Listening to the songs of Flick

Written: 15 September, 1999

A few years back, I was listening to an old 1960s rock album, and generally enjoying it, when near the end there was a break between songs and for a moment one could hear something in the background, like one of the band members saying something in the studio, before the next song started up. And then, for some reason, I wished that there had been more moments like that on the rest of the album. Moments that provided a glimpse behind the slick production values, or maybe didn't even make sense, something unintelligible buried in the mix that would leave the listener asking questions. That's one of the reasons why I like groups like the Beatles and Pink Floyd, because they left enough unexplained to fill many a thesis paper on what they could have possibly meant.

And that's one of the reasons that I really like Flick. Although on the surface their sound would seem to be firmly in the "alternative rock" genre, I find plenty of old psychedelic-rock touches in their music, and little bits to make you go "huh?" Take the name "The Perfect Kellulight," for example. On the video portion of the CD, the band declines to answer what the title means, implying a big secret that can't be revealed to just anybody. The video has a sort of X-Files feel at times, with the band standing in a field and pointing to something mysterious in the sky. The back cover of the album shows Flick's symbol, a flaming egg. This takes a 1970s approach, when bands like E.L.O. had symbols (like a spaceship) that would appear on each of their album covers. The front cover depicts a crashed car wrapped around a railroad crossing sign, which would seem to be ripe for a symbolic reading (e.g., does the cross sign have religious significance?) for anyone wanting to write an over-the-top thesis paper on Flick.

Their music, too, demonstrates an awareness of the curious element found in old psychedelic rock songs. There is an untitled instrumental break between "Electric Pear" and "Maybe Someday" which almost sounds like something the Nairobi Trio on "The Ernie Kovacs Show" would play. When I first heard it, I was reminded of how Pink Floyd had an instrumental of weird sounds at the end of "Bike" (1967). Flick's odd instrumental functions as an intermission between the first and second halves of the album. One of the basic critiques of the psychedelic era was that the music was self-indulgent. My own feeling is that I'd rather hear the audio equivalent of someone's quirky tastes because at least I know I'll probably hear something new and unusual as a result. That hidden Flick track could be called self-indulgent, but to my mind it's the sign of musicians willing to try something different and unexpected, even if it doesn't meet with universal approval. Or to quote Flick, "Doesn't it feel good to be yourself at the end?"

At the end of "There You Go (False You)," what sounds like a radio voice mentioning the Book of Ezekiel can be heard if one listens closely. (The promo single mix fades out before that voice can be heard, as well as mixing out other little weird sounds, such as what appears to be a person saying something like "baaa-a-a-a" at 3 minutes and 16 seconds into the album version of "There You Go." The single mix of "Drag" also shortens the length of the opening chuckling voice. Presumably such little curious touches were deemed too distracting or not "commercial" sounding enough for radio.) Perhaps the Book of Ezekiel sheds some light on the meaning of "There You Go," due to it being mentioned at the end of the song. Or it could simply be coincidence. The Beatles put a radio broadcast of a Shakespeare play at the ending of "I Am the Walrus" (1967) and the muttering at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever" (1967) caused rumors about its meaning. A tiny voice can be heard at the beginning and ending of Pink Floyd's The Wall (1979), as well as TV channels playing in the background throughout the record. Flick also used a tiny voice which presumably came from a broadcast -- a voice saying "commence ignition" -- at the start of "Milky Way" on their 1997 self-titled EP. The lyric "Nothing seems real" in "There You Go" also recalls "Strawberry Fields," which contains the lyric "Nothing is real."

Another element often found in songs of the psychedelic Sixties era was the use of real sounds in the songs, such as the sounds of the city in Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City." Pink Floyd used such sounds extensively in their music long after the psychedelic era. Their album Dark Side of the Moon (1973) contains moments where a person can be heard chuckling in a creepy manner. The Flick song "Drag" opens with what appears to be one of the Flick members chuckling in a kind of creepy way, although the youthfulness of the voice prevents it from being as creepy as those found on Pink Floyd albums. Other Pink Floydish touches in Flick songs include the motorcycle sound at the end of "Pink Boo" and the sounds of traffic at the end of "The End." Incidentally, "The End," ironically, has a "false ending" -- where you think the song is over but then it starts up again. The Beatles used "false endings" in songs such as "Helter Skelter" (1968) and "Strawberry Fields."

"High on You" suggests that the singer's love for another person is a substitute for a chemical means of obtaining a "high." This idea has been used in songs before (e.g., "You're My Drug" by The Dukes of Stratosphear, from 1988) but knowing that the members of Flick are religious suggests that the object of the singer's "high" is not of this world. ("I Like You," on Flick's EP, could also be seen as being about God.) The chorus' rhyming of "I get by" and "I get high" recalls The Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" (1967). Orchestral strings are also quite prominent near the end of this song, perhaps intended to evoke an "otherworldly" feeling, or a nod to the popularity of orchestration among psychedelic groups (Beatles, Moody Blues, etc.). The mellowness and beauty of the lyrics is another good example of why I like Flick; even without the strings and effects, this would remain a beautiful song.

The organ sound in "One Hundred Days" is reminiscent of the organ in "Everybody Else is Wrong" by Utopia (1980) which was a pastiche of The Beatles' psychedelic period. The acoustic guitar playing at the beginning of "Pink Boo" is reminiscent of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" (1969). Perhaps Flick's phrase "Electric Pear" has its origins in Donovan's reference to an upcoming "electrical banana" fad in his song "Mellow Yellow" (1967). "Electric Pear" was probably the first Flick song that I realized I really liked, and one of the bits I liked best was when the "opera" singer in the background kept getting cut off by the lead singer. For some reason, that struck me as a kind of Beatlesque touch.

"Milky Way" and "I Like You" are examples of straight-forward pop-rock, appearing on an EP which one reviewer called "the American version of the Brit-pop genre." One of Flick's earliest efforts was a cover of The Who's "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" (which Bowie also once covered, by the way) where Flick manage to sound a bit like The Who. The singing at the end of "Milky Way" reminds me a bit of Roger Daltrey, when Trevor lets loose with a "here" of surprising force and power, and again when one of the penultimate "I like it up here" lines is sung in a different key.

These older influences are perhaps not immediately noticed by most listeners. When I first heard the chorus of "Freezer Burnt," my immediate thought was: "This sounds a lot like Smashing Pumpkins." When I've tried to describe Flick's sound to people, I've used phrases like "a mellow Smashing Pumpkins," "Smashing Pumpkins meets the Beatles," "psychedelic grunge rock," and other inadequete phrases. Flick's music also seems to draw influences from some current alternative rock bands, not just the old stuff outlined above. Some of the quieter guitar picking in "Electric Pear" is similar to the sound in Smashing Pumpkins' "Today" (1993). Radiohead uses a sudden crunch of isolated guitar sound to punctuate moments in their song "Creep" (1993), and Flick uses a similar style of guitar "punctuation" in both "Electric Pear" and "Maybe Someday." There is a sort of machine-gun guitar bit which can be found in both "Electric Pear" (at 0.08 and 2.55) and Stone Temple Pilots' "Vasoline" (1994) -- again, used as a kind of musical "punctuation." "Wishing Well" begins almost like an old lullaby, but the majority of the track is set to the backdrop of crashing waves of guitar. While the opening lines of the song bring to mind an old-fashioned musical style of longing, structured around a quaint literary device like the wishing well, the subsequent lines reflect a more modern straight-forward desperation: "What I want, what I yooouuuuu!"

Punk rock also seems to have had some influence on Flick. The middle of "Anthem" that goes "Can't leave now and another day is on the way" is accompanied by a loud biting guitar sound which owes more to punk than Pink Floyd. Perhaps one of the innovations that Nirvana popularized was the combination of the slow, soft-sounding song with the screamed guitar-heavy rock song. Instead of being two separate songs in different styles, the two styles were joined in one song that would move from soft to heavy and back again, like a musical form of manic depression. Flick songs like "Wishing Well," "There You Go," "Radio Song," and "Maybe Someday" reflect that 1990s style of combining soft passages, sung close to the microphone and just above a whisper, with hard choruses shouted loud and clear.

By demonstrating an appreciation of pre-1990s techniques in their songs, as well as using modern approaches which appeal to them, Flick succeeds in providing a synthesis between old and new, something which appeals to current tastes as well as reflecting more enduring ones. I'm hard-pressed to tell if the wonderfully distorted guitars that appear in many Flick songs like "Electric Pear" and "The End" reflect a new style or an old one. Therefore, the synthesis produces something timeless. The occasional scrapings of guitars and other sonic experiments in Flick songs could be a throwback to an untapped and near-forgotten legacy or small steps forward into uncharted waters. Their frequent willingness to employ classical instruments reveals an artistic and ambitious approach, unwilling to be confined by the conventional guitars-and-drum rock sound. Considering the relative youth of its members, Flick's achievements in this respect are refreshing and impressive. One can only wonder where Flick's musical investigations will take them next. Hopefully to the top of the charts!