Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Aardvark - Aardvark

A prog act without a guitar player? That's exactly what this early 70's British foursome is. Originally, they became known mainly because Paul Kossof and Simon Kirke played in the band before leaving to form legendary band FREE. From then on, AARDVARK were mostly a studio act and by the time they recorded their only album, the line-up consisted of Stan Aldous (bass), Frank Clark (drums), Steve Milliner (keyboards, recorder, vibraphone) and Dave Skillin (vocals). Comparisons are not easy but one could probably say their music has the power of EMERSON, LAKE & POWELL mixed in with a little R&B à la PROCOL HARUM and early MOODY BLUES. Shades of GRYPHON, GREENSLADE and PINK FLOYD are also present.

As is to be expected, AARDVARK's material is highly keyboard oriented, the brunt of the music being carried by the fuzzed-up Hammond organ which more or less simulates the job of a distorted guitar. The soaring vocals by Skillin are pleasant and the music, although not highly original and somewhat lacking in variety, is quite melodic - nice 60's sounding melodies. The album contains some ear-friendly piano/keyboard interplay as well as some good R&B guitar riffs and harmonic choruses. The low points: following the fashion of the early 70's, many tracks drag on far too long. Also, possibly because the dominant Hammond did not stand the test of time, the album unfortunately sounds quite outdated. Finally, the cuts that work best tend to be the less progressive ones. Overall, AARDVARK is an honest musical effort for the times, an interesting early art rock experiment with a slight progressive edge.

Recommended strictly for collectors of early 70's, heavy organ-dominated prog. Fans of SPRING, CRESSIDA or FIELDS should also give them a try.

Aardvark like many groups, released one album and then disappeared. The group consisted of keyboardist Steve Milliner, vocalist Dave Skillin, drummer Frank Clark, and bassist Stan Aldous. Some people believed Steve Milliner would later join Caravan for the album Waterloo Lily, but he didn't. That guy was Steve Miller (not the American Steve Miller of Fly Like an Eagle Fame, but the brother of Hatfield & the North's Phil Miller). It's easy to see why Steve Milliner and Steve Miller got confused: both were keyboardists and had similar last names, and both existed around the same time. Steve Miller (the guy who temporarily replaced David Sinclair in Caravan) was playing with Carol Grimes and Delivery at the time Aardvark existed.

Anyways, Aardvark released their only album in 1970 on the Deram/Nova label around the same time Egg released their debut (also on the same label). I find this album rather underrated. For some reason many prog rock bands that had keyboards but no guitars are often underrated. There were several groups going for the keyboards and no guitar format including Quatermass, Egg, Rare Bird (at least the original 1969-1970 incarnation as the post-1972 version had guitars and sounded very little like the original band), and most of all, The Nice (post-Emerlist Davjack), who, no doubt inspired many other bands to follow this format. Many people thought Aardvark weren't that remarkable, many felt the organ solos go on too long, but to me I didn't bother me (in fact I wasn't bothered by the organ solos found on Le Orme's Collage either, another underrated album). Being 1970, it's also hard not to notice the late '60s psychedelic elements still intact (in fact lots of prog rock albums released as late as 1972 often still had late '60s psychedelic elements intact, and I'm pretty convinced that by the time Yes released Close to the Edge had prog rock pretty much went beyond its late '60s psychedelic roots). A great example goes to "Once Upon a Hill". This has late '60s written all over it, a pleasant psychedelic number that sounds a lot like Caravan with medieval influences (even David Skillin sounds like Richard Sinclair). Other highlights for me include "Copper Sunset" and "Very Nice of You to Call". "Greencap" is that one piece with the extended organ solo, but I found it really interesting, especially the use of marimba too. I really think many people would have a problem with "Outing". It starts off pretty normal (for this album), with vocals that keep repeating, "We're going away" in typical English fashion, but then they really go off the deep-end with lots of distortion and feedback, many would simple write this off as self-indulgent noise, much like Egg's "Boilk" off The Polite Force. A lot of the album has that English feel, especially "Once Upon a Hill". BTW, that particular song is the mellowest piece on the album, probably there to prepare you for the aggressive instrumental onslaught of "Put That in Your Pipe". To me, I don't think the album is as bad as many would let you believe, there is enough excellent material making a worthwhile


01 - Copper Sunset - 3.17
02 - Very Nice Of You To Call - 3.39
03 - Many Things To Do - 4.22
04 - The Greencap - 6.05
05 - I Can't Stop - 5.29
06 - The Outing-Yes - 9.39
07 - Once Upon A Hill - 2.53
08 - Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It - 7.35


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