Licorice Roots
Mood Food, 1997

It’s not officially autumn yet, but the post–Labor Day buzz has certainly put a crisp in the air that urges listens to albums that conjure a distinctly motley psychedelic mood. The Elephant Six have just announced they’re taking the caravan out of retirement for a Holiday Surprise tour, and re-visiting those records has become a perfect antidote. In that unearthing, forgotten relics breathe a new life. For some reason anything drenched in reverb and dusty, layered production gets a second chance. Sandwiched somewhere between the Neutral Milk Hotel’s On Avery Island and the latest sentimental trip from the Music Tapes lies Licorice Roots, though there is no relation.

Edward Moyse and his Delaware-based Licorice Roots, an outfit that flew outside the nebula of those Athens bands, remain sorely underappreciated for the simple fact that his collection of work remains hard to find and as a result unheard. Though he’s operated under that moniker for over a decade, stretching his dead-on obsession for Lennon’s solo career through five albums, it’s 1997’s Melodeon, released during the E6’s prime-time, that stands alone as his most widely released album and incidentally his one true masterpiece. His aesthetic and fanciful artwork may not have aged well (it wasn’t that flattering way back when), but the whole judging a book by its cover holds weight when hearing these songs for the first time in ages.

The reason Moyce’s later discography has suffered is partly due to his adherence to a distinctive sound: a sonically echoed madness that spends half the time catching up with itself, a searing and labyrithine guitar lead that always finds a way to the fore and Moyse’s playful, faux-British, faux-fey voice that is eerily like Lennon singing from the grave. There are admirable songs throughout his albums, but they never stray from Melodeon’s swirling inner-chamber pop. This first original statement is something hard to replicate, a kind of all-for-nothing carnival of frivolity. Anyone worshipping the deep cuts of Imagine and Mind Games will find solace in Melodeon’s dreamy kaleidoscopic vision.

The title track arrives as a melody pounded out upon a rickety grand piano, as once discernable layers of acoustic guitars, mandolins and lysergic mellotron inevitably crest into a singular wave of frantic psychedelia. Moyse frequently volleys between psychological extremes, from the hairy, harmonica-led “Oh Love,” a rousing hitchhiking throwback to inebriated barrel-house days, and the organ-treated ethereal calm of songs like “Loopy-Loopy” and “Oval River.” Similar to Olivia Tremor Control in their convoluted zones or the Bevis Frond in thick, soupy marshland, out of the ether seeps a mosaic of tuneful vibes.

The heart of Licorice Roots is indeed Melodeon’s centerpiece, “Marushka,” a chilled slow-motion lullaby caked in a timeless crust, leading the listener through strawberry fields and smoke-filled opium dens. It’s not so much nostalgia as an alternate maze you’d never think to travel, worth the digging that’s likely to come in finding this gem.
Kevin J. Elliott