Reviews - Releases

Coppelia

Feverish prose has already warned of the sheer might of Levitation in recent weeks but the ecstatic weirdness of these four songs will still shake you to the marrow. Promises of the rebirth of prog rock are thankfully misleading. The trajectory that Levitation have embraced is the elusive one that runs past the earlier (rather than later) Floyd, Velvets, Stooges circa "Fun House", Suicide, mid-period Magazine, Meat Puppets and Sonic Youth. Truly, nothing since parts of Cale's "Music For A New Society" has unsettled quite as profoundly as the opening drift of "Nadine" or the grazed middle space of "Smile". This is speeding, hallucinating, rampaging brilliance. You can take your Loops, Spacemen and AR Kanes and drop them in the river like an armful of unwanted kittens. This is a startling deliriant. (Single Of The Week)

Melody Maker

Nadine

The strange and wonderful sound of a lovesick bison attempting to dance in too-tight trousers floats ethereally over a backing composed almost entirely of wobble-board noises. I think "experimental" might be the word I’m looking for. Unfortunately "bollocks" comes before "e" in the dictionary.

C: We've said that The Farm should stick to reviewing trainers and stop making records...but I think I’d rather review a pair of trainers than listen to that again.

M: The cover's quite good but the music isn't quite dance music. It isn't quite anything. Just a load of wobbly stuff. It's Terry Bickers, isn't it? Perhaps he should ask House Of Love if he can go back.

Barbara Ellen, with Clint and Martin (Inspiral Carpets) - NME 27/4/91

The After Ever EP

Monstrous. Utterly monstrous. David Stubbs accurately pinpointed Levitation's aesthetic modus operandi last week as "artistic incontinence", and "The After Ever EP" is yet more outpourings of stream-of-consciousness serial violence, yet more refractions, deviations, expansions and experimentations, yet more blessed genius. Most bands mishandle guitars as a short-cut from A to B; Levitation treat them like Pandora's Box.

Here, "Firefly" is a crazed spiral, a sexy symmetry which stops dead as suddenly as did "Nadine" on the apocalyptic first EP. "Attached" finds Bickers' blanched voice enraptured and fascinated with itself. Yet it's the demented "Bedlam" which is the true beacon, Levitation setting their controls for the outer cosmos and howling with horror and glee as they fall. "Don't question everything!" cries the deranged Bickers.

Guy Chadwick must be chewing his duvet cover. House Of Love still can't suss where their next song is coming from while Levitation chuck out crazy, inspired shit like this at random. Johnny Come-Latelys to the Levitation camp warned me of my shame if this didn't top this week's pile, but he had no need to worry. This was never in doubt. Levitation remain Out There, all on their own, ravaged and ravishing. (Single Of The Week)

Melody Maker 24/8/91

Squirrel

Bunch of hippies. Never heard Levitation before this debut Rough Trade Singles Club release, but I should have guessed they'd sound like something out of the New Romantic era, circa '82 (Japan, say, or terminally dull Bowie). Can't hear much of that vaunted guitar genius, though - nothing that John Williams can't manage better. Write a song next time.

No such problems with Dr Phibes. With their all-consuming passion for guitar histrionics and for showing off their knowledge of psychedelic music circa God knows when, they've opted for an all-out aural overload. And, along the way, they trample over such concepts as songwriting, interest, imagination and the rest. Hmm. Seems as if they are suffering from precisely the same problem as Levitation after all. They're all f***ing fey, winsome hippies. Where are the Manics now we need them?

Melody Maker

Coterie

We all remember the time. It was a few years ago, and all the young gun guitar bands seemed to be rediscovering the art of suggestion, exploring the bounds of what we could be made to feel in four minutes of perfect pop. Not a new deal at all, but that was of no consequence. For a few brief moments, they took you somewhere else, you were transported, and it was good. It still is. But also limited.

With hindsight, it was inevitable that someone, somewhere was going to feel restricted by this new regime. Ride or Lush or Curve - and this is in no way intended to denigrate them - give you one emotion at a time, more or less intensely. Levitation take you on a journey. Sutherland referred to their songs as little dramas, and he was right, that's exactly what they are. It's like the difference between making love and a good rub-down.

The final proof of this, for me, was watching Levitation conceive, crucify, then resurrect "Bedlam" one summer night at Shaftesbury's. Dave, the drummer, wrote that ambiguous refrain, "Don't question everything," as a warning for Bickers, and as the climax to the song came upon him, the singer was lost, shaking and speaking in tongues like some firebrand preacher exorcising demons only he could see. A little shiver went down every spine in the house. The studio version of "Bedlam", originally from the "After Ever" EP, is here on "Coterie", as is a fine live version of the band's other tour de force, the gently euphoric "Smile".

Levitation didn't really want to release this album. It was intended for the Americans, consisting entirely of tunes which have already been released here, the two EP's with a few twists. "Paid In Kind", from "Coppelia", has been lost (a shame), as has "Attached" from "After Ever" (no big deal), in favour of two tracks which have only otherwise been available in a limited Rough Trade Singles Club edition - the wonderfully frantic "Squirrel" and the oceanic "It's Time". The other difference is a live version of "Rosemary Jones", splendidly percussive and mantra-like.

This is not Levitation's debut album and neither is it a replacement for the EPs; these pieces were never intended to be heard like this. No, it sounds like what it is - a summation of the story so far. Mid-price status reinforces the point. "Coterie" is therefore a highly desirable luxury. If you haven't got "Squirrel" and "It's Time", you'll want them. If you've seen the band perform, the live tracks are welcome souvenirs, like little gifts you weren't expecting to receive. It needs to be said that if funds are limited and you've got the previous releases, you'd be better off hanging on for the new "World Around" EP, it being the next chapter. If dosh ain't a problem, then by all means go for both. Personally, I'd sell my sister if necessary.

Around the time of "After Ever", guitarist Bic told David Stubbs, "If you're not searching for the ultimate pop song or the ultimate this or that, then you're free to explore the limits of what you can do." The power of possibility; exciting, isn't it? Why do we ever settle for less? Because most of the time, we have to. Now we don't. "Smile, the experience begins..."

ANDREW SMITH – Melody Maker 1/2/92

"Clunk, clique every trip"

He's flipped his wig! He's fallen out of his tree! He's one sandwich short of the full hamper! He's...well, Terry Bickers is the kind of bloke who always brings back memories of the old Higsons single sleeve which listed a preposterous array of colloqui

alisms for falling off the mental window ledge. More than that, in much the same way as Kristin Hersh's psychological traumas are paralleled with Throwing Muses' musical spasms, so Bickers' brain cells are perceived to lord it over Levitation. The fundamental difference is that, while Hersh gets the sympathy vote, Bickers persistently gets the piss ripped out of him. How strange.

Bickers, you may recall, was once in The House Of Love. Now he's in an amazing Technicolor dreamboat, sailing away with the owl and the pussycat and discussing Kafka's FA Cup predictions with his feathery/ furry companions. A coterie, in case you were wondering, is an exclusive circle, as in social or literary terms. One suspects that, in Levitation's case, they're not referring to Mrs Miggins' thoroughly charming coffee mornings.

"The Coterie Album" itself is an American-only release on their new label, which backtracks through Levitation's two EPs and their one-off for the Rough Trade singles club. It's the kind of grand, teeth-gritting, wall-grappling rock monster which asks the question: is Bickers a casualty, a curse on our senses or a capsuled-up crusader? And it frequently replies YES! to all three at the same time.

The likes of "Smile" veer so close to abysmal plod rock territory that Levitation virtually sprout beards, beads and flares in front of your very ears. Certainly, they have a vast panoramic view of music, but this means that vast vacuous hippyscapes can be incorporated easily. Against that, "It's Time" is stunning, towering effects carrying Bickers' starchild mumblings up to an unprecedented high.

The remainder of "Coterie" predictably floats between the two schools, enlightened by guitar gibberings, beatific swirls of sensurround sound and some of the most pretentious twaddle this side of This Picture. If "Rosemary Jones" is Pink Floyd at 89 BPM, then "Bedlam" possesses the kind of hysterical edge which suggests that Levitation are playing covered in cockroaches.

In its worst moments, "Coterie" suggests that Bickers is haggling to be the next Roy Harper. At best, it reveals that Levitation have gone light years beyond mere reaching for the stars - they've achieved lift off and are currently swanning around the Milky Way, wide-eyed and legless. The one adjective that can be deployed throughout both good and bad patches is, erm, extraordinary. For its sheer dexterity and arrogant ambition alone, it should be cherished like the big brother who's a bit of a cocky dickhead at times but, hey, he IS family, after all.

"We're still in reach of life" howls Captain Bickers, hopefully. I wouldn't be so sure, mate...(7)

SIMON WILLIAMS – NME 4/1/92

World Around

Oh Lordy! They've gone and done it this time. Following their own errant star, too out-there to worry about the hip ideal, the Levs have already done more than any other band to stretch our incredulity. But "World Around" has finally unleashed the fetters and busted free from any acceptable sane format. There's a chorus of sorts, and stuff about dead animals turning blue in your stomach, but it's Dave's ludicrously-athletic drumming that ultimately blows your mind. It's gloriously frenetic, and so f***ing quick off the mark it'll take a few plays just to tame the blur into some kind of image.

"Jay" is, extraordinarily, even mightier - an epic instrumental with Bickers' guitar strafing the firmament for cobwebs. "Usher" is...well, "Usher" just gets weird and then weirder. There are voices and squeals and broken prayers and...yeah, it's progressive. White-knuckle down. (Single Of The Week)

Melody Maker

Need For Not

"Laughing Prog"

Someone, probably French, once said that the definition of Art was "going too far". He must have met Levitation in a previous incarnation. For Levitation are about excess - not the Eighties excess of material indulgence and public squalor but spiritual excess. Levitation's "career" has been in the literal sense of that word, careering onward in one quantum surge fuelled by a naivety that blindly disregards the sardonic, nostalgic, end-of-history Jonathan Ross culture casualties still littering our ken. Like Verve, their only fellow voyagers, too ardent and too adamant for their own good, and that's good for us.

Which is why their debut album, after a string of superb EPs, is not the anti-climax some might have feared. They've moved from an up to an upper-up. As the album fades, you can imagine them battering and flailing away, banging on the window of the booth to the producer; "Wait! We haven't finished yet!!" Need For Not is compressed, not stretched.

Levitation talk about rehabilitating prog-rock but, of course, there's more to them that that. Levitation are a synthesis of the new rock expansionism of the late Eighties (Husker Du, the Cocteaus, AR Kane) and the dense, murderous ardour of immediate post-punk (Killing Joke). When I last saw them they were in their Killing Joke mode, overdoing it as usual, and that's the speed at which they set forth here, like a dove blasted from a cannon, on "Against Nature" and the already available "World Around". How can I describe them? Psychotic prog pantheism. Imagine today's eco-conscious John Lydon with sufficient stamina left to snarl "I am a panthe-IST!" Levitation aren't that dumb of course, but the point is that they talk about ecology, reincarnation, the Revolution, all of their (discredited?) idealism with a vengeful, reproachful energy. Snigger if you dare.

This energy is personified by drummer Dave Francolini, who plays with the righteous fury of an octopus caught in a dragnet. When Levitation sort of float about like vapours in a pre-existence void, his is the Big Bang that explodes them into motion. When Levitation drift into bucolic, misty-eyed mode, as on "Pieces Of Mary", it's him that storms down on them. Without him, Levitation might merely be all brilliant sunshine; as it is, they're as ambiguously refreshing as a summer cloudburst. This isn't to imply that he reins the band in - on "Arc Of Light And Dew", they trail off into a world "Without grief/ Without fear/ Without rage," an endless swathe of distant, Arcadian drones a la Pink Floyd's "Ummagumma".

But Levitation don't bask in an imagined or self-induced paradise - this isn't mere "druggy music", an escape into your head. Levitation merely long to escape, ache for a lost or possible world, the memory of which lingers in our collective subconscious. By "Embedded" and "Coterie", it's that elegiac optimism they're drifting towards. Adjectives and cross-references tend to dissolve in their sound - they've transcended sub-genre, combined their elements perfectly to achieve a sort of perfect rock transparency, alluding to all styles and none.

All this and a reprise of "Smile", their cut-glass masterpiece that perfectly exhibits all their melancholy and mad hope. If we're going to be serious about the Nineties then Levitation are the sort of group we should be exalting. They've managed to match the expansive sonic ambition of My Bloody Valentine, while not losing themselves or dissolving into mumbling, dead souls. They're declarative and unafraid of the consequences.

There is life after death.

DAVID STUBBS - Melody Maker 25/4/92

"The Flying Numb"

Levitation is a bungalow that dreamed it was a cathedral and expected the dream to come true - forever. But only on Planet Bickers can such architectural wonders occur. In real life, any decent house requires solid foundations and a bare minimum of upright walls before the occupier even considers a loft conversion of such ornate magnitude. Has Terry been shut up in the attic too long?
Do we care that many of its baroque buttresses are antique in origin? Of course not - all the best structures contain deliberate references to traditional styles. Is its very extremity and complexity offensive to our prudish princely tastes? Never - no great buildings in history could have been erected without vaulting ambition and sky-scraping extravagance.

But the whole place lacks atmosphere, Terry's spacious back passage is ringing with meaningless riddles like "Only the human condition could be so out of touch". Po-faced poltergeists lurk in the basement, dismembering a sea shanty called "Pieces Of Mary", while even the master bedroom's elegantly silken four-poster, "Smile", has several irritating peas wedged beneath its lumpy mattress. Humour and humanity have long been gutted from these chambers.

Most infuriating are main banquet halls "Resist" and "World Around", whose impressive dimensions are cluttered by masses of incongruous furniture and deeply unattractive ornaments. Even if fragile-framed outbuildings like "Arcs Of Light And Dew" or "Coterie" seem to offer a much simpler beauty from afar, closer inspection reveals tacked-on minarets of mock Middle Eastern design.

You could live in this hall of mirrors, but only after accepting its secret passages lead nowhere and its grandiose front is little more than a gaudily painted film set. And at the risk that its rickety structure may not be sturdy enough to support such rococo embellishment forever.

Terry Bickers, chief architect of pop's very own Natural Law Party, doubtless thinks he has dreamed up a Taj Mahal here. But "Need For Not" is far more suburban than that, a cramped hippy pad draped in Moroccan rugs and reeking of incense but still failing to conjure anything up beyond superficial mystery. Castles in the air indeed. (5)

STEPHEN DALTON - NME 2/5/92

House Of Love discovered, to their cost, that Terry Bickers wasn't just a new guitar saviour to The Kids but also an erratic firebrand who wasn't born to follow. Now fronting his own band, Levitation's three EPs to date have barely contained his subsequent onrush of ideas and energy. Levitation herald the renaissance of progressive rock, but with punk/ hardcore's adrenaline thrill. Need For Not confirms this genuinely new direction; acid rock meets boogie meets thrash meets Television meets Tales From Topographic Oceans. The more balladic tracks like Resist and Embedded maintain a dayglo intensity, from Against Nature and World Around's scorching pop to Arcs Of Light and Coterie's epic fluctuations, but the way Hang Nail's harpsichord trills away inside an eye of a hurricane has to be heard to be believed. Levitation are well named indeed. (4 stars)

MARTIN ASTON - Q Magazine June 1992

"Only the human condition could be so out of touch/ In this last chaotic wave." - Levitation, Coterie.
A message to Damon from Blur and Mark from Ride and the rest of you so-called spokespeople for a generation who somehow think that being "blank" is an adequate response to your times: the world is just about to end and you are all going to die nastily. Just thought you ought to know.

Actually, the statistical likelihood of any particular man or woman being around to witness the apocalypse at the prime of their lives is something like 1:1,000,000,000, so we all ought to be proud and excited to be alive at this important juncture in history. Or, at the very least, we should be absolutely flipping terrified and make a stunning debut album. Just like Levitation, in fact. Hearing Need For Not is more than adequate compensation for having to wear a gas mask for 20 years and dying horribly before I get to 50. It just so happens to be one of the greatest debut albums ever made.

From the very first false chord of Against Nature, this is music on a nerve's edge, dancing on a knife's edge, teetering on a cliff's edge and enjoying every last moment of it. Spontaneous combustion forever seems a suitably far-fetched metaphor. The guitars howl with a primal, angrily pastoral rage while Dave Francolini's drums expertly crop up everywhere except on the beat. At first it all seems too much, too intense, too burning-eyes and screaming-souls (Against Nature, an album-in-miniature, and as self-contained an epic as anyone's ever written, is followed by the churning, all-consuming riff of World Around and the murderous pagan guitar ritual of Hang Nail), but you soon develop the extrasensual skills necessary to cope, and to ride the exhilaration. Much of this is heavier than anything from Seattle, even on the calmer eco-ballads (Embedded and Coterie) which close the album: melody, however, is always very much to the fore, erupting occasionally in House Of Love-style "aaah! aaa-aaah's!" and sumptuous synth breaks. Brilliant. Perhaps the most frightening yet beautiful moment on the album is Resist, a gorgeous mid-tempo piece built around one of those stomach-churning chord sequences that Talk Talk used to specialise in. As Bickers intones in his I-am-calm-so-I-am-sane voice that "sometimes/ it feels like everyone knows", an angelic choir starts knocking on doors in your mind that you'd much rather keep locked, a subliminal visitation from "the web of madness on the screen". Spooky, and even more disturbing than the hysterical cries of "taught to take lives" which open side two.

Ultimately, though, Levitation are an alternative experience, offering more of a sense of community and identity than any band since the Cure or (gulp) The Grateful Dead. A community of living and feeling. Humanity against the bomb, the media, the bastards in control. This is the start of something very special, something you want to be involved with. "Smile/ The experience is here/ Smile". Yeah, Levitation make it good to be alive. For however long.

ANDY O'REILLY - Lime Lizard 1992

Even When Your Eyes are Open

...You'll soon feel them starting to close if you're listening to this nonsense - an awful, sub-Floyd, dopey, drifting thing with token thrashy bits thrown in.

Look, this is getting out of hand. A whole new generation is being encouraged to believe that prog rock is a harmless, non-addictive narcotic. But I've seen the effects of prolonged use on far too many friends over the years, and I'm here to warn you that it rots your brain.

Keep listening to this stuff and, before you know it, your sensibilities will soften until even the inspirational likes of Voodoo Queens won't be able to shake you out of your torpor. Urgent, vital, demanding music will seem like too much bother. You'll find yourself hero-worshipping some hairy, addled old tosser like Terry Bickers because he can move his fingers around a fretboard quickly and can make you feel, like, hey, mellow...

Just say no, kids. Winners don't do prog.

DAVE JENNINGS - Melody Maker 1/5/93

Meanwhile Gardens (2015)

Back in 1998 when we launched Classic Rock magazine, we ran a feature in the very first issue titled: Meet The New Prog, Same As The Old Prog? Which posited the idea that prog had moved on apace from it be-caped days of the early 70s and its influence could now be heard in more modern day acts such as Radiohead, Spiritualized and even The Verve. Obviously, such as statement did not sit well with everyone, but one only has to look at albums like Kid A and Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space to note that there was a connection of sorts.

Back in the early 90s, before the original wave of indie bands who would affect the decade had been tarnished with the Britpop tag, shoegaze was a genre term coined by the music press for a raft of groups, insinuating that they took themselves too seriously (see a parallel forming here?). However, the bands retorted that they were, in reality, paying attention to the banks of guitar effects pedals at their feet. Either way, shoegaze, or dream pop as it was sometimes called, often had a strong psychedelic influence, and an otherworldliness that hinted at a more progressive influence.  The likes of Sigus Ros, Catherine Wheel, Mercury Rev and Swervedriver were all prog-friendly exponents.

As were Levitation, who were formed in 1990 by ex-House Of Love man Terry Bickers. They released their debut album, Need For Not on Rough Trade and toured as support to Cardiacs. But it was the band’s second album, Meanwhile Gardens, that has remained an undisturbed jewel in their skew-whiff crown. Bickers quit before it was released, throwing the band’s plans into chaos. American signer Steve Ludwin briefly replaced him and a version of Meanwhile Gardens was released in Australia only. But until now, its effervescent charms have remained largely ignored.

Soon to be released, having been pieced back together and remastered from original tapes, its 11 songs shine out, giving credence to the press release’s claim that it would have “changed the course of guitar music, had it been released at the time”.

Guitars shimmer and shine over the likes of Gardens Overflowing and the joyous Even When Your Eyes Are Open, and that sense of otherness that pervades I Believe, Burrows and Sacred Lover - echoed too in Bickers’ haunting vocals - all suggest the band enjoyed a much proggier playlist than they’d have dared to admit back in the prog-unfriendly 90s.

The fact that many exponents of the short-lived shoegaze phenomenon have moved into the realm of post-rock in the ensuing years,  which of course now also falls under progressive music’s grand umbrella, further hints at the historical and creative connections between the genres. It’s just that back in the 90s, prog was still very much a dirty word. The sumptuous tones of Meanwhile Gardens help prove that to be a folly.   

JERRY EWING - Prog Magazine August 2015

House Of Love guitarist’s indie-prog-psych project’s long-lost second

Embraced by some critics ahead of 1992’s debut album, Need For Not, as “the greatest we have right now”, yet dismissed by others as “reeking of incense”, Levitation always elicited powerful reactions, not least from their own members. Formed in 1990 after Terry ‘Bonkers’ Bickers’ unceremonious eviction from The House Of Love, and victims of their own debauched existence, the band disintegrated four years later in suitably volatile fashion after recording their second LP.  Though released in Australia with a replacement vocalist taking Bickers’ role, Meanwhile Gardens’ original tapes were until now only circulated as murky bootlegs, and this remastered release confirms a band consciously at odds with both the prevalent shoegaze sound and the imminent Britpop movement. Prog tags – encouraged by their Hawkwind-inspired name – were misleading: they were instead grandiose, with “King Of Mice” powered by David Francolini’s muscular drumming, and Bickers’ and Cardiacs member Bic Hayes’ pyrotechnic guitar lines driving the epic “Food For Powder” to giddy, stoned heights. Mapping out the tense postrock territory of Mogwai and the post-hardcore ferocity of At The Drive-In, Meanwhile Gardens is a long overdue document of a band flying spectacularly close to the sun. (8/10)

WYNDHAM WALLACE - Uncut Nov 2015