The size of Syd Barrett's recorded output stands in inverse proportion to the scope of his lasting influence and devoted following. As the original leader of Pink Floyd, he gave voice to their debut album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, before leaving the band in an LSD-addled haze. He managed to cut two brilliant, if uneven, solo albums The Madcap Laughs and Barrettand then retreated from music, and the world, altogether. This new compilation culls most of the tracks from the solo records (as well as an outtakes album, Opel), and leaves one wondering as to the motives behind the endeavour. Best-of packages are intended for casual fans or new listeners. As Barrett's songs are not exactly FM radio staples, I don't envision anyone picking this disc up for the "hits"; and for the uninitiatedFloyd-heads who are just beginning to explore the band's earlier days, or Robyn Hitchcock listeners looking to check out his main influencethey'd be more likely to spring for the original albums. So what's the rationale behind this rehash? The previously unreleased track, of course. "Bob Dylan's Blues" was rumored to exist for years, and David Gilmour donated it from his archive for this new collection. It's not a barrel-scraping. Recorded in 1970, with just Barrett and his acoustic guitar, it's a catchy, irreverent take on one of his early idols: "Cause I'm a poet/ don't you know it/ and the wind/ you can blow it." And yes, it's good to have it added to his slim discography. If Syd Barrett's records had faded into total obscurity, existing only as top-dollar collectibles, then Harvest would be doing a public service in making such beautifully off-kilter pop gems as "Gigolo Aunt" and "Effervescing Elephant" available to a new audience. But as an introduction to Barrett, this disc doesn't serve much purpose. Newcomers would be better off picking up The Madcap Laughs and Barrett first, as almost of their songs are here anyway, and they're both still in print. If they prove enticing enough, go for Opel. If you're a total completist after that, then you'll have joined the Barrett cult, which doesn't need any review to justify spending $15 for the sake of "Bob Dylan's Blues."
One of the finest psychedelic pop bands of the 1990s was the Olivia Tremor Control. Rising from their ashes (or more accurately, their smoldering embers, as the band is on indefinite hiatus) is the Circulatory System, who've just released their debut. With the exception of Bill Doss, who's now fronting the Sunshine Fix, this is essentially OTC with a name change: William Cullen Hart, who was the group's other main songwriter, penned all the tunes on this album, and the usual gang of Elephant 6 members is present. The opening cut, "Yesterday's World," is a Revolver-tinged number whose la-la chorus seems to be a direct nod to the final track on Black Foliage, OTC's last record. The song remains the same: Hart favors minor-key, 1960s-pop-flavored melodies, which he dresses up in a swathe of crystalline harmonies, lush instrumentation, and punchy bottom-end momentum; it's an addictive brew. The only significant difference in the m.o. this time around is the abandonment of the ambient/experimental noise pieces, in favor of a strictly melodic regimen. This may please some fans who prefer to hear the catchy songs without the stretches of avant-gardism; personally, I always dug the juxtaposition of the two elements, but I won't complain, as "Lovely Universe" and "Days To Come (In Photographs)" are some of the best examples of Hart's writing to date. I do miss the presence of Bill Doss, though, and the way in which his songs complemented Hart's so well. It may not be fair to make comparisonsnothing drives artists buggier than hearing "I liked your old band better"but here, the listener is practically invited to do so. Not only does the record sound like OTC with Doss sitting out, but the cover artone of Hart's paintings of a crown over a landscapeis a visual echo of Dusk At Cubist Castle, the first OTC album. A small degree of pining for what's missing, however, shouldn't occlude the enjoyment of the Circulatory System's riches.
Some of the Olivia Tremor Control's members turn up on David Barbe's first solo album, Comet Of The Season, along with many other Athens musicians. Barbe is best known for his bass-playing stint in Sugar, although his songs were mostly relegated to b-sides (well, it was Bob Mould's band). He's also donned a producer's cap for numerous acts (e.g., Son Volt), and while his new disc was recorded over a three-year period, it's got a unified feel to it. If it's not a complete successas a wordsmith, Barbe tends towards awkward phrasing, and some of the slower numbers suffer from a certain facelessness"Nickel A Minute" has a good Big Star groove, and "Yr Out," with its Lennonesque vocals and chunky hook, ought to find a home on college radio stations everywhere.