Anyone who is familiar with Germany’s Shadoks label knows that they have a hell of a knack for digging up the acid-fried psych-gems from the past. Spoils of War, Bunalim, Blops, Fingletoad, Brush, Blues Addict, Spectrum, Juan De La Cruz, Edip Akbayram, Lula Cortes…good lord what a roster, and still the list goes on and on…
One of their latest finds is a band from Olympia, Washington…Strange. Originally released as a tiny edition of 100 on Yantis Records, Souvenir Album was actually first put together by singer/guitarist David Cunningham as the band was on its last legs back in 1978.
In 1974, five high-school misfits banded together as Strange and cut their teeth playing three-song sets three times a night at a local skating rink, the local community center, and high school assemblies. (When you hear this, just try and imagine hearing Strange’s odd psych music at your high-school…during school!) The band eventually became regulars at outdoor parties, small tavern gigs, local theatres, folk clubs, and finally did a live college radio date and also recorded a few tracks at the same college’s recording studio. All the material here is put together in a ramshackle way from these various locales. Because of this, Souvenir Album comes across more like a cool audio scrapbook than an actual album but that ends up being a strength rather than a weakness. The poor sound quality also works as an advantage. This thing is covered in haze, but that is one of the things I really dig about it. For me, it totally adds to the mystique.
There are quite a few memorable moments here: The soft, slow, minor-key grooves of “Somebody” are undeniably powerful and emotive. The creepy, weird, hushed chanting of “Ballad of Hollis Spaceman” explodes into dynamic, acid drenched guitar leads and a barrage of drum fills, then falls back into mellow organ drones and then back yet again to the previous mayhem. The beautiful organ & guitar interplay on “Four Eyes”. The outright strangeness of “Segment from Barapp”. The inexplicably weird editing of “Rick’s Song”, which sounds like three decomposing tape reels running at once, all smearing together for a few seconds, fading out and starting up again, but as a moody folk song. In “Twelve Boats” the running tape all but chews up and almost comes to a complete stop, yet somehow it works.
While Strange’s influences are partly of the prog variety (Yes, ELP), I don’t really detect that at all in their sound. I am reminded of Help Yourself, Neil Young, David Crosby, Seals & Crofts, and the San Francisco sound of Airplane, Quicksilver, and The Grateful Dead (Cunningham claims two of the latter three as influences). Fans of any of those bands will definitely find something worthy here.
The liner notes and booklet are excellent. Grainy black & white photos, memories both good and bad, a facsimile of an event ad detailing an upcoming Strange performance date (the ticket was $1.50!), in-depth notes about each song…all of these elements truly capture the essence of the Strange world and the small scene they were a part of. In the end, Souvenir Album is not crucial listening but heck, who says everything you listen to has to be? I found it to be an enjoyable, well put together document of a cool, obscure band. 7/10 -- Daniel DeRogatis (15 July, 2009)