The Blue Orchids

Mystic Bud

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With the reissues and new releases of the Blue Orchids' past throughout 2003 on the LTM label providing more attention to Martin Bramah's unusual, entrancing music, Bramah took the opportunity to record a full new album. Mystic Bud is only the third full record released by the group in its on-again off-again near-quarter century existence, but from the start, with its slyly Greatest Hit-quoting "Soul Stuff" leading the way, it's one that shows Bramah's ear for skew-whiff psychedelia remains strong. Recorded by Bramah at home with four new bandmates -- Uma Baines remains long gone, but Charlotte Bell's flute adds a fine wild-card element -- it's something Bramah himself says in the liner notes might be "Blue Orchids by moonlight." It's a touch more reflective than either The Greatest Hit or The Sleeper, reminiscent perhaps of later Gorky's Zygotic Mynci in a similar step back from freaked-out wigginess for a gentler, pastoral flow. "Angel of the Loop" and the appropriately titled "Bemused" find that spot perfectly, ambles through a late summer's evening. Bramah's voice is calm, perhaps a touch strained and cracked at points, but not by much and to no ill effect on the music. Where there's a bit more noise in the mix, it's of an off-kilter rather than a caustic sort, and the results make for a merry ramble. The jaunty "Freak Show," with its easy shamble, and the scraggly stomp of "Black Peg's Son" feel like cousins to any number of New Zealand underground '80s classics while "Earthling" and the concluding "Black Pig" also prove engaging. A flat-out lovely nod to the past comes with a cover of the Archies' bubblegum classic "Sugar Sugar," given a slow, moody reworking that turns it into a beautiful pop equivalent of the Velvet Underground's "Heroin."

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