On his solo debut, Zak Olsen (ORB, Hierophants, The Frowning Clouds) casts a subtler shadow than he does with ORB. The record strips away any semblance of the doom-shaking freak fuzz and Sabbath hangovers that have permeated the trio’s work. However, the shaky, whimsical footprint of Syd Barrett remains. In fact, the affectation not only remains, but becomes the guiding light for Nature Strip. The record reclines in pools of purple light, slips through the kaleidoscope’s eye and revels in an impish glee that’s only been hinted at in Olsen’s other projects. Its not just the Madcap magician that makes his stamp (though it is indeed the boldest imprint), this appears to be an album built from the bricks of fragile souls. Its pop as purveyed by Kevin Ayers, Skip Spence, Roky and Twink, and Olsen has lovingly recreated a lush world of bemused wonder that would befit any of them.
As the volume and fuzz have ducked out of view Olsen eagerly replaces them with a palette of mercurial keys and chiming guitars, not to mention a bevy of swooning strings and flutes. The record is pastoral and peaceful, but with a mischievous smile. Olsen feels like he’s having fun playing the part of the damaged artist – indulging every inch of the studio while creating beauty and weirdness in equal measures. This bubbles over a bit with the almost too spot-on Syd dribble “Lazy Cat,” but in most other cases he’s drawn the caricature lysergic psych-folk with a steady hand and pleasingly good-natured wit. There was often a lingering darkness that made the works of the ‘60 acid-damaged set as tragic as they were enjoyable, but Olsen finds a way to imbue the genre with a playfulness that doesn’t end in pain.
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