Music

Oriental Sunshine: Dedicated to the Bird We Love

Sugary, vintage psychedelia so light it's in danger of blowing away.


Oriental Sunshine

Dedicated to the Bird We Love

Label: Sunbeam
US Release Date: 2006-05-02
UK Release Date: 2006-04-03
Amazon
iTunes

Something of an oddity, this: an extremely rare psychedelic selection from the Norwegian duo of Nina Johansen on vocals and guitar, and Runa Walle on sitar, guitar and vocals, with support from their Indian friend Satnam Singh on flute and tablas plus some local jazz and rock musicians rounding out the rhythm section. Originally released in 1970 in Norway only, and selling in ridiculously small numbers, this has been something of a legendary cut for lovers of all things psychedelic, just waiting for the right time for a re-release. Now, with the neo-psych-folk revival in full swing, that time seems to have finally arrived.

Still, this sure ain't Six Organs of Admittance. What we have here is a gentle, billowing confection of sugary, delicate psychedelia that is absolutely awash in the supremely of-it's-time sound of the rock-crossover sitar -- not too dissimilar to the raga-pop cover versions of tunes by The Doors and The Rolling Stones being attempted by Ananda Shankar at around the same time. There are other obvious comparisons to be made here too, with Johansen's honeyed vocals calling to mind certain female vocal-led psych bands of the era, such as The United States of America or Fifty Foot Hose. But perhaps the most accurate point of reference is to the Brazilian Tropicalia pioneers Os Mutantes, with their intoxicating mixture of laid-back bossa rhythms, exotic instrumentation, male and female vocals and the strange detachment of lyrics sung in English by someone who is not a native speaker of the language.

Nevertheless, despite the comparisons, there is some interesting and idiosyncratic musicianship at work here. The strongest tune is undoubtedly the opener "Across Your Life", which starts out jazzy and sitar-drenched with a lazy rhythm before breaking into a heavy Latin freak-out in the final minute. The other clear stand-out track is "Can Anybody Tell?" with its bluesy Hammond organ, groovy tabla shuffle, soaring flute and funky sitar breaks.

Much of the rest of the album, however, tends to float by in an indistinguishable haze, with one track sounding very much like the last -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing provided you're able to dig the gently wafting presence of ineffectual psychedelic sentiment. In fact, your enjoyment of this record is probably going to depend quite heavily on your tolerance of naïve, pastoral psychedelic lyrics that occasionally stray dangerously close to self parody.

Consider the following gem: "See the flowers kissing the sun / See the trees unfolding their beauty / Albatross floating in the air."

Or how about: "Look at the flowers / Look at the grass grow."

Or even: "Send me back to mother earth / Let it be my golden birth."

You probably get the idea. Moreover, when the male and female vocals start to duet, there can be an uncomfortably fey "Peter-Paul-and-Mary"-ness to the proceedings. On the few occasions that Satnam Singh provides the vocals, his performance almost certainly benefits from being sung in Indian, with the meaning not readily available to the average English-speaking listener and a genuine sense of 'otherness' lifting his contributions out of the slightly limp regions inhabited by the others.

Nonetheless, this is a genuinely pleasant record, strongly evocative of time and place and sopping with well-meant naivety. You'd probably be hard pushed to find it offensive in any way and, even if you did, it's all over in half an hour: just sit tight and you can soon get back to your Black Metal.

6

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Award-winning folk artist Karine Polwart showcases humankind's innate link to the natural world in her spellbinding new music video.

One of the breakthrough folk artists of our time, Karine Polwart's work is often related to the innate connection that humanity has to the natural world. Her latest album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, is largely reliant on these themes, having come about after Polwart observed the nature of a pink-footed geese migration and how it could be related to humankind's intrinsic dependency on one another.

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Victory Is Never Assured in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (Photo by Jack English - © 2017 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. / IMDB)

Joe Wright's sharp and only occasionally sentimental snapshot of Churchill in extremis as the Nazi juggernaut looms serves as a handy political strategy companion piece to the more abstracted combat narrative of Dunkirk.

By the time a true legend has been shellacked into history, almost the only way for art to restore some sense of its drama is to return to the moment and treat it as though the outcome were not a foregone conclusion. That's in large part how Christopher Nolan's steely modernist summer combat epic Dunkirk managed to sustain tension; that, and the unfortunate yet dependable historical illiteracy of much of the moviegoing public.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image