The Scantharies - The Scantharies
When one thinks of Greece, you'd be forgiven for not immediately thinking of its surf-psych garage scene in the 60s. A play on the Greek word for 'beetle', Andy Dragazis envisages The Scantharies as an eponymous 'best of' compilation from a fictional, ill-fated Greek garage rock band from the late 60s, who were inspired by the Beatles famous visit to the Greek Island of Euboea with their false-guru, Magic Alex. And much like the way the Beatles' relationship with Magic Alex dissolved upon the discovery of his shoddy claims of genius (he is the inventor of “the lightbox” that John Lennon would obsess over during LSD trips), The Scantharies plays out like a Greek tragedy that starts off gloriously before getting lost in a maze of bad influences, before concluding in a divine realisation of contrition and penance.
Taking cues from other Greek garage rock projects like the Persons, Aphrodite's Child and Forminx (the first musical outfits of Vangelis and Demis Roussos – a fact you don't hear about these days!), The Scantharies really teases out the surfier elements of garage rock in the 60s, with an abundance of tremolo guitars and rumbling basslines ala Dick Dale, spliced with elements of traditional, bouzouki-driven Greek music (rembetika) and retro-styled electronica. The album, like the band, starts off its journey with the go-go dance ready numbers like 'The Start' and 'I've Got The Green Light And I'm Ready To Go' that are at once triumphant and weightless. However, much like the band's fictional journey, danger starts to creep in as the album absorbs more stylistic influences, much like those very hedonistic influences that would have led to the band's derailment. 'The Bear' and 'What The Gods Want' starts to steer the album into weird, pseudo-Spaghetti Western territory, with a beat that sounds like it's marching towards a showdown at sunset. The album's bottom half becomes far darker in tone and melody, with the introduction of trembling organs ('Hip Messiah') and languid, steel string balladry ('Advance Forward'). Closer, 'The Cross', feels like an Ancient Greek epic of redemption.
It's a dramatic journey for an album that is completely instrumental, and Dragazis does a great job at giving life to a deliciously obscure concept and communicating a meaningful narrative in the music alone. Also, being Anglo-Greek, you also get a sense that Dragazis is proud to show a side of his cultural heritage that would be unbeknownst to modern music listening folk. And God knows, for a country that has gone through the trials and tribulations that it has in recent times, it's nice to remind people of its cultural goldmine that keeps on giving – ancient, modern, well-known and hidden gems.
Without prior knowledge of the album's concept, The Scantharies uniqueness could be a bit lost on people, especially because the influence of pop on Greek music at that time is quite subtle. But if anything it highlights a natural marriage between the two art forms. So, if you're even remotely curious about cultural syncretism or broadening your own musicological horizons, take a trip with the Scantharies.