Relatively Clean Rivers
Relatively Clean Rivers


4.0
excellent

Review

by Thomas S. USER (26 Reviews)
September 17th, 2017 | 8 replies


Release Date: 1976 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Listening to this album is to slip into an idealistic reverie of simpler times.

Grab your backpack, run out the door and hop on your bicycle. You’re speeding through the streets, quaint suburbia a mere blur in your periphery. Great rows of oaks stand to attention, swaying gently in the breeze; the pavement glistens in speckled sunlight. It’s a warm Sunday afternoon. Left at Lake Avenue, kids playing on the side path; right onto Pine Grove, two small dogs on leashes; straight on ‘til Washington Street. Jump off your bike, chuck it against the peeling white weatherboard wall - you’re here. Push open the door. The old man reclines lazily behind the counter; he glances up from his Rolling Stone magazine and raises his eyebrows. Nod a greeting, walk briskly down the threadbare aisle. Up the dusty wooden stairs: one, two, three - the last is creaking worse than ever. Music plays softly in the overhead stereo… The Velvet Underground, maybe" Start thumbing through records. Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane - Christ, isn’t there anything new here" - The Beatles, Crosby, Stills & Nash… Hang on, what’s this" At the very back of the crate, a vibrant technicolour sleeve lies covered in dust. Wipe the jacket clean, read the title aloud: ‘Relatively Clean Rivers’.

Such is the mythology that surrounds Relatively Clean Rivers sole release. Privately pressed and limited to just a handful of copies, the album seemed doomed to obscurity - another artefact from the unhinged, dope-fuelled experimentation of mid-’70 West Coast counterculture. It was delegated to the back of the record store, destined to rot in a stinking pile of musical curiosities, until an enterprising group of vinyl enthusiasts pulled it back from the edge of oblivion. As it turns out, they’d struck gold. Over time, whispers became rumours and rumours became legend: a forgotten hippy-folk masterpiece - mysteriously self-produced and rare as hens’ teeth - had been unearthed, and any self-respecting psychedelic aficionado needed to hear it. Today, original pressings of Relatively Clean Rivers self-titled album sell for around $1000US, and constitute the crown jewel in many record collections.

If anything, four decades of sleuthing has only contributed to the legend. As it turns out, Relatively Clean Rivers is the pet sound of Phil Pearlman, an Orange County native who grew to prominence jamming psychedelic improvisations with both The Beat of the Earth (1967) and Electronic Hole (1970). Relatively Clean Rivers was largely written and recorded by Pearlman himself, with small instrumental contributions from friends and former bandmates. In an effort to gain an audience, rumour has it Phil would “reverse shoplift” the album by hiding it among the shelves of record stores. Following its release, Pearlman relocated to property in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains, established a goat farm and - in contrast to the tenacity of his final album - faded away into obscurity.

Listening to this album is to slip into an idealistic reverie of simpler times. It feels like a sepia-toned Linklater film; dazed and confused, blissful, baking in the California sun. The pastural acoustics and lackadaisical harmonies of ‘Easy Ride’ recall Crazy Horse-era Neil Young. ‘Hello Sunshine’ begins in much the same way; it isn’t until the bridge - awash with primeval flutes and backwards guitar riffs - that you realise Relatively Clean Rivers covers decidedly more experimental territory. In fact, Pearlman happily wanders off the beaten path into sprawling psych-tinged wilderness at the drop of a hat. The soothing acoustic instrumental ‘Last Flight to Eden’ shows Pearlman at his most focused and restrained; with ‘Prelude’, he samples and reverses the entire track, as if disappointed by his capitulation to normative songwriting. It’s this dichotomy of structure and improvisation that forms the mesmerising spine of this album. ‘Through the Valley of O’ is the standout track because it most perfectly embodies this tension. It’s a stale bluesy two-chorder in anyone else’s hands, but Pearlman only manages a single lilting verse before meandering into another heady, contemplative jam. Towards the end of the song - in full-blown Grateful Dead mode - he asks himself, ‘would I walk away to paradise or keep on playin’ the game"’ Well Phil, the proof is in the pudding: if you’ve proven anything with Relatively Clean Rivers, it’s that you can do both.



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user ratings (5)
Chart.
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
brainmelter
September 17th 2017


6231 Comments


pos, will listen

Digging: You and I - The Curtain Falls

verdant
Staff Reviewer
September 17th 2017


2364 Comments


this is a fucking fantastic review, will check but it seems like the type of thing i'd struggle to find. well done!

tombits
September 17th 2017


3542 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks dudes, first review in a long while! I don't think I spent enough time actually describing the sound of the album, but the narrative behind it was far too compelling to ignore. I didn't include it in the review because it isn't that relevant, but Phil Pearlman's son ended up creating propaganda for fuckin' Osama Bin Ladan. He was charged with treason in 2006 and killed in a drone strike in 2015. The New Yorker published a great piece on it (which also delves into some tasty Relatively Clean Rivers history): https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/01/22/azzam-the-american



Luckily for us it's since been repressed, it's now all over Youtube and Spotify: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6h-rQmyaag



I think the album is a 4.5, but only because it ticks a bunch of personal preference boxes for me. 'Babylon' is probably the only real weakness, the rest is pretty bang on.





SandwichBubble
September 17th 2017


9245 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Did not expect this review. Great job

Digging: Little Claw - Moss Has Fangs

tombits
September 17th 2017


3542 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks man! Hope a few more people come across it, I reckon it's a forgotten classic.

verdant
Staff Reviewer
September 18th 2017


2364 Comments


thanks for providing the link tom,,,, really hope for you to be more active :~~)

tombits
September 18th 2017


3542 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

cheers jack, i've been real slack over the last couple of yeahs, so i'm gonna make a concerted effort to write more reviews. forgot how rewarding it feels!

MotokoKusanagi
September 18th 2017


1700 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

not sure how I've never heard of this, very good stuff



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