The Kettering Vampires — Perform Nico & the Velvet Underground
(Cordelia Records CD063, 2015, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2015-11-15
Everybody knows the story of the Velvet Underground, one of the quintessential examples of a band that got minimal attention in its own time, but achieved legendary status after breaking up. Many of their songs have become staples for covers by other artists – “There She Goes Again,” “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” “Venus in Furs,” all have become standards of the rock repertoire. But devoting an entire album to them, and in fact to a re-envisioning of The Velvet Underground & Nico, putting them into the context of instrumental surf music, that’s a new one. After the wide range of Considerably Further from the Sea, I shouldn’t be surprised at how well these things can work, and The Kettering Vampires and producer Alan Jenkins have assembled a great set of music here. It starts off with “European Son” done with a twangy guitar taking the lead – in other words, more or less classic surf style. But from there on out, things wander further astray from that base. “The Black Angel’s Death Song” is a short, moody keyboard feature with organ and Mellotron augmented by some crazy R2-D2 synthesizer noises. A number of places utilize unconventional sounds – given the way the credits are written, it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not, but quite a few “prepared” instruments are listed (as well as “ostrich” versions of instruments). “Run Run Run” adds a horn section as well as an interlude of free playing by what must be prepared guitar. The album’s centerpiece is a 15-minute take on “Heroin.” It starts very quietly, with a droning organ notes that fade in very slowly over the course of the first three minutes before slipping into the song’s chords. At about the five minute mark, drums and bass sneak in, and it really starts to sound like “Heroin.” Eventually, feedback and chaos threaten to swamp the insistent two-chord vamp. This is a minimalist exercise that would make a Krautrock band proud. Quite often, it is the inventive keyboard work that makes the tracks work, from Mellotron and various types of organ to synthesizers, and (I’d swear) some toy instruments as well. This is not the context where you expect to hear a ‘Tron, and it works well. In addition to the quality of the music, Jenkins’ liner notes are a hoot, a surreal, rambling story about how he came to produce this music. Another winner from Cordelia!
Related artist(s): The Kettering Vampires
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