Review by Toby Creswell

Then, and Then is like field recordings from The Twilight Zone. If Alan Lomax took his Nagra to Alpha Centuri and pointed it back this is what he would hear; snatches of electronica colliding with folk music, pop melodies and Celtic droning dulcimer crashing against lines tinkled on a Casio. Floating on top of this strange brew are snatches of poetry.

Geoffrey Datson has had a diverse recording career to this point from the straight up pop rock of the Surfside 6 to the post-punk of Belle du Soir who recorded for the legendary MSquared label. In the mid 1980s he formed Samurai Trash whose Afrobeatish sides released by Virgin were widely acclaimed. Since then he has toiled in the basement and traveled widely, recording an eclectic range of projects, most recently as producer and musician on a powerful CD of poetry from Moshen, an Iranian refugee interred in Villawood.

Then, and Then is a record of Datson’s peripatetic travels in time and space from adolescence on a farm in Cooroy on the Sunshine Coast to Sydney and then around the world back to Sydney and finally back to Cooroy. It’s an album that starts with teenage dreams of Patti Smith and the symbolist poets and Neil Young and winds up back on the land. As a teenager he’s full of ideas and adventures. By the end of the journey, he’s coming to understand the acceptance of country that his father had. “Homeland Borderland Wasteland” is the most obviously political, while “Pied Plucker of Cooroy” the most whimsical.

This is not a linear narrative by any means. There’s snatches of ideas, nightmares and reminiscences and quotation; dreams and events. The music also has its own narrative that signposts Datson’s journey; songs like “Woodcut” sound like the Velvet Underground jamming with the Incredible String Band. There are other familiar sounds here too; Suicide, early Human League, the Grateful Dead, Arabic drones and plainsong. Sometimes all in the same song.

The album comes with a beautifully packaged book of poetry. The words on the page are satisfying enough, unlike most rock lyrics, but benefit from accompaniment. Given the breadth and diversity on these tracks, it’s amazing that it holds together but it somehow does. The doom-laden clouds part into delicate pop melodies. Like any collection of poetry, you can dip in and out, but listening to the story unfold is the way to do it. This is definitely not, as they might say in Star Trek, rock & roll as we know it. It will adjust your set.

Toby Creswell 2010

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