Album review: The Baroques (1967)

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Album artwork

In some dark and desolate woods somewhere in the western hemisphere, an individual in their late 20’s turns on their record player, with the intent to have a pleasant time through the gripping power of music. What they find, as they turn the volume up to the highest possible decibels that their musical machine can provide, are sounds that not only appear to be from another planet, but another universe altogether…

In 1966, Milwaukee, Wisconsin band, The Baroques, signed to Chess Records, and created their only album, the self-titled acid drenched magnificence, ‘The Baroques’Within one week of the album and its accompanied single “Mary Jane” being released, they were both quickly banned by local radio DJs. They wrongly assumed that “Mary Jane” was a pro-drug song, which was not at all the case. However, the band fed off this reputation, and began pulling wild and daring stunts during their concerts.

The album itself is extremely unique. Yes, bands all over were attempting to capture originality on a record, yet The Baroques pulled it off better than most. Their psychedelic/garage/pop hybrid was done by others, but the essence of darkness that is represented in this album makes their sound its own entity. For instance, “Iowa, a Girl’s Name” which starts off the album, showcases the gloom and doom aura that a good chunk of the album provides. Some of these songs would undoubtedly fit perfectly inside movie scenes where a character may meet his or hers unfortunate demise…Extremely atmospheric, and filled with a moody fuzz guitar tone that segues into the bashing chorus where drummer Dean Nimmer lets loose with all of his might, finishing with an otherworldly psychedelic freakout.

The A-side hosts the only single from the album, “Mary Jane”, a stand-out track which immediately grabs your attention with infectious electric piano that comes crashing in at around 25 seconds into the track. This, accompanied by Jay Borkenhagen’s vocals (that sound as if his voice box had been spliced with that of a bumble bee’s!) make this a truly unique listening experience. Once again, I have to applaud the drumming, since it clearly adds flavor to this slice of rhythmic ecstasy.

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The Baroques

However, the band did have its calmer side, exemplified by “Seasons.” With a wonderful sounding harpsichord found throughout, this beauty of a song is one of the softer sounding tracks on the album. Contrary to the band’s name, they are not generally regarded as a group that recorded music of a baroque nature. They are more classified as psychedelic with garage influences. However, “Seasons” is a clear exception, and should not be ignored by anybody who would enjoy a fantastic piece of baroque music.

As stated, The Baroques had a unique sound rarely found elsewhere in the music world. The stuttering flow of “Rose Colored Glasses” certainly gives it a distinct punch, with Brokenhagen’s vocals once again giving this song a delightfully strange addition. Yet, there are even better examples of their idiosyncratic nature; “Bicycle”, probably the strangest song on here, will be lodged inside your head for an eternity! With a very odd melody that somehow works on the album. B-side song, “Boop”, only contains nonsensical sounds repeated throughout the entire track. It is certainly memorable not only for that, but for how excellent it sounds to the ears. The dismal and gloomy sound found on most of the album is completely invisible here, with this being very jolly and fun sounding.

Elsewhere, there is “In Silver Light”, which is centered around slow moving bongos that certainly separates this track from the others on the album. Drenched with extreme psychedelic magic it is certainly atmospheric of being at a campfire on a dreamy summer night. There is also “There’s Nothing Left To Do But Cry” which sounds like the sessions of The Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man” got spliced with their sessions of “Fifth Dimension” with a garage tinge not found on either of those two albums.

Overall, The Baroques brought a unique and delightful edge to their sound that was amplified by splendid musicianship and a lead vocalist that had a voice perfectly matched to the musicianship of Dean Nimmer, Jacques Hutchinson and  Rick Bieniewsk. It almost seems cruel that these guys never made another album, since this one will undoubtedly have you interested for more musical explorations from them.

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