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  • Writer's pictureMario

The Lobby | COMUS - FIRST UTTERANCE (1971)

Right, let’s have some fun. All this hokey present-day hullabaloos gotta have at least one breath of downtime available. Luckily, we’ve got just that. Winding the clocks back 52 years to likely the most ridiculous year in the history of recorded music (and at the very least rock music) tends to bear wonderful results. Mahavishnu? Zeppelin? Funkadelic, Alice Coltrane, Gil-Scott, Can, Marvin, Family Stone, Van der Graaf, even fucking Faust? It gets increasingly incalculable just how stacked that year has been. What other years in recent memory have approached that status? 2005, 2022, 2018… we could go as far back as 1994 and 1991, even. We’ve all got a good idea on how many genre-propelling works have been exacted and exalted in those years.

What about folk? Hm? Cohen, Mitchell, Drake, Harper, Jara, and we also have Comus, a prog-folk beacon that formed in 1968 but wouldn’t record their first album until 1970 and release it to the folk-crazed eyes of the wacky ol’ world of dead-inside hippie remnants in 1971. Hey, whaddya know. The rest of those gee-tar loving fiddlesticks likely didn’t make the time to get fuckin’ freaky. They’re no Third Ear Band, they’re no Tim Buckley (both of which having released their respective freakshows the previous year), and they’re definitely no Comus. Feel that fleshy, freaky and murky psych-mediaeval fragment of folk fuckery.

The vocal deliveries already supply ample enough evidence, ever so harrowing and shivery. Diana may as well be the right way to confirm that right out the gate just by forcing you into assuming the role of the camera operator of what, in the present day, may very well be if Gaspar Noe filmed his own little folk horror, complete with the obligatory difficult scene to conquer every other difficult scene. This time, it’s a clear nod towards a rape orchestrated via a raggedy man-thing that likely desecrates for sport, stalking the eponymous girl through equally sinister deciduous terrains. Having fun yet?

The uncontrollable bounce of it all within the instrumental scope especially makes it feel more… unskippable. You can’t even get off your couch or look down at your phone or something. You just gotta be forced to watch your good night’s sleep get ripped away from you beforehand. It sure doesn’t sound all that insulting or tastelessly executed, it’s rather the utmost uncomfortable. The vertiginous skittering of the violin and bongos especially transform it into a scene you cannot look away from, cause the cinematography and acting happens to be that fucking good.

There comes that opening whine of The Herald too, which happens to be the cue that shrouds the entire atmosphere in nothing but bewilderment. All previous memories are irreparable. There’s an odd peace that can be detected within the first sequence, nothing truly alarming has originated. And feel that magical pinch of paddling primitivism chuck it all back to life. It’s fingerpickin’ good. When the violin slides into the void of this music’s residence, breaking apart the guitar work? Even more beautiful of a combination.

Seems the flute of Rob Young gave the sequence exactly what it needed too, virtually shattering all previous notions that it couldn’t get more beautiful or imaginative than this. It’s the most pleasantly disorienting forest trudge-’n’-hunker. Like frittering skeletons, the past wildlife, all spectral little flora and fauna causing rustles in all the infinitely thick bushes. All the life in sight is either you, or what occupied the forest long before any villagers found home within its vicinity. Rather, we welcome the air that previously occupied our herald. He, of morning sun’s descendant, now roaming the Earth beyond calculable yonders. The song breaks away as such.

Only to be met with how the opening of Drip Drip twists and breaks apart into splashing wonders, it’s suspended in its own ghostly gasp. The percussion is all that dares hold it together, vocals or any other instrumental passage very much working as efficiently as Stevie Wonder playing hide and seek when it comes to doing that job. It just so happens to maintain the structure of the first segment better than any other variable as well. The playing doesn’t quite twinkle, rather it rustles psyches and paints the imagination in quick and striking strokes.

It’s all like oil wells extracting souls. Metaphysical and floating behemoth cathedrals. Bouncing back and forth, neverending and never relenting, never repenting, never whatever, only whoever and whichever dare enter its big spectacles and splendours. What the hell is a yellow? This campfire shines deadly blue. Then we break away, it only dares get weirder. It croaks and crunches and claps and creaks all over the place, psycho-horror semantic and inside jokes between mud monsters and vine valleys. That eventually breaks out of existence too, instead replaced by a psych-folk anti-ditty scientifically concocting its own thoroughbred discomfort and eventually fatal delirium and folly. Its own sagging lip assumes extreme shapes a la raindrops or windchimes. And peep at that violin just strengthening itself like a virus. Now, if the song just ended better, we’d have among the most conversation-worthy folk songs of its decade. What a splendid suicide and eventual desecration.

Song to Comus doesn’t make things any easier. It’s all a vortex of death, debauchery, and defenselessness that exacts an angle relatively unexplored by its own avant-peers. Perhaps it is all one monster that has done this orchestrating, that is being orchestrated, that has inspired this orchestration. It is all one singular monstrosity that has performed this bidding. The dynamic and spiralling of all of the musicality present provides both a disorienting and riveting tourist attraction the likes of which would leave a few seats vacant by the time said tourists have reached the exit. Where the fun, exploration and imagination is to be found in the mere sound of the album, its mostly excellent composition, the terror begins unwrapping itself and unravelling the listener’s own mind the moment subtext is elaborated upon. This is no Earth we inhabit, let alone any documented lands. It yammers to itself in every inch of malicious marsh that is explored, its footsteps the shape of its hands. It’s great fun just trying to track down this cryptid.

The frolicking and bouncing of The Bite works as a greater pulse than the efforts of any bloodstream that enlivens any character of this album’s universe. The mix threatens to quiet, likely thanks to the vocals conquering primarily the right channel. It’s remarkable, the way it tosses the listener into its own swirling cauldron of thrill and fucked-up fervor. The chemistry that the violins and flute share alone can drive the song to full and earnest completion in a nigh-carnal explosion. Rather, it dares spin away from the listener’s conscience so that Bitten can make way to perform its tease of sinister string-slathered sing, before combusting into flames and eventually soot, before landing us back into the marsh from where we woke.

The illusion of satisfaction is provided best within The Prisoner, where despite the quality of the composition remaining constant with the rest of the album, it still refuses to quite line up with the amount of vigour and vertigo of the rest of the album. It fails to hit the mark of brilliance that a lot of the album shares in terms of vigilantly gripping the brain and brawn of whoever dares play the album, but you can’t be mad when the truly B-side emotional resonance remains a pleasant little cut above an ample amount of folk contemporaries to have released music that year. Perhaps it could have been just that little bit louder compared to the rest. Perhaps it could have ended a little bit longer by allowing the sudden distortion of everything that it is to fade away once more from our grasp. ‘Tis been 52 years, there’s likely not much that can be done about it anyway. Doesn’t change the fact that it is still an issue, but it allows us to feel that little more helpless about it.

Shit, Drip Drip and The Herald alone can justify this album’s existence, given the former having proven itself as a titan of psych-folk, and the freak-folk of which its sound and rabid behaviours would serve as a predecessor if not progenitor of. The rest are as formidable as any other psychedelic mediaeval rampage available, but somehow rendered trivial by those two staggering giants. Mere pebbles to the Torres del Paine. Among the primary flaws is how it loses track of its own universe and the swamps of shit and soot from where it was birthed from. It takes a decent amount of effort, talent and legitimate vision to make a piece of art that’s worth being considered one of the utmost notable of its year. But to make one of the more notable works of 1971 is something entirely different. That’s punching with a pantheon of herculean proportions. The more this album is heard, the more there is to be talked about.

Score: 7.5/10.

Trajectory of listens past the first: neutral.

Written 3/26/2022, 4:20 - 5:42 PM.


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