Pleasure Maps - Sand Pebbles (Kasumen Records)
Have The Sand Pebbles made a bad album? I’ve heard or own half of them and they’re full of some of the most surreally fascinating, textured and immersive psychedelic music to come from an Australian band in the last 20 years. “Pleasure Maps” continues what’s more a body-of-work than a discernible progression.
A rant by Bruce Milne on Facebook initially piqued my interest. The ex-Au Go Go label/shop head posted his instant, first listen take-out that “Pleasure Maps” was killer. Patrick Emery’s review below takes it from there. I’ll just try to add something else.
The Sand Pebbles are a six-piece with a relatively stable core membership that’s become a long-running if not regularly visible fixture on the Melbourne music scene.
“Pleasure Maps” runs from lush psych (“I Heard The Owl Call My Name”) to folky pop (“Lovers’ Love”) all the way back to shimmering rock pop (most of the others.) Occasional augmentation (lots of cello, keys, Amaya Laucircia’s wonderful backing vocals) adds to the layers of sound.
There’s a sense that The Sand Pebbles are a band that plays and/or records only when they are in the mood and have something to say. Rotating the vocals between guitarists Tor Larsen, Andrew Tanner and Malcolm McDowell adds tonal variety. Obvious mastery of the studio - and myriad guitar effects - do the rest.
These are great songs, most of them co-written by various band members with TV scriptwriter and bassist Christopher Hollow. They sprawl, twist and turn and resist categorisation.
Lush sound abounds but you can always see (hear) shafts of light piercing their way through. These are long songs - “Friendlier Advice” tops 10 minutes - but you won’t notice. Case in point is the cover of “Oh! Sweet Nuthin!” that closes the CD version of “Pleasure Maps”. A Velvets cover? Really? Fortune favours the brave. It actually is a match for the original and a sublime duet, simultaneously dark and shiny.
Dunno if a comparison to The Church, sonically speaking, rings true or would go down very well with the band - Kilbey and Co sometimes disappeared up their own arses in their mid-period but appear to have asserted themselves in their dotage. There’s a parallel that both bands don’t feel obliged to lock themselves into one musical idiom. - The Barman
Conceived somewhere between Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, the Neighbours writing room and the half-back flank at VFL Park, Sand Pebbles have always been something of an enigma.
Befitting a band made up of record nerds who could discern seven separate strands of freak in every lost '60s beat, Sand Pebbles bestowed upon themselves the descriptor "flower punk"; the flower was the inspiring melody, punk the defiant attitude.
Sand Pebbles didn’t embark on a proper tour until over 10 years into their life. And when they did, the band imploded. In the midst of a wave of internal tranquillity, the band got together to record an album. Again, consistent with cult artists of yore, old tensions spilled to the surface, but thankfully not enough to hinder the release of the album a couple of years later.
“Pleasure Maps” is a Sand Pebbles record through and through. It’s replete with blooming melodies of the ‘60s generation, infused with Andrew Tanner and Tor Larsen’s crisp melodies. "Desire Lines" is a collage of psychedelic groove and synthesiser atmospherics, the Summer of Love in a Manchester basement.
"Green God" is the Sand Pebbles in a nut shell: intertwining melodies on a blank sonic canvass, Larsen’s falsetto vocals and a peak into paradise. "I Heard the Owl" is the Velvet Underground pinned on serotonin; somewhere in another world Lou Reed is tapping his foot to "Lovers Love" with a thin smile.
You can hear a bit of Billy Duffy loitering around the edges of "Spilt Wine", waiting to crash at a spare room in Laurel Canyon. "Morning Skies" is an early morning dip in the surf, a lost Doors demo playing in the background and Sky Saxon preaching trans-cultural awareness. David Crosby’s freak flag flies high in "Another Wish"; "Friendlier Advice" is a 10-minute trip on the lysergic-paved way to enlightenment. “This is a song to help you,” Tanner and Larsen harmonise. It’s an extended moment of beauty when stars align, hands are held, all that bad shit in the world disappears from sight. We wish.
The album concludes with Amaya Laurcirica and Tanner trading verses in the Sand Pebbles’ cover of the Velvet Underground’s "Oh! Sweet Nuthin’". It’s so elegant and enticing you can almost ignore the emotional desolation at the song’s foundation. Sand Pebbles are one of a kind. This is an album of unbridled pleasure.