Glazed Popems (2004, 96.59) ***½/TT
(Hats Off to) Bert Jansch
A Stone's Throw From Coe Fen
Isle of Wight
You and I Have Memories, Longer Than
the Road That Stretches Out Ahead
Half Sicilian/Half Welsh
|Just Because Nobody Understands You,
That Doesn't Mean You're an Artist
The Beards Are Back in Town
Tin Foil Hat
This Goes Squonk!
Blues for Bobby Seale
|Tonite Let's All Make Love in Oakland
Sunday Morning Seven a.m. on San
Running Wild and Looking Pretty (Theme
Song for DJ Kitty)
Joint Happening [as Mushroom with Eddie Gale] (2007, 70.04) ***/TPeace
I Don't Need to Fight, to Prove I'm Right - I Don't Need to Be Forgiven
I Was Torn Down at the Dance Place - Shaved Head at the Organ
Selling Oakland By the Pound
San Francisco's Mushroom have been releasing eclectic, modern psychedelic albums for over ten years, which must make them one of the world's foremost exponents of the style. A fan page (long gone, sadly) did a beautiful job of detailing the band's extensive discography, splitting it into the relatively few recording sessions from which their various releases are taken and sorting out much of the confusion surrounding their release schedule, such as it is.
The double-disc Glazed Popems, something like their ninth album, contains the bulk of the material recorded at what appears to be their most recent session, in March 2002 (five years ago at the time of writing), split into 'London' and 'Oakland' discs, although it was all recorded in their home city. The disc names become more apparent upon playing them, as the first has a decidedly more 'Brit' feel about its jams, the second veering closer to SF's original space cadets; to be honest, I was expecting a stoned-out waste of time and have been pleasantly surprised to hear a band who know precisely what they're doing in a jamming environment. That isn't to say that their approach works all the time; disc two's opening track, The Beards Are Back In Town (ho ho), goes on approximately forever, although I'm sure many psych/jamming fans will lap it up; in fact, the whole disc has a far more 'American' feel to it, with jazzier touches all round. The band clearly know their music history, track titles containing a plethora of in-jokes, in case you hadn't already spotted them, not least (Hats Off To) Bert Jansch, poking gentle fun at Led Zeppelin. Mind you, covering Jansch's Blackwaterside, later appropriated by Jimmy Page, could (should?) be seen as a pointed observation on Zep's frequent, er, 'borrowing' of other artists' songwriting credits. Pink Island clearly refers to collectors' terminology for early Island label releases and Tonite Let's All Make Love In Oakland references an early Floyd session, although I've no idea whether or not any of Mushroom have ever actually been to the UK's Isle of Wight.
Matt Henry Cunitz overdubbed real Mellotron in an Oakland studio a year after the original recordings were made, going as far as to credit the sounds used on the CD's inlay. L'Auberge features some seriously authentic Mellotron moves ("Look, it's real!"), with slightly wobbly single string notes and intervals and a drastic pitchbend at one point, although the flutes that appear later in the lengthy track are apparently genuine. Pink Island's full-on cellos almost devour the Crimsonesque guitar work, with more of the same in (Hats Off To) Bert Jansch, plus some very 'real'-sounding Mellotron vibes, although the album's last credited Mellotron track, A Stone's Throw From Coe Fen, is essentially a flute duet, with no discernable Mellotron part.
2007's Joint Happening (ho ho), recorded over various sessions in late 2004, is a collaboration with free jazz trumpeter Eddie Gale, one-time member of Sun Ra's Arkestra. Unsurprisingly, it's probably best described as psychedelic improvisational jazz, for better or worse, Gale's contributions being the album's defining feature, so if you're not keen on solo trumpet... Once again, this band just can not resist their constant pop-culture referencing, the worst offenders here being I Don't Need To Fight, To Prove I'm Right - I Don't Need To Be Forgiven (The Who, two straight lines from Baba O'Reilly) and Selling Oakland By The Pound (Genesis, of course). Best track? I personally find opener Peace and Our Love to be the most listenable things here, the two quarter-hour improvs being particularly hard work. Cunitz returns to add credited major Mellotron flute and cello parts to opener Peace, sounding most improvisational, playing a variety of analogue 'boards across the rest of the album.
Psych fans really should give Mushroom a listen, although I can't comment on the quality of the band's other releases. As far as Glazed Popems goes, I personally prefer disc one's material to disc two's, but other listeners will almost certainly reverse that opinion. There's almost enough Mellotron here to make it worth hearing on that account; the two Ts I've given the album only really reflect on the amount of the thing audible over the album's considerable length, rather than the quality of Cunitz's contributions. Two earlier Mushroom albums, '99's Hydrogen Jukebox and Analog Hi-Fi Surprise, often pop up online with 'Mellotron' annotations, but that fan page listed Michael Holt as using 'Mellotron sounds' at the session common to both releases. Holt is also credited with Mellotron (and, presumably, genuine Rhodes) on 2000's Leni Riefenstahl LP and 2006's live Really Don't Mind if You Sit This One Out (yeah, yeah, Jethro Tull), the latter actually recorded in 1998, although it seems likely that these are all samples, given that the fan page made a point of saying, re. Glazed Popems, "This was an original Mellotron, not a sample or synth", backed up by the band's own website.
I've given Mushroom's career the usual abstract in their reviews, above; suffice to say, they might just be present-day San Francisco's premier exponents of jammed-out psych, while never once slipping into tedious jamband territory. 1999's Hydrogen Jukebox is excerpted from a session recorded the previous year, featuring all the band's usual influences, puns and pop culture (and pop) references, titles referencing Elliott Smith and the ex-King Crimson duo of (Ian) McDonald and (Mike) Giles, while punning appallingly on When the Shit Gets Tough To Face - The Tough Get Shit Faced. I hate to say this, but musically, the album seems to lack something, at least to my ears, the jams being too aimless (stoned?) for their own good. Sorry to say this, guys, but this is, er, rather boring. Their excellent, long-gone fan site informed us that 'Mellotron sounds' were used at the session; indeed, Michael Holt's flutes on Elliott Smith, McDonald And Giles and Elliott Smith Reprise don't sound particularly authentic, although it's the easiest sound to sample accurately.
Analog Hi-Fi Surprise, from the same year, was recorded at the same session and, indeed, picks up exactly where Hydrogen Jukebox ends, the fade-out at the end of that album becoming the fade-in on this one. I get the feeling that the band were less inspired at this session than at subsequent ones (although they may well disagree), as this isn't really any more interesting than its predecessor, sadly. Don't get me wrong; it's a respectable enough listen, but overlong and noodly, although I realise that's probably the point. Title references this time round include The Magic Of Michael (Magic Michael (Cousins), an early '70s London scenester featured on the original Greasy Truckers album), the fusionesque Our Buddy Miles (groan) and the non-punning Abbie Hoffman, in honour of the original yippie. We get more samplotron flutes on October 1970, although it's difficult to say whether there's any other obvious use.
The following year's Leni Riefenstahl (the notorious brilliant-yet-Nazi-apologist groundbreaking female German filmmaker, then still alive) is taken from sessions recorded only a few months later, but is a very different proposition all round, the band far more inspired, for who knows what reasons? The album's improved by its shorter length, too, although two of its four tracks are in the quarter-hour range, the title track and (relatively) brief piano solo closer Dig My Mood probably being its highlights. Holt plays samplotron flutes on Leni Riefenstahl itself, although they don't really add significantly to the album's overall appeal. 2006's Tull-referencing Really Don't Mind if You Sit This One Out is a live album of somewhat dubious quality, I'm afraid, essentially a series of formless psychedelic jams. The samplotron finally appears towards the end, with flutes on Phillip Seymour Hoffman and strings on provocatively-titled closer (referencing Jefferson Airplane?) Why Do Most German Booking Agents Have Brain Damage?