Words: Dominic Valvona
Ben Reed ‘Station Masters’
LP released by Gare du Nord, October 7th, 2016
Joining the estuary pipe-dreamers of glorious nostalgic induced rock’n’roll and pop, Gare du Nord, and continuing what is a running theme of railway-related references, the talented multi-instrumentalist and English psych disciple Ben Reed releases his first ever non-instrumental album, Station Masters, for the label. Both a fond halcyon nod to a romanticized age but also making a relevant point about struggling on the peripheral as an outsider – Gare du Nord’s end of the line analogy, stuck looking in from the borders of the London metropolis but alienated and unable to be apart of it. Ben Reed is a congruous extension, though lucky enough to be living inside the perimeter, brought up in Ealing on a healthy diet of eccentric and idiosyncratic psychedelia from the city but also imbued, it seems, by the famous Canterbury scene: essentially the Soft Machine and its band members Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers; vocally for the most part but you can hear their melodic versus the avant-garde jazz discord on the opening title-track.
On an entirely different plane to his recent bass-guitar duties on Frank Ocean’s last two albums, Endless and Blond, Reed waxes whimsically in a world of pastoral acid-folk, breezy progressive jazz soundtracks and summery Californian psych. Between the quaint and the kitsch, the various stopovers on this pastel-shaded metaphorical journey pulls in at a diverse range of destinations. Shimmering as they step off the train ride, arriving at a platform marked Nordic louche jazz, guest vocalist Laura Groves ponders wistfully on ‘Drifting’. At the next station, it is Reed who takes on the lead vocals, wearing the mantle of a beachcombing troubadour on the acoustic lilting reinterpretation of Portuguese poet Manuel de Freitas’ ‘Errata’. The American West Coast beckons as we move further down the line, the lulling influence on the instrumental ‘Allgones’, and a touch of Dennis Wilson’s nautical analogy “ahoy” lament on ‘Woman Overboard’. There’s even a hint of the 5th Dimension’s astrological paean harmony, and some psychedelic L.A. soul on the sweetly pursed ‘My Gold Is The Sun’.
Relaxed and subtly played throughout, Station Masters takes a smattering of themes and sounds from a golden age – between the mid 60s and mid 70s period. Passing fancies and full-on reverberations of The Association, Duncan Browne, Caravan, Mark Eric, Karin Korg, Hatfield & The North and Bruno Spoeri appear liberally. And despite the warm rich glow and bright fluttering, flitting of the RMI Electrapiano and organ and cooing lush female vocals pushing towards a far balmier climate, it remains a quintessentially maverick, Barrett-esque English trip.