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Fresh Maggots - Fresh Maggots

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Artist: Fresh Maggots

Album: Fresh Maggots

Label: Amber Soundroom

Review date: Aug. 22, 2005

In a memorable 1989 article on New Order’s Technique, New York Times critic, Jon Pareles opened by posing the question: “How cool is coldness?” Peter Saville, arbiter of the aesthetic sheen to electronic Anglophlia, cites this article both in The New Order Story and in an interview with Christopher Wilson from his book, Designed by Peter Saville, in which he relates the appeal of what Pareles called “the mass-produced secret.” Saville and his comrades at Factory Records and Les Disques du Crépuscule may not have anticipated that decades after the hush of their initial success, the fruit of their labor would be highly sought after and gathered up into the arms of fanatics new and old.

Utterly diametric to the precise remoteness of those perfectly-packaged dirges and dance anthems are the equally furtive pastoral arrangements of British folk music from the 1970s and its occasional, fitting venture into more jagged, obliquely-Pagan territory. Yet, oddly enough, these earth-dancing pied pipers have more in common with Tony Wilson’s acts than just the land they live in. Though musical neighbors they’re not, both share that element of inwardness and widespread confidentiality; listening to a good record from either of the poles might have you feeling a bit cloak-and-dagger.

It seemed improbable that 1970s UK folk music, with roots (in some appearance or another) stretching back through the mythic expanse its lyrics address, should resurface to engender renewed interest within collector circles and fledgling curiosity among the ranks of those who understood Michael Gira’s faith in Devendra Banhart (and his in Vashti Bunyan) or who discovered Gary Higgins by conduit of Six Organs of Admittance. Between the Incredible String Band’s reunion tour last year and numerous fantastic reissues from the likes of the Decca label’s Jan Dukes de Gray and Bill Fay among others, a few good people are fostering the restitution and return of the misplaced. Unlike the feigned exclusivity initially surrounding the Factory Records hubbub, followed by its new appropriation by moviegoers and club hoppers alike, these folk reissues are handled with care and are few and far between, so the gift here is that the secret is spread but still kept.

Ostensibly pushed into obscurity relatively fresh from their major label debut on RCA in 1971, Fresh Maggots were no stranger to the idea of the mass-produced secret. They were the duo of Mick Burgoyne and Leigh Dolphin, both just 19 at the time they recorded their self-titled album, and like many of their peers, more than 30 years later they’re finally reaching people again after a long stay out of print. With their full-licensing, the pair’s work has now been reissued on CD through England’s Sunbeam Records and on LP by Amber Soundroom, a German label that deserves infinite praise for its private-pressing of such folk, psychedelic and progressive albums by bands like Guru Guru, Osage Tribe, Subway, and Elonkorjuu’s masterpiece, Harvest Time, many of which saw re-release this or last year.

Needless to say, it must have been a feat for those two to come out of the studio so young with an album as layered as this. Taking on a narrative bent, Burgoyne and Dolphin perpetuate the bardic inclinations of folk music, but with the accompaniment of a haze of electric guitars blurring the delicate picking so characteristic of the form. The inclination here would be to term the album “acid folk” and leave it at that. In fact, guru of the psychedelic survey book, Richie Unterberger, calls the record “pleasant” and the songwriting “ordinary.” All pleasantries aside, this album deserves another chance.

Fresh Maggots is not as tenuous a record as one might expect for a major label offering that was not well received by the buying public upon its release. The ornamentation of the songs is remarkably mature, not just for the work of a couple of teenagers. Flutes and fragile acoustic plucking are plaited with glockenspiel and the cottony distortion of electric guitar and crescendoing violin. To tease you, “Dole Song” is a brutal amalgam of all the LP’s best elements, right at the beginning of the record. As the album swells with each track, you’ll feel as if you’ve been dropped into a weird Victorian nightmare by Peter Weir. In fact, though everything maintains an inadvertent continuity, you’re never really sure what era Fresh Maggots are traversing. “Elizabeth R” sounds close to an experiment in Elizabethan consort music, barring the dulcimers, and “Who’s to Die” is almost as Arthurian as Robert Plant’s turn in The Song Remains the Same. The unspoken promise that began Fresh Maggots is kept with the final track, “Frustration,” which contains the kind of ecstatic orchestration that exhausts you but leaves you buzzing.

This record is, in many ways, a subtle anomaly replete with textural variances and understated style glitches that are more beneficially puzzling than tiresome in their flaws. Without jumping wholeheartedly into the progressive format that other British former-folk artists like the Strawbs embraced, Fresh Maggots arrive again on the shelf with a musical intricacy that, though not labyrinthine, is as satisfying as the best of their peers.

Fresh Maggots is also available on CD from Sunbeam Records.

By Allison Wisk

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