Monday, May 23, 2016

Album Reviews # 65 Telegraph Avenue - Telegraph Avenue

Now here's something extraordinarily odd. A self-titled album by a Peruvian band called Telegraph Avenue from 1971. I chanced upon it last week due to a recommendation from hipsters MGMT and which I was so immediately taken by that there's already a vinyl copy winging its way to me from Holland. Despite that, it's such a bizarre listen that I'm still not entirely sure what I think about it but I did know that I relished the idea of owning it greatly. Record collectors will understand!

It's obviously deeply inspired by the West Coast hippie vibes of the late sixties, part Santana, part Sly & the Family Stone, part that whole messy love and peace scene, but there's a lot more going on than that. Inspired by lead guitarist Bo Ichikawa's six month stay in San Francisco it reminds me a little of the only visit I've ever made to South America about fifteen years ago.

Sent to Argentina by the school I was working for on a marketing mission, I was taken by how familiar the look and feel of Buenos Aires was to me yet at the same time slightly different and almost alien from anything I'd ever experienced in Europe. It was almost as if the architects who built the city had taken a ship to Argentina with an idea of the place that they wanted to build at the other end, a replication of the spirit and boulevards of Paris, but once they got there their memories of the Paris they knew had gone slightly askew and the city that went up instead was something different as well as something unnervingly familiar, and as a result something altogether quite strange.

Telegraph Avenue is a defiantly strange record. Full of odd, unexpected shrieks and exhortations and musical detours, sung in English but in weird, deeply accented vocals, harmonising in an attempt to recreate those West Coast vibes that Ichikawa had been so inspired by and fed his band mates with stories about on his return. For the course of the record, the band zealously set about creating their own version of the hippie dream and like those original architects of Buenos Aires, made something of their own instead. 

The album is a never ending ride of inspired, joyous highpoints. Just as you think they must have played all their cards they lay down another ace. Now I'm tempering all this with the disclaimer that this is not a 'classic' in the given sense of the word. It's an album you will listen to in wide mouthed awe, delighted that such a record exists and that you have stumbled on rather than coming to a sudden epiphany that perhaps this is almost as good as Forever Changes.

It's not. But it is a kitsch treasure trove. Skilfully played, (the band were all multi-instrumentalists), and knitted together with no end of energy and love, its appeals for everyone to come together must have struck a chord in a country that was undergoing intense political crackdown and would have embraced utterly its buoyant love and peace vibe.

From opening track Something Going On where the vocal hook to all intents and purposes sounds like 'Wiggle it, got it in...' to closer It's OK, and at every stopping station in between Telegraph Avenue never once disappoints or let's down the joyous momentum established in its first few seconds. 

Special mention goes out to penultimate track Telegraph Avenue, a five minute tribute to a five mile road that traverses San Francisco. 'Smiling faces all around you...' It's a late companion piece to Scott McKenzie's San Francisco (be sure to wear flowers in your hair). The dream in San Francisco had doubtless long curdled by this point, but not in the minds of Telegraph Avenue or the grooves of the record they made. The album lacking in your collection may well be this one.

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