The doctor is in. For his debut column for The Obelisk, Scott Heller — aka Dr. Space of Copenhagen space rock improvisors Øresund Space Collective — embarks on a cosmos-bound trip with a glance at UK trio Dead Flowers‘ third and final album — appropriately-enough titled Altered State Circus. As you’ll see, he likes it spacey. Please enjoy:
Altered States with Dr. Space
Hello everyone. I hope you are all doing well this summer. Thanks to JJ, I will begin to write a monthly column about classic psychedelic rock music. I have been writing about music since 1984, when I wrote a heavy metal fanzine called Metal Madness (Albuquerque, New Mexico). One of the contributors to the fanzine from Chicago started getting me into Hawkwind and through my tape trading with Chuck Wax in Michigan, I became fully immersed in the UK psychedelic rock scene that flourished in the ‘80s producing many cool space and psychedelic rock bands like Omnia Opera, Ozric Tentacles, Mandragora, Ship of Fools, Sundial, Strobe, Magic Mushroom Band, Poisoned Electrick Head, the Bevis Frond and Dead Flowers, just to mention a few.
The one record from this time period that really blew my mind was Altered State Circus from Dead Flowers. This would sadly be the Newcastle band’s best but also last record ever. It was released on Delerium Records in 1994 on both vinyl and CD (DELEC LP/CD022). It also had an amazing album cover, which fit perfectly with the vibe of the music. The band’s previous two records were more raw acid rock excursions, while Altered State Circus was more spaced out, psychedelic and fully engaging.
The LP opens with “The Elephant’s Eye was Eerie.” Cool title. It starts with some spacey synths and the delay guitar kicks in with a cool lead line and the Steve Hillage/Ozric Tentalces-like main riff. The drummer appears quite loud at first and then the groovy bassline starts. The vocals are whispered as the head mix really builds with more synthesizers layered in and spacing around. The title-track, “Altered States Circus” is next. It starts with a really cool guitar that starts in the right channel and then both channels and then the bass kicks in. A bit heavier guitar riff but then it gets a bit spaceier and they repeat this sequence until the guitar break, which they have a nice delay on, then the riff becomes much harder around three minutes, as the track builds up. You can hear on the YouTube video below, where someone has added a film clip from 1928 and made this the soundtrack.
“Warmth Within (Chemical Binoculars)” is another 10-minute piece that starts a bit like the opening track, but the vocals are sung, not whispered. A melodic thread runs through as the spacey wind synths cruise from speaker to speaker, a lead synth line entering a bit later but the main drive remaining the spacey push of the guitar line and steady bass and drum groove. At about 6 minutes, the pace really picks up as the guitar becomes moves further out and the synths become more complex and integrated. “Slouch Factor” has a really cool wah guitar with a really stoned laid backed groove and vibe throughout. The vocal is also really stoned and calm. Steev Swayambhunath plays some really great guitar as well as the spacey synth of Chris Barnett — really floating and psychedelic. “Full Fist” is the shortest song and a heavier guitar riff and angrier vocal are a perfect follow-up to the calm, spaced-out cut before.
It gets really spaced out at the end. “Free the Weed” is eight minutes, starts with a spacey synth mixed quite loud and the delay guitars a bit further back. The vocals go back to a more laid back style, and this track really builds up over time. The lyrics are really excellent as well and not just about marijuana but broader freedom. “Vodophone in Oz” is a 12-minute, really spaced out track, with some hand drums and samples as it slowly builds up the groove. It has hardly any guitar, but is a really trippy electronic track by the end, showing a bit of the direction, Steev would take his music after Dead Flowers with 3000003. Almost like early trance techno without the thump! If you are fan of Ozric Tenacles, Steve Hillage, Mandragora and other head music, give this a chance.
You can also read my reviews if you join my blog, Writing about Music.