27 July 2011

The Incredible String Band - 1967 - 5000 Layers of the Onion

Quality: 4.25 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.25 out of 5

First off, this is one of the most awesome albums ever. I first picked this up while in high school in the mid 90's as it looked to be a notable freak out and I'd heard the band's name spoken of in reverent tones. Unfortunately, I hadn't even gotten to electric freak outs like 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' yet, and have to admit that I didn't really 'get' this one for years. This is straight up acid-folk, without any electric embellishments. Of our main duo, Mike Heron tends to walk more the Dylan/Donovan continuum, although with his own voice very loud and clear, while Robin Williamson is more like the crazed minstrel hopping out at you from atop a tree in a fog-filled primordial forest (although they admittedly do drift into the other's role on occassion). Both of the excel in writing completely tripped out whimsically British lyrics that make Syd Barrett look like a rank amateur - not that Barrett isn't awesome, but the lyrics of "The Gnome" don't do well when placed next to "The Mad Hatter's Song." Williamson had also recently taken the hippy tour to North African, and sounds from that area abound as well as the sounds of other incredible stringed instruments such as the sitar.

If your ears are open to the folk scene, you'll find this album is packed with absolutely top-notch songwriting. In fact it's far easier to talk about what doesn't quite do it for me. "Blues for the Muse" tries really hard to stretch the 12-bar blues somewhere interesting, but this group still fares much better with the British Isles folk template than the blues. "My Name is Death" take the 'death' concept a bit too literally sonically, and it sort of drags the song down. Although it's only 2:46, it is the longest song on the album (despite some tracks running 5:40 or 4:05 or something; I can type more numbers if you like). Fortunately the list of winners pretty much includes everything else on the album. I particularly dig the first four tracks, "First Girl I Loved," and "You Know What You Could Be." If I ever ran the Renaissance Fair, you'd eat mushrooms instead of a turkey leg, and then you'd listen to this band. There'd also be giant, iron robots there.

Just for a bit of name checking, this set had psych/folk guru Joe Boyd in the producer's chair, and the legendary string bass player Danny Thompson shows up on several tracks. Basically, as far as acid folk goes, this album is setting your rear in the middle of the royal court. And let's just mention that phenomenal album cover one more time. I should get it tattooed on my brain or something. Huh, huh... yeah!


Anonymous said...


Ian G said...

Likewise, had these two elpees long, long ago but rarely played them. They just seemed to be pre-requisite to any self-respecting psych collection but a bit too way out & folky for my former pace-driven DJ daze! Listening to them now however, is like a breath of fresh air. Loads going on & some pretty little tunes by anyone's standard. Not sure they top Syd though but a nice counterpoint & yet another reminder of just how incredible, an evolutionary leap, music culture was taking a mere ....44 years ago!! WAH!

Dr. Schluss said...

The Syd comparison is simply in respect to the whimsical side of the lyrics. Overall, I'd have to choose Barrett's music if only one could survive the musical rapture of 2017.

ge said...

Bowie & Bolan both ISB fanboys; these alvins a big part of my teens-oily 20s

WillardsWormholes.com said...

Hey Doc,

We have a new address.
It's our own domain, so hopefully, this is the last time we'll ask you to update your blogroll. You're posted over at our place, of course.

Never Get Out Of The Boat is now...

Willard's Wormholes

Thanks, as always.


Anonymous said...

I'd choose ISB any day of the week over Syd. All my respect to Syd and I do enjoy his part in Pink Floyd and his solo albums but you can never compare that to the amazing music of the ISB. That is just my opnion.
I wish I was there in the 60's..... the height of creativity.

Martin said...

Working link:


Anonymous said...

this is, for me, the better album of acid psicodelic folk please change quality for 5.0