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Kensington Market - Aavark

Kensington Market - Aavark

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Genre: pop
Rating: 4 stars ****
Title:  Aardvark
Company: Warner Brothers/Seven Arts
Catalog: W 1780
Year: 1969
Country/State: Toronto, Canada
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: gatefold sleeve; cut lower right corner
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 285
Price: $30.00

Best time to play: Saturday afternoon while cleaning up the house

Maybe due to the fact it's such a strange album, I've always had a soft spot for Kensington Market's second and final album. Produced by Felix Pappalardi, 1969's "Aardvark" is one of those albums that must have sounded terribly out of place in 1969. While the rest of the musical world was going off in pursuit of blues-rock, horn rock, and sensitive singer/songwriter angst, these guys seemed content continuing to explore Left Banke-styled Baroque pop (' If It Is Love'), sunshine pop ('Help Me'), psychedelia ('Ow-ing Man') and a healthy dose of mid-'60s Beatles ('Side I Am'). I love that kind of stuff so I'm a big fan, but it you bought this thinking the Pappalardi connection meant you were going to hear some Cream, or Mountain-styled rock ... well you were largely out of luck. Anyhow, four of the five members contributed to the writing chores and the only true loser happened to be the lone cover - the throwaway Pappalardi-penned instrumental 'Ciao'. Musically these guys were all quite good with front man Keith McKie demonstrating an immensely likeable voice. Bassist Alex Darou turned in some wonderful Paul McCartney's styled performances, while lead guitarist Eugene Martynec managed to impress without being a spotlight hog. That said, the band's secret weapon was guest musician John Mills-Cockell who displayed an amazingly light and melodic touch on the Moog.

- 'Help Me' was a great mash-up of a top-40 pop melody and more psych elements including fuzz guitar, and lysergic synthesizer and bass line. The song's distinct personalities were best appreciated with a good pair of headphones. Easily one of the standout performances, easy to see why Warner Brothers tapped it as the single. rating: **** stars
- I'm a pushover for harpsichord and Baroque-pop bands like The Left Banke, so ' If It Is Love' grabbed me from the opening chords. Yeah the song was a bit on the fey side, but it had a great melody and McKee seldom sounded as good, especially on the glistening chorus. YouTube has a 2008 performance of the song and though he's a bit older, McKee still sounded pretty darn good. rating: **** stars
- 'I Know You' has always reminded me of a good Emmit Rhodes song, which means it sounds like a second tier Paul McCartney song. Don't get me wrong - I love a good McCartney song as much as anyone, but this wasn't one of them. rating: *** stars
- Propelled by Eugene Martynec's thick, sustained fuzz guitar (Robin Trower would have approved), 'The Thinker' demonstrated these guys could toughen up their sound. Perhaps the best rocker across both album, credit producer Pappalardi's influence on this one - in fact that may be his crushing bass you hear throughout the tune. Yeah, the song went off the tracks at the very end, but that actually added to its overall appeal. rating: ***** stars
- Another overly pretty ballad, 'Half Closed Eyes' pushed the band painfully close to deadly sensitive singer/songwriter territory. What this one had going for it was John Mills-Cocktel's synthesizer washes. YouTube has a 2010 performance of the song with McKee and company giving the song a surprisingly likeable country-rock edge. rating: *** stars
- Kicked along by Jimmy Watson hypnotic drums and a mesmerizing Martynec keyboard riff, 'Said I Could Be Happy' was another cool lysergic-tinged pop number. Breezy and despicably catchy. rating: **** stars
- Penned by Pappalardi, 'Ciao' was a brief, vaguely jazzy instrumental that didn't make much of an impression. rating: ** stars
- A mid-tempo keyboard and bass driven rocker, 'Ow-ing Man' captured the band at their most psychedelic. rating: **** stars
- Opening side 2, 'Side I Am' continued the "Sgt. Pepper" vibe complete with sterling vocals, 'molten' bass line, 'Penny Lane' -styled Baroque horns, and an acid-drenched vibe. Great tune. rating: **** stars
- Originally written an recorded by McKee's prior group The Vendettas, 'Think About the Time' was a breezy, radio-ready pop song that showcased some great multi-part vocals and Mills-Cocknell's Moog. Surprising this one wasn't tapped as a single. rating: **** stars
- Another sleeper, 'Cartoon' ripped off a host of Fab Four influences (the la-la-la-la chorus was a blatant swipe), but thanks in large measure to Mills-Cocknell's synthesizer effects, was still a blast to hear. rating: **** stars
- The album's longest and most intriguing song, thanks to Martynec's meandering lead guitar 'Dorian' started out sounding a bit like a Dead jam session, before spinning off fragments of sunshine-pop vocals, jazzy interludes, heavy psych, and hard rock moves. For his part Martynec simply crushed this tune. YouTube has a 2008 performance of the track at: rating: **** stars
As mentioned, the album spun off a pair of singles:

- 1967's 'Help Me' b/w 'Half Close Eyes' (Warner/Seven Arts catalog number 6061)
- 1968's 'Witch's Stone' b/w 'Side I Am' (Warner/Seven Arts catalog number 7265) The 'A' side was apparently a remake of the album track 'Ow-ing Man'

It's one of those rare albums I enjoy more each time I play it. Can't say that about many records !!!
In support of the album the band actually did a short tour of the States, but within a couple of months they'd essentially called it quits.

"Aardvark" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) Help Me (Gene Martynec - Felix Pappalardi) - 2:45
2.) If It Is Love (Keith McKie) - 2:42
3.) I Know You (Keith McKie - Gene Martynec) - 1:58
4.) The Thinker (Gene Martynec - Luke Gibson) - 2:27
5.) Half Closed Eyes (Gene Martynec) - 2:29
6.) Said I Could Be Happy (Gene Martynec - Luke Gibson - Keith McKie) - 2;21
7.) Ciao (Felix Pappalardi) - 1:13
8.) Ow-ing Man (Gene Martynec - Keith McKie) - 2:35

(side 2)
1.) Side I Am (Keith McKie - Gene Martynec) - 3:17
2.) Think About the Times (Keith McKie) - 2:53
3.) Have You Come To See (Keith McKie - Gene Martynec) - 3:03
4.) Cartoon (Keith McKee - Bernie Finkelstein) - 2:30
5.) Dorian (Luke Gibson - Felix Papallardi) - 6:46
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