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Simon Finn - Pass the Distance

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Artist: Simon Finn

Album: Pass the Distance

Label: Durtro/Jnana

Review date: Aug. 24, 2004

Released in the hazy crossfade of the late-’60s burn-out and the early-’70s tribal pyres, Simon Finn’s debut album Pass the Distance has long languished in obscurity. Put out by Vic Keary’s ill-fated Mushroom Records in 1970, it was yanked off shelves almost immediately due to some legal wrangles resulting in an extremely accelerated record store half-life. In the next three decades, it was resurrected in dodgy bootleg likenesses or prohibitively expensive original mints. All the while its composer made his way from London to Montreal, taught karate and only now has begun work on its follow-up. Thanks to the enthusiasm of Current 93’s David Tibet and his Durtro label, Finn’s troubled LP has finally been issued on CD, remastered and explained via various liner essays from Tibet, Keary, Finn himself and his collaborator David Toop.

Though he may not possess the same barbituric dexterity and unfettered invention of Syd Barrett, Finn is a fellow dark globe sage in an era of folkie sprites and gonzo longhairs. And much like Barrett’s two shambolic solo LPs – the seminal self-portrait-in-a- melting-mirror The Madcap Laughs and its follow-up, the overcompensating, quasi-narcoleptic Barrett – perhaps the definitive trait of Pass the Distance is its skeletal eccentricity. Songs lurch through psycho-ward strums accompanied by campfire third-eye improvisations. Even the two sides of the album’s cover – a lightly abstracted picture of a scrappy pair walking on a forest pathway headed to the horizon as seen from behind and its psychedelic flip-image with the two figures’ faces exploding in mask-like grimaces as the space around them flares with dreamstate hallucinations – suggests the slow crumble of liminal partitions.

Wizards, mermaids and the requisite metaphorical fauna may crop up in Finn’s lyrics, but his words mostly ring with vague bleakness made even more desperate by the singer’s absinthe-drunk channeling of Tim Buckley’s range. In near epileptic bursts Finn shatters his damaged serenading for phlegm-laden sturm und drang croaks and gasps, most notably in the album’s centerpiece – and dealmaker for Tibet – “Jerusalem.” A post-hippy mantra that swells from threadbare melancholy to caustic fervor with Finn incanting a “dropout”/”political revolutionary” Jesus who rode a lame donkey and lives on in the worship of “200 million hypocrites.” On this and the rest of Pass the Distance’s compositions, the scrawled hieroglyphic trim is provided by Paul Burwel’s ably fluid percussion and Toop’s loose dawdling on various instruments, many he was never trained on. The music-scribe-to-be’s scrapes, drones and various other freeform skiffle expertly preludes the dissections and mystical trawls that was to come from Nurse With Wound to the Jewelled Antler collective.

Mixed with maximum panning, as was de rigueur, and often warbling in an echoplexed ether, Pass the Distance is more than an unearthed relic from yesteryear’s endtimes. With the exception of the four “bonus” tracks tacked on to the CD – the shrill histrionics of “Children’s Eye” and soft-pedal pop of “Good Morning,” both sides of a projected 7”, along with solo takes on two unremarkable early Finn tunes – these 10 frayed yarns still merit study and genuflection.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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