The Bevis Frond:North Circular

The Bevis Frond
North Circular

THOUGH THEIR SOUND is rooted in the late '60s, the Bevis Frond really started in the mid-'80s, when leadman Nick Saloman began releasing a steady stream of records--about a dozen (many of them double albums) in as many years. And in the process, he single-handedly lead the charge towards a new '90s English psychedelia. Today, with his home studio, U.K.-based label (Woronzow), much-beloved zine (Ptolemaic Terrascope), and the festival it inspired (Terrastock), Saloman, in his mid-40s, carries the freak-rock flag with more authority than ever.

Thankfully, his is not a psychedelia of revivalism, or one rife with corny, dated signifiers, but a musical style that seems timeless and sustainable. As with Guided By Voices, the Bevis Frond's take on past decades' music finds a strange middle ground between referential indie rock and classic rock 'n' roll reverence. Its makers don't pretend the last 30 years never happened. They're just too old--too beyond it all--to be anything but what they are: aging hippies in a post-punk world.

Though the Bevis Frond became an actual band (as opposed to a loose confederation) in the early '90s, Saloman has always stuck to the same do-it-all-yourself approach, and a mix of heavy acid-blues and tuneful-but-messy folk-rock. North Circular, his latest two-CD set (running over two hours!), is (a lot) more of the same. When he rocks in a garage-metal mode, the music aptly expresses Saloman's place in the rock continuum: somewhere between Led Zeppelin and Soundgarden ("You Make Me Feel"), or a late-blooming Hüsker Dü ("Story Ends"). This is also where his worst classic-rock impulses get the better of him, as on the 13-minute guitar wank-out "The Pips."

Yet he usually sticks to more crafted (if somewhat formulaic) Byrdsy tunes such as "Revival" and "The Wind Blew All Around Me," and oddly comes up with the folk-pop goddess-in-progress vibe Mary Lou Lord often evinces. These more lyrical moments define our friend Mr. Frond as a subcultural anomaly: He's a still vibrant middle-ager ("Stars Burn Out"), defiant of hippie-haters ("There's Always One"), who serves as a patron saint to a style that (barely) lives on ("That's Why You Need Us"). "We are the ones that you discounted long ago," he sings at one of North Circular's many moments of peripeteia. "We'd like to make it to the top but we don't expect to/We just continue to continue out of sight/We are the darkness to your light, that's why you need us."

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