ALBUM REVIEW: Little Barrie and Malcolm Catto – ‘Quatermass Seven’: deep psych; turn on, compadre

IT’S FAIR to say that losing your drummer – the man who pins it down for you, keeps it ticking, grounded, makes sure the groove is strong – is a hell of a blow.

And to lose your drummer to a sudden and untimely death, if you’re a psych power trio – well, that’s a blow that’s gonna knock you waay out of shape.

Sadly, that’s what’s happened to London-by-way-of-Nottingham psych voyagers Little Barrie, just after their excellent fifth LP Death Express hit the racks in 2017; drummer Virgil Howe died suddenly, leaving guitarist Barrie Cadogan and bassist Lewis Wharton adrift and grieving.

A period of reflection, mourning and grace later, the remaining duo decided that yes, they did want to keep recording; but no, there was no way anyone could be a replacement for Virgil. How to proceed?

Step forward Malcolm Catto, Mo’Wax alumnus, skins-tickler extraordinaire, propulsive force behind Afro-funk-deep psychonauts Heliocentrics. Mmm. Now that just might work, y’know.

So the three of them got together at Malcolm’s Quatermass Studios in Hackney, broke out the kit, laid down some vibes with Malcolm’s treasure trove of vintage gear, all the results from the session mastered to quarter-inch tape for that authentic feel.

And what they’ve produced is a heavy, smoke-fugged delight that’s ready for yo’ ears right now: it’s very 2020 and also very ‘68. Get your oil projection wheel out, get it swirling, assume a supine position, unsleeve the hot new grooves and let’s have a listen.

Little Barrie & Malcolm Catto get ready for the scene

A heavy septet of Quatermass tunes burrows up and out from the Tube in the funky blues of “Rest In Blue”, which you can have an aural squizz at down where the words stop. It’s The Scotch of St James, it’s hands swirling in trails, it’s deepest Soho, Malcolm capturing just the exact John Bonhamesque dirty swing necessary for a tune with pop chops and scented mystery. It has crunch and semitonal drops, ominous and hellishly sleazy.

“You’re Only You” is a little more open, more mod-psych even; think more S.F. Sorrow than Electric Ladyland, the heavy psych held back – just; the concluding feedback and wahwah textures are lush. Malcolm finds his Can/Loop groove and gets the thing flowing.

“Repeater #2” has what we might call now a little Tarantino-esque edge, one of those great, lost tracks he breathed new life into on his soundtracks; it proceeds on a muted, reverbed, twangy riff, shuffling up and down, a cemetery-in-a-horror film noir vibe. It has poise and cool and a great suit, a brimming stash box; it has taste.

“T.R.A.B.S” sees the trio begin to shift away from cracking little sides that by rights should be resplendent in the sand and white of the Deram label, and go for the full open impressionistic krautrock shuffle. It’s impossible to overstate what a percussive powerhouse Malcolm is. Little sighing caresses of the guitar give way to a sweet feedback drone solo courtesy Barrie. “Steel Drum” is proper heady blues psych, definitely best heard under strange lighting.

“After After” was dropped as a teaser single just a few weeks back; it’s eight minutes of psych jam that forms a perfect centrepiece to Quatermass Seven, tapping into the eternal psych psyche with heavy, lick-curling brilliance. It’s a track you need to last at least … say, forever, at an all-back-to-mine in the small hours, beanbag slouched, intrigues in the corridor, lava lamps fully a-bubble; long, loose cigarettes passing to the left.

We come back down, blinking in the early morning light, gulls stirring, curtains letting it trickle in and forming shafts, through the pretty, Yardbirdsesque coda of “Repeater #1”.

Welcome back, Little Barrie; thank you, Malcolm, for filling big percussive shoes.

At just half an hour, give or take some pocket change, Quatermass Seven cusps that point where it’s kinda an album, kinda a mini-album; but if it’s linear time you’re talkin’, you maybe need to turn on and tune in, compadre. Listen up: Quatermass Seven burrows deep.

At it’s finest, which is pretty much always, this is eminently an album you need if you like the lights low, the conversation whispered and surreal, the atmospheres of the world past the witching hour. 

Little Barrie & Malcom Catto’s Quatermass Seven is available now on digital download, with CD and vinyl formats to follow on November 6th. You can let yo’ hair down and lay some bread for vibes at their Bandcamp page, here.

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