Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chillum, CHILLUM... PLUS

Mushroom, 1971; reissued with bonus tracks as CHILLUM...PLUS by See For Miles; availability uncertain

CHILLUM...PLUS: 11 tracks, 66:27

This band has a slightly convoluted history. Keyboardist and vocalist Ken Elliott and drummer Kieran O'Connor were originally in the insanely creative Second Hand, a group that definitely remained psychedelic while also predicting prog rock. After two superb albums (REALITY and DEATH MAY BE YOUR SANTA CLAUS), Second Hand had lost their guitarist. Bassist George Hart, who joined on DEATH MAY BE YOUR SANTA CLAUS, still was in the group, so they auditioned new guitarists. Tony McGill clicked perfectly with the band, so perfectly that his audition evolved into an incredible twenty-plus minute piece of improvised rock, and apparently forced a renaming from Second Hand to Chillum. Coming close to some of the most out-there krautrock jams (Guru Guru and Amon Duul II come to mind), Elliott's pummelling organ and Hart's fluid bass combine with O'COnnor's fierce percussives and McGill's incredibly detailed improvisations. Given the name "Brain Strain" this originally occupied side one of the original CHILLUM LP; on CHILLUM PLUS, which contains the entire sessions, it is in an extended form. The first track on ...PLUS is a miniature bit of laughing contributed by two doctors who frequented the pub next door to the studio; only those present know if the laughter was their genuine response or a skit. Chillum continue on their weird path, at times using O'Connor's snoring as a percussion line (on "Land Of A Thousand Dreams") or giving him four minutes to show off his drumming chops ("Too Many Bananas"). "Yes! We Have No Pajamas" is another extended improv, firing off with no mercy until its ten and a half minutes have come to a stop. Suddenly, "Promenade Des Anglais" pops up, and you wonder if someone's recorded the wrong track. This little number sounds disturbingly somehwere between smooth jazz and muzak, but it is followed by a goofy voice saying "'ere, I thought that was RATHER GOOD! Oh super! What's next?". This nicely gives away the joke, and makes for an impressive end to the original album. The bonus tracks on ...PLUS are fairly good. "Fairy Tale' has interesting music, but is hampered by out-of-place vocals. "Celebration" sounds the most like the album proper, being a fiery improv, while "This Is Not Romance" consists solely of piano and wounded vocals, making for a nice contrast. "Incubator", two takes of which are included, was actually created by the engineer using an oscillator and a rotating speaker; they're interesting little tracks, but nothing more. Chillum essentially imploded during these sessions; O'Connor and Elliott continued on for two albums as the less interesting Seventh Wave and then disappeared. CHILLUM...PLUS, as well as all related projects, would mostly appeal to adventurous progheads and krautrock fans, and it comes highly recommended to them. Adventurous rock fans will probably find a lot to like here as well, but be aware this IS every bit as druggy and spaced out as the band's name implies (a chillum being a device for smoking hashish).

UPDATE: As of 2010, this has been reissued by Sunbeam. This edition restores the original cover and has four bonus tracks: "Celebration" and "This Is Not Romance" reappear, as do the previously unissued "Three Blind Mice" and "The Lone Commuter". I haven't heard them, but hooray to Sunbeam for making this more readily available!