CENSUS OF HALLUCINATIONS ‘Spirit of the Cat’
(LP, Falling A Records, 29 February 2020)
In the truest definition of ‘progressive rock’ Census of Hallucinations are a band pushing at the very limits of music. Such exploration rarely results in glittering prizes but it’s always rewarded with longevity and integrity. Now in their 20th year Census of Hallucinations unleash their umpteenth album ‘Spirit of the Cat’ and it finds them just as wily and creative as ever.
Shimmering like early Psychedelic Furs, album opener (and title track) ‘Spirit of the Cat’ is something of a lotus flower that gradually opens to reveal many facets. Cascading guitars are overlaid with some nice vocal harmonies to create an ethereal piece of music that gently lures you into Census’ world. Like a snowball rolled down an Alp it’s a song that slowly builds momentum, building bulk and almost imperceptibly changing shape. At 11 minutes it finds the band patiently assembling an other worldly soundscape that’s not dissimilar from ‘70s Pink Floyd. It’s a quintessentially English sound that’s tempered with an understated humour and references to cult TV (The Prisoner).
In a move that’s typical of this album we shape shift from the 11 minute melancholic opener to a funky 2 minute instrumental (‘Salvation’). A big jump but one Census make easily. Like Hawkwind on bad acid ‘See’ explores the sinister side of prog as does the following ‘Merlin You Left Your Hat’ which marries a bellowing rant to a sublime ululating harmony. The light and airy instrumental ‘Karma’ is paired with with the more weighty ‘Beelzebub’ and, in a piece of Karma, the sublime motif introduced on ‘Merlin...’ reappears on ‘Office Block’. All of this ensures that, despite the kaleidoscopic nature of ‘Spirit of the Cat’, it hangs together as a cohesive whole.
Hallucinogenic without the hallucinogens ‘Buttercup Biscuit’ is a musical journey through several dimensions...all without leaving your chair. The production is a real boon and gives all the instruments room to breathe and a huge spacious feel on ‘Pillow Full of Dreams’ while creating a close claustrophobic dimension on the following ‘Stragon Cluin The Dragon’. ‘55000 Airmen’ chops up tape for a discombobulating listen before the band explore their love of Deep Purple on ‘Flight of the Cozmik Snot’ which nestles nicely next to the impossible titled ‘Carry an Attractive Crystal Door Knob Around With You’ while ‘Jangling Waters of the Tibetan Incontinent Old Bastard’ is akin to a prog rock trip through Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’.
Imagine The Groundhogs jamming with Hendrix and you’d have something approaching ‘Manifest Your Magick’ which swings with an inherent groove, while the production adds other, deeper dimensions. Which brings us to closer ‘Land of Mirrors’. Another chunky riff permeates and powers the song forward but look beneath the surface and you’ll find a world of spoken word, sweet harmonies, bubbling synths and haunting chants. But it’s the guitar of Martin Holder (of Jah Wobble and John Stevens’ Away fame) that takes centre stage for some fine neo-psychedelia guitar noodling that ends with some backward masking as if the band disappear into a white dwarf.
In ‘Spirit of the Cat’ Census of Hallucinations have produced an album that seems to alter the very fabric of time. In the days of vinyl ‘Spirit of the Cat’ would have been stretched over double vinyl and at 65 minutes it’s a hefty listen. But, as if by hypnosis, you’ll awake when the disc has stopped spinning and wonder where that hour went. A must for prog heads old and new.