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From the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

Oar

Alexander 'Skip' Spence

1969

Oar

Album Summary

Oar is the only solo studio album by American rock musician Skip Spence, released on May 19, 1969 by Columbia Records. It was recorded over seven days in December 1968 in Nashville, and features Spence on all of the instruments. Described as "one of the most harrowing documents of pain and confusion ever made", the album was recorded after Spence had spent six months in Bellevue Hospital. Spence had been committed to Bellevue following a delusion-driven attempt to attack Moby Grape bandmates Don Stevenson and Jerry Miller with a fire axe. At the time of Spence's release from hospital, he had written a number of songs that he wanted to record. Producer David Rubinson suggested that Spence record at the Columbia studios in Nashville, where there was a particularly patient recording engineer, Mike Figlio. Rubinson instructed Figlio to keep the tapes running at all times, to record everything that Spence did. The majority of the tracks were recorded using a three-track recorder. Rubinson chose to stay away from the studio, concerned that Spence's recording activities would be distracted by the presence of a producer. According to Spence, the Nashville sessions were intended by him to only be a demo, which he gave to Rubinson with the intent that the songs would be fleshed out with full production for the actual album. Instead, Rubinson had the demo recordings released by Columbia. When first released, Oar was not promoted by Columbia Records, despite pleadings from Rubinson. It was at the time the lowest-selling album in Columbia Records history and was deleted from the Columbia catalogue within a year of its release.

Wikipedia

Rating

2.51

Votes

5026

Genres

  • Psychedelic Rock
  • Folk
Reviews
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View Author
Wed Jan 27 2021
4

Well, this is an interesting one, and I'm trying to figure out the context and time that it's from. I've not heard of this album or this person before. I'm hearing Leonard Cohen, Richard Hawley, Sufjan Stevens and the Flaming Lips. Some neat guitar work and psychedelic elements. I started reading about the history of this album. This was made in 1969, and it feels like a blueprint for a lot of the music I've enjoyed over the years. I started playing this album as I got on I-95 this morning and it didn't register for me until "Weighted Down (The Prison Song). The album is getting scratchy and his voice feels like it's struggling. It's an album that documents a time where the musician is going through some serious psychological trauma. And forgive me, but I'm really enjoying this beautiful breakdown.

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Mon Jun 14 2021
2

This starts a nicely melodic psychedelic folk country album with lots of creative songs. Then at about Afro/Grey is steers toward a much more random sequence of "songs". Takes a bit hit at the midway point.

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Fri Jun 25 2021
4

Had never heard of Skip and doing a bit of pre-reading I was ready to dismiss this out of hand. It's a surprising one, there's a variety of stuff on here and it never felt samey. War in Peace sounds like something Radiohead would produce and there's a range in his voice which adds to the appeal. Seems like Skip had a difficult life and you can feel it in some of these songs. It's not in any way polished but maybe that's part of the appeal. Overall, I enjoyed this.

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Thu Aug 12 2021
4

the dude is great, sometimes im surprised that everything on the album is him considering the diversity of singing and instrumentals, cant say all songs on the album are great but enough are

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Fri Oct 15 2021
4

Fragile, tender, warm, haunted, fragmented in parts, with a very odd soundstage - drums (where they appear) way over one side - a singular album, an enriching and challenging listen

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Thu Oct 21 2021
4

jesus, how fuckin' gone was this guy? (i looked him up after i wrote that...pretty fuckin' gone, i guess.) this was a rhythmically interesting album, which at times bordered on rhythmically challenging. and melodically challenging. but it ultimately won me over simply because it seemed so genuine, and not just the stoned ramblings of some egotist.

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Thu May 06 2021
1

Composed after a stay in mental hospital

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Fri May 28 2021
1

A talentless retarded hobo.

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Sun Dec 20 2020
5

From the beginning, this is a biased perspective. I read Gibson's essay on Spence's pants while I listened to the front twelve, and I have a weakness for Gibson. Also read Spence's biography, of course, but the album ended up being far less devastating than I expected. That's a good sign for music, generally. Wasn't sure how much to like it, then found my attention being pulled to a huge number of songs compared to normal. Pretty much perfect arc, if at a shallow angle.

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Tue Aug 10 2021
4

I'm not sure what I expected, after reading about this album and then checking out other reviews. But this is pretty fantastic. Setting aside Spence's personal struggles for a moment, which necessarily underpin any discussion of this work, it's just really good. He floats pretty effortlessly from folk to psychedelic to bluesy rock, ethereal to dour. Spence is a talented guitarist with an interesting vocal range. It also appears he wrote, arranged and played these songs without much assistance from his producer, which is actually impressive. The fact that these songs were essentially demos works for them and the stripped down sound has allowed the album to age quite well. The only song that seems very much of the era is the first song, "Little Hands." The lyrics overall range from whimsical to disjointed and abstract, sometimes beautifully poetic. Consider them in terms of Spence's struggles, and some of them are pretty heartbreaking. This is the first album generated for me so far that surprised me in a really positive way. I will be listening to this one a lot in the future. Fave songs: Weighted Down, War in Peace, Grey/ Afro

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Mon Jul 11 2022
4

And here I was complaining about Taylor Swift's inclusion on this list. As much as the 1001 albums book is lost when it comes to *recent* masterpieces, its writers know their stuff about the past, at least when it comes the rock genre. Alexander "Skip" Pence's *Oar* is indeed a hidden treasure--a bold, raw, often visionary statement from an artist on the brink of madness. Moby Grape being a rock band I find horribly bland and unoriginal compared to its more famous peers from the sixties, I would never have thought of checking out this solo effort from one of their most deranged members without this 1001 album project. And because of haunting songs such as "Little Hands", "Diana" and "Book Of Moses", I'm so glad I did now. Some of Spence's cuts here even pave the way towards the future, from the proto-krautrock-tinged "Gray/Afro" to the pre-Radiohead-like "War In Peace" and its awe-inducing chord changes and guitar flourishes. Interspersed between those highlights are a number of songs going from the eccentric to the downright sinister, with a voice that's unpredictable from one track to the next. The whole is thus an uncompromising picture of the psychological hardships this American Syd Barrett went through. His life story is a very sad one, but at least we can rejoice he was able to leave this recording, a very unique one, in all senses of the word. Madness being a part of the human experience, all of this makes *Oar* a compelling album, both musically and artistically. So I'm happy I can now place this one next to other misunderstood folk misfits or psychedelic oucasts such as Barrett, Nick Drake, Mark Fry, and The Incredible String Band. Thanks, Dimery and co. Number of albums left to review or just listen to: 863 Number of albums from the list I find relevant enough to be mandatory listens: 75 (including this one) Albums from the list I *might* include in mine later on: 34 Albums from the list I will certainly *not* include in mine (many others are more important): 29

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Fri Aug 26 2022
4

A curious album, seemingly classic late sixties folky singer songwriter fare but as the album progresses an experimental undertone begins to appear, as if he’s on the cusp of a musical breakthrough. One to dive into further.

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Thu Feb 25 2021
3

Interesting stuff - sort of a Nick Drake vibe, but with a bit more psychedelia thrown in. 3-4 stars. Big fan of 'Broken Heart'

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Thu Mar 18 2021
3

"hey what if we put only the drums in the right channel and everything else in the left"

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Mon Oct 04 2021
2

"What if every single folk album from the 60s except maybe slightly more dull?" It seems like Skip was just noodling around, thinking about maybe writing a few songs, and someone accidentally recorded it. AND YET SOMEHOW THERE'S LIKE 90 MINUTES OF ALBUM HERE. I forgot every song literally 2 seconds after it ended.

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Thu Feb 18 2021
1

Sounded like a mumbling pub singer

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Fri Jul 16 2021
5

It's a really weird experience

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Wed Sep 08 2021
5

Wow! I didn't know this album. It's fantastic.

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Wed Jul 06 2022
5

I do not own a copy of this album and had not listened to it for a long time. True sixties classic from a musician who was obviously very talented. The kind of psychedelic rock that is still very accessible, as it is mixed with strong and classic song-writing.

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Wed Jul 27 2022
5

Why do I like this album? Muddy vocals, muddy instruments. It's the ultimate late night, stupendously drunk, sad but containing sardonic humour, epic. I hear Jeff Buckley, then I hear Tom Waits! This is the poster child for pain producing great art. This is the reward for sponsoring 1001 albums. I'd never heard anything about this man before.

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Sun Jul 31 2022
5

Fell in love with this lovely bit of wierdness pretty quickly...messy, incoherent, mumbling foolishness at its best...

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Wed Sep 14 2022
5

Yes… Hahaha… Yes!

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Mon Sep 14 2020
4

Pretty good psych rock album - not exactly my favorite genre/time period, but it was still really good

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Sat Oct 10 2020
4

War in Peace best song. Pretty interesting

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Fri Jun 04 2021
4

Very interesting listen and one of my new favorites from this list so far. The sound of an accomplished songwriter...losing his mind.

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Fri Jan 22 2021
4

Jhonny cash? are you there?

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Thu Feb 25 2021
4

Gostosin

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Thu Feb 18 2021
4

Some great tracks and some filler at best

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Fri May 07 2021
4

Very chill album, good for background while working. Song 2 is a banger

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Thu May 27 2021
4

Surprised by how much I enjoyed this album I had never heard of. Perfect soundtrack for an early morning walk at sunrise.

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Thu Jun 10 2021
4

This album was like a rollercoaster for me. Shifting between super melodic, reverby tenor vocals layered on top of one bass note at a time to chanting with a snare drum to almost pre-rock ballads you can picture playing on a piano with a lone spotlight overhead. Overall a beautiful album, interesting to read about 'Skip' Spence's life while playing through.

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Fri Nov 26 2021
4

Added!

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Thu Dec 30 2021
4

Had been holding off on listening to this one, for fear that it would be too bleak or upsetting, based on some of the description. Surprisingly light and pleasant, definitely one to revisit with a more analytical eye.

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Sun Mar 20 2022
4

Very varied, moving between country, rock, psychedelic and more. Not heard this before,really fresh sounds

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Fri Apr 01 2022
4

Ok, this is the type of record that leaves me speechless. It's just beautiful. Listen to this album if you haven't already.

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Fri Apr 29 2022
4

I would say this album is very interesting, and I enjoyed listening to it. I feel like I would enjoy something from Skip that wasn't solo, so I will have to check out more work previous to this.

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Thu Jul 14 2022
4

I like it, though others in this genre I think are better. I need to spend more time tuned in to the lyrics, but overall, a good piece. I wonder how/why I've never known about this record.

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Thu Jul 28 2022
4

For whatever reason, I'm fascinated by albums created by artists going through some type of mental crisis or breakdown. Syd Barrett's solo work, Big Star's Third, Brian Wilson, Jay Bennett after he parted ways with Wilco. This is one I hadn't heard before, although strangely enough I knew of the album for another reason. I'm a huge fan of the Replacements, who were discovered by a guy named Peter Jesperson, who managed a record store in Minneapolis called Oar Folkjokeopus, which was named after this album and Folkjokeopus, an album by Roy Harper. Having said all that, when I saw this pop up I was intrigued. As expected, it's a really uneven album with moments of brilliance. Not all great, but enough recognizable musical genius and interest here to give it 4 stars.

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Wed Aug 24 2022
4

To me this is just a normal album

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Fri Aug 26 2022
4

This was a solid country rock psychedelic album. Skip Spence certainly has an ear for creating a darker atmosphere. It’s a shame his career was so short lived, he was clearly doing something that added to the psychedelia genre, once that feels bloated even as early as 1969. The back half of the album was more experimental and reminded me of 90s alternative and indie type music, certainly ahead of its time.

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Sun Aug 28 2022
4

Avery interesting album that quickly draws you in with its relaxed folk vibe, interesting arrangements and excellent, idiosyncratic vocals. Then you read the back story, discover that Skip produced and played every sound on the album and it becames apparent that this is the work of a singular talent. I'm on my second listen and I anticipate many more in the coming months. 4 stars.

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Sun Oct 09 2022
4

I quite enjoyed this one. Pretty raw and unpolished in a lot of places but I think that really adds to the appeal. I love the psychedelic and chaotic nature of quite a few of these songs, and I think I'll come back to this album. Favourite: Grey/Afro

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Mon Oct 17 2022
4

What an interesting album. In parts his singing reminds me of Leonard Cohen, in parts I can't place it! Some of the songs flow in together, some feel like different albums entirely Saved tracks: Margaret-Tiger Rug, Weighted Down (The Prison Song), War In Peace, Dixie Peach Promenade (Yin for Yang), Grey/Afro

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Mon Nov 14 2022
4

This was a very interesting new discovery for me. Folk music that evolves into psychedelic /experimental rock that foreshadows many of today’s best Indie acts like Radiohead and Sparklehorse. I hear a Not of Nick Drake here also. Skip was way ahead of his time and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was met with a muted reaction when it was released in the 60s.

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Thu Dec 01 2022
4

Hard to put a finger on why I found this record appealing. Sometimes creepy and odd, others haunting and odd. But usually some odd involved. Highlight: Broken Heart

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Fri Dec 02 2022
4

Interesting, inconsistent some freaky stuff here. Never heard of this guy before - this is what I signed up for

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Wed Dec 14 2022
4

Well, this was interesting. I had never heard of this artist or this album. In learning more about the artist, I understand he wrote much of this album while in a mental hospital after having a delusional episode, which is heartbreaking. This album starts out with a country twang, and I thought I knew what I was dealing with, but it quickly devolves into something very different - soft, mumbling, almost comprehensible vocals over soft, almost low-fi guitar. The production is very minimal (I understand these were recorded all at once, and it does sound quite raw.) The guitar playing is quite good. As the album evolves/devolves, you can suddenly hear something almost like Elliot Smith or Bonnie Prince Billy emerging from what started out as a country rock/folk album. It's weird, it's sad, and it's interesting. I am not sure I would want to listen to it frequently but I will say - it's not boring. It's hard to know whether this album influenced later indie sounds, given that I had literally never heard of it, but perhaps Skip is a musician's musician and this has been an important album? It made it onto the list. I am giving this four stars for waking me up and shaking me up a bit. It's definitely an interesting selection. I might come back to it.

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Sat Oct 24 2020
3

Very off-putting at first, but it grows on you. The end of the album is the best part. Spotify has the expanded edition with snippets of "unfinished" songs (even if most of Oar proper is full of songs that could have used a little polish.) Not sure if Oar is essential listening, but it has its moments.

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Mon Oct 05 2020
3

Didn’t finish it . Not for me . Maybe if I was at a ranch and sitting on a rocking chair on the porch basking in the moonlight . Nice vibe

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Fri Jul 02 2021
3

Again, alright.

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Mon Mar 29 2021
3

This is some legit Can-con. Very cool record.

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Thu Mar 18 2021
3

Cool folky/blues/spacey/jammy music from an artist I had never heard of. The second half of the album is very experimental, almost like studio outtakes. Caught a "Sunshine of Your Love" tease in "War in Peace". Highlights: -Little Hands -All Come to Meet Her -War in Peace

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Thu Jul 08 2021
3

So odd. I can hear the mental illness. Wrenching and interesting.

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Fri Jan 22 2021
3

A very interesting psychedelic album.

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Fri Jan 22 2021
3

I really enjoyed most of the songs, but I wish the record would have been a little bit shorter. It got too repetitive after a while

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Fri Jan 22 2021
3

It was OK

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Mon Mar 29 2021
3

I wanted to like this more than I did. Kind of reminded me of Syd Barrett but not as good.

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Sun Feb 28 2021
3

J’ai bien aime mais plus psychedelique vers la fin. Quand meme surprenant pour une petite balade dans le bois. 3.90

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Wed May 19 2021
3

I really wanted to like this album but I was kind of bored.

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Wed Feb 03 2021
3

Psychedelic album; alright

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Wed Jan 27 2021
3

Fine

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Mon Mar 29 2021
3

Had never heard this but really liked it. Got weird! I'll throw it on every once in a while.

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Thu Mar 11 2021
3

Jotenkin tämä levy kuulostaa siltä, että kaveri olisi LCD-päissään yrittänyt paloitella bändikaverit palokirveellä ja sen jälkeen viettänyt sairaalassa puoli vuotta, kirjoittanut biisit sairaalassa ja suoraan sairaalasta päästyään karauttanut studiolle ja äänittänyt biisit ykkösellä purkkiin. Ja ne oli sitten siinä, tulee muuten hiotun oloisia. Näin ainakin tuottajan mielestä, eikä demoja tarvinut lähteä sen enempää uudelleenäänittämään. Biiseissä on joku tietty johnnycashmäinen karisma, mikä pitää otteessaan. Tietty myönnettäköön, että minulla on heikko kohta tällaiseen singer/songwriter ja kitara -musiikkiin. Heti alussa tuntuu, onko tässä kaksi eri laulajaa kuin Little Handsin jälkeen Cripple Creekissa lauluääni on niin erilainen - jälkimmäisessä kappaleessa tumman möreä, hivenen massahtava. Kokonaisuutena vähän liian pitkä ja venytetty levy (sama rikkinäinen radio, pahoittelut), jotta alkaisin keulimaan nelosen suuntaan.

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Fri May 14 2021
3

Hoo boy, this album is real slow and real sad.

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Fri May 28 2021
3

I found some of this really pretty good, I liked the ramblings and the sound and the guitar work. And what a backstory

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Sun Mar 28 2021
3

This was an album I’d never even heard about. Listening to the album and reading about its creation, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Syd Barrett’s solo work. Though this leans more on folk/Americana/country as opposed to Barrett’s blues roots. I will listen again

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Thu Apr 01 2021
3

not totally crazy about his voice, nice bluesy guitar

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Thu Apr 01 2021
3

Kings of Leon -aha shake heartbreak

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Wed Jul 07 2021
3

-I like the low voice on "Cripple Creek" -Great of the album was just very plain, boring rock

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Thu Jun 10 2021
3

It feels a bit like a rough diamond. There is something really good about this, yet there is also something missing. It sounds a bit incomplete. I did enjoy this a lot tho.

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Sun Jul 25 2021
3

Spence spent time in a mental facility after trying to use a fireaxe on his bandmates, and this album came out of it. It's a bit long and self-indulgent, but I guess he's allowed that if it's what he needs. Best track: Diana

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Fri Jul 30 2021
3

Ei tarjonnut ihmeitä vaikka ei mitään paskaa ollutkaan. Viimeisen 60v aikana monta tusinaa vastaavia artisteja. 2,5*

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Fri Aug 06 2021
3

from boring to ahead of its time

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Sun Aug 08 2021
3

The sound of one man losing his mind. This is definitely an album you need to listen to even though it may not be that easy. Sort of lo-fi country rock. Best Tracks: Little Hands; Cripple Creek, War In Peace

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Fri Sep 03 2021
3

It was alright. Like the bass a lot.

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Mon Oct 11 2021
3

Great and curious

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Fri Oct 15 2021
3

Primordial Jeff Buckley?! But a little too long

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Fri Nov 19 2021
3

Didn't grab me. Kind of boring tbh.

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Thu Feb 03 2022
3

Good folk music

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Thu Feb 10 2022
3

This is the first one I didn't quite make it through. There were a lot of songs I liked like Weighted Down, but I also found the vocal affects and left/right split of the recording pretty irritating at times.

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Wed Mar 02 2022
3

Fine - didn’t finish yet

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Wed Mar 09 2022
3

First time hearing of this guy. I really like it. I want to hear more of it. 3/5

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Mon May 16 2022
3

Nothing grabbed me

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Wed May 18 2022
3

Extraño. Experimental. Rock, country...

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Fri Jul 01 2022
3

first listen fascinating listen given the context, an interesting jumbled mess

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Wed Jul 13 2022
3

It was okay. Interested reading about the background of the album and definitely makes sense why it's a bit of a rambling, meandering mess.

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Wed Jul 13 2022
3

This was okay, but way too long for not having all that many good songs .

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Mon Jul 25 2022
3

Wow. Never heard of this before. I could listen to this one gladly for another day (maybe more). 3/5

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Wed Aug 24 2022
3

Borde kanske lyssna igen...

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Wed Aug 24 2022
3

Lol

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Wed Sep 07 2022
3

Having never heard of of Spence, I was impressed at how his sound serves as an influence for the more popular singer songwriters we are familiar with. 3.5/5.

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Sun Sep 18 2022
3

Boring i didn’t listen to very much of it

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Fri Sep 23 2022
3

I mean, I guess this was an influential album? Its not terrible, but its not great either. 3/5

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Sun Sep 25 2022
3

Worth a listen. I appreciated all the experimentation in the second half, but it's not something I'll probably revisit.

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Thu Oct 13 2022
3

Enjoyed a couple songs and very ahead of it’s time and uniqur

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Thu Oct 13 2022
3

The lyrics were cool. I found the music mostly uninteresting.

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Fri Oct 14 2022
3

I enjoy the lo-fi psychedelic feel of this more than I thought I would. This kind of thing can get boring pretty quick for me, but this album holds my interest. It’s got a strong introspective atmosphere communicated mainly through the sparse instrumentation. This kind of sounds like Syd Barrett if he wasn’t English and he brought a country vibe to his music.

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Mon Nov 14 2022
3

Despite the fact that one guy sings and plays all the instruments (and that these are only demo tapes) there is a fair bit of diversity on the LP. The opening two tracks, for example are very different, the only thing they have in common is the super fast fade-out. I like to more haunting tracks like War in Peace and All Come to Meet Her - they sound worthy of a This Mortal Coil cover. A few of the others, especially those added after the original vinyl release are pretty throw-away.

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Thu Nov 24 2022
3

Skimmed, this might be swag? Would need to listen closer

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Thu Dec 01 2022
3

This one is pretty weird. But not always in a terrible way, though at times it's pretty rough. But some things on it did resonate fairly decently and it wasn't a complete waste.

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