Thursday, February 1, 2007

Snorting Blotter, Vol. 1

Blue Phantom
Vedette, 1971

It's been a particularly acid-drenched winter so far here at the pop:doug headquarters, despite the fact that physically I've remained fairly sober. Winter in Ohio can be rough and it seems we all tend to find something to keep our minds off the short days and long gas bills, whether it be alcoholism, psychedelic music, a combination of both...etc. Now sorting through psych "rarities" online is something that can occupy any weirdo no matter what the whether is like outside, but I'd like to think that 27 years of frostbite has given me the patience to sit on my ass and tear through these creatures until something really smells funny. And for the past few weeks Distortions, by Italian band Blue Phantom, has been stinking it up daily in my parts.
Don't ask me where I found out about this one - I think it was a vague, second-hand reference on some psych music message board - because a quick Google search on the record will turn up practically nothing on Distortions. What I've gathered so far is that it was a one-off, instrumental studio exploitation record originally released in 1971 on Vedette - an Italian label specializing in mostly library music - with the songs primarily composed by a man named Henri Tical. With that knowledge you'd think it'd sound like fairly pedestrian studio psychedelia. There were literally hundreds of records like this released around this time in mainland Europe alone, not to mention hundreds, maybe thousands more in the U.S. and Britain. What does this album have that the others don't?
Variety, for one. Distortions effortlessly stomps its way through a number of the era's genres while firmly holding onto a fuzzed-out, progressive-garage core. Now I wouldn't necessarily call this a library album - it's just too heavy, and too damn good - but this genre-jumping does give it some library-ish tendencies. You have your upbeat groovy spy film track in opener "Diodo", a sludgy, spaced-out blues number ("Distillation"), some space-aged, Mooged-out lounge tracks ("Equilibrium", and the even spacier, Moogier "Psycho-Nebulous"), your acoustic Morricone-ride-into-the-sunset atmosphere piece ("Equivalence"), a playful, Canterbury jazz-rock song ("Compression"), a psychotic, repetitive party jam ("Microchaos", Daft Punk before they were out of diapers) even plenty of Axelrod proto-funk sprinkled throughout. All of it driven by some completely wild, consistently inspired lead FUZZ madness. Some of it reminds me of Italian progressive legend Franco Battiato, who's masterpiece, Fetus, came out a year later. Other parts remind me of a heavier, less slick version of Northern Euro-prog bands like Focus. And then there are definitely strains of stoned madness that are channeling the same wavelengths as Kraut legends Guru Guru and Agitation Free. Hard to believe Distortions is only 35 minutes long!
And how about that album sleeve?! I've actually discovered three versions (one of them has the title as Distortions Pop), but the original Italian sleeve is the keeper, depicting the all-seeing eye spying a fetus, surrounded by a destroyed Stonehenge, dinosaurs, a mushroom cloud, the star of Bethlehem, a crucifix....geesh, I'm not touching the meaning of this one, but it sure looks cool, and it just adds another notch in the totem pole of mystery for this record.
There is some information out there on the further work of Mr. H.Tical, as he was credited, including an experimental synthesizer album titled Impact (which I'm in the process of tracking's just been reissued by the wonderful Creel Pone label) as well as soundtrack work for Italian cult director Jess Franco. But it's Distortions that needs more explanation, or at least a proper, widely available reissue. Why records this incredible continue to go unnoticed, while crap like Thick As a Brick or whatever gets a 2-cd expanded treatment every other year, I'll never understand. For now, it's up to you to track this one down...sniff it out online, look on eBay, pray to the heavens for a random vinyl copy (a promptly send it my way)...just give your brain a taste of Distortions as soon as possible. I just cannot recommend it enough.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just got my copy of this LP, won it on eBay. Awesome stuff. The cover design you describe is not the Italian one but actually the British issue (which mine is). By the way, Thick As A Brick is most definitely NOT crap. Thank you.