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We haven't done this since 2019's Nordic November, but it's time for another themed month: Obscure October. (Yeah, my absolute adoration of alliteration abides.)

Granted, there is some inherent difficultly in the proposition. Obscure is relative to all axes of proximity. Not to mention that for some, many records featured in Album Notes may already land in this category. That said, the idea is to dive deep and shed light on a few albums and artists that deserve far more attention than they have (at least in my mind) heretofore received. 

The Voluntary Butler Scheme's "The Grandad Galaxy"

Obscure October Week 1: The Grandad Galaxy
Date: July 14, 2011
Location: Stourbridge, England
The Skinny: Half instrumental, half catchy Beach Boys/Beatles vibes. All good. 

What's in a name? The Voluntary Butler Scheme reads like something spit out of a band name generator. The musical product is far more intentional. Rob Jones released three albums under the moniker between 2009 and 2014. All are very much worth checking out, and while a favorite is hard to pick from the trio, The Grandad Galaxy stands as the best balance of production and songwriting. The 15 tracks are at once modern but old-timey, all the while dreamy and hypnotic. Whether or not the nonsensical name contributed to the lack of stardom, Jones delivered three quality records worthy of wider recognition.

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New week, even older obscure oddity, and one that is likely my favorite of the four that will be featured this month.

Obscure October Week 2: Familijesprickor
Date: 1980
Location: Uppsala, Sweden
The Skinny: There's nothing lean about the virtuosic prog rock excursions from this Swedish outfit that land somewhere between Zappa, Mr. Bungle, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. 

Album Notes - Obscure October: Zamla Mammaz Manna's "Familijesprickor"

I don't even know where to begin with Zamla Mammaz Manna other than to say that if you like the aforementioned artists, or pretty much any jamband from the 90s or 00s, or are curious about 70s Scandinavian prog rock, do yourself a favor and check out Familijesprickor. It is something that truly has to be heard to be understood. And even then the latter may prove difficult.

While changing their name from Samla Mammas Manna to Zamla Mammaz Manna and back again doesn't quite put them in John Dwyer of Orinoka Crash Sweet / OCS / Orange County Sound / The Ohsees / Thee Oh Sees / Oh Sees / Osees territory as far as trying to make cataloguing one band's releases as challenging as possible, the act of doing so, combined with the musical stylings, no doubt did little to help their broad appeal. 

Released in 1980, the Zam's seventh album comes across today as simultaneously dated yet fresh. Many of the keyboard sounds really are something else, for better or worse, while the songwriting is right at home with what a number of bands of a certain ilk have tried to accomplish over the past few decades. One could hear snippets, taken in conjunction with the song titles and band name, and assume these guys are from the school of those inspired by Phish. The difference between this and any number of jambands who attempt such aural adventures is that these Swedes are not only technically proficient on their respective instruments, but pen quality compositions to boot. Not to mention they rarely bother with trying to sing. Familijesprickor may translate as "Family Cracks" but there are no fault lines here. Only quality tunes and even better chops. 

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Obscure October Week 3
Date: June 4, 2001
Location: Japan
The Skinny: Ambient, piano-driven chill Japanese DJ does it his way

I have no interest in being verbose to describe a largely instrumental album. As someone who never felt at home in the electronic scene, I am the first to admit that the late Susumu Yokota may not qualify as obscure for serious fans of the genre throughout the 90s and 00s. "Ambient" is the label laid upon Grinning Cat, the prolific Japanese DJ's umpteenth release, but calling it such seems unfairly reductive to artist and craft. Yes, Yokota's wares frequently supply a calming effect that leave the listener in a state of contemplative bliss, but for years I've been struck by this record for reasons I can't explain. Something just keeps calling me back. 

Obscure October - Susumu Yokota's "Grinning Cat" reviewed by EricksonListening to Grinning Cat, it's easier to picture a painter taking stabs at a fresh canvas than it is to see a DJ splicing together that which results in these 13 tracks. An inventive, playful nature lies at the heart of the album from start to finish. One can easily imagine Yokota smiling like a Cheshire as he put the final touches on this set.

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