Tuesday, March 1, 2005


Ok I went past ten, but the hallmark of a great psychedelic album is excess. Not the instrumental be-dazzlement of harpsichords and horn sections that is the window dressing of “psychedelic ™” music, but a fiercely rigorous and confused human spirit bursting out of your chest, summoned to action by the pulsing of the very earth and that unrelenting quest to be More Alive. Does this sound corny and overblown, why, yes it does. But so is the infectious spirit of psychedelic music. The goat-footed Pan pushes aside the Apollonian sense of Cool so he may kick down the walls and turn up the amps. There are a number of noteable basic texts in the library that al must hear, namely Love – Forever Changes, Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs, any 13th Floor Elevators collection and numerous others, (plus that requisite Pink Floyd stage you go through in college) but here I clean out my bowl to offer up the resin of my own musical journey:

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
I am consistently shocked that more people don’t know about this album. This is not the dancey George Clinton of “Flashlight” and backing track for every Snoop Dogg song (though Snoop has his own bust up in the Hall of Psychedelia), this is the wild feral Clinton, refracting the fallout of the summer of love’s nova-like collapse through some very dark drug-hazed glass. It opens with my favorite psychedelic recitation ever:

Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time
For y’all have done knocked her up
I have eaten the maggots from the mind of the universe
I was not offended, for I knew I had to rise above it all
Or drown in my own shit.

What I wouldn’t give to experience a class of eager 4th graders reciting this in homeroom instead of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Boredoms – Vision Creation Newsun
I should retire this one form all future top ten lists, since it finds its way on every one, but this album is a journey to the center of your tribal mind, every synapse and sparkle in your cortex corresponding to a multitude of beats coming from all directions at once. Designed as a continuous song cycle, this marked the Boredoms move from belching surrealists to medicine men and women, putting all who enter their sphere in a voodoo trance.

Howard Roberts – Out of Sight (But in Mind)
One rather interesting musical bedfellow was the counterculture hippie abandon of psychedelics and the hi-fi Nixon-voter market of easy listening, where a number of these able players took the edict from the marketing department to try to rope in the enthusiastic youth market. There are numerous great examples that make up the acid end of the whole Lounge thing, but this is one of my favorites. His tricked out versions of “Spooky” and “Say a Little Prayer” will make any Ann-Margaret wannabe practically shimmy that fringed mini-dress right onto the bearskin rug.

Julian Cope – Jehovahkill
Man, was I happy when I discovered that a whole nother Julian Cope existed outside that “World Shut Your Mouth” song. Julian took upon a mission to become a self-aware drug casualty and plug the wires of wigginess into his pastoral English folk heart. What you have in his psyche albums is not twee Nick drake rehashes (though I am fond of those kinds of things too) but triumphant Viking horned Lord Byron proudly proclaiming his mad visions from the edge of a cliff.

Can – Tago Mago
Another favorite that makes it on every list. Tago Mago, like the Boredoms album mentions above (of which it is an obvious precursor) is a dispatch from another planet, Damo Suzuki’s ranty ramblings snake though the Kosmik throb of a young Holger Csukay and crew. Personally I think this is a magic album, in that there is something beguiling still about it, now some thirty years after it was recorded.

Skip Spence – Oar
Skip Spence was, I believe, the drummer for an early Jefferson Airplane and singer for Moby Grape or some other huge band back in the hazy day, but what’s important to me is that he went on a total nutter, disappeared from public sight only to emerge and make this ghost of an album. His haggard voice, layered in reverb sounds like it is coming from inside the vortex, and as the album goes on, the tracks become shorter and sparer, until it completely burns out. I don’t know if this was for effect, or if it is in fact the sound of a man’s candle burning out, but it is a truly compelling document.

Brian Jonestown Massacre – Strung Out In Heaven (pictured up above)
Let us speak kindly of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Now they have become cult personalities because of the cult docu-hit DiG! (a film they enthusiastically devow), its hard to separate the stories from the songs, which is a shame. BJM has made some beautiful wild flowering music over the years, for me, culminating with their somewhat polished but undeniably sexy Strung Out in Heaven.

Sun Ra – Nubians of Plutonia
Sun Ra did much during his tenure on this particular planet to link up the world of jazz and the yen for cultural escape, his extrapolation of the anguish of the African Diasporas into a quest to escape the lame and limp bonds of the modern condition via the metaphor of space travel. His ouvre is a vast and daunting one to say the least, with very few misses among its number, but this one in particular always resonated with me - a drum thud from the inner spirit of restlessness. I used to have one track from this as my outgoing message on my machine, going on to long hoping that its space-age jungle funk would soothe my callers and realize they need to check up themselves more than they do me. And I was dodging creditors, but that’s another story.

The Marquis de Tren and Bonny Billy – Get On Jolly
This tranquil smoky hookah of a record was formed by the chance meeting of Will Oldham incanting the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali” which gave the album its title and brilliant Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner. This has been one of the more calming listens to me over the last couple years, until I happened on the live tour CD for it Get the Fuck on Jolly, which explodes its lotus in to an intensely mystical experience.

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
A review of this is the opening shot in Lester Bangs’ required reading “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung” anthology. I rushed out and got it (I never thought I would EVER rush out to get a freaking Van Morrison record) because of the intoxicating enthusiasm of the review, and I wanted to see if the dead poet of wannabe music critics was up to snuff. And he was. This album is a terrific meeting of soul and a scattered vanity of music, sounding as one of the tightest music-vocal integrations ever concocted. The magic gets even spookier when you come to find that Van actually recorded this at first alone with a guitar, and then turned it over to a crack music team to flesh it out. This album flutters like a butterfly in your head.

T. Rex – A Beard of Stars
I considered putting my current fave Devendra Banhart on this list, but why not go to the source of his pixie wellspring. This album was the last before Bolan embarked on the Glam era heralded by Electric Warrior that has yet to end. On Beard, we get the culmination of his strident Hobbit sojourns of his earlier albums, melding near nonsensical lyrics with the hookiest folk rock ever put down on record. The bongo beats, the temple bells and the longing of the guitar howl like a runt wolf in the woods. One of my favorite albums ever.

Flaming Lips – Hit to Death in the Future Head
I sing the Oklahoman electric! Wayne Coyne and his fellow Lips have done much to keep the spirit firmly affixed in the sky throughout their career, but this record, foster of no hits, is the one that strikes me as their most “out”. The stinging fuzz of guitar and bottomless well thump of the bass over a magic carpet for the swirling words to call you forth like a wired Pied Piper, leading all good children into a multi-hued tomorrow.


Dead Meadow
(Matador Records)

I once had a friend who was a much bigger music geek than I ever was or will be. Where I had my 2000+ vinyl albums (this was back when vinyl was on the way out and was not quite the fetish object it has become now) arranged by category in special crates I made my self, he had his 20,000 albums arranged in special crates he had made. I thought I’d have a rare new wave album and he’d have it on 8-track as well. Basically, I could not compete, so I gleefully would accept any music fan wisdom he would offer up until he presented his expanded concept of psychedelic music. Now he had actually been a hippie back then, so he had some authority on the subject, but my anachronistic post-punk orthodoxy would not accept his hypothesis that Public Enemy and Public Image Ltd were just as psychedelic as anything by Strawberry Alarm Clock. It infuriated me. Fucking hippie, why do you have to turn everything into yet another bong hit justification for your collapsed star of a youth culture? Your phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust, "brother." Really, I was in my idealistic angry drinking twenties, so this kind of thing was nearly a deal-breaker for our friendship.

Later on, many years hence, I went to a party where he was the DJ and he segued from some Primal Scream neo boogie workout, to a buttery hot Isaac Hayes jam, into Can’s “Hallelujah” off Tago Mago, without a single art-student-flopsy coed leaving the steamy Louisiana garage-cum-dancefloor. It was then I realized he was right – psychedelic was something more than the window dressing on music I secretly liked but wouldn’t admit to, it was the floorboards of nearly all the music I really loved, and still love. The throbbing heart, the transcendent pulse, the whirlwind whether it be summoned by a busted acoustic guitar or austere chamber ensemble, it was that groove that got me. I realized I really preferred the Roll over the Rock. I started to see it everywhere, in the rattle of The Fall, the bee-swarm of Anthony Braxton, the plate tectonics of Steve Riech, and thus opened my heart up to psychedelic rock.

Dead Meadow, a quartet of heavy dude rockers based outta the capitol of our great nation of garage rock supergods, epitomize and successfully revive the psychedleia of my youth: The echo chamber of Bongwater and the strafing run delayed guitar solos of My Bloody Valentine, where they’ve all ready hit you before you know you heard them. Early on in their career, they got the stamp of modern psychedelic approval from Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre (and now the movie DiG!) who released a live album for the Meadow on his own label. Since then they have continually honed their Kosmik chops into becoming a fire breathing hydra of Rawk.

The opening salvo, “Let’s Jump In” does that with it s knucklehead Sabbath riff at the get-go and swaths of glacial guitar drifting between thine ears as the singer intones whatever he is saying. The pace picks up slightly on numbers like “Suck Hawks and such Hounds” but the hazy sonic fog continually surrounds you in the best possible way. At first the album sounds slooooooow, but as you listen further, it draws you into its own pace, where there are rocks to be sat upon and flowers to be examined, and smoke on the horizon to ponder. This is not the faux Stoner Rock of Queens of the Stone Age (which sounds more like meta-metal to me) but the window to the infinite that only copious effects pedals can provide. Their melodic strengths shine on the most-BJM-like “At Her Open Door” and the echoed delicious acoustic guitar ramble of “Stacy’s Song.” True to beautiful form, the album ends with a protracted drum track leading into the 13 minute roam in the fields of Silver Door, where you get to experience the extended workout that comes from this kind of music. This not the bloodless jam band fodder that oft is the hallmark of neo hippie music, but haunting majestic powerful stuff, a hazy icebreaker cutting through the permafrost of your day to proclaim this land in the name of Blowing Your Mind.


Clem Snide
End of Love
(spinArt records)

Remember cleverness? We have seen so many other intellectual pursuits become the dominant feather in the human plumage over that last decade. Jerry Seinfeld and Alanis Morrisette gave birth to the inappropriately named lovechild Irony that has been the lead class clown during what I dubbed the post-funny era of the late '90s early '00s, a decade so devoid of self-investigation that we don’t really know what to call it. Is it the “zeroes?” The “oh-oh’s?” Sarcasm had a brief resurgence, swimming the shark infested waters of Determinism that come with a strong economy, but all that gave way to cursed Sincerity born that chilling September morn, that put all frivolity and self-joy on hold. David Cross has a great bit about this, with that one guy sitting in his truck a month later, venting the complaint he couldn’t utter in public: “C’mon now, someone just pick up a damn football! I got all these snacks….”

Fortunately, we have had some time to heal and get back to the most satisfying of mental quick hits – being clever. There is actually some good TV with fun, witty writing flavored but not overpowered by humor like Desperate Housewives and Arrested Development, our big stories are once again celebrity missteps allowing every armchair Letterman their own personal Ed Sullivan Theater. And, I am so happy to see cleverness coming back into music. I remember how struck I was with the erudition of XTC’s Skylarking, not afraid to lace that intricacy with cleverness. I remember hearing the Dandy Warhols, elated that someone was still trying to be funny. Drive-By Truckers, the eels, M.Ward – lots of people have given up trying to get into the honor society and instead are endeavoring to get kicked out of class for being a wise-ass. Therefore, enter Clem Snide.

Clem Snide, a band named after a William S. Burroughs character (thorough knowledge of which was a pre-requisite of being a true wise-ass back in my day) fronted by the oddly monikered, cracked voice of Eef Barzelay bust forth from the sad-sack world of Alt Country deftly intertwining their intricate yet homey musics with smart turns of phrase, pop culture illusions and, the frothy undercurrent of all humor, sadness. End of Love comes on with a strident title track that will get your mid-'80s alt-rock light a-buzzin baring open the true story of such the cultural aesthete which we describe, punctuated with the line “The first thing every killer reads is “Catcher in the Rye.” The big winner for me is the next track “Collapse” with its slow guitar strum and tambourine gait supporting words of getting-ones-shit-together after it all falls apart. A fine duo of “The Sound of German Hip-Hop” followed by “Tiny European Cars” underscores the self-imposed loneliness of the clever and in-the-know with some of the best lyrics on this thing

Tiny European cars, bouncing off my shins
And if you’ve never seen a bullfight, guess who always wins
To grab it by the horns, its life like censored porn
And did you know they sing ‘Ring Around the Rosie’ when you die?

Seeing the Big Picture is not always such a good thing, since its often not the most flattering portrait. Thankfully, this is a tasty platter of soft instrumentation, brushed drums and Eef’s slightly strained voice, calmly intoning these tales of woe and hope. Paul Burch, who creates some of the finest music around in a Deconstructed Country vein, is listed in the liner notes, so maybe his talent for serving up one’s ennui warm helps to color this fantastic, sweet, sad, smart little album. Next time you are sitting in the office and realizing that all the people around you are pie-pan shallow idiots and you wish to smash them in a fit of insouciance, put on this CD and smile knowing that you and your cleverness will deliver you to a much better place.

Alex V. Cook, Music Editor


Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
(New West)

There are kingdoms and then there are phyla and orders and then as you go down the ontology of modern music until you get to a species that really does it for you. For me, I am a sucker for the genus Alt-Countrius, species Couples Albumus. There is something totally heartwarming about this peculiar animal, the unabashed love, the shelter of each other allowing the flowers of song to blossom without regard as to being anything besides true to heart. Some recent sparklers in this recent resurgence of the style made famous by Johnny and June Carter Cash are the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers (Victoria Williams and the Jayhawks’ Marc Olson) or the valentine that is Stacey Earle (yes Steve’s lil sister) and Mark Stuart’s Never Gonna Let You Go are joined by this charming record by Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion.

Let’s get the pedigree issue out of the way; Sarah is the daughter of Arlo Guthrie, which is inconsequential to the album except that it has perhaps given her a insightful taproot into the tree of songwriting, but who knows. She and Johnny met after many divergent paths led them to the Further Festival and like all good love stories, they spied each other from across a field of heather and had that big screen kiss as thunderclaps erupted and torrents of rain fell. OK, I don’t know if it really happened that way, but the results of these two meeting has made for sweet music.

It opens with the sweet breezy ballad “In Lieu of Flowers” sounding as timeless as an old Loretta Lynn song, except the syrupy string section is replaced with the unstoppable slide guitar work of Eric Heywood, who could make an Elmo album transcendent. Glistening mandolins, that hazy brush of drums, the coyote yelp of dobros: it’s all there as it slides into “Cease Fire” with a sly silky folksy blues that the Prometheus that was Gram Parsons delivered unto us from Mt. Olympus. This whole album has that sweet back porch feeling to it, twinkles of an army of acoustic instruments all darting in like fireflies. A somewhat heavy handed Pete Seeger song “Dr. King,” a romping and strangely funky Grateful Dead sounding number (the good country rock Dead of American Beauty, not the bloated horrible corny Dead of, well, all the other Dead albums), does drop one off the lurve wagon for a minute, but it picks right back up and culminates in the rippling harmonica driven protest song “Mixed Blessing” and the I-traded-the-hard-life-for-you box of candy “Georgia Pine.” It majestically closes with the galloping banjo powered “Gotta Prove” that will get the toes tapping on even the most jaded among us.

To me, albums like this are what the Alt-Country thing is all about, not the overblown studio monoliths like Wilco (and I still really like Wilco though they are about as downhome as Emerson, Lake and Palmer now) and Ryan Adams produce, but these small intimate records that understand that not all in the universe is dark and obtuse confusing and stream of conscious bad poetry, and that there is still plenty to say on the subject of sweet old love.


Nic Armstrong & The Theives
The Greatest White Liar
(New West)

I wonder if ever millennial odometer flip is like this, where we as a culture feel compelled to latch onto our past instead of bravely leaping into the clean chromed-over future that we slobbered over in science fiction just a few moons ago. And then, to just confuse things even more, the cultural critics are quick to make ‘retro’ a four letter word the minute that the precious anachronism they rely upon is made an institution once again. Its living out of time: not having a now. Maybe there is a now, and its just too fucking scary to embrace, the child of the times we have suckled has become a holy terror.

And once I get over myself (which does actually happen once in a while) and quit pretending I need something new and different all the damn time like some kind of attention deficient art burning stove, I come to realize there is plenty of magnificent new things being hatched after warming in that nest of the classics. Nic Armstrong is a newcomer in this new-old breed of rockers and deserves your attention. “Beatlesque” is not a term I like to thorw around (not out of any reverence for the Grand Old Band, but “Beatlesque” things usally end up sounding more like ELO than anything offa Abbey Road) but Nic is one of the few artists I’ve heard that really do capture the energy and spirit of those mop headed invaders when they were young and powerful and sexy and making teenagers and grannies pass out on the chain link fence at the airport. It has that hormonal urgency that is missing from so much music. His chops and understanding of what makes for a good rock-n-roll song are without question, these songs are perfectly executed, sounding like you have known them for years. The beauty of this record is that I don’t smell a bit of irony on it like that flavoring the many excellent punk art rock projects pushed forth by many tattooed hipster labels in the ads of Juxtapos. Every George Harrison guitar quote, every Kinks-like wistful gasp, every mod harmonica burst is not out of any postmodern concern, but because it makes the song freakin’ happen.

It opens with a scream, like all teenage adventures should, on “I Can’t Stand It” then giving way to fuzz stomp of “Broken Mouth Blues.” The hippy hippy shake of “On a Promise” is guaranteed to get the ladies on the floor at the next house party, followed with the best slow-dance I’ve heard in eons “I’ll Come To You.” Each jangle of the tambourine will pull you two star-crossed lovers ever closer. And once your connection is firmly established, the stone fox strut of “Natural Flair” will help to seal the deal. This remarkably balanced collection of great songs is maintained with the sweetly spooky “You Made it True” and the closing twist salvo of “I Want To Be your Driver”

Straight-up fun records like this and the Black Keys album of late tend to push me over into hyperbole territory, but this record totally lights a fire under me. I want to play it on the loudspeaker at work and watch as the receptionist commence to frug on the desk, and the kooky kids from the marketing department involuntarily begin flipping each other over in a dance party explosion in the cafeteria. Lord only knows what will be inspired to happen in the dark recesses of the mail room. I just hope Nic can keep up this kind of record, since we are sorely in need of it.


Ana Da Silva – The Lighthouse
(Chicks on Speed)

There is a very understandable reason that “Alchemist” never shows up when you do those career aptitude tests: it’s not exactly a results-driven field. Imagine if they did include a what-would-you-rather-do question like:

(A) – Check business documents for accuracy and exposure of liability
(B) – Attend meetings on a daily basis
(C) – Extract mystic properties of metals in order to engage the sinewy magicks of God.
(D) – Answer phones for a law firm.

I think the overwhelming response would be (C). But unfortunately, our cultural advances have shown us that the turning mechanism of the Greater Orrery is greased by money and paper, and not by cosmic undercurrents. Thank you, civilization; I feel much better knowing that.

Fortunately, there are those who eschew the more profitable engagements in order to squeeze the blood they know is all up in that stone. Ana Da Silva is one of those characters. Her initial rise to prominence was as a member of the Raincoats, one of those many seminal post punk bands people in the know claim to recall, but no one ever would’ve, had Kurt Cobain, who turned out to be the Indiana Jones as well as the John Lennon of his generation, failed to recount that seeking out Ana at the antique store she ran in London, as one of the greatest trappings of his rock-starred-ness. The Raincoats had a similar fate to many of those little bands, a great scrappy first record, lackluster second and then an ill-fated reunion ten years down the road before calling it quits for real this time.

Lucky for us, she spent those quiet moments at the antique store (a job as close to alchemy as we can get these days) in the decades hence spinning gold out of her synthesizer and laptop and created this odd jewel of a record. At first, it seems to reside in the New Wave Revivalist category, with its breathy vocals wandering among the darkened wood of keyboard strains and quiet drum machine pulses, but there is something more articulate than that going on here. I understand she has spent her off-time as a painter of whispery semi-abstracts (this knowledge is culled only from other reviews, so this may be in fact the invention of us music critics who are compelled to justify out rock star worship by making them Real Artists) and this practice seems to have shaped the odd spare songs on The Lighthouse. The opening track “Friend” maintains an undercoat of alternating pulses and toy piano doorbells for Ana’s spectral intonation threading through it. This build up incrementally in what can only be described as “rompiness” to the title track forming the axel of this puzzling little wheel. The odd stream of lyrics out of her feel as if they are images escaping from one of those what-the fuck dreams – “I want to get to the lighthouse/but the waves keep teasing me/backwards and forwards/ and backwards/I’m in darkness, I’m in darkness, the girl keeps running” Though I am loathe to say this, it reminds me a little of Kate Bush in her prime, that strident running amok in ones subconscious, but its not quite as anachronistic as a Kate Bush song would be now.

My favorite is the simple harmonium like drone of “Hospital Window” where touches of twangy guitar and piano and chiming pulses circle dance around in the ether, effectively creating the ambience suggested by its title. There are some less successful moments, like the PJ Harvey-like cabaret thing “Modinha” which unto itself is not bad, but think I’ve heard enough of these in the world for now. It picks up speed immediately after with the almost Erasure-grade technopop of “In Awe of a Painting” where she gets her Bjork on, giving us a buoyant glimpse on her internal life, later accompanied by what sounds for all the world like musical saws.

All in all, I found this album to be a singular experience, not a revolutionary move or a continental shift from that output of many female solo performers (it bears great similarities to Bjork, Juana Molina (who you owe it to yourself to hear if you haven’t, but that diatribe is for another time), Kate Bush, Tori Amos even) but there is an icy resolve to it, a distinctly solid point of origin. She is not portraying characters or tearing out diary pages or trying to make you fall in love with her like many in the aforementioned list seem to be doing, but distilling off some of her spirit into this curious little clockwork of song and stirring out some gold from the baser elements.