The North Sea Exquisite Idols

[Type; 2007]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: free improv, outsider folk, experimental indie rock, neo-psychedelia
Others: Tom Carter, Popol Vuh, John Fahey, No-Neck Blues Band

One of the more industrious members of the free-folk community, Tulsa’s Brad Rose knows how to keep himself busy. Rose operates the Foxy Digitalis webzine, in addition to the Digitalis and Foxglove labels, and still manages to find time to record under a number of guises, the most prolific of which is his primary outfit, The North Sea. Rose’s previous effort under The North Sea moniker was Night of the Ankou, a brooding collaboration with the enigmatic London psych trio Rameses III. But while the focus on Night of the Ankou was brought to bear on space rock and ambient drone, Exqusite Idols, the band’s first proper full-length release (a handful of CD-Rs excepted), is a considerably more pastoral affair.

Exquisite Idols has been touted as Rose’s foray into a more rootsy and conventional approach to songwriting. But while skeletal song structures exist in embryonic form within a few of these tracks, The North Sea’s modus operandi is to remain a staunch exponent of outsider folk drone. By and large, Exquisite Idols consists of a series of pieces that contain the basis of blues-based song structures draped in Naturalismo trappings, and are informed by a palpable, if not slightly lysergic, hippie vibe that courses throughout the proceedings.

The North Sea allow the tracks on Exquisite Idols to unfold in a chiefly linear manner, as if Rose’s first instinct is to arrange each track around a drone and stick with it to the bitter end. The first “song”-based piece on Exquisite Idols, “Guiwenneth of the Green Grass,” boasts what is perhaps the most conventional melody on the album, based around a delicate chord progression recalling early-'70s psych-folk. Rose’s vocals on this track, as on many others, are buried so deeply in the mix one wonders whether he actually intended for them to be discernible. “Take it from Me, Brother Moses,” the record’s shortest track, finds Rose plying his trade in the gospel idiom and, understandably, features the record’s only immediately comprehensible lyrics. Elsewhere on the album, lengthy pieces such as “We Conquered the Golden Age” deliberately eschew the singer-songwriter formula and instead focus on repetitive, raga-like textures that are more closely aligned with minimalism.

“Minimal” is the operative word throughout Exquisite Idols, which employs a musical palette laced with all the accouterments of the Flower Power era: tambourine, acoustic guitar, flutes, sitar, drum circle percussion, et al. And while the record does indeed find The North Sea less preoccupied with ambience than previous outings, tracks like “Feather-Cloaked Silver Priestess,” both in title and in tone, find Rose making little effort to distance himself from “New Weird America.” And although The North Sea do expand their template somewhat by adopting elements of traditional folk and bluegrass, the record nonetheless evidences Rose as one of the scene’s staunchest proponents.

Most Read