Ash Ra Tempel – Seven Up
Words || Jack Cameron Stanton
The record Seven Up is a psychedelic wonderland. Flashes of excitement, the coalescing of myriad genres, and times of gratuitous grooviness deliver an album that demands to be listened in full, as one big disorientating whirlwind. But were Ash Ra Tempel really innovative musical astronauts, or just a little bit too ‘inspired’ by all the LSD?
The answer: well, a bit of both.
Released in 1973, Seven Up was named after a bottle of soft drink laced with LSD that the band shared. This name seems fitting considering the spacey, atmospheric production of the album. On the A Side, ‘Space’, the song ‘Downtown’ plods along with a catchy stoner rock vibe and moaning, blues-inspired vocals. Think Electric Wizard’s song ‘Funerapolis’, minus the distortion. Indeed from the onset, Ash Ra Tempel nod at their blues origins via the occasional guitar solo, and these melodic reprieves are one of the record’s redeeming qualities.
It begins with some really sweet vibes. I mean, repetitive vocals aside, ‘Power Drive’ is catchy as hell, even though the production is awfully trebley and metallic.
Then, between songs, the record falls into a ghostly ‘white noise’, and the listening experience can become quite eerie. If you are a patient listener, you won’t mind these prolonged lapses into soundscape, but personally I think it is a bit of overkill. A couple of times in the record they emulate the rising crescendo that preludes a DMT hallucination. I think these moments are raw psychedelic fetishism and seldom add a musical edge. Rather, Timothy Leary’s pro-drug sentiments manifest as rampant. Ten minutes through ‘Space’ there is a crescendo, increasing in tempo and dynamic, only to dissipate, unresolved, leaving you guessing at what’s next to come. And then, incredibly, you are treated with a bouncy, carefree, B-52’s bouncy new wave sound. Needless to say the arrangement will leave many perplexed.
‘Time’, the B-side, offers a serene reprieve about five minutes in, where a tinkling prettiness pans from side to side and, for the first time, you relax, ease into the record.
But this moment is brief and sinister droning guitar and what sounds like sleigh bells infect the melodic, uh, ‘interlude,’ and we return into a vapid white noise. Which goes on, mind you, for another ten minutes, until the band builds up this colossal wall of noise, with primal moans, rhythmic guitar, falsetto harpy calls, and the ever growing static that we (I), by now, have come to dread.
What I’m getting at is the overall product of Seven Up is very fractured and therefore no doubt divisive. It switches songs with static evocative of tuning a radio – admittedly a cute touch, but it tires from overuse and eventually becomes something you anticipate with dread. Never do the songs seem to full emerge from the spaciness, which means overall Seven Up makes for a challenging listen, and the amount of time spent listening to featureless noise can definitely stress or frustrate the listener. But at the same time it really does have moments of excellence, especially in the first fifteen minutes of ‘Time’, which are gratuitously ethereal and floating.
This album is best enjoyed with: two blotters of high-powered acid, impenetrable solitude (a cabin in the mountains), and oblivion.
Review – Anthony
Ash Ra Tempel – Seven Up is split into an A side and B side with several tracks on each side. The individual tracks are quite hard to distinguish from each other as there is no discernable start or end. The album as a whole is a mix of sounds with an experimental edge stuck in between a variety of different genres from rock and roll to blues etc.
A Side -Time
The first track on the album ‘downtown’ is what I would describe as ambient space blues which is basically a strange mix of experimental sounds on top of a normal blues track. I’m not quite sure that all the distorted sounds add anything positive to the song. At about three minutes in the vocals stop and the track morphs into a jarring wall of distorted noise in the transition to the next song. The next track ‘power drive’ features rock vocals and similar distortion noises smacked on to and worked in throughout the song. The song ends in the same style of the first and rather un-noteworthy. The rest of Side A – Time passes as I tune out.
B Side – Space
The B Side – Space is much easier to listen to and in my view much better than ‘Time’. I felt quite refreshed when the B Side – Space came on as it was a welcome change from ambient experimental noise of ‘Time’. The first track on Space ‘timeship’ sounds like slow funky Blues, with nice long ambient echoey vocals that add to the song nicely and makes an enjoyable tune. This is the first track on the album with some sense to it and gives me a relieved sense of hope. Unfortunately, this is when the enjoyment stopped. In the transition into the next song ‘neuron’ the vocals fade and chaotic unfriendly noises resume like on Time. After this I am pretty done with the album and I have all all the information I need to review the album (I did give it a fair chance by listening in its entirety 2-3 times).
I don’t really get the concept of the album. I mean, I understand the genre of krautrock to a brief degree but I don’t understand what makes the genre enjoyable and why or how people consider this genre good. Seven Up is definitely not in my taste and for me, it is too weird and lacking structure and sense.
I am rating the album a 3.5/5 mainly being generous because the album is produced well and works together nicely. I can see other people enjoying it, just not me.
Review – Nicolas Nalbandian
Few embody the psychedelic spirit of 70’s acid rock in the way Ash Ra Temple do. Seven Up captures their many different faces and attempts to stitch them together into a coherent whole. Do they pull it off or were they too acid-slops?
Hooks and beats shine like piercing lights through a dense fog of spacey effects and ambling ambient interludes. The A-side ‘Space’ doesn’t reflect any real psychedelic edge until halfway through, with ultra-chilled blues opener ‘Downtown’ and plodding krautrock jam ‘Power Drive’. Whispered voices and effects then shift the focus from traditional songwriting to a ghostly sonic journey, combining with rough, thin production indicative of their DIY, drug-fueled exploratory approach.
Repetitive, rhythmic strumming and unusual guitar experiments combine with a long-form, through-composed structure to kick off the B-side ‘Time’. Cascades and crescendos follow, giving a sense of direction despite frequent spoken word and hazy meanderings. I found the emerging blues riffs and unintelligible vocals satisfying when they emerged from the lengthy soundscapes. Unpolished production towards the end of the B-side produces a jarring sense of perspective, with spoken vocals harshly grating above amplified guitars and kick drums to give a surreal aural experience subtly emulating their sources of inspiration.
I’m hearing plenty of contemporary bands draw on diverse vintage sounds, combining eras, fusing philosophies and forging new interpretations through well-informed revivals. With this said, innovative bands making whole albums of un-radio-worthy music that’s still listenable are few and far between.
I dig this sound and recommend it to those looking to explore the psych-rock spectrum a little further than recent, tame (impala) appropriations.