JULY: The Soft Bounce – Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve

I don’t think I’ve ever chosen an album of the month before about which I’m still so undecided. But here we are. Erol Alkan and Richard Norris’s musical side project, Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve, has finally produced a full album, and it’s the very definition of the phrase, a mixed bag.

Let’s start with the good. It’s a real musical journey. There are almost no two songs on here that sound the same, and you really can’t fault the guys for their ambition. It’s a post iPod album that displays the duo’s rich musical tastes – and there is almost no genre untouched on here. The most obvious one is psychedelia – from the rockier almost goth psych of Iron Age to the Jane Weaver-led cutesy psych of Creation to the instrumental freak out of Finally First to the frankly tedious spoken word druggy closer, Third Mynd.

But other songs, particularly with guest vocals, live in a totally different universe. Door to Tomorrow, with Gorky’s Euros Childs on vocals, is a wisful slice of indie that could easily be a Gorky’s song. Diagram Girl (is that the Mystery Jets guy on vocals? Not sure), in all honesty, sounds more like OMD than anything else I can think of. Nothing wrong with a bit of OMD, of course. And Black Crow, when you strip it back of the psych trappings, is a very traditional song that you could easily imagine being sung by Adele. Tomorrow Forever might well have appeared on a This Mortal Coil album!

They’re clearly coming at this from an anything-goes balaeric vibe. But it’s also as an uneven experience. On a project like this, the songs have to stand up in their own right, and I’m not sure that some of them do. On paper, this should be RIGHT up my street. I’m a huge fan of 60s psych and I love the likes of guest vocalists Jane Weaver and Hannah Peel. But there are too many times on the record that you find your attention wandering or wonder if self-indulgence has taken over. The first half is great – Iron, Age, Creation, Door to Tomorrow and Diagram Girl are 4 fantastic tracks in a row. Then it goes seriously downhill. Black Crow is seriously meh, Tomorrow Forever is far far too long, The Soft Bounce is indulgent noodly bollocks, Finally First is psych by numbers and Third Mynd is a naff druggy pysch cliche. Every time I listen to it, I’m slightly cross by the end.

It’s funny that we so often want our music to show ambition and diversity, but it’s rare to see bands pulling off the trick of making that kind of ambition work in a full album. It does flow well as a record and it is an enjoyable listen. But when you consider the standout work of recent AOTM like Christine and the Queens and Anderson Paak, this isn’t even in the same league.

Reviews have been pretty glowing of this album, though I notice no one’s quite brought themselves to give 5 stars, but maybe I’m being a bit harsh on what is a pretty fun musical diversion. But I can’t see it living long on my playlist.

9 comments

  1. misterstory

    Very quick first comment …. I really don’t know what to make of this if I am honest. I am befuddled to the extreme. Listening to it is a little like herding distracted, excited kittens.

  2. nolankane706

    I once read an article with Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve where they said they were going to bring back the Summer Of Love. According to them it happen every 21 years. This always confused me as I didn’t know 88 was considered the second summer of love? Suffice to say, if 2009 was a Summer Of Love, the whole thing is a bit over rated. I had a good laugh, but there wasn’t much summer and few people got the memo about lovin’ per say.

    I have always found Beyond The Wizards Sleeve remixes really good, and have seen their original tracks such as ‘Dig It’ destroy festivals and clubs alike. On the flip side like their generational predictions, their sets were a bit out there on the two occasions I saw them play. This heavily anticipated album has had a similar effect on me. It’s a bit all over the shop. It seems like more of a collection than an album. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a collection of strong songs, but it jumps all over the place.

    ‘Door To Tomorrow’ is the track that pulled me properly into this album. The sample of the strings has been used on a few tracks in the past, but I love how they added to it with fresh strings and a proper composition. For some reason it really reminds me of the Beatles. Although I’m sure it wasn’t written with summer in mind, it is a fantastic sun filled day soundtrack member.

    The whole 60’s psychedelic feel is good in parts such as ‘Creation’ but at other times struggles to catch me.

    If I were to pre-determine ahead of listening to this album, Diagram Girl is what I would have imagined. It’s a fantastic piece of electro pop with some great vocals. The lighter side of Erol Alkan.

    Over all I like this, though in a strange way I perhaps hoped for a bit more of a 4/4 feel, or deeper feel that have appeared on many of their previous tracks and remixes.

  3. whyohwhyohwhy

    Sorry for any lateness here. I’ve listened to this album a LOT this last month and really enjoyed It. But It’s a proper curate’s egg. There’s some brilliant music on here, but as others have said, it’s pretty all over the shop. You can see all sorts of influences. And I’ll do a proper rundown this week. Definitely one of the more interesting AOTM choices.

  4. whyohwhyohwhy

    This really is a curious thing. Individually, there are some outstanding tracks here, and with Norris and Alkan, you know it’s always going to sound fantastic. And with their own backgrounds, it’s great to see them basically let totally loose to do what they want. And if – which I feel it is – it’s a sincere project, then that’s only a good thing. But… but… there’s always a downside. And while some will love it, the eclecticism is both its strongest and its weakest point.

    As David’s said in his summation, it starts at a rollicking pace, and Delicious Light is possibly the best track on there. What a statement of intent. It’s got all the ingredients: psychedelic whirls, a punchy drum and plucked bass, an urgency, with both of them gleefully throwing off their electronic personas and letting loose. From then on, everything sounds interesting, but sadly, much of it like others, and it feels a bit too much like pastiche or homage. Iron Age’s power has gradually worn off, with its octave-spanning vocal echoing early Beck, whereas just feels a bit twee. Diagram Girl is great, but I just want to listen to the Drive soundtrack.

    Door To Tomorrow is a beautiful thing, standing out comfortably. But even at times I can’t always hack it. Black Crow has stuck with me though. I can’t decide whether I like it or loathe it, but the chorus has been bouncing around my head for weeks. The title track is really good though, as it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be anything else. Third Mynd is just a bit cringe for me.

    But then I love these two producers and DJs and feel like a twerp being this critical. But while I can’t help but applaud them for doing something that feels undoubtedly like a passion project, it just falls flat, and I say that with disappointment, borne out of hope.

    But it’s a good choice for AOTM. It’s really thrown me all over the place. Then I go and listen to Christine And The Queens again.

  5. misterstory

    I am guilty of massively under-listening to this. I didn’t like it at all on initial listen and it’s escaped me since I’m afraid. I will make some more time to listen to it properly apologies. I come into it with an open mind and little knowledge of the musicians previous output. I found it very tough to engage with …. but I will try again.

  6. Paul Adderson

    Well, isn’t this a mismatched effort? There’s an early point in this album where I immediately turn on and tune in, being the sucker for late sixties warblings from The Fifth Dimension and their Age of Aquarius that I am, a guitar driven take in that vein early doors sounds just up my street and I’m ready. Jane Weaver then materializes wearing what surely has to be a white, flowing dress, waving her arms mystically in front of vibrant light and of course, barefoot setting the psychedelic scene. Her vocal of Creation appears to set a marker for the journey but then…. it’s a warning sign when Gorky’s Euros delivers a solid (but far too close to early Super Furry Animals for my liking) vocal and the production clangs and doesn’t compliment; it’s tinny, abrasive and all of a sudden, I drop out, man. It’s not what I’ve been introduced to and I start to disconnect.

    Instead of bringing proceedings back on track, I’m treated to a Groove Armada crossed with Skyfall effort which may sound more at home on a Ministry post club chillout album but just doesn’t fit here at all.

    I wish I could be more complementary from this point on but it’s hard work. The second half is a succession of soundscape instrumentals, swooping strings and choir effects for the next twenty minutes. It’s too indulgent for my ears and makes listening a bit of a chore. The drop off’s pretty steep after such an enjoyable start but, look, there are people who tune into Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone who will think this is the bee’s knees but for me at least it’s a touch too disjointed.

  7. David Allison

    A great first post, Paul 🙂

    I’m also a sucker for late 60s 5th Dimenson type stuff (or indeed ANYTHING late 60s, to be honest), and love a lot of psych stuff from that time, and I was hoping this would tap into that. But it feels oddly generic.

    In the end, as you say, it is hard work. And oddly, I don’t think it’s actually anything like weird or interesting enough to make it onto the Freak Zone. Possibly my worst AOTM offering, alas.

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