Some acts that barely surfaced in 1967 really shouldn’t be “rediscovered.” Lots of over-hyped mediocrity from bands that went mostly unnoticed in their heydays has surfaced in expanded, elaborate packaging. Most of the now-“lost” classics end up with a “psychedelic” label because they’re bathed in reverb and nonsensical lyrics about gnomes and castles. That’s not necessarily the case with the under-hyped Free Design, which started as a California three-piece family act that hypothesized about why kites are fun and why leaves might have veins. The band’s records are finally being reissued as they’d originally appeared, but the revisits on The Free Design: The Now Sound Redesigned are far out, man. Like, way out.
The Turtles, for example, might not have put out vinyl that now gets framed for the living room, but there’s a lot to be said for what that band did with multi-part harmonies and euphoric brass arrangements. In that respect, the Free Design may not have altered popular culture as we know it, but the band’s breezy, carefree pop records are quite listenable and boast vocal parts that are as intricate as any Association entry. Redesigned’s roll call includes decks masters such as Kid Koala and Madlib, and bands such as Mellow and Super Furry Animals also lend re-creations and tributes.
Rather than an album of covers, Redesigned‘s artists use the Free Design’s originals to build almost entirely different interpretations. With Los Angeles’s down-tempo producer/deejay Nobody undertaking editing, a track with Mars Volta’s Ikey Owens, and random interlude duties for the entire record, Redesigned is compelling in its interspersed historical context (the intro is a quick spoken-word rundown of the band’s background) and its quick, quirky musical trips. Highlights roll in and out, with the Left Banke-ish strings of “Where Do I Go” cleverly laid atop Madlib’s funk drum loop, and the sluggish scratch routines of the anti-Vietnam War number “An Elegy” delivered as trip-hop by Kid Koala and Dynomite D.
The psyche elements are stretched into long, elaborate weed binges via French popsters Mellow and Canada’s Caribou. Not unlike the warm electronic/organic blends on Mellow’s Another Mellow Spring LP, the band’s take on “Kites Are Fun” stays within a single melody – that of the chorus – while the members add cymbal peaks, more single-note guitar, and slow, winding moog stuff.
Perhaps the most significant cut falls toward the end. The always eloquent Murs aligns himself with the chimes and murky backup vocals of Danger Mouse’s take on the previously unreleased “To a Black Boy,” and the result is a poignant call for action regarding Georgia-based African-American student Marcus Dixon, who was basically previously sentenced to a lengthy prison stint for having consensual sex with a white girl. The tracks may not cultivate new Free Design fans or even help Koushik move any more units, but the exploration of both ends (new artists and revisits to these songs) results in quality psyche pop.
www.lightintheattic.net/releases/redesign/audio/Kid_Koala_Dynomite_D-An_Elegy.mp3 (Kid Koala & Dynomite D. “An Elegy”)