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Mormos - Great Wall Of China CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.00 | 3 ratings

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Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars I can’t even remember now why I picked this CD reissue up two or three years ago, along with the band’s second and final release. The group’s music has been compared to Incredible String Band and Comus, so that probably had something to do with it. And the association to those bands is reasonable to anyone who has heard music from all three groups.

But Mormos are really off in a world of their own as well. A bunch of Americans who left their theater troupe in Paris to make avant-folk music for the benefit of Frenchmen, Mormos managed, if nothing else, to leave a legacy of two quite interesting studio albums for the folks at Spalax to rediscover a quarter-century later. I don’t personally think these songs are groundbreaking or extraordinary enough to justify the prices their original vinyl issues command, but given a chance the music on this debut (and to a lesser extent the follow-up release) are worth a listen at least.

It took me a while to get there though. The first time I played this CD is struck me more as tepid stuff and not worth much attention. Looking back now as I pull this out of the dusty stack that’s been its home for a while, I realize that the real guilty culprit is the meandering and uninspired title track. Once you get past that one, most of the rest of the album is quite charming and engaging. Maybe toss out the helium-huffing vocals on “The Crimson Uniform” as well, but everything else is okay.

The band sticks fairly close to the acoustic, ethnic instruments / artsy vocals / progressive arrangements on most tracks, with the lyrics and choice of instruments (including balala´kas, a zither, recorders and flutes) yielding the folk bent. When the band is on they are quite good: Annie Hat and Elliott Delman’s harmonizing vocals on “Smelling Like a Rose”; the very RobinWilliamson-sounding lyrics and jaunty strings on “O Mistress Mine”; and the clearly Comus-inspired “Paranoid Nightdream” are good examples (I suspect “Listen to the Flavour” was also meant to expound on the Comus sound).

Elsewhere the group experiments to mixed results, but other than the aforementioned title track and “The Crimson Uniform” the results are mildly interesting at least. “Smelling Like a Rose” focuses on multipart vocal harmonies somewhat at the expense of the music, but not surprising given the theatrical backgrounds of several members. The Bard adaptation “St. Ives” has more to recommend it than is obvious at first; it took me several repeated playings to begin to appreciate the aural portrait the band was trying to paint, and in retrospect I wonder if they would have been better-served to open the record with this hypnotic and understated gem.

And the band can’t help but acknowledge their American roots as well. “Now is Made in America” is one of the longest tracks on the album, and is dominated by experimental flute and recorder and with somewhat difficult to follow lyrics. “Poughkeepsie” on the other hand sounds like a poetry slam entry put to music, chanting the praises (sort of) of that New York state city.

In all this is a pretty decent reissue, one that unfortunately I had to wait a while to learn to appreciate. For anyone into the ISB/Comus/Dr Strangely Strange vein of progressive folk, this is an album that will likely appeal to you. For those who cringe at the term “acid folk”, keep moving – nothing to see here. If you do decide to invest in this one though I’d strongly recommend skipping the title track, at least until you’ve had a chance to play the rest of the CD several times over. Its not that this song is necessarily bad, its just that in my experience that one track changed the entire tenor of the record, and not in a good way. Anyway, three stars and well recommended to most Anglo prog folk fans.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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