Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Lard Free
III (aka Spirale Malax)

Released 1977 on Cobra
Reviewed by achuma, 27/06/2006ce

This one really took me by surprise. It was the last Lard Free album that I bought, and after the first listen I had to wonder why I’d waited for so long. This album, the last we’d hear from Lard Free before Gilbert Artman moved on to Urban Sax and later, Catalogue, was a masterwork stepping into the future, even more than the previous album, though I haven’t really heard anything quite like it to this day. It remains unmatched to my ears. The cover art doesn’t really give much of a hint, with its painting of discarded, melted plastic bottles, but then, what exactly would you expect from such a cover? I guess there lays the mysterious allure that makes you wonder just what could be on the grooves inside.

Here main man Gilbert Artman (on ARP synth, organ, piano, vibes and drums) again assembled a completely new backing group, with Yves Lanes (EMS synth), Xavier Baulleret (guitar) and Jean-Pierre Thiraut (clarinet) filling out the textures. The resulting music sounds like it would have been difficult to perform live, and was presumably a studio-only creation. I’d love to know if Lard Free was still playing as a live group by this point; certainly the previous album also suggests a turn to being studio-bound, but that was a bit easier to picture being played live as well. If you recall what I said in the review for ‘I’m Around About Midnight’ sounding like the instruments blended together to create a unified whole, it’s even more the case here, so much so that it’s as though Artman has conjured up some pan-dimensional sonic entity and has simply pressed record as the genie emerges from its bottle, rather than actually assembled a bunch of human musicians to make an album in a terrestrial studio.

‘Spirale Malax’ [17:12] emerges slowly out of silence, taking instant form as the volume increases, as though this music had always existed and is simply continuing as per normal. It’s a fascinating, swirling scramble lattice of synthesizer and electroacoustic sounds of mysterious origin, the only other recognizable instrument so far being looped electric guitar. The whole writhing beast is constantly changing, taking on new forms like some celestial polymorphous chamaeleon, and soon developing the psychic pull of a sonic blackhole, sucking your mind out from between your ears and deep into the cosmic unknown. When I first listened to this, appropriately tripping out of my skull, the dark suction draw was so intense and menacing I had to check the nice photo of Artman inside the CD cover to reassure myself from his gentle smile and benevolently sparkling eyes that his intent here was exploratory rather than diabolical. If I was going to get sucked into the chaos of the unknown in this state of mind, I wanted to trust the motives of the navigator, and this guy can pilot my ship of the soul any time. So, if you’re chemically precarious, this is an intense journey but also intensely rewarding if you let go and let it suck you in and swirl you around a bit inside its akashic mind. It’s pretty hard to keep describing this music as it develops, caterpillaring forth like an unstoppable force gathering dread and weight of psychic hubris along the way, propelled not just by the rhythmic processed drum soup that has emerged but by the whole combination of sounds ricocheting in concert but not in unison. After 10 minutes or so some of the heavy layers peel away leaving a tribal drum beat with a more spaced stew of guitar and electronics swimming through the murky air that’s seeping through every pore, pounding forth with staccato fuzz guitar chords and ever-changing tapestries of synthesized sound, a little reminiscent of an imagined more shamanic and daring blend of Heldon and Spacecraft, with a dash of Joakim Skogsberg’s more experimental moments, but layered and processed to the nth degree. Nearer the end the madness subsides somewhat, leaving the sound of Terry Riley-like organ loops blending with tribal drums in a nitrous oxide-laden sewer until the gradual fade.
‘Synthetic Seasons (Parts 1-3)’ [17:23] opens with an ominous discordant organ drone running beneath unearthly nightmare electronic bird squalls, as an off-kilter drum pattern gradually emerges mist-shrouded in finely echoed confidence, seemingly misplaced but actually perfectly placed guitar strums occasionally shimmering on one chord, ghostly vibes hanging all around. As the drums fade out the creepiness factor fades in, only for the drums to quickly re-emerge with a different locked groove in an oddly alternating beat, spectral glissando drones and spooky sustained guitar notes still hovering and sliding, as a mesh of further guitar lines emerges, interlocking and arachnoid, adding even more to the aura of alien menace and entrancing psychic disintegration/reintegration that you just can’t take your eyes and ears off. When the guitars fall back a mesh of piano and vibes comes forth to take its place in the role of matrix-weaver, but before long these too fall away like old scales as everything seeps into a freeform murk of psychedelic intrigue, clarinet emerging to perfect effect and giving the feel of some creepy moment of snooping around somewhere you shouldn’t be in an early 60’s sci-fi/horror B-flick. (In fact, Jean-Pierre Massiera’s horror vibe album as Horrific Child comes to mind, another classic waiting for me to review it, as well as some of Igor Wakhevitch’s amazing 70’s work). In the last section, big thrashy guitar chords emerge seamlessly out of the swamp, leading a confident slow-paced two-chord metal riff with Frippian guitar soloing almost aimlessly but very effectively over the top, drums meeting the stride, and weird electronic sounds pinging and zinging off the curved walls all around. An awesome way to end the album, stomping off into the tripped-out orange sunset like a strange burly beast from another world that knows it has come, seen and conquered, and couldn’t care less as it continues its timeless trundle onto fresh brains to fry, all in a day’s work.

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