Finland’s Jess and the Ancient Ones exist in a sand filled snow globe from 1967–1969. The Summer of Love is still in full swing. Everyone has flowers in their hair and only the correct coloured acid has been ingested. Two years ago their “Second Psychedelic Coming” offered up a groovy trip down the rabbit hole with plenty of hand clapping and puffs of patchouli and joss sticks. Unsurprisingly “The Horse and Other Weird Tales” carries on where that album left off. Strange that I am typing this review on the day that Charles Manson shuffled off this mortal coil – not that there is anything Helter Skelter or Culty about the nine tracks on offer here. What they do have in common is an exploration of the dark side of the sixties – because whilst Jess and the Ancient Ones have flowers in their hair they are decaying!
The album was recorded and mixed by their live sound engineer and it sounds like a gig or happening rather than a studio project. The album is only 31 minutes long so there is no meandering or excess waffle. Opener “Death is the Doors” is filled with crushed velvet groove – a call to join Jess in her death cult. The track begins with Rod Sterling’s famous intro to “The Twilight Zone” “You Unlock this door with the key of imagination”. Jess voice is still as vibrant and lush as it ever were – Joplin meets Grace Slick she holds a lot of soul in her larynx. This is unleashed to full potential in “Shining” which is a Hammond led octave bending psyche-funk that needs to be go-go danced to if you want to unleash the inner tie dyed demon. (apologies for that mental image those that know me) . “Your Exploding Heads” as well as having a title that sounds like a polite Cannibal Corpse song is a big lung busting rocker in its own right. “You and Your Eyes” begins like a smoky Amy Winehouse number before some Ray Manzarak ivories lay down the vibe. I start to wonder what Joss Stone would sound like if she embraced lava lamps and hemp – probably a lot like this.
“Radio Aquarius” is a recording of philosopher Gerald Heard discussing his experience of taking LSD in 1956 laid over The Ancient Ones backing track. You just know that this band are in agreement with Mr Heard’s findings. The fact that he was also a member of the Society for Psychical Research – a place I was lucky enough to visit for a documentary in the early nineties – lends further credence to the weird tales at hand. “Return to Hallucinate” further mixes up the medicine as Jess tells us that she wants to fly and leave reality. A great funky chorus and Earl Slick style guitars propel this beauty.
“Here Comes the Rainbow Mouth” is more desert based than in the chemical induced never never. More peyote than Electric Kool Aid. I can even here smidgens of Love era Cult in there as well as Morrison and co. “Minotaure” opens with the sound of the mythical beast before we find that Jess is looking for someone lost in the labyrinth of their own mind. Her voice portrays a pained lover looking for that thread to find the lost.
The end to this trip is “Anyway the Minds Flow”. 8 minutes that remind me of Alice Cooper’s more narrative early seventies work – Ballad of Dwight Fry for example. Slightly discordant organs twist betwixt funky bassline and wah wah guitar before giving way to a harpsichord . Quite lovely. It starts with a newscaster talking about someone living within the pages of “Catcher in the Rye”. We later hear someone – I think Mark Chapman talking about life after the shootings and wanting to get his story out. If indeed it is Chapman and not any of the other killers who tried to associate themselves with Sallinger’s work, then this album ends with one of the people who truly killed off the 60’s albeit in 1980.
Jess and the Ancient Ones have yet again managed to conjure up a picture of another plane from another time and have injected that canvas with an array of colours and a soulfulness and melancholy that is deliciously bitter sweet.
(8/10 Matt Mason)