When Paul Allen (ex-Heads guitarist and Anthroprophh founder) announced that there was a new Anthroprophh album available on CDr I jumped at the chance to own one, and was very keen to listen to it. I had been blown away by the Rocket Recordings album, Outside the Circle, and, with several hundred other people, was pinned back to the wall during a ferociously loud and feral performance at last year’s Liverpool PsychFest. When UFO, the name of the new album, arrived I put it on with high expectations, but I wasn’t sure what to do with what I heard.
UFO is not an accessible album at first listen, less so even than Outside the Circle which is itself experimental and in need of a close listening to appreciate it. As time has gone on, however, I have become more familiar with UFO and it is delivering slowly but surely. So what is this all about? During the period from the 1950s to the 1980s there were increased reports of alien abductions and UFO sightings, particularly in Western Europe and North America. It is interesting that this spike of activity arose as we ourselves began to contemplate travelling beyond the planet, and that the activity fell at the end of the Cold War (and with it a falling away of the notion of the enemy within). The idea of the UFO and alien beings emerged in many different ways in Western Society and culture. I actually wrote about this in a contribution to a book on UFO religions, when I penned a chapter about ‘The Aetherius Society“, a group who believe that all the key spiritual figures in religious history arrived by spaceship and continue to secretly orbit the earth.
Without getting sidetracked too much, what I’m getting at here is that this is a fascinating (if rather niche) subject which has spawned a fascinating (if rather niche) album. Each track represents a particular UFO sighting/ experience in the UK between the years 1954 and 1978, and seeks to psychically replicate the sort of recordings that might have taken place at that time. Crucially the album does not fall into the trap of replicating the sort of music that many films at the time spawned, but is an altogether more sophisticated representation of what may have occurred. Once this is understood the album starts to make more sense and the meaning comes tumbling out, and this is a pretty intense experience which demands a huge amount of the listener – who is ultimately rewarded for their effort. Interestingly, though, although I found the album to be intense I didn’t feel that it was paranoid, but a genuine exploration of phenomena that are difficult to both explain and explore.
The sounds themselves are, if anything, located in some of the outer reaches of krautrock, with some Stockhausen/ Cage dissonance thrown in. There is a mixture of electronic drones and clicks, feral beats, and fuzzy guitar and bass which combine to challenge the listener to consider these phenomena from a completely different perspective; although I’m not sure that I’ve come to any firm conclusions as a result.
It was with this background that I went down to London for this gig at the Shacklewell Arms, which was part of the Bad Vibrations ‘Label Mates’ season, designed to celebrate and showcase bands on the brilliant Cardinal Fuzz record label (You’re Smiling Now But We’ll All Turn Into Demons and Dead Sea Apes were also on the bill) who released the vinyl version of the UFO album. I wondered how the band, consisting of Allen along with Big Naturals’ Jesse Webb and Gareth Turner, would replicate this live.
As it turned out while the spirit of the album was very much alive in the set, few of the actual UFO tracks made it. The band open and closed with the two tracks from the previous Cardinal Fuzz release ‘Precession’ and ‘Ebbe’ which provided something of a meditative pair of bookends around an absolutely ferocious and fluid set in which I was blown away with the sheer noise and power that it was possible for three individuals to make. The drumming was immense and intense, the bass was deep and harsh, the guitar was fuzzy and, well, Heads-like, and the electronics weird and sinister. Together they formed a potent mix that was both mesmerising and challenging; not always an easy listen but very satisfying and, like those who have claimed extraterrestrial experiences, opened up another dimension to explore.
For me Paul Allen’s work with the Big Naturals has been one of those inspired collaborations where the totality is significantly greater than the sum of its parts, and while Anthroprophh’s music isn’t always going to be the first you reach for when you want to sit down and relax it is intensely fulfilling when you’re in the right mood.
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