Review Summary: An off-the-wall aural pleasure
The 1970s were a veritable playground for mania and mysticism in music. Few records buffer this claim more aptly than Jan Dukes de Grey’s sophomore effort, Mice and Rats in the Loft
, one of the era’s more feral and bizarre opuses.
Released in June 1971, a little less than two years after the emergence of the band’s musically competent, yet naïve debut Sorcerers
, Mice and Rats…
finds the trio embracing more progressive and improvisational leanings as well as a pronounced taste for the deranged.
Drummer Denis Conlan joins multi-instrumentalists Derek Noy and Michael Bairstow on this outing as they careen wildly from genre to genre across three lengthy compositions. His romping rhythms back fervent acoustic guitars, violins and a barrage of countless wind instruments on the colossal opener 'Sun Symphonica', which transitions gracefully between pastoral geniality and grinding orchestral heights throughout its 19 minute duration.
'Call of the Wild' begins in the guise of a slightly more conventional folk style before gradually sinking into thick reverb and darker overtones. An album highlight is the dissonant tremolo-picked riff that appears intermittently in the song’s latter half, mimicking some nascent form of atmospheric black metal. A riotous saxophone solo and a dancing flute overpower it a few times, but it re-emerges to round out the song’s final minute.
Hallucinogenic vocal passages pepper this largely instrumental work, mostly manifesting as melismatic wailings that enliven oddball lyrics (“Kangaroos under your feet…”?). They can require some getting used to, needless to say. The vocals reach their apex in the closing title track as they detail a grisly scene of ritual sacrifice while soaking in a bath of wah-wah-laden guitar.
Comparisons are frequently drawn between Mice and Rats…
and Comus’ 1971 debut with good reason. The sinister and unconventional approach to folk music epitomized by First Utterance
is certainly discernable here as well. Perhaps, the distinction lies in the accessibility of the music.
Make no mistake, Mice and Rats…
plunges confidently into shadowy mayhem on many occasions. However, the groovy wickedness is balanced regularly by numerous moments of playful hippie weirdness, something Comus’ masterpiece never fully explored, even in its sunniest moments.
It’s true that these tracks risk overstaying their welcome in some places. Thankfully, Jan Dukes de Grey manages to skirt many period prog-rock trappings in favor of developing their own brand of violent psychedelic inventiveness. This creativity combined with an unabashed eccentricity makes Mice and Rats in the Loft
a world worth exploring again and again.