from; Signal To Noise, spring 2004 issue
VRIL Effigies in Cork (Recommended Records)

Vril is a new project, instigated by Drake, who goaded guitarist and sometimes collaborator Lukas Simonis to come up with catchy fragments and unfinished bits for the 21st C. equivalent of the surf record. Simonis' guitars sometimes wiggle with a nervous twangy tremolo, but they're often just drop-dead gorgeous as they flesh out little compact rock puzzles with odd cadences and unexplored melodic quirks. At moments it could be the post-Zeppelin guitar album that Jimmy Page has never managed to make, for all it's texture. ' Effigies in Cork ' with it's brief song-like pieces, seems simple on the surface, but it's an illusion -it's got depth equal to 'Spoors', plus a charming quality that makes it the more immediately hosptable.
James Beaudreau

Effigies in Cork by VRIL Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University, University Center MI 48710 USA

The first notes of this CD made me think of a more intellectual NRBQ or Ben Vaughan Combo. VRIL is twangy, guitar-rich instrumental rock yet with riskier melodies and time signatures than expected. Its rhythmic creativity marks it as another project of productive percussionist Chris Cutler, who has drummed for over nearly four decades with experimental and individualistic players like the Art Bears, the Residents, Fred Frith, David Thomas, and many others.

VRIL teams Cutler’s drums with the fascinating runs of Dutch guitarist, Lukas Simonis, atop the able support of bass player Bob Drake. The result is music that a Cal Tech physicist who surfs on weekends would enjoy. After the opening tour-de-force "supersonic canteen" (all titles are lower case), the playlist remains interesting, though running out of steam a bit, until picking back up with the cut "implacable swordfish". ReR Megacorp's packaging gives the Effigies in Cork CD the variegated delights of a well-designed vinyl album of old, from a classical look parodying Deutsche Grammophon's label to Tim Schwartz's odd neo-Victorian imagery. Frank Keyes provides verbose, funny liner notes and obscurantist song titles. Plenty to keep one interested and alert on that long drive to the beach.

here is the editorial review :

"Vril is an adrenalized, poppy, rampant batch of rock guitar instrumentals. The Shadows, The Ventures, Surf music, early Hendrix are invoked, but they’re all put through the intense mangle of 21st century thinking and studio trickery. It’s a twangy guitar album gone mad, complete with a fascinating art-and-texts booklet which reads like a liner notes by Edgar Allen Poe. The album features three unlikely avant-garde musicians: Dutch guitarist Lukas Simonis, bass player/mastering wiz Bob Drake and famed percussionist Chris Cutler."

Breathless prose, eh? Flattering though it may be to be compared to the great neurasthenic one, I'm not sure I see the connection.* And couldn't they have spelled Allan correctly?

* NOTE. Bob Drake writes (17th December 2003) : "It is true. Have you not read any of Edgar Allen Poe's work? (Not to be confused with Edgar Allan Poe.) He mentions stolen paint, calcium, unguents, poultices, swollen diagrams, purposeless turnips, cilliated plumula, and cormorants in every one of his works." .

VRIL //EFFIGIES IN CORK //CD //RER MEGACORP //RERVRIL1 Three unlikely avant-garde musicians have come together to make this record. The rhythm section teams up bassist Bob Drake (Thinking Plague, the 5UUS, Hail) with avant rock UK drummer Chris Cutler (Henry Cow, Art Bears, Cassiber, Pere Ubu). Dutch guitarist Lukas Simonis came up with the tunes, and the band worked out the arrangements live in the studio. The cover is a Deutsche Gramaphon spoof by artist Frank key, who also wrote the surreal sleeve notes.This album rocks! It's a quirky, poppy rampant batch of rock guitar instrumentals, with echoes of The Shadows, The Ventures, Surf music, Spaghetti Western soundtracks, early Beatles and early Hendrix, all rammed through the mangle of 21st Century thinking and studio tricke

VRIL [CHRIS CUTLER/BOB DRAKE/LUKAS SIMONIS] - Effigies in Cork (ReR Vril 1) Chris Cutler plays drums & electrified percussion, was a member of the legendary Henry Cow & Art Bears bands and runs the great ReR label. Bob Drake plays bass & guitars, was once in US prog legends Thinking Plague & Hail and has number of adventurous solos efforts. Lukas Simonis plays guitars & mandolin, but his background is unknown to us. The liner notes include a fictitious story about three shady characters named the Trashkent Terror, the Badger and Bim. The character that inspired this tale is none other than Lothar Preen and VRIL stands for "Vain, Resplendent, Impossible Lothar". The most is an odd blend of feisty and fun-filled power/pop/prog done instrumentally. This is much different than anything that I've heard from Chris Cutler, who is one of the greatest of progressive/rock/jazz drummers. I dig the way Bob and Lukas layer a variety of different guitar (and a bit of mandolin) parts on each piece without ever getting too dense or intense. A number of surprising influences sail by like some surfin' twang guitars and cheesy, somewhat Beefheartian rhythmic angularities. Certainly an unusual change of pace from our favorite rhythmatist, record label head and occasional philosopher and author.

Vril ‘Effigies in Cork’ (Recommended 2003)

Boccata d'ossigeno; dopo l'abbastanza orrido 'Spoors' sotto la sigla Science Group era palesemente difficile stabilire quali fossero le condizioni di salute artistica dei signori Chris Cutler (Henry Cow, Art Bears, Cassiber, Pere Ubu e qualche altro migliaio di collaborazioni sparse) e Bob Drake (Thinking Plague ed Hail ). Li ritroviamo a distanza di poco tempo di nuovo insieme in compagnia del chitarrista Lukas Simonis in un progetto che sgombra il campo dalle numerose ombre sollevate dal precedente lavoro sotto altra sigla, i muscoli paiono di nuovo tirati a lucido e sopratutto la scrittura giocosa apparentemente semplice che ci viene in questo caso proposta sembra giovare non poco nel ritrovare la condizione ideale.
Ci si muove lungo coordinate palesemente pop che di volta in volta s'infettano allegramente con soluzioni quasi surf, spesso rigurgiti da colonna sonora spaghetti western affiorano prepotentemente alla superficie ed in altre occasioni si assiste anche al sollevarsi di un leggero venticello che riporta alla luce anche il nome dei Beatles se non addirittura in certe scorribande chitarristiche la palese citazione di un certo signor Hendrix.
Piace lo spirito dimostrato oltremodo ed il batter giovanile quasi sempre semplice ed in 4/4 che ristabilisce la vera intensità e la più profonda sensibilità dei mostricini qui presenti che si godono palesemente questa avventura condotta lungo percorsi giocherellosi che idealmente riattizzano la fiamma ultimamente piuttosto bassa di certa scuola propria di casa Recommended che ci era tanto cara.
Da notare infine come in certi passaggi piuttosto calmi e rilassati affiori una certa propensione per l'indolenza tipica di certo folk che idealmente sembra mutazione delle più belle pagine scritte da Amy Denio.
E quanto deve la simpatica Amy a questi signori?
Ritorno di fiamma...........

Aggiunto: December 8th 2003
Recensore: Marco Carcasi

RIL Effigies in Cork (Recommended Records)

The description is simple: an album of instrumental guitar tunes circa 1965, something like The Shadows, or some form of psychedelic surf music. But nothing is ever really simple when Chris Cutler, Bob Drake and Lukas Simonis are involved. Simonis is the instigator of the group, developing a series of melodic fragments over which the group worked. His involvement with the excellent and twisted pop group A.A. Kismet may give an indication of what to expect, and to prepare the way for the listener who may be familiar with Drake's involvement with that band. The long standing connection between Drake and Cutler via Recommended Records completes the triangle, and makes this an effortless and powerful group with a built-in history, a great starting point for an instrumental song of short "poppy" tunes.

Of course "poppy" doesn't quite cut it. The 16 pieces are all brief and to the point, the longest clocking in just under four minutes. They tend to the joyous and upbeat, despite titles like "Gruesome Pillow" or "Bloated Janitor," though each manages to wander into unusual territory along the way. Some of that is due to unusual studio effect from Drake's experienced hand, and most of the songs have overdubs from the original studio recordings, done in ways that hide that fact from the listener. Generally though it's just the nature of the musicians involved that makes these compositions catchy yet quirky. Simonis in the melodic lead is the most obvious player of the lot, as one would expect from a guitar instrumental record, and his playing bridges the modern and the familiar through riffs and pop references. Cutler is in excellent form propelling the group with a wealth of ideas that show why he's one of rock's more skilled and inventive drummers. Drake churns out great ideas and provides a rock solid basis for the pieces, his work as a bass player as strong as his more typical guitar work. The songs have a spontaneity and lightness that belies the amount of work and experience that went into making these tracks sound as such, but attentive listening brings a diversity of instrumental detail and unusual melodic direction.

Much can also be said of the CD package as a whole. The cover looks very much like a release from Deutsche Gramophone, while the booklet and liner notes are a twisted adventure unto themselves, involving a canoe trip in the rapids, sackbuts, ectoplasm, theremins and cormorants. As much as the song titles look like the work of Bob Drake's weird imagination (reference The Skull Mailbox) they and the booklet, liner notes and even the band title are the work of Frank Key. He develops a pop mythos for a band consisting of "Bim, Badger and Fishken Terror" playing tunes developed by Lothar Preen "who somehow managed to compose this 16 part work between the 7 hour 'surgical opera' Stalin Cured My Palsy..." Just to set the record straight, VRIL is not named after the Nazi occult society, but rather from a word coined by the Victorian author Edward Bulwer-Lytton to describe "a mysterious life force" used by his characters. Or perhaps it really was, as the liner notes assert, "the nickname given to Lothar Preen by his tough matelot pals in the violent taverns of the Marseilles dockyards..

Effigies In Cork

The origins of this record are more or less like this: US bass player and multi-instrumentalist Bob Drake (a former member of Thinking Plague, Hail and 5UUs, now a much-appreciated producer and sound engineer in the studio he owns in the south of France) proposed to Dutch guitar player Lukas Simonis to record a "twangy guitar album" in the tradition of the Ventures, the Shadows and surf music, not as a faithful replica but as brought into a modern dimension. They would rehearse, play and record as a whole, then they would overdub and do some more work on the tapes. The two agreed on Chris Cutler as the ideal drummer to complete the line-up; Simonis would write the tunes, Drake would do the studio work. As the result, we have Effigies In Cork. (Or at least this is the way it went as I understood it. The CD booklet talks about something else entirely - but why? And there's not even a single picture of any of the guitars that were used!)
In cases like this - assuming the initial impulse produces good results, as is certainly the case here - things are frighteningly simple, our appreciation of the finished work depending only on how much we care for the initial concept (which in Effigies In Cork is quite respected, though there are a few interesting detours). And I'm quite certain that this is an album which could get some serious commercial success - if only potential buyers knew it exists.
The work as a whole is rich in brio and - given the general coordinates - timbral fantasy. I mostly liked Simonis's guitar work (it was the first time I heard him). After a few moments of shock - with the exception of some fast snare rolls, it was difficult for me at first to tell it was him playing - it was easy to appreciate Chris Cutler's versatility. I couldn't really get Bob Drake's instrumental work, while his contribution in terms of recording and post-production is obviously big - sometimes quite apparent, other times more subtle.
The album works like a charm - no particular peaks and valleys, but some curious moments (such as Crumpled Armata, where I almost thought I was about to hear the voice of Otis Redding) and tracks like Clairvoyant Pig and Uncanny Heversack, which I think show more than a casual resemblance to atmospheres by Les Quatre Guitaristes De L'Apocalypso-Bar (does anybody remember them?), another group a propos of which "irony" was a word one could use.
The only strange issue for me (but maybe it's not a really pertinent observation, given the album's general coordinates) was a sort of lack of personality in most tracks - at the end of the record what I was left with was more a "flavour" than a distinctive melodic identity. Which is something I could never had said about a group whose recordings come to my mind while listening to Effigies In Cork: Robert Fripp's The League Of Gentlemen. As always, the reader is invited to listen and to draw his (her?) own conclusion.

Beppe Colli
© Beppe Colli 2004 | Jan. 18, 2004