A to Austr - Music from Holyground

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When you're talking late 1960s British psych, arguably no other band did it better than A-Austr, a bizarre short-lived studio project put together by Holyground label manager Mike Levon and the inhabitants of his spontaneously organized hippie commune, which included Brian Calvert, Chris Coombs, and a young Bill Nelson (who would later achieve huge commercial success with Be-Bop Deluxe). Music on the album ranges from mid-1960s beat to freaked-out psych, glam-rock, proto-punk and even classically influenced proto-prog. The album starts with the melodic "Bird", sounding not unlike US psychsters Head Shop or the poppiest tracks on the first Byzantium album, but also incorporating an unexpected weird mid-section, obviously influenced by the soundtracks to 1950s comedy movies. "Bird" maintains the same crazy vibe all the way through. "Jude" and "Mini" are both catchy melodic tracks with hints to Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles or Something Else-era Kinks. "Thumbquake & Earthscrew" uses some odd sound effects and very primitive overdubs to a fantastic effect. Starting with a weird vocal line, it entangles the listener in a whirlpool of psychedelic reverb. "Between the Road" is on the other hand a raw and unpolished track, full of raunchy garage-like guitar riffs and out-of-tune falsetto vocals, predating the avant-punk sound for nearly a decade (in fact I'm oddly reminded of Pere Ubu here!). "Hawaiian War Chant" stands true to its title - it's their take on tribal psych, and though one can question the success of that short ethnic interlude, it sure sounds wonderful in the context of the album. "Essex Queen (She Dances)" is a relaxed psychedelic track, while "D Minor Minuet" (a brief solo-harpsichord tune) sets up the excellent "A Curse on You", which enriches the simple pop-psych formula with layers of female backing vocals, giving this song once again almost a soundtrack feel. Finally, "Grail Search" first sounds almost like the lost early T-Rex track, but turns into a typical period heavy-blues-rock piece in the chorus.
Overall, this is the amazingly diverse album, one could say maybe embarassingly diverse, but although I had some troubles with it in the beginning, I now come to think it's an absolute masterpiece. Having only a couple less impressive tracks (the extended soft-psych "It's Alright" being the obvious low-point), it can serve as an excellent gateway for anyone willing to dive into the world of British psych.

500 copies, official reissue with the original packaging (gatefold printed on bronze carton), with original 17-pages A4 insert plus extra poster, 4-pages insert, 3 business cards. Anazitisi Records. Keeper NM/NM