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Album Reviews

The Sandoz Tapes Mystery

Regardless of any mystery surrounding this release, it is a record that deserves your time.

Writing a press release is an art. Here at Sun 13, we receive literally hundreds of these a week, each one trying its very best to grab our attention and persuade us to give a new band or release some attention and a review.

Some seem pushier than others and some go to great lengths to explain why a particular new record is the greatest thing since the last greatest thing. Some are enticing while others seek to shock. But they all have one thing in common, they all contain a good deal of information designed to grab the attention of those who can help to promote a product.

But then along comes The Sandoz Tapes, an album that carries with it no publicity shots, no information, not even a bloody band name to let us know who is responsible.

I am reminded of a tale told by John Peel, talking about something that occurred as punk exploded across the country. He said that before punk happened, he would receive a few demo tapes each week, each loving wrapped in illustrated envelopes and accompanied by elaborate artwork and long essays written by earnest young men explaining the inspiration behind the song and how they thought the band fitted into the cosmos. He also said that the vast majority of them were awful.

Peel went on to explain that after punk happened, he received dozens, if not hundreds, of demo tapes a week, some wrapped in toilet paper with a note that said, ‘if you don’t like it you can pretty much fuck off!’ The majority of these, Peel said, were very good.

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The similarities here are that, after wading through my inbox and deleting anything with the words ‘nu-metal revivalists’ in the subject, I do like to listen to a selection of what we have been sent. To be honest, a lot of this does not inspire me to fire up my laptop and write an article or a review. But then along came a link to The Sandoz Tapes and the lack of any discernible information piqued my interest. And yes, it falls very firmly into the “very good” category. And then some.

Regardless of any mystery surrounding this release, it is a record that deserves your time. And more than that, it demands your commitment.

The Sandoz Tapes is a sprawling, immense album that takes us on a journey through psychedelia, Kraut-rock, ’60s grooves and epic rock. It sounds like the creation of people who have lived a long and varied musical life and are somehow channelling their entire journey into a single offering.

It is also the work of some highly inventive and possibly slightly off-kilter minds.

The album is one long track that is broken into several songs (perhaps ‘phases’ would be a better description) that travel far over a rich musical landscape. It starts slowly, with what sounds like a Hammond organ mixed with radio static. The drums kick in and we are placed somewhere between ’60s psychedelia and modern psych music. Disembodied voices from radio broadcasts float in and out as keyboards swirl around us. The sound is somewhat mature, meaning that we would put money on The Sandoz Tapes not being the work of a new, young band. This is music with baggage.

Phases one and two are connected by drum loops and the landscape shifts slightly. The music now puts me in mind of sitting on the floor at one of Pink Floyd’s UFO club ‘happenings’ in the early lysergic days of the British psychedelic scene. There is great atmosphere contained in these grooves, despite there not being a great amount of instrumentation being used. The Sandoz Tapes is a triumph of the less is more school of thought. 

A noir feel runs through proceedings so far, and indeed The Sandoz Tapes would make a perfect soundtrack to a dimly lit cinematic journey into the ’60s counter culture.

From here things slow down a little with a loop of almost ambient noise before a Beatles-when-they-were-on-drugs number starts up, carrying on the psych lineage still further. The music slowly grows as it develops until it fills your head like a widescreen oil wheel.  Just when we think we are walking a linear path, the next phase here brings the psych treatments forward in time, with an almost Sabres of Paradise feel, featuring treated bursts of white noise and other found sounds.

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Suddenly, we find ourselves on more conventional ground, with a cyclical guitar line and bass offering some sort of normality only for this to be accompanied by barely there drums and more background noise. Normal things like orthodox song structures are instinctively avoided and the sound and feel is all that counts.

Around the 20 minute mark, we are journey into something that sounds almost Bunnymen-esque, maybe there’s a clue there as to who is behind all of this. But again, the rug is pulled from under our feet and the music turns on the spot and becomes, yet again, something else. This time I hear echoes of Recurring-era Spacemen 3 and a more modern take on the psych genre. The effect is both uplifting and soporific at the same time.

The album finishes, as you might expect, with a comedown. For all highs there is a corresponding low and on The Sandoz Tapes this takes the form of a brooding, oppressive phase where lethargy reigns but sleep is still far away.

When the music comes to a close, it is easy to feel like we have been on a journey through both time and emotions. That this album manages to convey so much in just over half an hour is incredible and is, once again, testament to the minds responsible for creating this incredible piece of work.

It is only when we get to the end that we realise the album has been completely instrumental. The music contained in The Sandoz Tapes is so complete that at no time are the vocals missed, the music here has enough to hold your attention and your imagination.

The Sandoz Tapes is available to buy from Bandcamp here.

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