Single Review: Dave McLean – “Faintly Blowing”

When it came to ‘60s psychedelia of the British variant, the prevailing approach was a kind of twee popsike (if you will). Songs with titles like “Toffee Apple Sundays” from groups with monikers like Toby Twirl seemed more the rule than the exception. And while there’s an undeniable appeal to that sort of stuff – hey, I love it – there were/are plenty of listeners who desire something a bit more substantial.

Of course for them there were Syd’s Pink Floyd, some of Tomorrow’s best work and select others. (And we mustn’t forget “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “I Am the Walrus,” by, well, y’know.) But even against that backdrop, some superb material got lost in the shuffle. Kaleidoscope – the British one, not the American outfit with David Lindley – made some superb psychedelia that should have stormed the charts. Alas, it did not.

But their music is prized among aficionados of the style. And among those aficionados is Dave McLean of The Chemistry Set. He recently cut a single (remember singles?) for the venerable Fruits de Mer label. And while I make a point of not reviewing singles, for every rule there is an exception, and in this case McLean’s new track is just that.

What it also is, is a cover of Kaleidoscope’s “Faintly Blowing.” the title of their second LP (not on streaming services, it would seem), the tune is a fine example of British psych with some heft. It’s not dark and doomy, nor is it a piece of fluff. It strikes the sweet spot in between, making use of phase shifting and other trappings of the era, all applied to a sturdy tune.

McLean’s reading of this semi-obscure classic does a neat trick: it faithfully conjures the lysergic aura of the era in which the song was originally created, and it arguably improves upon the original, with more muscular instrumentation and a rockier all-around feel. There are all manner of qualities that make it special, but the hypnotic bass lines and the in-a-cave stacked vocal harmonies stand out among them. The tune’s extended ending takes things into a kind of modal psych-jam territory, but unlike many such instro-breaks, for the listener it’s a trip well worth taking.

For those who prize such things, the single includes a monaural mix of the recording. The vocals are more out-front, and there are other interesting touches including a wonderfully swooshy phase effect; it’s more than simply a folded stereo mix.

Do check it out.