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V/A - The BYG Deal: Art, Rock, Revolution

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Artist: V/A

Album: The BYG Deal: Art, Rock, Revolution

Label: B-Music

Review date: Feb. 3, 2010

Record store denizens of a certain age will likely remember some of the albums released by the short-lived French BYG label during the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Those who actually brought them home from the import and cut-out bins might recall being treated to a puzzling—but compelling—kaleidoscope of sounds that can only barely be explained by citing categories like jazz-rock, space rock, art rock, and prog. Born at the further-out ends of the European counterculture, much of this varied output evinced a commitment to textured psychedelia, the theatre of revolution, and conceptually wide-open fusions of everything from jazz and acid rock to folk poetry and dreamy pop. There were fuzz-tones galore. And lots of flutes.

As befits the recent trend for careful record label archaeology, Finders Keepers have put together a well-selected and annotated anthology culled from this output. The liner notes detail a Byzantine record label history of music industry rebels, commune-dwelling rockers, jazzbos, poets and performance artists crossing paths during heady, experimental times—an era when the chaos and self-indulgence of the counterculture twilight was already beginning to cast dark and fascinating shadows on rock and pop.

Some of the more celebrated BYG records, by artists like Gong, Ame Sun, and even the Art Ensemble of Chicago, came out under the instantly-recognizable Actuel rubric. Actuel tended to serve up long tracks with avant-garde leanings, illuminating the counter-intuitive concept—picked up on soon after, perhaps, by the likes of the British label EG—that un-categorizable new music is often best marketed in a uniform edition.

The aforementioned artists are represented here, of course: Gong with the spacey, communal/tribal hard jazz-rock stomp of “Hip Hypnotize You” and the dreamy, breathy, proto-ambient poetry of “Mother Long Shanks (Oh Mother I am Your Fantasy.)” ; Ame Sun with the echo-ey acid jam-of “Eclosion (Marie Aux Quatre).” The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s “Rock Out” is short but stunning—an Ur-funk/ rock workout that sounds as if it could be say, a few hundred years old.

Other treasures, more obscure, abound. A boogie-fied glam take on the Standells’ snarling “Dirty Water” might seem to be an utterly misguided idea, but the trio Freedom (with roots in Procol Harum!) execute it with such tight, amps-cranked-up perfection that it’s truly mesmerizing. Jazzers Joachim and Rolf Kuhn’s early “Bloody Rockers” is a somewhat Zappa-esque—but nonetheless poppy—instrumental, with Rolf’s distorted electric clarinet and Joachim’s wide-ranging palette of organ sounds creating some heavy timbres. Alan Jack’s “My Change Rien” is a lost gem found—fuzzed guitars and flute adding a slightly scary acid-drenched undercurrent to hooky, psychedelic, baroque French blues-rock.

One particularly memorable example of how these strange strands could sometimes come together in a timeless way might be found on “Floating,” mysteriously credited to the Inter-Groupie Psychotherapeutic Elastic Band. With its communal vocal chant, percussion and strummed guitar underpinnings, and Beatle-esque harmonic instincts, it’s a tiny masterpiece of dreamily-textured, almost unbearably catchy pop There’s an innocence to it, yes; but, as with much of the music here, there is perhaps something foreboding in the way that conjured innocence can seem so studied, so carefully wrought.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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