The Mandrake Memorial - s/t + Medium + Puzzle. 1968-1969 USA



Philadelphia based The Mandrake Memorial began their career as a psychedelic pop group, with the distinction that all the songs here feature distant "lost" vocals and electric harpsichord. There's a certain sameness to their sound throughout. The music is every bit of its era, practically defining 1968 for us. The best tracks, naturally enough for a group existing in the psych world, are those that feature biting fuzz guitar licks such as heard on 'Here I Am', 'Dark Lady', and 'Strange'. Closer 'Sunday Noon' sounds like The Mandrake Memorial covering The Doors. And it's just as great as that might sound.

Medium: Side 1 sees The Mandrake Memorial taking a step back as they try to define their sound to a finer point. There's more of a downer folk blues sound going on, though its still psych based, and there's phasing and fuzz guitar here, along with the prevailing electric harpsichord. Side 2 definitely takes the straightjacket off, and the band spreads their wings further into longer compositions and creative instrumentals - peaking on the 6 minute instrumental 'Barnaby Plum'. A mixed album, with a much greater discrepancy - both at the top and from the bottom.

Puzzle: Side 2 of Medium was a harbinger of things to come for The Mandrake Memorial. Gone is the trademark electric harpsichord and its place is the guitar trio - with a fully staffed choir and orchestra in tow. The conventional psychedelic songs are undoubtedly The Mandrake Memorial of the first two albums, but the other tracks show the band pushing the boundaries of rock into exciting new directions, oddly reminding me some of Pink Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother' suite that had yet to appear. Guitarist Craig Anderton's growing interest in electronics is given a test drive on 'Bucket of Air' - a splendid display of proto Kosmiche Krautrock if there ever was one. Overall, it's definitely an experimental record, and one that did not result in commercial success for the band. The subsequent 45 single sees The Mandrake Memorial heading back towards the middle - not sure where else they could have gone honestly - and then decided to hang it up, having accomplished a great deal in only 2 short years.

Personal collection
CD (The Mandrake Memorial): 1996 Collectibles
CD (Medium): 1996 Collectibles
CD (Puzzle): 1996 Collectibles

The first album is housed in a standard thick single sleeve, whereas the other two are gatefolds. And, if you're lucky, you might find the circular insert for Puzzle. I first bought the debut LP almost 25 years ago, appropriately enough, while in Philadelphia. I replaced that, and picked up the others, as soon as the CDs hit the market in the mid/late 90s. The debut sold well (over 100,000 copies according to the CD liner notes), especially within the local Northeast Philly/NYC/Boston market, and thus finding an original isn't too hard. Puzzle features a fetching Escher cover (House of Stairs from 1951), and comes with a cool insert. All 3 CDs feature full liner notes (the same liner notes for each unfortunately, though Puzzle adds in the original liners which are in Dutch and likely come from Escher himself). Puzzle comes with both sides of their final 45 single as a bonus, though they inexplicably "colored in" the Escher sketch (who knows why?). All of these are taken from vinyl copies, and only the debut sounds decent. I think they could have done a better job, though it didn't bother me much until I heard them intently with headphones. Watch out carefully for pirate editions, as they have proliferated the marketplace.

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