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

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

Next up from the personal collection...

CD reissues:
The Mandrake Memorial - s/t. 1996 Collectables
The Mandrake Memorial - Medium. 1996 Collectables
The Mandrake Memorial - Puzzle. 1996 Collectables

LP reissues:
The Mandrake Memorial - Medium. 2009 Wah Wah (Spain)
The Mandrake Memorial - Puzzle. 2009 Wah Wah (Spain)

Packaging: 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. Prices tend to be all over the lot for each of the original LPs, but in general, the later the date, the more expensive it gets - which is usually the opposite. 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. Even though you won't find one for $8 in a store as you could have back then, you can still find nice copies for under $40 (though they can go for much higher - so watch carefully). "Medium" is certainly more scarce though not terribly expensive, but again, prices are volatile, and patience will pay off. "Puzzle" is definitely the hardest one to score. Not only does it feature the fetching Escher cover ("House of Stairs" from 1951), but comes with a cool insert, though the latter will definitely add $ to the final product. Interestingly enough, the CDs may be even rarer and more expensive than the LPs (except for maybe "Puzzle"). That's a rare occurrence these days! These were issued by the local Philadelphia CD label Collectables and were widely distributed in the late 90s. All copies were consumed eventually and now trying to source one is a pricey proposition. 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. As for LP reissues, the high quality Spanish label Wah-Wah put the latter two back on the market for vinyl hounds. I'm guessing they decided not to reproduce the debut since originals are still in abundance. I personally haven't run into these reissues. Watch out carefully for pirate editions, as they have proliferated the marketplace.

Notes for s/t: 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.

Notes for 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.

Notes for 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.

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