Norway - Full Moon 134 - 08/28/07
The Smell Of Incense
Of Ullages And Dottles
Time passes too quickly. It's already ten years since The Smell Of Incense's acclaimed second album was released. Here's the successor, finally. And an excellent successor it is. The band uses the same approach. The lyrics are written by some well and some lesser well known deceased English and English speaking writers while the band members have supplied the music themselves. This time they've used lyricists outside the fantasy genre, mainly from the romantic 19th century; William Blake being the oldest and most famous one, I guess. While the eccentric Lady June probably is less so and only passed away a few years ago. And there's also one half contemporary lyric written by the band's faithfull and very much alive companion Dr. Brt Blaster.
At first I was a bit disappointed by the music. The album didn't fulfill the expectation of the first dirty distorted guitar chord and ditto riff. The first track instead turn into the merry and quite calm folk-rocker "Bumbles And Dragons" with an almost medieval interlude. It is followed by the great ballad "Laughing Song". The third track is also quite laid back. It ends with guitars, mellotron and flute. When the fourth two minutes "Song" started in a similar way, only even calmer, I was a bit worried. This is not representative of what the band used to be capabable of live, I thought. Fortunately "The Golden Knot" reveals some more muscles, at least in between. And after the short and sweet "The Haunted Chamber" the two remaining songs - that both last almost ten minutes - cruise through ups and downs, sharp and soft bends.
After several spins I'm, of course, getting used to this calmer side of the band. The music is as always firmly rooted in the late 1960s psychedelic and early 1970s progressive traditition. Despite lots of well known elements from those eras I think Of Ullages And Dottles moves a step further, out of time. The longest songs were the first to stand out. "Where Forlorn Sunsets Flare And Fade" with some impressive classical acoustic guitar is moody melancholic and proves sitar and mellotron can work well together. "Well In It" about a talking turd is written in the late 1970s and was originally released on cassette in 1982 by a band that included three of the core members of the Smelly Vincent. Here it is expanded with a new middle part and quite different arrangement. Female Bumble B's voice makes it folkier and we can spot a bit of her rare (on this occasion) and beautiful viola and violin playing as well. "The Golden Knot" is pushed forward by a mighty then quirky mellotron before it wanders into west-coast guitar territory and back again.
My ultimate favourites are the calm "Laughing Song" and stormy "Of Pygmies, Palms And Pirates". The former is dominated by a soft lapsteel guitar. Now usually I'm allergic to steel guitars. Here it works really well with hardly any traces of neither cowboys nor cattle. It slides and glides and floats away on thin air from a midsummer meadow over the hills and far away. With "Of Pygmies, Palms And Pirates" where the album title is taken from and concludes the album I finally get some of the rockier elements I initially was missing. After a sweet folk-rock intro it moves into a fandango-like theme and on to space rock of the Hawkwind kind. Now we're finally talking! Then we go back to where we started for a second round where the space shanty moves even deeper. Grrreat! Still I find it a bit troublesome with all these previous mellow melodies. The two short two minutes' songs of the album, "The Haunted Chamber" and "Song", seem anonymous squeezed in between the other longer more monumental tracks. They are small gems that work a lot better when played on their own. Which seems to be the ultimate approach to Of Ullages And Dottles. If you listen carefully to one song at a time they all have a lot to offer. Exquisite playing on a vast variety of instruments, instrumental parts that wanders off in unexpected directions, great vocal and instrumental arrangments... All in all the album has been well worth the wait, for ten years. Still I don't hope we have to wait another ten years for the next longplayer.
The first edition of the album is 1 000 LPs and 1 000 CDs. If you have a record player, I'd recommend the LP version. It do full justice to the gatefold cover painting, as always by Gunhilde Langerud, a work of art on its own. Also the LP includes a booklet with lyrics and even more great paintings in colour and black and white. You can order the album directly from September Gurls or get in touch with the band
Copyright © 2007 JP