Various Artists
Like Black Holes in the Sky: A Tribute to Syd Barrett

There’s Pink Floyd, and then there’s Syd Barrett. My first Pink Floyd album was 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and I worked backwards from there, so the early Floyd/Barrett stuff has always been kinda exotic and unfamiliar to me. Admittedly, it’s also never been my favorite – a proto-version of the pompous, extravagant sonic carnival that Floyd would become in the mid-to-late 70s.

Still, albums like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets are keystones of prog-rock history, full of queer British ballads and mutating explosions of feedback phantasmagoria. The concept of taking those tracks and melding them with contemporary stoner, sludge and prog-metal artists is a natural one, then. Too bad that most of the artists involved didn’t do much with the material, no matter how elaborate or inspired their own output is.

First, the good. Yakuza‘s signature horn and lumbering, low-end riffs bring a newfound menace to “Lucifer Sam”. Waves of rippling feedback and roiling drums mount to create a frantic energy not found on many of the other tracks. Zodiak‘s chunky, bluesy stoner riffs also transform “See Emily Play” from an odd folksy ditty into something more visceral and hard-hitting. And Giant Squid, who by nature are already as free-flowing and unhinged as Barrett’s oft-rumored mental state, bring a maniacal vaudeville bray to the aptly-chosen “Octopus” (off one of Barrett’s solo albums).

“Octopus” may not be a great song, but at least Giant Squid‘s identity comes through clearly, which is more than can be said for a band like Intronaut, one of the bigger disappointments on the compilation. Their cover of “Arnold Layne” offers little reinvention or interpretation, aside from the monstrous, smoky chords grafted onto what is still just a stilted early 70s psych-folk tune. Given how expansive and protean Intronaut‘s brand of tech-sludge can be, I expected a lot more poetic license with their assignment.

The same can be said for Dredg, who also do very little with “Astronomy Domine” (one of my favorite Floyd tracks from the early era). They nail the astral majesty of the original, but they don’t diverge or blow it out at all, which seems to miss the entire point.

Other tracks by Unearthly Trance (“Long Gone”), Kylesa (“Interstellar Overdrive”) or Jesu (“Chapter 24”) inject their songs with fuzzed-out primordial doom, creating an even more convincing sense of dread than was found in the originals, but I don’t think I’ll be swapping these out for the rest of my iPod Floyd discography anytime soon.

And maybe that’s the biggest problem here (aside from an ironic lack of imagination in the updates): the original material, at least to these ears, just isn’t that captivating. These songs may be important in a historical sense, but as a cathartic listening experience, that just adds up to the audio equivalent of you-had-to-be-there. Next time, I’ll take The Sword galloping away with “Run Like Hell,” or Isis covering “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” That would be a Pink Floyd album worth the trip.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
December 12th, 2008


  1. Commented by: Cynicgods

    I like all Floyd eras. Besides Roger Waters’ father dying in war, the madcap inspired the Floyd to create most of their material. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is about him and it’s one of their best songs. Before that, his quirky, childlike songs coupled with his transcendental (another word for acid :D) lyrics have never been replicated. He was and is an original, still untouched by any composer imo. A genius that just decided normalcy was not for him. I still revere what little he did on Saucerful, all Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and his two solo albums. But hey, if you like Gilmour era or Waters era more, to each his own.

  2. Commented by: axiom

    I’d like to hear this, even for the bands playing pretty straight versions. Could be interesting. Totally agree with you, Cynicgods. Those early albums are psychedelic rock masterpieces.

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