Saturday, June 5, 2010
H. P. Lovecraft - H. P. Lovecraft (1967) / H. P. Lovecraft II (1968)
When most people think about psychedelic rock from the sixties, it's a pretty good bet that H. P. Lovecraft is not one of the first names they come up with. Despite having a relatively successful couple of years, and two pretty solid albums, the band has largely been forgotten in the annals of rock history. That's a shame because, although their records don't exactly qualify as lost masterpieces, there is a lot to enjoy in their music. Luckily, those of us who wish to seek it out, can pick up this two-fer (can you tell I like these?) containing both of their studio records and a couple of singles.
The style of the band is basically psychedelic folk, but with a more complex instrumental palette than other similar groups. Rather than the standard folk dominated by acoustic guitars, H. P. Lovecraft employ many orchestral instruments as well as organ, piano and harpsichord. The sound is, however, not nearly so dark as their name implies. In fact many of the songs are (unfortunately) rather standard interpretations of popular folk songs. I find these a bit tedious, and the insipid peace-and-love lyrics of these hippies drives me nuts, but that's not the whole story.
Where the band really shine is on their original compositions, most notably the six and a half minute "The White Ship." The atmosphere of this track is one of mystical gloom, with french horns and ships bells droning on somberly. It's a really nice mood piece and the vocal harmonies are quite lovely. There's also an a capella rendition of the Gloria Patria prayer at the ned of the album which is pretty cool. Finally, the faux-twenties pastiche "Time Machine" is usually derided, but I find it quite fun, although strangely out of place on the record.
Thankfully, the second album shows the band in a more adventurous mood. After wading through a bit of folk nonsense at the beginning, we are treated to some real psychedelia. "Ellectrolentando," "At The Mountains of Madness," and "Mobius Trip" deliver a three-in-a-row punch of trippy atmospherics and gloomy dirges. There's also a forty second sound collage/recitation called "Nothing's Boy" that reminds me a lot of "In The Beginning" from the Moody Blues' "On The Threshold of a Dream." Actually, this group could be compared to the Moodies in a lot of ways, now that I think of it.
Folk is not a style of music that it is very easy for me to enjoy, and I find a lot of it dated and silly. Nethertheless, H. P. Lovecraft's expansion of the genre with inventive arrangements and progressive song structures is worth hearing, whether you are a fan of the genre or simply interested in the hostory of Psychedelia and Progresive rock.