A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Can you believe there was a time when there was such a thing as too much Bevis Frond music?
Bevis Through The Looking Glass is The Bevis Frond’s third record, comprised of castoffs from the first two records, Miasmah and Inner Marshland. All of the material on Bevis Through The Looking Glass was recorded by Nick Saloman, himself, in the back room of his current home in London, over the span of two years.
Although panned by some critics as “unessential“, Bevis Through The Looking Glass is a right proper cross section of all that is good and right and (un)holy about The Bevis Frond. There’s plenty of feedback freakouts, “dueling organs and guitars,” to paraphrase Sounds Magazine, plaintiff melancholic balladry, post-punk mysticism. It may be jammy as hell, but it sure reminds us why the fuck we love this band so much in the first place.
Through The Looking Glass starts off in the most unlikely off of places, with the sprawling, meandering creepy crawl of “1970 Home Improvement” – all squealing Dracula Farfisas and backwards bending guitar, fluttering basslines like bats in yr ears. It’s a stony, clattering ritual to begin a record with, going on for nearly 14 minutes. It throws back to early commune records like Faust or Gong, “setting the mood”, invoking the seance, only to explode in a glorious sunburst “Machine Gun” blues groove.
The first thing that can be said for The Bevis Frond’s entire discography is that Nick Saloman’s guitar tone is worth the price of admission – solid, stately, keening, crying. He’s a more mild mannered Hendrix without the afro but with the same explosive emotiveness. And the guitar players, they looked damaged. They’d been outcasts all their lives.
“1970 Home Improvement” inches its way to “Now You Know”, a lost Power Pop nugget that sketches out the classic dichotomy of cold/stoic and heartfelt passion that rages in the heart of every pop lover. It’s tangy melodic hooks predate Matthew Sweet by about 5 years, falling infectiously between choruses before vaulting into a keening, singing, stinging solo that totally rages.
This short burst breaks down into the sidelong “The Shrine”, which Allmusic also didn’t like, which makes me think their reviewer must have wool in their ears. It’s a misty, windswept piece of doomy Doors-ian/Velvet Underground/Faith-era The Cure in a glorious opium post-punk reverie. Nick Saloman’s hopscotching the boundaries between psychedelia, post-punk, punk rock. New Romanticism, and the Paisley Underground has always been one of The Bevis Frond’s most intriguing aspects. This is music for heads, as well as sad boys. Macs in macintoshes and sun-fried desert dwellers – in some airy psych continent in the sky.
There’s so many great songs on Bevis Through The Looking Glass. “Rat In A Waistcoat” has real crossover potential, with its Kenneth Graham meets Blue Cheer Las Vegas sleaze grinding riffs. And there’s “In Another Year”, one of those classic psychedelic post-punk tracks I was talking about – with its plasticine flanged guitars and Saloman’s reedy. wispy wistful melancholic balladry. It asks the question, “Where will we be in a year?” It’s a song of departures. and also of age and experience. There is not a sense of schmaltz about it, and yet it makes me cry a bit. It’s sweet, and heartfelt, without being in any way manipulative. It sounds like The Police, yet it could be a lost Cure single, if it had more synth strings.
The way that Saloman’s guitar and voice twine around one another – organic and inseparable – says everything that needs to be said about The Bevis Frond. Nick Saloman drips music. is music. The melodic synchronicity shows a tunesmith who has it mapped out ahead of time. He’s well-rehearsed, so he can be sloppy and free when he needs to be. It is the mark of someone who knows what they’re doing, and has something to say.
There’s more poppy gems, The Groundhog’s “Express Man” and the riff-y rave-up of “Mudman”, and one more epic jam, the colossal 8-minute “Purtle Sline”, more feedback fury and buried basslines. Just goes to show this is a proper head record, meant to throw on the turntable and let it accompany yr daydreams, yr readings, yr tea and staring.
Because there is NO such thing as too much The Bevis Frond.
Thankfully, it’s possible to nod out to this one on vinyl again, thanks to Cherry Red’s on-going re-issue series of early Woronzow records on vinyl. I’ve only just recently started collecting vinyl, i’m both delighted and terrified to admit. I’ll definitely be picking this one up.
For those lucky enough to be in London and reading this, The Bevis Frond are playing tonight at The Lexington, in a rare live performance as part of The Terrascope’s 25th Anniversary Party which Nick Saloman helped to co-found. The Terrascope is hugely influential on what we do here at Forestpunk, and why we do it. Terrastock 7 in Louisville, KY was a very transmogrifying experience for me, oersonally, and has been hugely influential in feeling like it was possible to be involved with the music world full-time, for a living.