Battered Ornaments: The Crossword and the Safety Pins + Late Into the Night
From Mantle-Piece (Harvest/EMI, 1969)
I’m a psych newbie – actually, now that I think about it, I don’t know if there’s any genre I’d dare profess expertise in. One thing about music you learn very quickly is that there’s always more to learn. This said, I really don’t know much about psych except that 1) psych collectors are not to be messed with lightly. They’ll drop mortgage loot on a record if they want it bad enough and 2) it’s appeal lies in precisely how weird yet sublime its mix of cross-genre music and mind-bending songwriting can be. I first really started to listen to psych LPs at the Groove Merchant and was introduced to this album by Shane aka Sharpshooter who first played this at a gig we shared and then I heard it again once when Cool Chris had a copy of the album at the store. (Just to quickly note: I own the American EMI issue but the OG is actually the UK-released Harvest issue for those we keep track of these sort of things).
This Battered Ornaments LP is a good “starter” album (albeit not a cheap one) for getting into psych – it’s not necessarily best in the genre but sit with this enough (especially while perhaps under the influence of some substance) and for me at least, it leaves me hungry for more. That’s what I mean by a starter album.
The bonus is that it has such a rich back story. The Battered Ornaments began as a backing group for Pete Brown (of later Cream songwriting fame) and this was to be their second album. However, Brown had a falling out with some of the other band members after they had largely recorded the entire LP. With Brown now booted, the group took all his vocals off the recording tapes and re-recorded all of them on their own. The result, some critics note, is less rich given Brown’s absence but his songwriting still lingers here and you can imagine how some of the more zooted out songs (like “Safety Pins”) might have sounded with Brown on there.
Either way, what’s impressive about this album in particular is how completely different the moods can be. Few tracks sound like any other on the LP and I pulled out two of my favorites that just happen to illustrate what I’m talking about here. “The Crossword and the Safety Pins” is this slow, sleepy, mesmerizing vocal performance underpinned by the resolute stomp of the heavy drums and the choir-like vocal accompaniment. I love how the song builds and swells over its 5.5 minutes.
Then listen to something like “Late Into the Night” which basically sounds like a spiritual jazz tune you might have expected on a Gary Bartz LP, and it’s hard to imagine them being on the same album (the acclaimed Deidre Wilson Tabac LP is much like this as well). This is such a groovin’, sweaty track, filled with an energetic pulse that makes “Safety Pins” sound even more lethargic than it already is. I like both songs, for completely different reasons. I get, you know, psyched out for ’em (har har har, sorry about that).