Todd Dillingham

Astral Whelks

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1995's Astral Whelks is the album where North London D.I.Y. psychedelicist Todd Dillingham moves away from the extended prog rock epics of his earlier albums into a more concise brand of psych pop heavily influenced by the freakbeat bands of Swinging London (the Creation, John's Children, etc.), close to the same artistic neighborhood explored by the Soft Boys and the Dukes of Stratosphear. There are still a few lengthy pieces (the title track is nearly 11 minutes, while "Janus at the Gates of War" and "The Turquoise Mountain" run nearly 13 and 16 minutes each), but even those are based around catchier melodies than you're likely to find on, say, an Emerson, Lake & Palmer album. Peter Giles of Giles, Giles & Fripp, the band that mutated into King Crimson, plays keyboards on these lengthier pieces, adding to their progressive credibility. The remaining 11 tracks range from not quite two minutes to just over five, and they're uniformly fine psych pop. Indeed, the banjo-laced "Pigshead," which sounds like one of Michael Nesmith's later Monkees songs, and the swirling "Laughing Into a Teapot," featuring backing vocals by Dillingham's mate Yukio Yung (Yung's Chrys&themums bandmate Andy Ward is the album's drummer), are two of Dillingham's best songs ever. The others range from the early Pink Floyd-style heavy rock of "Arthur Woodcote (Is His Name)" (a different version than the one on the German EP of the same name) to the delicate, spacy "Time Heal Me Now." Not all of the tunes are winners, and this album's follow-up, Sgt. Kipper, would explore this psych pop territory in even more entertaining fashion, but Astral Whelks is one of Todd Dillingham's most enjoyable efforts.

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