Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Simian - Watch It Glow

Watch It Glow

Released 2000 on Source
Reviewed by flashbackcaruso, 18/09/2014ce

Side 1
1. Drop & Roll 6:25
2. In Siam 4:40

Side 2
1. The Wisp 5:16
2. Grey 3:54
3. Won't 2:09
4. Untitled 3:35

If any band failed to delivery on their early promise it was Simian. The debut mini album overflowed with eerie melodies, sumptuous 4-part harmonies, spluttering electronics and endearingly wonky experimentation. Their publicity photos depicted them as if they had just stepped out of HG Wells' time machine, and their regular Church Of Simian club nights confirmed they were a band whose vision was so complete they had already started their own cult. The Wellsian imagery continued on the sleeves of their debut album proper and its three singles, all of which depicted weird hybrid stuffed animals, as if Dr Moreau had moved into taxidermy. Unfortunately, the band elected to hide all their best songs on the b-sides of the various single releases, which meant that the album 'Chemistry Is What We Are' was disappointingly patchy. And then they seemed to lose interest in their original concept, moving into dayglo electro for second album 'We Are Your Friends' before splintering so that the dance-orientated side project Simian Mobile Disco became the more enduring manifestation of the band.

This is a shame, as that first mini-album 'Watch It Glow' still sounds like the genesis of something special. 'Drop & Roll' is such a great opening track that it was wisely put into service once more to fill the same function on 'Chemistry Is What We Are'. It starts in lo-fi, 'Smiley Smile' vein, with creaking chair and throat-clearing prefacing a practice verse backed by tentative marimba, melodica and tambourine. Then the drums crash in and the song suddenly bursts into widescreen, with hammond organ and multilayered vocals bolstering a spooky wordless chorus melody of which Broadcast would have been proud. Track 2 'In Siam' fades in on the strangest drone you're likely to hear, again suggestive of 'Smiley Smile'-era Beach Boys, treading that fine line between strangeness and silliness. A deep vocal 'Aaaaaah' is surrounded by other band members making childish 'bibblebibblebibble' noises by wobbling their fingers over their lips. A spooky Pink Floyd slide guitar explores up and down the fretboard before finding a melody, which is then taken up as a heavily reverbed vocal mantra with a strong similarity to the Prologue to Japrock classic Ceremony-Buddha Meet Rock. I seem to remember this being the opening track in their early live set, performed in front of a backdrop of a massive glowing sun. If it wasn't, it should have been. Creepy electronic burbles open 'The Wisp', another song that made it on to the full length debut and also became Simian's debut single. The titular Wisp seems to be an unidentifiable ghostly entity of some sort, but there is no solution to the riddle in the lyrics: 'See it there out amongst the trees/Hear it now singing on the breeze/I don't mind if it's good or bad/I don't care stay for now/Through destiny we'll find/By destiny I'll die.' Definitely a stand-out track among this band's early output; an extremely original slice of modern psychedelia, mixing electronics, harmonies, big beats and some swirling atonal chords on the organ to create something distinctly unsettling. The video predates trends in hauntology by several years (http://www.artistdirect.com/video/simian-the-wisp/51139). Next track 'Grey' was the first song the band recorded together, and its quality is what decided on them continuing the project as a serious concern. A dourly catchy psych rock song with skittering drums, squiggly electronics and bits of banjo, it has one foot in the past with its 60s-inspired organ harmonics and the other foot in the present with the glitching vocal effects towards the end. 'Won't' is a beatless wallow in misery, morbidly waltzing its way to a conclusion where a toytown melody segues into the untitled closing track, a freeform montage of sound effects and bits of preceeding songs mixed in with vocal extracts sampled from some yet to be released, including 'You Set Off My Brain' and 'One Dimension' from the upcoming debut album and 'What A Dream' which would appear as a b-side to 'The Wisp'. That full length album would have been a classic if they'd just made it an expanded version of 'Watch It Glow' adding in the complete versions of the three aforementioned snippets with the best of the other material they had at their disposal. At least in the US it was enhanced with the addition of 'Grey' and the spectral 'The Tale Of Willow Hill' as bonus tracks, making the basic UK version seem even more lacking in comparison. My faith in Simian might have been restored had they continued this initial trip with a second LP compiling the 11 b-sides, which with their ever more expansive vocal harmonies would have made a much stronger album than 'Chemistry...', but releasing the rather obvious 'Mr Crow' as the last single seemed to be playing up their weaknesses a bit too much, and the second album's abrupt change in image and style suggested they'd lost faith or interest in their rather singular original identity. Very disappointing, but at least there is fun to be had in tracking down the 25 or so recordings from this first phase and sifting the wheat from the chaff to compile that great lost electronic psych album from the turn of the century.

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