Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dammit, Bevis

Artist: The Bevis Frond
Albums: Miasma; Inner Marshland; Triptych; New River Head; Live at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco; Valedictory Songs
Source: Promos (Miasma, Inner Marshland, Valedictory Songs); bought used (Triptych, New River Head, Live)

Most writing about music focuses squarely on quality, generally either "Is this any good?" or "Here are the reasons why this is good" (and yes, those are two different things). Less often addressed is quantity; i.e., "this may or may not be good, but either way do we need this much of it?" Some of the highest-quality artists are, not coincidentally, very reasonable when it comes to quantity--like the Beatles or Television--making it easy to be amazed by how good it is without being lost in how very, very much of it there is to swallow. Many people who like the Beatles will dig into most/all of the catalogue, whereas someone who likes the Rolling Stones may skip entire eras of the band's voluminous recorded history.

The Bevis Frond is definitely a band with a quantity problem. Between 1987 and 2004, British psych-rocker Nick Saloman has put out no fewer than 20 albums under the Bevis Frond moniker (and a few more collaborations with different names). Some are essentially solo albums, with Nick laying down his guitar-heavy statements piece by piece, and some are the product of a more-or-less steady band line-up. Nearly all feature Saloman's wonderfully melodic (usually) songwriting, head-shattering guitar prowess and knack for placing a modern edge on decidedly 60s/70s-era rock sentiments. Some of Bevis' 20 LPs are better than others, very few could fairly be called "bad," but an equal few are readily identifiable as "essential."

Artists from Jandek to Richard Thompson have presented their fans with the same problem: just how much of this can I reasonably be expected to own and listen to? An added layer of complication with Bevis is this fact that nearly every one of the band's discs contains at least one tune so good it begs for multiple plays and multiple cover versions (see the oft-covered "Lights are Changing" from the over-long Triptych album).

On the other hand, no rock collection should be without New River Head, Nick's long-playing opus from 1991. NRH manages to be all over the place and stylistically coherent, with nearly every track lodging deep into the brain. I heard the spacey "God Speed You to Earth" at a Frond concert a full 2 years before I tracked down a copy of NRH (it's since been reissued), but the tune and lyrics never left my head in the ensuing period.

There may be other Bevis pieces that are as good as NRH...but I'm not going in search of them. The Live in S.F. disc works as a good-enough career overview (the band also happens to be a killer live act), populated with many of the aforementioned great tracks from so-so albums. Get those two and you're pretty much set, but beware: there are 18 more you might be tempted to pick up in their wake.

SISOSIG? At six discs, I can't really be accused of having gone overboard on the Frond, yet I can't help but feel I've got too much. Truth be told, I almost never listen to the trio of early efforts, Miasma, Inner Marshland and Triptych; New River Head, Valedictory Songs and the live disc, on the other hand, still get frequent (and enthusiastic) plays. While the earlier three aren't really bad in any particular way, I don't think I'd be doing myself much of a disservice by ripping a few choice tunes from each and sending them out along their way.

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