Fricke's Picks: What If Pink Floyd Gave Birth to Ummagumma in the Band's Basement? - Rolling Stone
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Fricke’s Picks: What If Pink Floyd Gave Birth to Ummagumma in the Band’s Basement?

Akron/Family are a four-man band based in Brooklyn, of assorted rural origins (in Pennsylvania, California and upstate New York) and now roaming all over a wide, open space where antique folk balladry, primal drone and explosive improvisation meet and melt in a woodland psychedelia that answers an age-old musical question: What if Pink Floyd gave birth to Ummagumma in the Band’s basement at Big Pink? There is nothing retiring about the first nine minutes of Meek Warrior — “Blessing Force” is practically an album in itself, a mounting-hysteria suite of Hawkwind-like overdrive, healing-ritual chant and free-jazz blowing. The middle of the record (Akron/Family’s third, counting their 2003 split disc with Michael Gira’s Angels of Light) is softer communion — pagan sing-along and log-cabin jamming — that turns wild and electric again in the ecstatic, tumbling rock of “The Rider (Dolphin Song).” Joining singer-instrumentalists Ryan Vanderhoof, Seth Olinsky, Miles Seaton and Dana Janssen in this alchemy are jazz drummer Hamid Drake and members of the Toronto bands Do Make Say Think and Broken Social Scene, making this true family music.

Mighty Baby were original acid-country mystics: remnants of a great British mod band, the Action, that went psychedelic in the late Sixties, then turned down the amps and amped up the prayer. By the time of Mighty Baby’s second album, A Jug of Love, issued in Britain by Blue Horizon in 1971, most of the band members had converted to Sufism, the mystic Muslim sect, and the record is aptly meditative: slow, extended songs of self-examination sparkling with fireside harmonizing and the gently serpentine lead guitar of Martin Stone. Although Mighty Baby, as practicing Muslims, subscribed to a natural high, the record’s vibe is more stoned than sanctimonious — a trancelike blend of the Meddle-era Floyd, the Byrds circa Ballad of Easy Rider and how, I suspect, the Grateful Dead sounded in early rehearsals for American Beauty. A Jug of Love, a big-money rarity for years, has finally been issued on CD by the Sunbeam label. It still overflows with sweet om.

Wooden Shjips (not a typo) are from San Francisco, but the concentrated ferocity of the freakouts on their two very-underground releases — a white-label ten-inch EP (the band gave away the first 300 copies) and a clear-vinyl single (“Dance, California”) — arrives via the Seventies Germanic-guitar lunacy of Guru Guru and the confrontational repetition of VU. Both records are still available, but you have to buy the EP now (I did). A CD debut comes next year on the Holy Mountain label.


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