Help, I'm A Rock" is attempted as well, and although it's a nice tribute, it's still a far cry from the freakiness of the Mothers' original. Being from L.A., though, it's understandable why these guys had to try. One of the more interesting numbers is a rendition of P.F. Sloan's composition "Here's Where You Belong", which was apparently influential enough that the Grassroots also took a crack at cutting it the following year (but WCPAEB did it much better!). The album is closed out with an instrumental version of Van Dyke Parks' "High Coin", which may be more familiar to some from the Charlatans' version, later released on their LP on Philips in 1969.

Back cover artwork, featuring psychedelicized photos from a live performance of the band

The stereo mix of this album has been available on CD since Sundazed reissued it from the tapes in 2001. While not a totally perfect remaster (it is a bit too loud in some places), it is generally a quite nice-sounding CD; nonetheless, since this album was also treated to both mono and stereo variants upon initial release, many still have rightly wondered what the original album sounded like in its rarer monaural form. In 2017, Jackpot Records finally reissued the first three WCPAEB records in mono, using high-resolution transfers from the original tapes. However, for Part One, there seems to have been some problem with the analog transfer; "choppiness" of the tape noise suggests that the mono tape may have suffered some age-related degradation, or that it was simply transferred using a stereo tape head, producing two channels ever-so-slightly out-of-phase which, when collapsed to mono, caused partial cancellation of the audio during some parts of the recording. 

After hearing this problem on the 2017 reissue, I decided to invest in this clean original white-label promotional copy in order to share it here. I was delighted to find that the disc played flawlessly, making this one of the quickest clean-up jobs I've had for a used LP in recent memory. The sound quality is excellent as well: while there's a low-pass filter applied at about 17 kHz, this exactly matches the stereo mix and the mono Jackpot reissue, so it was apparently baked into the master itself.

After recovering from the initial shock of the wide stereo mix disappearing, I became curious about how this mix actually compared to a stereo fold-down. Indeed, while this does appear to be a dedicated mono mix, don't expect any extraordinary missing elements to suddenly appear here: from my comparisons, which I've noted below, it seems that most of that changes between the two are rather small, and were probably intended to "balance out" the sound in mono as opposed to the wide stereo version. I also noted that folding the stereo version sometimes resulted in phase cancellation issues similar to those described above, whereas the original mono LP plays perfectly with no such problems.

Tr. 1-2: Guitar marginally louder, more balanced in the mix
Tr. 3: Lead vocal marginally louder, can be heard above background "ahh" vocals
Tr. 4: Softer vocals. Less loud mix in first half of the song, crescendos more in second half
Tr. 5: Much more balanced mix: louder guitar & xylophone, quieter vocals. Less reverb
Tr. 6: Guitar marginally louder, entire track more dynamic
Tr. 7: Percussion marginally louder, very similar otherwise
Tr. 8: Quieter drums (almost buried) & louder guitars
Tr. 9: Better balance between instrumental track (louder) and vocals (quieter)
Tr. 10: Clearer (louder?) drums, especially the snare
Tr. 11: Drums quieter in intro, but slightly louder & clearer in the "main" part of the song

The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band performing live
Track Listing:
1) Shifting Sands – 3:56
2) I Won't Hurt You – 2:27
3) 1906 – 2:21
4) Help, I'm A Rock – 4:28
5) Will You Walk With Me – 3:02
6) Transparent Day – 2:19
7) Leiyla – 2:56
8) Here's Where You Belong – 2:51
9) If You Want This Love – 2:52
10) 'Scuse Me, Miss Rose – 3:03
11) High Coin – 2:02

Vinyl Condition: M-
Dynamic Range: DR 12

Equipment Lineage:
– Audio-Technica VMN40ML stylus on AT150MLx dual moving-magnet cartridge
– Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB direct drive professional turntable (internal stock preamp/ADC removed)
– Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra preamp with dedicated Zero Zone linear power supply
– Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 MkII (96 kHz / 24 bit)
– Adobe Audition CC 2020 (recording)
– iZotope RX 8 audio editor (manual declicking, EQ subtraction, additional adjustments)
– Audacity 2.3.3 (fades between tracks, split tracks)
– Foobar2000 v1.6.6 (tagging, dynamic range analysis)
 
 
Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and check out my blog. I'd greatly appreciate it if you leave a small comment below. Notes from my readers are what inspire me to keep going. Thanks!
MEGA: https://mega.nz/folder/Ns5gQSBa#eGSp6QKsa-gub6gLQrbRHA

And as usual, enjoy!  :)

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Spike-Drivers - "Break Out The Wine" / "Strange Mysterious Sounds" (1967) [Mono 45]

The Spike-Drivers - "Break Out The Wine" b/w "Strange Mysterious Sounds"

1967 mono promo 45 RPM single (Discogs)
Reprise Records – 0558
~ThePoodleBites rip in 96 kHz / 24 bit FLAC + full hi-res scans!~

Back by popular demand, here's a follow-up to the previous Spike-Drivers' 45 rip, and also to that of the Perth County Conspiracy LP (featuring Richard Keelan). These mono mixes have never been officially reissued, though an alternate version of the B-side track was remixed to stereo for release on the band's archival RD Records release, Folkrocking Psychedelic Innovation From The Motor City In The Mid 60s. The shorter, faster version released here is a much different presentation of the song, certainly one of the band's best. Unfortunately this 45 was pressed in styrene, which made carefully cleaning up some distortion a frustrating task, and although it's still not perfect, I'm regardless happy to share the result here as a major upgrade to the existing digital versions. 

Many thanks to STS again for sharing this rarity from his collection!

Track Listing:
1) "Break Out The Wine" 2:53
2) "Strange Mysterious Sounds" 2:33

Equipment Lineage:
– Audio-Technica VMN40ML stylus on AT150MLx dual moving-magnet cartridge
– Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB direct drive professional turntable (internal stock preamp/ADC removed)
– Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra preamp with dedicated Zero Zone linear power supply
– Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 MkII (96 kHz / 24 bit)
– Adobe Audition CC 2020 (recording)
– iZotope RX 8 audio editor (manual declicking, EQ subtraction, additional adjustments)
– Audacity 2.3.3 (fades between tracks, split tracks)
– Foobar2000 v1.6.6 (tagging, dynamic range analysis)
 

 
Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and check out my blog. I'd greatly appreciate it if you leave a small comment below. Notes from my readers are what inspire me to keep going. Thanks!
MEGA: https://mega.nz/folder/2UF0kDiK#ha6HnQHdIx6kRNpZ6ySu_g

Enjoy, and merry Christmas to all!  :)
 

 

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Perth County Conspiracy - Does Not Exist (1970) [Canadian LP]

The Perth County Conspiracy - The Perth County Conspiracy Does Not Exist

Original 1970s Canadian LP (superior repressing)
Columbia ELS-375 (Discogs)
~ThePoodleBites rip in 96 kHz / 24 bit FLAC + full high-res scans~

 Do you care to keep your head in motion?
Close your eyes and open up your ears
Who you are is only an illusion
And what you are determined by your fears

It wasn't until the last couple of years that I gave the major-label debut from these uncanny Canadian hippies the full-length bout it demands. The miserably NR'd MP3s that had lived on my hard drive for eons made it neigh impossible to play Does Not Exist without an accompanying cloud of disdain and annoyance, hovering over and obfuscating the band's crystalline authenticity, which finally began to emerge upon playback of an LP lent from the stores of the record phantom. While it was surely a revelation hearing this album with all of its character, its ambience, its poetry, its vibrations, all fully intact and breathing, the challenge of this project promptly became equally striking: at the considerable length of nearly 53 minutes, obtaining a digital capture of this spiraling excursion with the broad dynamics unharmed while keeping levels of noise inaudibly low would be challenged by the quiet mastering, the haphazard scale of mass production, and the years of accumulated groove wear which can make such lengthy pieces of repertoire a symphony of hiss and pops. 


But it's certainly worthwhile: sometimes stuck in my head for days on end, several of these "Americanadian" hymns seem to stow away into the brain's tiniest cracks, so that no amount of repeated listening can wash them out. After dozens of play-throughs, the words still inspire pondering in novel fashion, and while the music bares distant resemblances to Fairport Convention or the Incredible String Band, the mood is more like rural America (think CSN) than urban London or vacant Scotland, which provides a somehow refreshing change from those well-loved Canterbury acts. Certainly the top concept folk-psych piece out of Canada and probably one of the best on Earth, Does Not Exist makes me wonder again how masterpieces such as this could be nearly forgotten in a world where inscrutable cacophonies like Oar or Comus or le dernier cri are regarded as "classics" by the avant-hipster. The critical music world, or perhaps the ghosts that control it, have not been fair even in their reassessments, so for this case I will try to even the score.

 Many thanks to C.F. for lending a preliminary copy of this album, and for his indispensable observations!

Original album cover designed by Richard Keelan's wife Connie, a graphic designer from Cleveland, Ohio

Stealing the location in their name from the county in southwest Ontario, the Perth County Conspiracy called the area surrounding the small town of Stratford their home, a place that sits somewhere between Detroit and Toronto, a town rural enough that even today, 50 years later, it is still crowded primarily by agriculture and dairy farms. The group was far from being homegrown Canadian, though; guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Richard Keelan was a Michiganian with previous allegiances to the Detroit garage-folk band The Misty Wizards (along with Ted Lucas from The Spike-Drivers), and fellow folk smith Cedric Smith was an Englishman with a fascination in literature and theater. The "Conspiracy" moniker was inspired by the Chicago Seven trial's controversial definition of a conspiracy as "two or more people in the same place breathing together"; void of defined structure, a spokesman, or any other concrete form.

Relocated to the Canadian countryside from the young age of 9 or 10 years old, by the age of 17 Cedric Smith had dropped out of high school to pursue a career as a folk singer, and began performing at local coffeehouses such as the Black Swan in Stratford around 1961. Local actors were known to frequent the venues, and Stratford being the home to a prominent and renowned annual Shakespeare Festival, Smith had acquired an interest in performing works of the 16th-century writer himself. In 1983 he described his feelings towards the bard as ambivalent; he used the description of a "reactionary old fart who wrote plays to justify the Tudor regime," but he also specifically named the Henry IV plays as his favorites "because of the outlaws in them. I've always connected with outlaws. They're the kind of people who come in to coffee houses late at night."

Smith got his first chance at performance in 1964. Although he had never taken any acting lessons, artistic director Michael Langham asked him to audition for the Stratford company, which succeeded after some brief coaching from Kenneth Welsh. It ended as a quite successful season, but Smith's commitment to acting was sporadic and continued to be interspersed with his farming and folk music interests. After another season with the Stratford company in 1967 and a 1969 production of 'Che!' (Guavara) which went to the Venice Festival, Smith began to focus on working with a part-time collaborator and recent transplant to the Stratford area, Richard Keelan. 

Photo from The Windsor Star, 22 January 1971
Together, the two expats formed -- or perhaps only named -- what they called The Perth County Conspiracy. The Conspiracy was more than just a performing act; at the heart of the coalition was a "rural way of life": a spontaneous happening and loosely-knit community between seven farms of around thirty permanent residents, and many more who were constantly in flux, who met together at the local coffeehouses, talked, discussed, and shared vegetables, bread, nuts, toys, and similar necessities in a communal setting. Keelan explains in the 15 August 1970 edition of the Toronto Daily Star how dynamic the group was: "People are always asking us how many people are in this group... We don't know. It just happens. You may be here two hours or you may be here two years. Any activity that contributes makes you a conspirator. The conspiracy is constantly spreading."

The establishment was not a typical commune in any ordinary sense, though. Keelan stated in the same paper: "We have more of a commune of the mind than a physical thing... In fact, given the distance between our farms, it takes a real effort to get from one to another. Every so often you have to sit quietly by yourself." 

Another one of the Conspiracy members, Lynn Pearl, a Ph.D. in research psychology, states in the 6 March 1971 edition of The Ottawa Citizen: "There are always new faces turning up... One person pays the rent, but in terms of running the house, everybody who is there helps. We grow vegetables and eat from the garden in the summer, and what's left over goes to the Black Swan... The musicians are just the performing arm, but they wouldn't exist without the others."

An obituary for painter and co-Conspirator Jack McClure in a 6 March 2003 issue of The Globe And Mail (another Toronto newspaper) reveals that there was indeed at least one communal farmhouse extant, nicknamed "Puddlewalk," where draft dodgers, artists, actors, musicians, intellectuals, and local hippies would all live, work, and craft under the same roof.

Smith and Keelan began frequently performing with electric bassist Michael Butler, who together would form the core of the Conspiracy's usual musical performances. Trailing along would come a crew of dozens of ever-evolving Conspiracy members, providing camaraderie, moral support, and sometimes musical assistance. By the spring of 1970, the group began to attract local headlines. They became known for mixing theatrics into their musical performances; Smith, with his affinity for acting, would integrate readings of Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, or "scenarios from his latest two drug arrests" mid-song, while Keelan, a "refugee from the glitter trail, keeps up the rhythm with his tapping bare toes."

Early concert ad in The Globe And Mail, 16 January 1970

In March and April the group performed for the Rochdale Peace Centre, an entity formed by another commune where in fact some Conspirators resided, based on the 14th-floor at Rochdale College. (An interesting side note: in the case of a raid, from this high vantage point, any police could be easily seen converging outside, so the residents purposely rigged the elevators to run so slowly that there was sufficient time to clean house before any Mounties could start knocking.) Along with the PCC played fellow Canadians Mother Tuckers Yellow Duck and a band called Leather, and although they performed to sparse crowds, all proceeds generously went to the school's education fund. These Conspirators, now attracting significant attention from local media, also apparently made several live appearances on local radio and television, most of which unfortunately seem to have not survived, or at least have not yet been made publicly available.

The band made headlines again for their performance at the Mariposa Folk Festival on Centre Island, Toronto, where they were a "surprise hit" amongst headliners Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Doug Kershaw, and Ramblin' Jack Elliot.

Toronto Daily Star, 25 July 1970 (recreated / photo by Graham Bezant)
Variety Magazine, 2 September 1970

By this time it became known that the Perth County Conspiracy had signed a contract to record for Columbia. Not much was written about the sessions contemporaneous to the recordings, but later reflections reveal that there were some slight tensions with Columbia which would later grow to outright resentment over the company's dubious monetization strategy for the band's second album, Alive. However, any initial disagreements between the band and the label over the presentation of the music here were minimal, with the band being given much artistic freedom. Budding Columbia engineer Terry Brown helped craft the band's musical collage into album format, but the song arrangements in fact remained very similar to the band's live performances in Stratford and Toronto. Regardless, some participants later lamented that the conglomerate should have tried to record the album without the influence of a big record company -- which in fact the group would later do several times, but with varying levels of musical ingenuity. At any rate, the final product from these well-financed, professional-studio sessions is now generally recognized as the band's crowning musical achievement.

The elaborate album artwork was handled by Richard Keelan's wife Connie, a graphic designer from Ohio, and prominently featured the effort's full name as The Perth County Conspiracy Does Not Exist. This was apparently a bit of a quip for the band, who remarked that their commune was so loosely knit that it barely existed at all. Bryan Johnson explained this in a 8 January 1977 retrospective piece for The Globe And Mail:

"It used to be the Perth County Conspiracy's little joke, something they tacked on underneath their name on record albums or chanted in the background at concerts. 'The Perth County Conspiracy,' in big letters, then in tiny script 'Does Not Exist.' A whole metaphysical discussion ensued if you asked about it. All about how it wasn't a commune or anything, just a loose association of people, and how the instant you defined it, you destroyed it, so really, it didn't exist."

Album release spot in RPM Magazine, 24 October 1970
Though the album was due to be released in September, it seems to have appeared a couple months later, with several local newspapers printing positive initial reviews on 17 November. For a group of hippie folk farmers, the album really is an astounding accomplishment. Conceptual in structure, musically rich, and lyrically complex, it comes across more as a multitude's nitpicked pet project: well-mixed with top-of-the-line equipment, clearly using at least 8 tracks, where sometimes it seems that half of them must've been dedicated to Smith & Keelan's lilting overdubs; each album side bursting with music, as if they were forced to trim each musical idea into its purest form before stitching it with others into a perfectly flowing framework of dual acoustic guitars, bass, lots of vocals, and tastefully added snips of percussion and field recordings. 

The opening track, "Midnight Hour," is a staggering 6-part suite of nearly 7 minutes in length, featuring (in true form) a Smith reading of Dylan Thomas' "In My Craft Or Sullen Art," along with his own "You've Got To Know" sandwiched around Keelan's "Love To Make," the two songwriter's voices blending perfectly throughout the entire recording; perhaps it was just a lucky stroke, but the meld and movement is so perfectly seamless e.g. McCartney-Lennon, and even academic in some sense, that one recognizes these thoughts as pervaded from some highly sophisticated consciousness, typical of the Bob Dylan-esque folk music icons who undoubtedly provided at least some inspiration for these North-American nomads. 

The album soon drifts into "Easy Rider," a gloomy reflection upon the cult movie of the same name. The film certainly must have resonated with this group, a commune and dance crew not unlike the one seen praying for harvest in the movie. Perhaps that's why Keelan sings "Easy Rider is a true story / Easy Rider isn't easy to take..." with the foresight of what might lie in wait for his own conspiracy. Unfortunately the second-half of this track is marred by a strange anti-war gore chant which marks the lowest point for the LP.

The poetic dance of "Truth And Fantasy" followed by the lessons of "Don't You Feel Fine" give way to the side closer, "You Have The Power," with familiar reverberations of the album's opening mantra reappearing before fading into laughter, crickets, and sounds of the country. "The Keeper Of The Key," which opens the B-side and was chosen by the label to mate with "You've Got To Know" on the single release, is a harmonious, layered folk ditty with delicate use of organ during its blooming central section [PL: "you have to be dead from the neck up not to worship this tune."]. "Listen To The Kids" is another moving, contemplative sound collage utilizing rather impressive children's poetry recited from a book called Miracles: Poems By Children of English-Speaking World, originally compiled by Richard Lewis from kids in 18 different countries where English is the mother tongue. Other reviewers have cited this track as a low point for the LP, but I rather adore it, as it strikes me as yet another successful fusion of startlingly poignant literature -- and staggeringly emotive when spoken by a little girl -- onto the Conspiracy's lavish and progressive musical tapestry.

As the Eastern-style strumming of "The Dancer" yields to the album closer "Crucifixation Cartoon," the album reaches what many consider its crux. The mood is rather haunting, with a simplistic descending bass line in the key of D minor, introduced by an acoustic guitar, soon joined by an electric cousin, then accented overhead by pizzicato, later bowed, ukelin; but the lyrics are difficult to parse (for me): "there's a cross on every tree / when you're learning to be free..." It seems perhaps to be a song of finding new love and jubilation, a bit confusing when juxtaposed with the dark mood. Maybe the Picardy third concluding the album is meant as a smile materializing from the shadows, or perhaps it is purely reverence in reflection of the heavy words being spoken.

Album release advertisement from Columbia Records in RPM Magazine, 19 Dec 1970

Crazily enough, even after finishing the sprawling accomplishment of Does Not Exist, the band did not stay out of the studio for long. Two mid-August sessions (with rumors of a third in-progress) were recorded for CBC Radio Canada, still months before their first Columbia release, and only about three weeks after its initial recording. At some point -- the recent reissue specifically claims February 1971, but gives no source other than a sloppily date-stamped label -- there appeared a self-titled transcription disc of these sessions, containing more unique songs performed by the band. While altogether a quite enjoyable record, these radio sessions reveal a much more straightforward folk approach to the PCC's style; gone are the interwoven overdubs, the Shakespearean interludes, the reflective moments of quiet and peace. The band was clearly short of material: three pop covers appear in places where group originals could have outshined. Nonetheless, this second album was finally treated to a remarkable reissue from the master tapes in 2018 on the Flashback label. Richard Morton Jack et al. have done the psych/folk world a massive favor for rereleasing this rare record the right way, on CD and vinyl with astounding sound quality and proper licensing, but for myself and many others (perhaps even the aforementioned included), these radio sessions will never replace the exquisite statement delivered by the band's Columbia debut. However, the fact that Does Not Exist was originally released on a major label does not bode well for small reissue labels, who are unable to front the larger licensing fees. 

Cedric Smith, his wife, and Doris Chayne at the Mariposa Festival (photo by Graham Bezant / colorized)

So, having never been reissued, or even bootlegged, it's easy to understand why a vinyl transfer of Does Not Exist is necessary for proper listening. I have heard two different dubs of this album which have circulated over the years, both predictably noisy and doused with bad noise reduction. This one comfortably tramples both. I've had two clean copies of this LP, neither suitable for clean-up, but I truly lucked out by finding a superior one (still in the shrink!) from the collection of an old Acid Archives contributor, which truly plays its grade. This is one of the early '70s repressings (probably pressed circa 1971-72), which according to the research of C.F. utilizes new stampers with improved fidelity over the "two-eye" originals. This is easy to believe, as it tends to be the case with most LPs released on Columbia -- contrary to the usual collector strategy of finding the earliest first pressings.


Mastering note: as usual, I have tried to create this digital master with as much faithfulness to the original master recording (and to the original artistic intention) as possible. There are some tape dropouts at the end of side 1 which have been left intact to reflect the original recording.

The Perth County Conspiracy:
Cedric Smith: guitar, vocals, readings, maracas, tangents
Richard Keelan: guitar, vocals, timpani, keyboards, fire, dulcimer, penny whistle

Photo from The Hudson Star, 12 February 1970
Michael Butler: electric bass
Fred W. Baue: ukelin on tr. 13
the rotten goodwood barnwood band and chorale
"... and a cast of thousands ..."

Track listing:
1) "Midnight Hour" — 6:46
  • (i) "You've Got To Know"
  • (ii) "Love To Make"
  • (iii) "You've Got To Know (Reprise)"
2) "Epistle To A Borderliner" — 2:02
3) "Easy Rider" — 4:45
  • (i) "Easy Rider"
  • (ii) "Americanadian Way"
4) "Truth And Fantasy" — 5:51
  • (i) "Truth And Fantasy"
  • (ii) "Come To The Edge"
  • (iii) "Fantasia"
  • (iv) "Truth And Fantasy (Reprise)"
5) "Don't You Feel Fine" — 2:46
6) "You Have The Power"
— 4:52
7) "Keeper Of The Key"
— 3:23
8) "Lady Of The County"
— 3:32
9) "Listen To The Kids"
— 3:00
10) "Trouble On The Farm"
— 2:19
11) "Excerpt From 'As You Like It'"
— 1:25
12) "The Dancer"
— 5:44
13) "Crucifixation Cartoon"
— 6:27

Equipment Lineage:
– Audio-Technica VMN40ML stylus on AT150MLx dual moving-magnet cartridge
– Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB direct drive professional turntable (internal stock preamp/ADC removed)
– Pro-Ject Phono Box S2 Ultra preamp with dedicated Zero Zone linear power supply
– Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 MkII (96 kHz / 24 bit)
– Adobe Audition CC 2020 (recording)
– iZotope RX 8 audio editor (manual declicking, EQ subtraction, additional adjustments)
– Audacity 2.3.3 (fades between tracks, split tracks)
– Foobar2000 v1.6.6 (tagging, dynamic range analysis)
 
Full album available for listening on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/sRtGCvOM3Zo
 
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Enjoy!  :)

"Perth County's happy hippie Conspiracy" -- full-page feature in the Toronto Daily Star, 15 August 1970

Jim Cairns tending the Conspiracy garden (photos by Graham Bezant // bottom colorized)




Further reading:
- also a nice review by Patrick Lundborg
- the liner notes in the Flashback reissue of the CBC Radio album (available here)

Cedric Smith holds Richard Keelan's 1-year-old daughter Caitlin at Stratford Memorial, 8 June 1970 (photo by Harold Barkeley)