REVISIO: Oliver | Stone Unturned

Peppered in any music collection are artists that made one solitary album. Perfectly encapsulated moments in time, that are the only opportunity we have to step into that particular artists’ vision. Ideas, approaches, ways of thinking, and atmospheres, that for any number of reasons, came, then went…

This is a threshold that every recording musician passes after a debut if they are lucky. What’s next? What new things do we want to explore, what did people like, what did we miss, and could we do better or differently?

Oliver (photo: Guerssen)

Albums like Standing Stone by Oliver originally released in 1974 fitted these criteria well. A self-released collection of guitar-based songs, that all lock into patterned rhythmic forms. There are touches of the blues, Beefheart, and a sense of motorik krautrock of Achim Reichel or perhaps even NEU! Somehow, all this is way more than you’d expect from a kosmic being holed up in a rural farmhouse deep in Wales. But, as the title suggests, Standing Stone has remained a landmark recording, of loner, but not exactly gloomy psych.

Standing Stone was the efforts of a certain Oliver Chaplin, an unsigned but gifted musician and song writer, assisted by his brother Chris, a studio engineer. Chris had worked previously with Syd Barrett. The brothers’ parents’ farmhouse temporarily transformed into a recording studio complete with clucking chickens and rural Welsh weather. Tracks like Trance, Getting Fruity and Orbit Your Factory show how much variety can come from a seemingly limited set up.

Standing Stone was, until a few weeks ago, a singular towering masterpiece.

News of another full album’s imminent release – Stone Unturned – recorded around the same time, was met with joy, but also a tiny bit of apprehension. What’s left in the vault, after all, isn’t always a masterpiece.

Whilst this new collection might have been rough demos, aborted ideas and tape fragments, thankfully Stone Unturned feels very much like part two of Standing Stone. It’s even easy to dream that this is what Standing Stone, as a double album could have been all those years back…  

Whatever the reasons for this music being unknown until now is unclear, but as Stone Unturned quickly reveals, it’s also stunning.

The album opens with Clock Tick and despite it initially being just that, the sense of a heady warp bubbles just underneath the surface of galloping guitar grooves. Over There stumbles in with bristling overdubs of acoustic and electric guitar, vocals, mouth formed patterns and effects. Kitty is a sensitive ballad centred around a meowing kitten before floating into beautiful space…

Despite this hugely impressive start, Tantalize is where things really start to hit home. More like a lysergic daydream than a song, as the sounds quickly gets lost in layers of effects tugging at Oliver’s voice.

Like Standing Stone, Stone Unturned treats each track as a new way to reconfigure the set up. Two Guitars and That’s It Then are psychedelic miniatures in grooving ambience. As the album’s 13 tracks open out over repeat listens, the blend of backyard blues and oddly widescreen production touches keep everything from settling into anything run of the mill.

Whilst listening to both these albums suggest much of this was probably formed by informal jamming, the real stand out becomes the way the music sounds. Whilst Oliver is clearly the star of the show, a huge spotlight should also be shown on the superbly realised sonic world his brother Chris helped capture.

Ultimately, having lived with Stone Unturned, this album feels a tiny bit more experimental or textural than Standing Stone. However, by the time the final track, fittingly entitled Mesmerising Sound shimmers and strums towards its conclusion, it’s clear the whole unique story of Oliver has just become twice as incredible.

Stone Untuned is out now on Vinyl, CD and digital on Guerrsen Records

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