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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

10097
Genres
Psychedelic Rock
Folk

Reviews

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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 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 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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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 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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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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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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Thu Feb 18 2021
1

Sounded like a mumbling pub singer

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Fri Mar 24 2023
1

psychadelic folk but he should've quit after about three songs. no wonder he disappeared this shit mostly sucked

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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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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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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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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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Thu Jan 27 2022
2

Real weird. That's not necessarily a bad thing and I thought I might like it after the first song but it quickly devolved into indecipherability after that.

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Thu May 06 2021
1

Composed after a stay in mental hospital

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Mon Nov 14 2022
1

I never heard of this brother and the album is disjointed and hard to listen to. His story of mental health and addiction problems is sad for sure and is similar to Syd Barrett's story. Syd, however, founded one of the most significant bands ever and his mental health challenges forced Roger Waters to learn how to be the principal songwriter. So Syd's story is relevant to music lovers and makes his first solo album appropriate for inclusion in the 1001 list even if you don't like it. Skip Spence, on the other hand, was not part of one of the best bands. He was recruited to the pre-Grace Slick version of Jefferson Airplane since the band thought they should have a drummer who looked like he did. He left the band before the album was released. To make a long story short, I didn't need to hear Skip’s depressing story. We have our own problems to worry about.

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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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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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Fri Feb 10 2023
5

In sharp contrast to some recent selections, I really did HAVE to hear this. It's very dark, and both experimental and beautiful. I'd not heard of 'Skip' before and this record still seems like a niche concern, but it's very good, you can hear how it might have influenced contemporary alternative acts and there are moments reminiscent of Johnny Cash. Best song, All Come To Meet Her.

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Thu Mar 30 2023
5

What’s so wrong with this? It’s true tortured genius stuff and I loved every second! 5/5

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Thu Apr 13 2023
5

wow, that was something very special too good to rate, it exists on a tier of its own

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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 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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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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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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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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Fri Mar 22 2024
2

Sometimes your lone voice crying out in the wilderness is right while all the rest of the world is wrong. And sometimes you’re David Rubinson. According to Wikipedia, the record label said “these are just demos, we’re not releasing them” and the artist himself said, “those are just demos, don’t put those out” but David Rubinson insisted that they be released and now here I am almost 50 years later having to listen to this garbage. Music reviewers sometimes hear a really cool (probably untrue, because artists are liars) story about the making of a record and then tell people they have to listen to the record because it gives the reviewer an excuse to tell the cool story. Yes, yes, fire axes and mental institutions and a motorcycle, it’s all very compelling. But just tell me the story and don’t make me listen to this unfinished, rambling dreck. There is nothing about this album that warrants listening to it. This is out of tune talk-singing over semi-formed quasi-songs for 45 minutes or so. This album is without any merit whatsoever.

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Wed Dec 21 2022
1

I suppose I could take the cheap route and call Skip Spence the poor man's Fred Neill. But perhaps nothing sums up this album (or Skip Spence) better than this reminisce from Peter Lewis of Moby Grape: "...He (Skip Spence) actually OD'ed once and they had him in the morgue in San Jose with a tag on his toe. All of a sudden he got up and asked for a glass of water. Now he was snortin' big clumps of coke, and nothing would happen to him. We couldn't have him around because he'd be pacing the room, describing axe murders. So we got him a little place of his own. He had a little white rat named Oswald that would snort coke too. He'd never washed his dishes, and he'd try to get these little grammar school girls to go into the house with him. He was real bad. One of the parents finally called the cops, and they took him to the County Mental Health Hospital in Santa Cruz. Where they immediately lost him, and he turned up days later in the women's ward."

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Thu Aug 31 2023
1

Who? The album is meh, a mixture of confusing depressing folk rock country music recorded following the musician's release from a psychiatric hospital - it's obvious that he wasn't in a good place, mentally speaking and some tracks sound like he was heavily medicated. Why this is in the 1001 albums you must hear before you die is anyone's guess.

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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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Thu Mar 23 2023
5

I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

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Thu Jun 22 2023
5

It’s difficult not to be influenced by the back-story, but this stumbling search for music seems completely authentic. I felt close to something mysterious and powerful.

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Fri Jun 23 2023
5

gives me Cash vibes enjoyed this album. He was in Jefferson Airplane.

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Thu Oct 05 2023
5

Amazing album, drags a little at the end. Still very masterful, similar to Bob Dylan or George Harrison

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Wed Dec 27 2023
5

easily 10/10, one of my all time favourite albums

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Mon Jan 01 2024
5

I started off very skeptical that this was going to work out. But somewhere around the song Margaret-Tiger Rug I was fully on-board with this strange listen. And now I’m a bit obsessed with this. This is just the sort of thing one hopes to encounter every now and again as one listens to an album every day for more than 3 years. Terrific like a trip into Wonderland. At times wacky, confusing, country, folky, wistful, funny - and entertaining.

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Tue Jan 09 2024
5

This is a singular album that lives in it's own unique space. It's so odd and mysterious and winding. I love it so much. It used to be in very regular rotation for me about 15 years ago and only listen to it once every few years now, but it's always incredibly rewarding. Very happy to pull this today.

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Wed Feb 21 2024
5

Very weird. Great emotions. Very pure and raw. Full of pain. Loved listening to it. I had the feeling I could hear what his brain looks like. Never heard anything like that before

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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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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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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 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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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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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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Fri Feb 24 2023
4

I felt like this was some mish mash of Dylan, Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Cohen and I totally dug it!! After Googling can see he was involved in Quicksilver Messenger Service, which makes sense. I preferred this solo stuff to that. A bit easier of the psych stuff.

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Fri Feb 24 2023
4

Ah wow I hadn't heard of Skip Spence or his band, but reading the story behind this album briefly all I can think is "wow". I started listening before I realised just how much pain is in these songs and that it was after a hospital stint which followed an incident involving an axe!?!? Gosh. LOL then the production just wanted to leave him to it in the studio and have no one bother him so they just released a demo and it's so beautifully raw, creative and experimental. Absolutely love the drums all over this album - it connects somewhere with my soul! A cool album I never would have otherwise heard of.

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Wed Mar 08 2023
4

The Wikipedia description made the album make a lot more sense. I really liked his sound, and it was good to program to. Would listen again.

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Sun Mar 19 2023
4

Es un disco para escuchar de chill, no tiene muchos altibajos. Igual lo volvería a escuchar

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Sun Mar 26 2023
4

it was different in a good way

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Sun Apr 23 2023
4

I really enjoyed this album. At times, it can be harrowing, but it can also be beautiful and funny.

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Fri May 26 2023
4

Riktigt hemtrevliga tokerier.

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Sat Jun 03 2023
4

"Weighted Down (The Prison Song)" is beautiful as far as menacing murder ballads go; right after, "War in Peace" is almost euphoric in comparison to the rest of the songs. Reminds me of a country-style "The Madcap Laughs", but what surprises me is how much I prefer the sound of this Last track made me uncomfortable, but I wouldn't say I disliked it... other HLs: "Diana", "All Come to Meet Her", "Cripple Creek" June 2, 2023

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Wed Jun 14 2023
4

Not necessarily the kind of music I like but I listened to this while I was having an anxiety attack and it helped so I’m giving it four stars for that alone

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Fri Jun 16 2023
4

This goes on a long list of forgotten or long missing music that gets reevaluated years later as works of genius. Don't get me wrong, there is some great music here but Spence's demons and instability are very present as well. I think a separate category for "what ifs" would be a place to group these recordings that have moments of genius but are incomplete.

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Fri Jun 16 2023
4

The highs just BAREly make up for the lows

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Mon Jun 19 2023
4

What a wild album. The lore behind this is, pardon the word, insane. Spence attacked some bandmates with an axe, was committed to a mental hospital for six months, then got out and released this. It's a long, winding album (the version I listened to was 17 tracks), and it's kind of all over the place sonically. Spence's voice especially, it's impossible to predict what he'll sound like on each track between different styles and registers. But I really admire it, the musicianship is top notch and he did it all himself. The story and everything here reminds me of Nick Drake, but if Nick Drake was schizophrenic instead of sad. It's a very cool album, and I'll be keeping quite a few tracks from this one. Also, side note, when I heard "War in Peace," I recognized the riff at the end as "Smoke on the Water," which I looked up and found was released after this album. I then started scouring google and couldn't find anything talking about this....had Spence secretly been ripped off and I'm the first to discover it, decades later? Well, turns out the riff is actually "Sunshine of Your Love," and that came out before this album, Spence was referencing that riff. For those few moments, I too was insane. Favorite tracks: Cripple Creek, Weighted Down, Books of Moses, Grey/Afro, Doodle, To Think You and I. Album art: Really nothing special, just a portrait shot with a big border. He kind of looks like he's in a hospital gown from the sanitarium, but he could also just be a bohemian kind of guy. 4/5

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Thu Jun 22 2023
4

A surprisingly moving country album depicting a descent into madness, it works surpringly well, even if some songs feel like filler.

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Thu Jun 29 2023
4

I had heard of Moby Grape but not Skip. Interesting story. A bit like Syd Barret, I suppose. Funny how this was Columbia House's worst selling record ever, yet people are still listening 50 years later. Good stuff. 4 stars (might be more like 3.75, but who's being nitpicky :)

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Mon Jul 17 2023
4

Startling and arresting, a moving and emotional depiction of mental fragility.

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Sun Jul 23 2023
4

Souvent, les albums folk sont agréables à l’écoute et se démarquent par leur texte. Ici, la recherche musicale est sans faille, les pièces sont équilibrées, la voix est profonde, le tout me happe. Ce qui me retient de donner 5 étoiles, ce sont les pièces plus western, qui m’ont semblé plus convenues

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Mon Sep 18 2023
4

What an amazing array of vocal styling and song writing diversity. Totally left field and enjoyable.

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Wed Oct 04 2023
4

very good, unexpected gem. Want to listen some more.

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Fri Oct 06 2023
4

I think a lot of people missed that everything after Grey/Afro is bonus tracks. That probably explains a good number of the low ratings. This is a really interesting and unique album that didn't overstay its welcome, with a really unique story behind it. I'll probably go back for another listen soon. It's not exactly an easy listen, but it's also NOT BORING! Again, my most important metric. And yeah... Y'all should probably try to digest just the album proper before you get lost in the weeds with the whole extra LP worth of bonus tracks hahaha.

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Thu Nov 16 2023
4

Haunting. Not into 60's psychedelic, but this is different. Learning the story behind the album while listening made it more powerful. Will never listen to it again.

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Sun Nov 26 2023
4

This was a great find - very diverse vocally, some tracks sounded Cohen-ish while others were more like Nick Cave, and just a very strong collection of maudlin songs

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