Alexander Spence - Oar - Review
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critics' view

No one except psychedelic Renaissance man Alexander "Skip" Spence could have created an album such as Oar. Alternately heralded as a "soundtrack to schizophrenia" and a "visionary solo effort," Oar became delegated to cut-out and bargain bins shortly after its release in the spring of 1969. However, those who did hear it were instantly drawn into Spence's inimitable sonic surrealism. As his illustrious past in the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Moby Grape would suggest, this album is a warped blend of acid folk and far-out psychedelic rock. While these original compositions do draw heavily from those genres, each song has the individuality of a fingerprint, and Spence performed and produced every sound on the album himself at Columbia studios in Nashville in the space of less than two weeks. This burst of creativity was directly preceded by a six-month incarceration in New York City's Bellevue Hospital after chopping down a door at the Albert Hotel en route to do the same to fellow Moby Grape members Jerry Miller's and Don Stevenson's doors. A common motif to this album is the presence of saints and demons. Even the straightforward narratives such as the love ballads "Broken Heart" and "Cripple Creek" — which feature vocal treatments reminiscent of folkie Fred Neil — are bathed in unusual chord sequences and lyrical double-entendre. The majority of the sounds on this long player remain teetering near the precipice of sanity. Primary examples include "War in Peace," the epic "Grey/Afro," and the sound effect-laden "Books of Moses." Comparisons have been made to Syd Barrett, John Lennon, and Frank Zappa — the latter especially for the intense sonic collage techniques displayed on albums such as Lumpy Gravy and Civilization Phase III.

Lindsay Planer
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