When I blog for a band/artist I am unfamiliar with, I will do some backpedalling to hear where they are coming from to inform me better where they are today. The Flowers Of Hell hit that nail on the head because they are issuing the first vinyl pressing of their cult classic ‘Odes’ album from 2012 and an album of new material, Keshakhtaran.
Lou Reed began the final episode of his BBC6 / Sirius-XM New York Shuffle radio show in 2012, premiering three tracks from Odes, declaring the release to be “An amazing, amazing album” and praising it as “So beautiful and great” and “Exquisite.”
On ‘Odes,’ The Flowers Of Hell pays tribute to some of their favourite songs and influences, creating covers of works by Bob Dylan, Klaatu, Stereolab, Laurie Anderson, The Velvet Underground, Siouxsie & the Banshees and Neutral Milk Hotel, among others.
Let’s get back to the music, shall we? Odes is a decent album. As is the case in 90% of all albums, there are some excellent songs, some OK songs and some that you question why they were ever recorded in the first place, let alone covered. Here is the tracklist. I wish I had it on vinyl so I could physically flip it over at the end of side one. Alas, I am poor, and steaming will suffice.
TRACKLIST – SIDE A
1. Avery Island / Neutral Milk Hotel cover)
2. Atmosphere (Joy Division cover)
3. Muchomůrky Bílé (Plastic People Of The Universe)
4. Walk On The Wild Side (Lou Reed cover)
5. Run Run Run (Velvet Underground cover)
6. The Last Beat Of My Heart (Siouxsie & The Banshees cover)
TRACKLIST – SIDE B
7. Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan cover)
8. Super-Electric (Stereolab cover)
9. O Superheroin (Laurie Anderson/Velvet Underground cover)
10. Over & Over (Fleetwood Mac cover)
11. Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft (Klaatu cover)
Let’s take it from the top and move our listening down the list. Avery Island is OK; I am only a casual listener to Neutral Milk Hotel, so I listened to the original and the cover back to back. I like the original more. Better bass throughout, plus an emotional connection and energy without words, but you will know it when you hear it.
Atmosphere, the Joy Divison cover, didn’t do anything for me. I like Joy Division, but The Flowers Of Hell version left me wanting to listen to more Joy Division.
Muchomůrky Bílé (Plastic People Of The Universe cover) is quite good, and it restored my faith in the music of TFOH. Muchomůrky Bílé translates as “toadstools white.”
“A man of despair, You easily lose your mind. White toadstools I will collect them in Dmléta.
Toadstools are white, Whiter than snow. I dream them to satisfy my needs in Dmléta.
I will not wake up here, Except in another world, White toadstools, I will collect in Dmléta.” – Egon Bondy.
“I’d go in and test the mixes while over-micro dosing on mushrooms for a truly immersive experience that transported me from the bleak times.” – Greg Jarvis.
The best I could find about Dmléta is a small shopping mall on the outskirts of Prague. I do not know if they have mushrooms on sale there, perhaps at the back of the stalls.
Toadstools or mushrooms? There isn’t much of a difference.
Smoking weed and using shooms do not magically infer quality to anything. I can attest to that from experience. Trust me on this one. There is also the risk of picking the wrong mushroom. I can’t help but use a favourite quote of mine. “All mushrooms are edible, but there are some that you can only eat once.”
Run Run Run (Velvet Underground, I am going to take a wild swing in the dark, but I think The Flowers Of Hell are fond of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. I’m OK with that, and their cover of Run Run Run is quite good. I am going to upvote Run Run Run, it is my favourite on this album.
The Last Beat Of My Heart (Siouxsie & The Banshees cover) IMHO is great. The Last Beat Of My Heart is one of those rare occasions when I like the cover more than the original. Why do I like it more? I don’t know. I was never big on Siouxsie & The Banshees, so the bar starts low but goes up for this cover.
Mr. Tamborine Man is a song that has been covered so many times that if each cover were a blanket, Mr. Tamborine Man could survive a winter at -40. The original was good, which is why it was covered so often. And some of those covers were good, but I’m not overly fond of this effort.
I will skip over some tracks in the E for effort category and land squarely on the second to last track, a cover of a song I feel was done right the first time and can not be improved. Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft.
I am a Klaatu fan. I have all their albums and listen to them frequently. I didn’t care for the Carpenters‘ cover and don’t know why it was a commercial success. I like this cover even less than the Carpenters‘ cover.
The album closes with an original song by Greg Jarvis that has no connection to the cover songs. It is a lonely orphan that should have been given a home elsewhere.
Well, that turned out to be a lot longer than I anticipated. The good thing is that Keshakhtaran only has two tracks and a short radio edit that I will completely ignore. Once again, if this were a perfect world, I would listen to Keshakhtaran via vinyl, and the two tracks would neatly fit with one on each side. I am streaming this album because the world is what it is and is generally indifferent to me.
Toronto-London-based experimental group, The Flowers Of Hell, announced that they would release their new album ‘Keshakhtaran’ via UK cult label Space Age Recordings (home to Spacemen 3) and Spectrum, Chapterhouse, Acid Mothers Temple and The Telescopes) on May 12th.
Keshakhtaran? Chill? Atmospheric? Easy Listening? Background? Ambient? Drone Music? Electronica? Electro Jazz? Meditative? None Of The Above? All Of The Above? It Doesn’t matter?
Keshakhtaran is a word used to describe the situation where you reach Nirvana through primordial sound meditation. Nirvana is an ideal or idyllic state or place in Buddhism akin to Heaven in most Christian faith groups. I did not experience Keshakhtaran while listening to this album, even though I experimented by listening to it numerous times and at different times of the day. That does not make it a bad album for not taking me to Nirvana; it did take me to la-la land. It was a pleasant listening experience that helped me drift to sleep. It also functioned as excellent background music while I did other tasks.
Keshakhtaran is a like watching sand on a windy day. It shifts and swirls, lifts and falls. Ebbs and flows. That is Keshakhtaran. The music moves. It is a compilation of sounds that never stay in one place. There are sax, flugelhorn, chimes, harp, sitar and opera soprano vocals, augmented with tremolos, flutters, horns, woodwinds, strings and percussion. Keshakhtaran involves 20 artists, including Rishi Dhir (Elephant Stone, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Black Angels, Beck) and Avant-Garde Accordion legend Angel Corpus Christi (Suicide, Spiritualized, Dean Wareham).
On May 12th, the group also releases their sixth and first studio album in six years. ‘Keshakhtaran’ is a 42-minute meditation piece in two parts. The advance taster single ‘Foray Through Keshakhtaran’ is available now across digital platforms, including Apple Music, Spotify and Bandcamp.
Despite relative obscurity, they have been championed by music legends such as Lou Reed, Sonic Boom, Kevin Shields and members of The Legendary Pink Dots, Death In Vegas, The Wedding Present, The Fugs and The Plastic People Of The Universe, not to mention support from NASA’s mission control team and the Tate Gallery with an album installation and concert just a fortnight before London locked down.
“Keshakhtaran began as a 40 minute ‘space guitar’ piece I’d done out of bits and bobs I’d been playing in my home studio for a girlfriend to meditate to in the months before Covid. During the pandemic, I found I couldn’t write anything new (nothing in, nothing out), but I pulled out the guitar track and started sending it to caged up band members and friends to add layers to, and soon I was mixing and editing away, creating a sonic world to escape off into,” – Greg Jarvis.
“With massages being some of the only human contact allowed in Toronto at the time and with one of my bandmates being a masseuse, I’d go in and test the mixes while over-micro dosing on mushrooms for a truly immersive experience that transported me from the bleak times. I’d then play the work-in-progress for bandmates in my ‘semi outdoor contact’ garage that I’d converted into a psychedelic shack with a lightshow and a fog machine, tweaking things until it reached its final form that you’ll hear”.- Greg Jarvis.
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‘Foray Through Keshakhtaran’ https://youtu.be/XnCDPsgydic
‘Odes’ LP https://flowersofhell.bandcamp.com/album/odes