The Squires of the Subterrain

Electric Blanket

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One of the most impressive things about the Squires of the Subterrain is that, while obviously reverent of the psychedelic bubblegum '60s, the project is solidly grounded in the traditional and non-subversive musical ingredients -- Tin Pan Alley, the British music hall, comedy, pure pop/rock -- that were just as important to the music as its mod, art-school, or experimental credentials. Think of the Victorian Age-attired Charlatans, a weirdly medieval countercultural troupe like Firesign Theater, and an interest in old cabaret and vaudeville tunes. This is a quality that even great bands of the era missed (witness the Rolling Stones' capricious dip into LSD-doused waters on Their Satanic Majesties Request), but the Squires make magnificent use of just such forgotten elements on Electric Blanket. The album is a probing, two-footed, three-eyed leap into oddly sonorous psychedelia, musical territory that had truly only been staked out previously by Brian Wilson circa 1967. It is, in fact, the finest full-length attempt at reclaiming the freakish, fascinating textures of the Beach Boys' lost Smile, right down to its monophonic claustrophobia, kaleidoscopic barbershop harmonies, and peculiarly amusing lyrical themes. There are a couple interesting side trips, such as the spy-theme slinkiness of "Planet Patrol," but there can be no mistaking that this takes off where "Heroes & Villains" left off. Certainly the impressive "Clown Serenade" (an exposition of instrumental motifs, à la the "Holidays" and "Bicycle Rider" themes) and astounding long-form "Washing Machine Experiment" would fool the majority of Smile bootleggers if someone slipped the songs to them without revealing their true origins. Also like Smile, the album is disjointed to a fault, never quite coalescing into a cogent whole, and there are a couple duds among the bunch. But if less successful workouts, like "Yellow Cellophane Paper," a harmonium-heavy dirge/sound collage, go on too long by half or obscure the qualities that make a Squires song such a trippy experience (namely exquisite tunefulness), they also show the lengths to which Earl is willing to experiment to discover his own pocket art pop symphonies to God. Electric Blanket is a startling invention, its few missteps wholly redeemed by an expansiveness of vision and the wizardry with which its reach is nearly fulfilled.

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