Mark Fry-Dreaming With Alice

December 24, 2011

Mark Fry

Dreaming With Alice (RCA 1971)

Some albums effortlessly capture an era. Dreaming With Alice serves as a last gasp of the hippie mysticism and pastoral innocence of 60s English folk before it was co-opted by a more cynical decade. It celebrates the wide-eyed innocence and buoyant spirit of a psychedelic movement before hearts grew more calloused, drugs took their psychic toll and the promise of a technicolor society of flower power grew hollow and decayed. 1971 was a time of disillusionment with what wasn’t accomplished as everyone slowly realized the world was more troubled and complex than could be imagined. A song wasn’t going to change the world and the opponents of the counter culture were nibbling away at the lackadaisical corpse of the 60s. The era of arena rock and rock and roll as sheer spectacle were afoot and the time for a cycle of songs about paramours and playing a flute with a dude fingering the lute by the riverside while discussing their dreams was kind of passe by this point.

Mark Fry recorded just one of many albums that could be described as a bittersweet farewell to the 60s. Even the album’s title evokes the imagery of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and champions his kinship with a psychedelic landscape that was being slowly choked by the weeds of cynicism. Maybe it’s because Mark Fry was a noted artist before he tried his hand at music that he retains the  desire to paint an alternate universe when others chose to tackle the gritty realities that awaited them when they finally came down from their incessant high.

It’s hard to discuss Dreaming With Alice without conjuring the singular namesake of Donovan. Although Fry’s voice and songwriting echoes the imagery and vibe of Donovan, Fry doesn’t just draw inspiration from the source, but opens it up wide and takes it to a psychedelic extreme. Where Donovan relied upon his pen to summon images of tangerine dreams and sunshine supermen, Fry’s take is far more whacked and visceral. Everything is full of echoes and shadow as he slows the pace of his idol to a crawl. It’s a slow-motion opiate epic that invokes a darkness amidst the light, love and lazy pace. How can you speak poorly of an album that begins with such a flourish?

“Did you pass the glass mountain?
Where Salome opened her dress.
Did you see the dolphins feathered fountain?
Oh the King made a bloody mess”

This is just a stanza, but it speaks volumes about what is being attempted on this album. The subsequent song “The Witch” is a hypnotic paean to the power of dark magick and the power it wields. Amidst all of this dark hoodoo, Fry unleashes a raga-like jam for the ages. All at once, it invokes the lexicon on the 60s, but couches it in a context that is far more suited to a coven than a bed-in. It’s an album that lives in a limbo between the pagan and the pure as he crafts a narrative that straddles a line between the purity of a hippie ideal and the stains that marred it on the way down to earth.


Pygmalion Demos

During my teenage years, I heard some tracks from My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything and the resultant eps and they had me at hello. I loved Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, but had no frame of reference for the sounds emanating from my shoddy boombox. I bought all I could and discovered the Creation label which led me to collect a string of eps from Moonshake, Telescopes, Swervedriver and most importantly, Slowdive. The s/t and Morningrise eps contained music even more alien than the MBV releases since it borrowed from them, but made it so sluggish, noisy and it sounded like a funeral dirge. I loved this point in their development and still hold it in the highest of regards. However, Slowdive’s full-length, Just For a day, relied on ep tracks for traction and the rest was underwhelming. Souvlaki was another bag meat shavings that we’ll for another day.

I liked Just For a day and Souvlaki just fine, but sort of wrote them off a bit until their grand finale Souvlaki was released. This album didn’t even get a proper release in the United States. The album was generally ignored in comparison to its more readily available counterparts. However, I picked up the 5(In Mind) eps and was amazed at how they had taken a u-turn from shoegaze and even traditional song structures involving choruses and crescendos to a more amorphous approach.

Souvlaki is sparse to say the least. In my mind, it gets bunched with Flying Saucer Attack’s excellent Further album as the two finest examples of a progression of English acid-folk recorded by actual English bands. Pygmalion. It’s shoegaze on a handful of qualudes and serious personal issues. It is the sound of a breakup, both musically and personally. However, I wouldn’t peg Pygmalion as a particularly sad album. It’s a doped-up bummer to be sure, but there are glimmers of optimism throughout. This charade has gone on long enough and it is supposed to be about the demos for Pygmalion. Well, the demos bear little relation to the actual album. It is obvious that the band had an overflow of songs and ideas as these demos include many songs left on the cutting floor. Many aren’t even songs, but sketches. However, this collection of demos stands on its own as a viable album, albeit even more ghostly and gloomy as its official brethren.