Gear Fab Rec. The Monocles & The Higher Elevation : The Spider, The Fly & The boogie Man (US,1965-1969,re.2008)***°
One of the things I liked of American mid-sixties inspirations were the fun horror movies and series (both on screen as on TV) from those years that seem to have been made in the context as if they were the kind of innocent anti-pressure compensations for the communist nuclear and other threats paranoia, something which in music led to great examples of rockabilly, surf and freakbeat fantasies, something which the Monocles greatly seem to have appreciated (see also the reference to the title of this compilation : “the spider, the fly & the boogie man”), teenage fantasies amongst other interests like love affairs.
Recently, one of the members made a huge web archive on the two related bands, so it was only a matter of time before a release happened, with, of course, a 12 page booklet biography and photographs, and no less than 31 tracks of which a few alternative tracks and some instrumental versions. Different from much American song music from that period this band succeeds to make very focused ‘real’ songs that stay with you easily. So, after the first two already ok tracks more or less every single track is a winner. I will describe most of them.
After one twist & rock’n roll track, “you don’t know” is a beautiful psych-pop love song winner with melodic piano, and with some whoohoo background vocals, a first track reminding of the horror-fun teeny-bop & at first rockabilly period I was talking about. “A little bit less”, in comparable style, confirms that tracked inspiration, while this is a sad song with softly marching drums. This is followed by a soft ballad, “the other side of happiness” with romanticizing harmony vocals, and another rock’n roll-alike song, again with good lyrics, (referring to a certain girl as “like a living doll”). Great again with the previous sort of inspiration is “the boogie man” with mad laughs and funny rhythmic sounds, rockabilly at its best. The next track, “psychedelic” is fitting well in style but is also much more “psychedelic” and with a psychedelic instrumental part (weird organ and freaky guitar). Brilliant and expressive again is “the spider and the fly”, a nightmarish psychedelic track with weird horror hop vocals, crazy organ and sounds, an some helium gas vocals crying for help. Also “the diamond man” is horror hop psychedelica. The more up tempo greatly swinging “Crazy Bicycle” fits well, has a bit of brass, and a crazy guitar solo. “Thoughts of Lila” is a moody 60s love pop song with organ, good rhythm moves and vocal harmonies, and a fine small guitar solo. Both “Country Club Affair” and “Summer Skies” are songs about romances. “Odyssy” sounds more Kinks-alike, directs more to attractive pop, and has some brass. “Highway 101” is even more different, country’roll or something, and with brass too, and with mainstream poppy rhythms. These two last tracks were made in a period when they had already changed their name, headed ambitiously to either a more successful professional career or were more or less forced by the mums to do something more serious with their life, despite their growing success as a highschool band, Higher Elevation didn’t bring them that much further as expected. Some members continued in many more bands to come.
After these first 17 tracks the rest can be considered as bonus material, and I wish it was indicated on the list a bit more clearly. After some listens however their inclusion reveals themselves better in their quality, showing a few more aspects and a couple of good songs. A couple of recordings seem to have been taken from a bad quality acetate? vinyl source, of which I like perhaps best the small surf improvisation, and a couple of rough demo versions of songs recorded with just voice and rhythm guitar, of which the sad “where is my life”, a sad song about lost love is especially appealing, as well as a few instrumental versions.
This compilation made me more curious again to future 60s reissues.
Note : John Sebastian played spontaneously tambourine on “Wizard Of Love” without the band knowing it was him joining in the session.