Saturday, November 25, 2006

Vinyl Tap: The Dukes Of Stratosphere - 25 O'Clock

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #29:

Tune in, turn on, drop dead; the road to hippie hell is paved with good vibrations. Brown acid and brain damage combine with blissed-out bacchanalian love-ins and cosmic consciousness teeters into full-totter bad karma and choking-on-your-own-vomit bummerdom. Before you know whether it's tomorrow or just the end of time, the Woodstock nation's freak flag is at half-mast and you've helter-skeltered into your own private LSD-is-groovy-kill-the-pigs Altamont.

But with the EP 25 O’Clock -- somewhat anachronistically and curiously released April 1, 1985 -- the sonic ecstasy of the Dukes of Stratosphere ensure that freak-out pop and flower power never flounders. These trippy avatars of the hip ‘n’ happening ever-high did more than mine pure nuggets of British psychedelia -- they mixed in delectable pop reverb and resonance for an aural amalgam evoking everything from the Beatles to Pink Floyd, Barretted and Barrett-less.

The title song even stoops for a salute of psych-out sorts by merging into its Floydian soundscape an American "artyfact" invocation from the Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night),” setting the latter’s lament that “Comes the dawn / Then you were gone…” against the Dukes' temporally anticipatory hope that “The ticking seconds hear them call / My spell of hours will make you fall.”

While the lyrical and musical shapes of happenings in “My Love Explodes” conjures up the over-under Yardbirds in a sideways-down Antonioni movie, “What In The World” is even more waywardly adventurous. For a for full-on mid-sixties sensibility, the Dukes here add an unmistakable Ray Davies-tinged vocal inflection while also recalling Revolver-era Beatles -- think the “Tomorrow Never Knows” shriek-fest loopiness backwardly and barely masking a melodiously propulsive McCartney-style bass pattern in your ears and, it seems, in your eyes.

"Cannabis in tea / What in the world, acid is free,” indeed.

Speaking of the Kinks, “Your Gold Dress” is really “something else” in going back and forth between its influences instead of fusing them for a seemingly effortless blend. Just when you think you’re in for fuzz-toned eastern mysticism-enwrapped days of future droned, promising “a thousand melting Dali guitars… dripping slowly down,” up pops a poppy harpsichord-backed Kinks-size assurance in a pocket-symphonic surety of “Vibrations coming my way / When you’re floating on by.”

The Lennon-esque last song, “The Mole From The Ministry,” is the total trip in your mind and back in time, Sgt. Pepper- and Magical Mystery-style. This becomes clearer as things get fuzzier with the double-meaning wordplay, the Strawberry Fields-insinuations and druggy references to day-in-the-life “Holes appearing on the lawn,” and Lucy-in-the-allusions of walking flowers and a garden that “starts to rearrange / From perfect lawn to mountain range.”

Beyond the lyrical bent, the “Mole’s” overall musical and sonically psychedelic cast is enhanced by the ending, replete with "Walrus"-ian incantation -- a smokes-pot smokes-pot certainty set in a hear-the-colors see-the-sounds psychical framework.

Otherwise, in this song and a few others, there’s a more modern power-pop quality that creeps in from time to time that I can’t quite pin down except to say I sometimes hear and see the colors and sounds of something else, someone else...


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