Album Review: The Ophelias — Bare Bodkin

From a musical perspective, psychedelia’s heyday was the period between the mid- and late 1960s. The style’s influence, however, has endured since then in the form of various artists’ reinterpretation of its values. Such creative giants as Robyn Hitchcock and Julian Cope – to name but two – have built upon the foundation of psych-rock, bending it to their own very distinctive ends. On a wider scale, the 1980s saw a resurgence of psych in the form of southern California’s so-called Paisley Underground. But psych continued to bubble under in other, more far-flung corners.

San Franciso has long been a creative musical hotbed, and in the pre-internet era in particular, the Bay Area developed its own brand of psych, perhaps less influenced by what was going on elsewhere than it wold have been a few years later. It was there in 1984 that The Ophelias began their musical odyssey. With the benefit of hindsight, the group’s music has hints of the approach and style of The Church, Siouxsie and the Banshees and other quality exponents of the second- (third?) wave psychedelic rock movement.

During their initial run – ending around 1989 – The Ophelias released four albums. Disbanding in September of that year, the output ceased. But in 2017 group leader and primary songwriter Leslie Medford curated a collection titled Bare Bodkin. Drawing from the group’s released body of work as well as unreleased recordings, the well-received set provided a tidy overview/distillation of The Ophelias’ inimitable brand of psych rock. And the timing loosely coincided – likely not at all coincidentally – with the group’s return to active duty.

The thing was, at that point Bare Bodkin was available only via streaming and YouTube.

Meanwhile, the group signed with Independent Project Records, with plans to release Bare Bodkin on physical formats. The pandemic inevitably forced a delay, but a CD finally became available in 2022. Along the way the reconstituted group released four(!) albums of new material.

Then in late 2023 a vinyl release of Bare Bodkin became available. Luxuriously packaged in a colorful sleeve with historical essays, photos, download card and more, it’s unquestionably the definitive version of the compilation. Group originals coexist nicely with tracks like the seething, sinister cover of The Kinks’ “Wicked Annabella.” The Ophelias’ arrangement of that song suggests how Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd might have tacked the song.

And the group’s early breakthrough track – a reading of the folk song “Mister Rabbit” is of course included as well; its nursery rhyme melody only encourages the Barrett references. But such comparisons do a disservice to the innately original group, and Bare Bodkin serves as an ideal entry point into the curious world of this idiosyncratic and appealing group.