Mull Historical Society’s four-disc Archaeology: Complete Recordings 2000—2004 proves that while “Daddy takes the T-bird away” every once in a while, there’s still quite a bit of “fun, fun, fun” to be found in the grooves of pop music that blends rock, folk, psych, crazy electric sounds, and really great melodies which explode with the harmonic memories of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Procol Harum, and are soaked in a lovely oddball Canterbury rock scene absurdist twist.
For the initiate: Mull Historical Society grabbed my attention with the cover of Loss which sports a photo of a serious dog wearing a rather foolish wig with equally silly curls. So, go figure. The album, which is the work of Scottish guy Colin MacIntyre, dances the tightrope that hovers between profound insight and weird road maps to “peculiar” destinations.
Spoiler alert! In the interest of brevity, and with the necessity of a rather lengthy review that attempts to cover four CDs with eighty songs, it may be fair to offer a SparkNotes quick summation of this big package. [We call them Coles Notes over here – Ed.]
So, to wit: Mull Historical Society’s Archaeology: Complete Recordings 2000—2004 is wonderfully odd and very clever pop music, with strange electronic noises firing through its always melodic nerve ends.
My friend, Kilda Defnut, simply condensed her often wandering critical eye and said, “This is really cool music!”
Well, thank you, Kilda. But, with that said, back to the music: This Archaeology contains a thirty-six-page book and the three albums, Loss, Us, and This Is Hope, with the addition of a fourth disc of “B-Sides, Rarities/ Unreleased/Covers/Live tracks”.
The first album, Loss, carves the clever pop template. Radio voices and other eerie electronics slither through the piano graced ‘Service Announcement’, which conjures the big ballad ‘In Summer’s Cauldron’ sound of XTC, circa their masterpiece, the Todd Rundgren produced Skylarking. And there’s also a glance at the Hermit of Mink Hollow and his own Runt band’s immaculate pop like ‘We Gotta Get You A Woman’.
To be blunt: This is music that doesn’t need “Daddy” or his taken away “T-bird” anyway because ‘Watching Xanadu’ is pure joy with hooks galore and Beach Boys’ harmonies even more galore! Then, ‘Instead’ is simply a beautiful piano pulsed tune with irresistible everything, with filtered vocals, matched with celestial harmonies that somehow manage to plant eternal vegetables, ala a lucid Syd Barrett or a living room sandbox period Brian Wilson. The same is true for the up-tempo ‘This Is Not Who We Are Meant To Be’. Then, ‘I Tried’ mines the primitive sound of John Lennon in his confessional Plastic Ono Band period. And the acoustic and ethereal ‘Barcode Bypass’ touches (through seven minutes!) a really nice folky vibe, with even more lovely harmonies, a great chorus, and electronic music that creeps underneath eerie doors.
Now, this is just a brief snapshot of the album. However, it’s important to note that all three albums are also given a black vinyl two record release. And, not only that, loyal fans will be interested in the fact that my original Loss CD issue contains eleven songs, while the download adds seven more, including the title song and the wonderfully titled, ‘Pigeon Fancier (By Correspondence)’.
The second Album, Us, continues the weird pop-rock-folk-psych-crazy electric sounds. The first song, ‘The Final Arrears’, soars with an irresistible melody and warm backing vocals, and at midpoint erupts into a clever calliope of really nice weirdness. Once again, this tune sings with the sheer beauty of the great contemporaries of song like Sir Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, and (perhaps) David Bowie. The same is true for ‘Oh Mother’ and the folky ‘Can’. And there’s an underlying 50’s vibe in ‘Am I Wrong’, while other tunes like ‘Gravity’ rock hard, in (as always) a rather weird groove. Ah — (my favorite!) ‘The Supermarket Strikes Back’ returns to pop perfection. And finally, the title track, ‘Us’, lands softly with gentle piano, harp, brass, and voiced featherbed rest. Nice. Once again for the fans, the download contains six more songs, including ‘When I’m Awake (Cavun)’ which is labeled “taken from the US version of Us”. So, this is the whole shebang.
But (thankfully!) to continue: The third album, This Is Hope, was recorded in Bearsville Studio in very Americana Woodstock, New York. The result is a somewhat stripped down southern raucous sound, with the continued accent on clever melodies. It doesn’t sound like Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, but it certainly cuts at the very same aged oak that line the winding autumnal road to “old, old Woodstock”. This album pulses with a vinyl needle that braves its way around the rings of the exposed tree trunk soul with ancient memories. ‘Casanova At The Weekend’ has a mysterious R.E.M. vibe. The big jumble ragtag sound of ‘This Is The Hebrides’ whips up the sound of what Woodstock’s own favorite sons The Band called, “The carnival at the edge of town”. And the brisk ‘Tobermony Zoo’ rocks with a Stray Cat strut. Then, the absurdist’s delight of ‘Death Of A Scientist (A Vision Of Man Over Machine 2004)’ is the soundtrack to a performance artist’s attempt to spin dishes, juggle turnips, swallow a sword, breath fire, and then pull that proverbial rabbit out of that proverbial hat, as the tune dips into a dramatic search for “control” that’s juxtaposed to the confession of “á man who burned his silly skin against the state”; and ultimately, the song crosses a psychological finish line with the bold assertion that “I’ll fight for life”, all of which is a far cry from “Daddy” and that lost “T-bird”! Yeah, it’s all over the sonic universe, yet somehow, manages to avoid Freddy Mercury’s eternal question, ‘Scaramouche, scaramouche, will you do the fandango?”
To that, my friend, Kilda Defnut, was quick to add, “And thank you for that!”
All that said, the album ends (albeit with even more bonus tracks!) with the show stopping ‘In The Next Life (A Requiem)’ that begins with a gospel choir, proceeds to a quiet piano-voice interlude, but then explodes into a bible-thumping “Create your soul” pulse; and then, once again, travels the sonic universe hydrogen-powered passion with a really cool Scottish dialogue that fades into a love-absorbed piano graced sunset groove, which is then followed by the pop-pumped and catchy ‘This Is Hope (The Birth Of Prometea)’—a tune that (oddly enough) references the very first cloned horse! Truly, “fun, fun, fun”, indeed. And somewhere in this mix among so many things, is oddly enough, a Radiohead cover. Go figure, once again.
Perhaps in the interest of even more extended brevity, a SparkNotes condensed comment is necessary for the final disc that contains those “B-Sides/Rarities/Unreleased/Covers/Live Tracks”. Let’s just say this one’s for the true fans — for those among us who are drawn to a dog in a wig cover photo; yeah, those of us who enjoy odd pop music. And, especially, it’s for those of us who love the grooves of any day’s echoed ending, as heard in the final moments of This Is Hope, that spin with the sounds of a few always friendly barnyard bleats, which, by the way, quite nicely punctuate my Kilda’s condensed critical comment that simply said, “This is really cool music”.
Artist’s website: http://mullhistoricalsociety.com/
‘Watching Xanadu’ – official video:
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