The Free Design

Soft-pop group so good Stereolab named a song after them

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Like The Association and The Fifth Dimension, The Free Design?the four Dedrick brothers and sisters from New York?specialised in a rococo harmony-pop whose vaulting complexities elevated it far above more prosaic easy listening. On their second album, You Could Be Born Again (1968), they’re at their best negotiating a path between extreme joy and willowy etherealism. Occasionally, their covers (“California Dreamin”, “Happy Together”) are merely inoffensive. But when Chris Dedrick’s songwriting and arranging skills are stretched (“Ivy On A Windy Day”, a great take on Duke Ellington’s “I Like The Sunrise”), the results are striking and unearthly. Stars/ Time/Bubbles/Love (1970) is more expansive still, with the likes of “Bubbles” and “That’s All, People” revealed as hygienic, ingenuous rethinks of psychedelia and funk. Whimsical, but lovely.

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