Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Atlantics—
The Explosive Sound Of


Released 1964 on CBS
The Seth Man, January 2009ce
Truly a wonder from down under and with guitar tones as exotic as their surnames, the Australian instrumental quartet known as The Atlantics were: Jim Skiathitis (lead/rhythm guitar), Theo Penglis (rhythm/lead guitar), Bosco Bosanac (bass) and Peter Hood (drums). Their third album, “The Explosive Sound Of” capped off a productive eighteen-month period for the group at their initial peak, yielding three albums and several non-LP singles of the highest calibre. Only 20 to 21 years of age when they recorded this album, the dynamic displays of sounds and arrangements within feel more the effort of far more experienced heads, hands and hearts.

“The Explosive Sound Of” would be the final Atlantics album recorded for CBS. Produced (as usual) by Sven E. Libaek, it was captured live except for minor guitar solo overdubs that run so flush with the backing tracks it sounds as though it was all recorded simultaneously. As difficult to discern are the four covers inserted amid eight originals that are so Atlanticised that even “Secret Love” sounds like a group composition while the fifties film theme “Three Coins In A Fountain” sounds like something they created from scratch.

More than likely at the behest of CBS, their previous surf angle was now dropped in favour of re-positioning The Atlantics as an all-round instrumental group capable of any style they put their mind to. Not only did the two-colour sleeve design lack all previous surf motifs without a gremmie in sight but even The Ventures cover was one of their inland non-hits. None of this seemed a bone of contention with the group, who took to the recordings with their usual amount of enthusiasm and inventiveness.

Although their home port was Sydney, Australia, The Atlantics’ music constantly touched upon various foreign influences and exotic travelogues. Previously, they had recorded the Southern Pacific reverie of “Tahitian Waters,” hung ten with Middle Eastern melodies within “Arabian Surf” and cut the Russian saber dance/knees ups of “The Gremlin King” and “The Gremlin From The Kremlin.” On “The Explosive Sound Of” they hit the roads to Greece, Iraq, Austria, Italy and (solely by virtue of its Robin Hood-inspired title) Nottingham on a far ranging itinerary of voyaging and foraging sounds. Luckily, the album doesn’t come off as some kind of hailed (and consequently failed) flaunting of eclecticism for The Atlantics were so highly talented and had group chemistry to burn that it wasn’t essential for them to be propped up by some pre-determined record company premise. All they had to do was play -- which they did with their usual flair of applying extreme electronic effects upon their guitars’ exquisitely resolving melody lines and gargantuan solos.

“Dimitrius” opens up the proceedings like an ouzo-fueled rave up in a Greek tavern with lotsa tambourines, handclapping, whooping, hollering: the works. The liner notes penned by the producer revealed how the session coincided with guitarist Jim Skiathitis’ birthday: “It is unfortunate that the many Atlantics fans couldn’t all have been present because it was some party and it is quite an experience to see these boys when they let themselves go.” It’s quite an experience to hear it, too, as Jim the birthday boy cuts loose with a guitar solo that burns down in a particularly crazy fashion while everybody else nails the beat to the studio floor with vociferous stomping action. It stops on a dime to part for a restrained, growing fury held back only by high-tension wire rhythm guitar as it fades into view from a sand storm with “Express To Bagdad” (sic). Growing in strength, twanging lead guitar resounds over speedy rhythm guitar überstrum replicating a Trans-Mesopotamian Express calling at no stops, local or otherwise. Elegantly slow and reverbed soloing against ever-persistent strumming rhythm guitar, hammerhead bass lines and swift drumming all conspire to keep its drive at top momentum here and throughout the album’s high octane highlights.

Extended tom-tom rolls usher in the lagoon hideaway of “Secret Love.” With a half a handful of ultra-reverbed notes sent through a wholly-ill and deteriorating reverb setting of super-decayed slap back like Hank B. Marvin soaking in a treacle bath, in this languid setting even the rhythm guitar strumming in the mid-section operates almost as a slow solo. The bass repeats the melody through excessive echo while high notes resound like ripples in lazy, warm pools. After the tom-toms dissolve in the fade out, the next track opens with quick, flat Stratocaster picking accurately impersonating the galloping of hooves. Natch, since this is “The Sheriff of Nottingham.” A slinky guitar solo like an amplified pinball ricochets off rhythmic mental bumpers while keeping to its own tempo -- which lags at about half the speed of the band’s to great effect.

The Atlantics set their expansive tonal controls to the height of restraint with “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.” Plucked from the past by The Ventures for their 1961 album “The Colorful Ventures,” it’s rendered here with gentle application of both Stratocaster whammy bar and volume knob to paint a serene melody alternating into a dance of close, quick picking. The melody underpinned with stern volume knob control wafts beneath in soft washes of sound, occasionally turning down to fend off the already creeping feedback that is already sneaking in anyway. Breaking this placid theme is “The Bow Man” and its two throttling guitar notes twanging tremulously like arrows’ planting firmly into bull’s-eyes. A vigourous twist rhythm breaks out, allowing for extended, high-pitched soloing to needle through the fabric of the song by turns vicious stitches and poetic phrasing.

Side two opens with the strident mid-tempo “The Lost Legion” with skeletal guitar and a bass so over-echoed it delays the notes into a mountain range that rumble in the background. The lead guitar steers into deft Greek key fretting and stair-stepping notes rendered until finally resolving back into the main theme to consequently fold back into itself over and over again. Again, Bosanac’s bass is reverbed to multi-dimensional loping while the soloing is constantly vignetted with tremolo bar flourishes. Class. With an beat group introduction unusual for the Atlantics, “Windward” would be the quietest moment of the album if not for two stentorian guitar breaks that cork screw up and out through the arrangement as if breaking the sunlight waves of Sydney Harbour on a sunny afternoon. Actually, the liner notes infer as much, in keeping with the LP’s un-surf-like presentation, but it does reverberate with that distinctly carefree mood of warm, easy days in springtime and summer minus all bummers.

Theo Penglis and his nimble plectrum take centre stage on “Rondo A La Turk,” a rendition of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11 (Third Movement, “Alla Turca: Allegretto.”) Brought to widespread popularity with Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk” in 1959, The Atlantics render it as just as sprightly with Stratocasters as those squares of ages past wearing horn-rimmed glasses or powdered wigs but it’s far less un-fussy and -fusty. (Unlike that brandy-in-the-paneled-study-Lord-Snooty-highbrow from that now renowned U.S. TV commercial for a classical music box set that stuffily informed one countless times throughout the seventies: “I’m sure you recognise this lovely melody, ‘Stranger In Paradise.’ But did you know that the original theme is from the ‘Polovtsian Dance No. 2’ by Borodin? So many of the melodies of well-known, popular songs were actually written by the great masters. Like these familiar themes...”)

Speaking of familiar themes, “On The Rampage” sounds like a wild, stylistic spillover from their previous “Now It’s Stompin’ Time!” LP. The liner notes even give it away with the recommendation of “it’s ideal for stomping.” Ha -- It’s also ideal for breaking furniture once you get caught up in its sprawling, staccato thrall. Separate sections allow for a drum break, a bass spotlight, a tambourine being whacked to pieces and the inevitable return to the opening theme. Once this rave-up ceases, drummer Peter Hood steps out from behind his kit to handle the slow lead guitar melody on the low-key romantic chestnut, “Three Coins In A Fountain.” Backed by acoustic, bass and electric guitar trilling like a passel of serenading mandolins, this drumless Roman reverie is soon rudely awakened by what follows...

The Atlantics saved all their explosive sounds for the grand finale, making the album an eleven song fuse leading up to the supreme detonation that is “War Of The Worlds.” It’s the most psychotic moment of the album as well as their career and they finish off the whole shebang with a big bang. Make that a VERY big bang. Actually, make that several because “War of The Worlds” is a fucking apocalypse. It bursts in as one echoed guitar sounding like twin guitars blaring and propelling upward and upward and UPWARD until a launch pad plateau that allows the most ultra-echoed guitar solo of the album to rebound off itself and make it seem like two guitars playing the same lead in tandem only seconds apart. Wild and aggressive, pre-Barrett guitar skittering up and down the neck with a disorienting two second-lag create a tumult of shearing metal as it twists in the wind of an undertow of skittering, static-y shockwaves against a resistant tom-tom beat. Out of nowhere, another twin guitar build appears to recklessly shatter everything forever then...A moment’s silence, broken only by a meek rhythm guitar, twinkling guitar flecks and cymbals emerging dazed from a fallout shelter. Half the world’s been destroyed and now it’s time for the other half to take a hit as a majestic solo summons up all comers while dwarfing everything with drop shadowed reverb twenty feet tall and ten feet deep. More distorted guitar discharges and exchanges continue until another build up where all dies away in a shattering reverb climax that ceases only for a cloud of interstellar twinkling and silence...Forever.

With this album, it was nearly all but over for The Atlantics as a purely instrumental group. For the next two years, they would provide musical accompaniment for several vocalists over a string of singles, eventually settling as the backing group for vocalist Johnny Rebb by 1967. It was not until their reformation early in the twenty first century that they would once again return to the instrumental idiom which they took up, shook up and laid so flat out on their first three albums.