Drifting in under the radar of psych collectors and enthusiasts alike are The Smubbs. They may have the worst band name in the history of modern music, but those willing to overlook this will revel in psychedelic folk that goes toe to toe with most of their freaked out peers. Recorded for Monument in 1969, it appears the five Smubbs drifted into obscurity when This is the End of the Night! failed to pick up traction with listeners. Regardless, much of the group’s appeal, therefore, comes from its absence in discussions of late psych rock or early freak folk works.
If the Papier collé cover isn’t enough to draw one in, then the immediate fuzzed out pyrotechnics of “Mama’s Blues” surely will. “Shadow of a Dream” wafts slinky guitar between stereo channels. The electric and acoustic interplay creates an almost Keith Richardsian counterpoint. The throwbacks to Brit influences carry over to “You’ll Still Be on my Mind,” reminiscent of The Kink’s work prior to Face to Face. “Drive-in Movies” is a fun rollick through an American institution with a stoney twist courtesy of cartoonish overdubbed ad-libs. The composition brings The Holy Modal Rounders to mind, in the best way. And the dreamy repetitions of “White Paper Sails” would place the band right at home with Boston’s well-documented psych scene.
As noted, the record is packed with influences and comparisons that would have served the band well two to five years earlier. Mastery over a departing art, though worthy to devotees, neglects the wants of an ever-changing audience. Thus, The Smubbs remain an afterthought. At the tail end of garage/psychedelia heyday, it’s possible the group – while thoroughly equipped for the task – missed the boat on making it into the pantheon of even lesser-known-though-still-prominent flower power rockers. The one-two punch of Astral Weeks and White Light/White Heat in 1968 brought about the end of any feelgood or happy-go-lucky impressionism. Listeners were looking ahead to a new decade where downer vibes permeated the collective brain; nostalgia paled against cultural currents. The Smubbs surely had an awareness of this, concluding the album with the most melancholic number in their arsenal.
This is the End of the Night!’s pinnacle moment goes to “Running Water.” Like a lo-fi Yo La Tengo treading through their best loner folk impression, the song remains listless and hazy throughout its duration—whispers atop a creek’s current (there’s a reason Anthology recently closed out a side on the notable Sad About the Times compilation with the tune). The cut sounds remarkably ahead of it’s time for a band so intent on immersion in half a decade prior. As if everything heard prior was a swansong to a dying decade, The Smubbs closed the album looking onward. | j rooney