I've always thought of the word "Perfect" and anything to do with "Perfection" completely ludicrous. It doesn't make much sense that there is a definition of something that barely, if at all, exists. I have found, though, while nothing is as imperfect as life nothing is less than "Great" when it comes to Great Music.
Still, this whole perfection thing doesn't ever seem to come up with any real actuality or fact. There is no perfect record collection, no person who doesn't have a slight little flaw, and all. Well, Indian Summer and Shape Of The Rain may prove that at least in the case of music there are some perfect albums.
Indian Summer and Shape Of The Rain both appeared in striking sleeves which I will try to upload soon and both were released in 1971 on the RCA Progressive subsidiary Neon. Neon's track record is pretty high with brilliant releases such as Spring and Raw Material's seminal Time Is... going for over $1,000 for originals and the two I'm reviewing going close to over the $500 mark if you don't get lucky like I did.
Indian Summer were a Coventry quartet who were managed by and produced by the same team (Tony Hall Enterprises) that brought us Black Sabbath. Their keyboard player Bob Jackson sang lead whilst the others contributed with guitars, bass, drums, and harmony vocals. Their album is of the psych into progressive classic sound with complex guitar passages borrowing from jazz and big dramatic harmonies and mellotron bringing to mind both Asgard and label-mates Spring. I can't think of another album of progrock more quintessentially "English" than this one. It all seems to be coming out of the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, the first Family album, dark Gothic imagery, and wet foggy days where you stroll down the winding streets in Bristol or go looking for ghosts of Victorian or Edwardian mysterious characters in London or anywhere else you happen to be there. One also very impressive feature is that for an album of generally very slow and atmospheric songs there is a high sense of drama and complexity bringing to mind the one great album by one of the worst bands ever to come out of England- Supertramp's 1st (the one with the surreal "Flowerface" as I call it cover). Now, as much as I hate them they hate that album and one could see why- it sounds like this one a bit and not at all a bit like Supertramp!
Enough digression there, let's get back to Indian Summer. The first track sticks it to religion and gives it a big middle finger as the cause of war, racism, and ignorance in the world with the title of "God Is The Dog!" I wonder if Rob Halford was listening to this band. The screaming falsetto shrieks of Bob Jackson are comparable to both Halford and Arthur Brown, but more controlled. The playing by the entire group is flawless- never a note wasted and not a single dull second. Even the instrumental "From The Film Of The Same Name" is a masterpiece of progressive rock. While it is clear to see that Indian Summer would not write or record commercial material and that is the hallmark of most progressive bands it also would be the downfall of many, but not Indian Summer. Whilst serious sounding they aren't self serious. Whilst adventurous one could never accuse them of pretentiousness. Also, I may say to close my rave that this album is nearly an hour long on playing time and never tiresome! For the best dark and Gothic epic progressive music look no further than this album and stellar tracks like "Glimpse" and "Secrets Reflected." Astonishing underrated MASTERPIECE!!!
Shape Of The Rain, though different, is another album where I'd have to use the word perfect. Formed in Sheffield in the mid 60s they recorded enough material for an unreleased tracks CD that I'd love to track down and the band was very much a musical family. Keith and Len Riley played guitar and bass whilst their cousin Brian Wood played guitar/steel guitar and they were rounded off by drummer Tag Waggett. So, the album is called Riley Riley Wood and Waggett. Keith and Brian do all the vocals and Eric Hine adds some smashing electric piano.
Again the cover is amazing- a brilliant snapshot of England in an earlier, grander, more mysterious time and the music on the album of guitar based melodic psych/melodic progressive power pop is up there with the likes of The Parlour Band, Dog That Bit People, Northwind, and The Masters Apprentices' classic Choice Cuts. I can hear a lot of different contrasting influences here and I've always detected a strong love of Badfinger and The Beatles in this group. While the guitars rock and the vocals soar with prime melody and hooks a plenty like Badfinger there is a "Progressive" leaning that goes into surreal gnarling guitar jams and there also is something psychedelic about the songs. When I first heard this album it was merely rare and not hugely valuable, but with rarity and word of mouth spreading a factor now it is just as expensive as any other class UK release. The thing is, I can point the finger at a lot of German bands being too histrionic as much as there are loads of great bands from there and a lot of American bands unable to write good melodies and having a flat overall sound, but as you'll notice from all my write-ups I go for the British bands as the best overall. Some bands would find a happier home or just more hospitable home elsewhere (Nektar and the obscure unrelated to the Andy Latimer group Camel the Underage album Camel), but their music would always have that English vibe. Shape Of The Rain give us an album of strong material, brilliant production from Kingsley Ward, and an immense amount of joyfulness that harkens back to the 1960s era when everything seemed possible. Whether the songs are driven by soaring dual guitars or big sounding acoustic riffs there is always a really creative anything-goes sound to this album. They jam, yet they are tight. I personally prefer this album over The Open Mind who could have made the best psych album in the world, but were done in by a producer and label (Phillips) who didn't care. Also, you can hear a bit of the UK Kaleidoscope sound in Shape Of The Rain which is always a plus. No matter how hard you have to search for these two do so and you'll be at the same conclusion I've arrived at- perfection happens every once in 3,000 blue moons, but it does happen at least twice a century and it happened on these two. Good night, cheerio, and God Bless!