12 Aug 2013
The Bevis Frond "White Numbers" Review
Reviewed By Jason Simpson
The Bevis Frond have re-opened the floodgates, returning with a second album in as many years, after a seven year hiatus. The time off must've done Nick Saloman, and his backing band of Paul Simmons (Alchemysts, Oddfellows Casino, Jello Biafra) on guitars, Adrian Shaw (Hawkwind, Hawklords, Arthur Brown) on bass, and Dave Pearce (Psycho’s Mum, Limehouse Lizzy) on drums, some good. “White Numbers” has over two hours of music, covering two CDs or three LPs. Is this too much of a good thing?
Not if you like Rock 'n Roll.
“White Numbers” careens out of the gate with 'Begone', a six-and-a-half minute fire tornado of propulsive fuzz bass and twin-guitar flagellation. This is psych-rock without the incense; this is punk rock without the pyramid spikes. It starts you off with an adrenalised rush, and pins you to the back of your seat, as the Bevis Frond winds through their bag of tricks - sweet, catchy, moving power-pop; proto-metal; acid rock; Albion acoustic balladeer. Nick Saloman has been recording as The Bevis Frond for 30 years; he's learned a thing or two in that time. This kaleidoscopic skipping through a variety of styles, tempos, and moods is what makes “White Numbers” such an engaging listen. It keeps things clipping along, never resting for a second or getting boring, with the listener getting more and more invested and excited as things proceed. For the listener of discerning taste, there's a wealth of amazing songs to get lost in, to champion.
My personal favorite, and contender for Single Of The Year, is 'High Wind Crow', with it’s country-ballad mournfulness and soaring guitar lead. It takes your breath away with it’s tenderness and gorgeousness, a pretty waltz with a funky refrain, delightfully unexpected, that will snare you like a mountain trout. Nick Saloman acts as psychic conduit, summons the specter of Hendrix, Stevie-Ray, Duane Allman on wax. It’s the guitar solo that speaks volumes however, it's like the way that Billie Holiday or Miles Davis played slightly behind the beat, that soulful quality, emotional but restrained. It’s like a sigh, or a whisper. Nick Saloman speaks through his guitar, he has wedded with his machine, the mark of a true master. 'High Wind Crow', especially taken with 'For Pat (On The Chase Lounge)' is an adequate illustration of much that is right and holy with The Bevis Frond, and their consistently interesting and adventurous material. First of all, look at the refrain for 'High Wind', with its sunburst of Celtic harmonies as the music drops into half-time. Hacks don't think to write songs like that; this is the mark of a man who has spent a lifetime drowning in sounds, the mark of a true devotee. It’s a sign of that elusive soul, the mark of a natural. It’s a moment of startling beauty, unexpectedly moving - it'll take your breath away. It’s also the mark of a man attempting to master the art of songcraft, the way Dylan or Leonard Cohen did. Messing with arrangements, instrumentation, style, these are inquisitive minds, working at making brilliant art. He never rests for long, always questing for the perfect hook, the inspired solo. Speaking of inspiration, another highlight of this record is the sprawling 42- minute "Homemade Traditional Electric Jam", recorded while testing levels during the first day of recording. It could be some Neil Young outtake, or a Velvet Underground home recording, or a particularly good Grateful Dead show. This is the sound of this band WARMING UP! Sure, most normal citizens don't take the time to listen to 40 minute freeform jams on their way to work, but they're missing out. That's why we're all fanatically obsessed with music, no? That moment when the sweet bird of Genius alights on fingers and foreheads, and we are connected to the Sublime? Fledgling psych bands, you should be taking notes on this one. There's much to be gained.
That's why there's no such thing as too much Nick Saloman music. He has claimed to "twiddle with guitars the way some smoke cigarettes." After a while, he realizes he has settled upon a melody, and the dance begins yet again. This is like a cellar door, straight to his unconscious - music pouring straight from the essence, devoid of trappings, not trying to front. It doesn't matter what you think of it. Dare I say it, Nick Saloman's music is pure. Its this purity, and this unbridled creativity, that makes The Bevis Frond a contender for That Great Undiscovered Band you can't believe you've never heard of. Punks, headbangers, power pop geeks, acid heads, there's something for everybody here, and sometimes in the same song. Nick Saloman has ironically referred to himself as an 'unknown 58 year old psychedelic musician', and that needs to change! This man could be playing a half-time show at The Superbowl. He should be playing solar eclipse shows at The Great Pyramids. Its never too late, and "White Numbers" is a great place for the uninitiated to find out, to come and worship at the altar of guitars.
And speaking of guitars, fretboard geeks are Saloman's most opportune market. I can't figure out why this guy's not on the cover of Guitar Magazine every single month. He is like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Richard Lloyd and David Gilmour run through The Fly's transmogrifier. For those that are constantly lamenting all the dead and damaged guitar gods, you have a living master walking in your midst, and you probably don't even know it. And speaking of David Gilmour, Pink Floyd fans may find much of merit in the 'Frond. For those that have worn out their copy of "Atom Heart Mother" or "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" you will be relieved to find another great cosmic rock band, both current and contemporary. And while Pink Floyd got bogged down in gothic personal melodrama and squeaky clean sterile studio machinations, the Bevis Frond have always remained a working man's psychedelic band. Like a really, truly excellent pub band that blows the roof to heaven on a Friday night, to a crowd of thriteen. The hum of amps, the squeak of fretboards, fingers on strings - this music is real, and its also REALLY, REALLY good.
The time is right for THE RETURN OF THE REAL; real people, real musicians, real songcraft. Hordes of shadowy faceless techno producers are spinning the Uncanny Citadel, creating a vast cathedral of virtual phantoms, and you can get lost forever.
I have a fondness for these illusions, but they also provide a sharp contrast to the real deal, the human spirit. Nick Saloman has never been trying to be popular, although he certainly wouldn't mind. He's trying to improve, as a musician and a human being, create something personal and expressive in the meantime. He's living his life, he's spinning his own world, and he's inviting you to come in and check it out. As far as The Bevis Frond is concerned, more is better; all the better to get lost in, to study, to be inspired by.
"White Numbers" is as good as Bevis Frond's classic work "New River Head", a worthy place to climb on board, if you've never heard.
Check out more of Jason's writing here : http://forestpunk.wordpress.com
Available on Vinyl, and CD.