Album Reviews

Love Battery “Dayglo” (Sub Pop, 1992)

Love Battery are the semi-forgotten men of Seattle’s early-’90s rock explosion. And that’s not right. Too psychedelic for grunge purists despite having Sub Pop’s imprimatur and too grunge-y for psych-rock purists despite cutting a righteous cover of Pink Floyd’s “Ibiza Bar,” Love Battery never caught on like some of their Emerald City brethren: Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, etc. But it was not for lack of quality songs and albums. Sometimes shit just doesn’t break for a band—even with major-label backing, which they received from PolyGram subsidiary Atlas after departing Sub Pop. (/sarcasm)

But Love Battery—who were named after a Buzzcocks song off 1978’s Another Music In A Different Kitchen, although they don’t really sound like that British pop-punk group—released at least one dynamite full-length: Dayglo. Now tragically out of print on both vinyl and CD (prices for the latter are outrageous), Dayglo holds its own with the strongest early-era Sub Pop releases: Bleach, Prison, Superfuzz Bigmuff, Pigeonhed, Severe Exposure, etc.

Right away on “Out Of Focus,” Love Battery establish the bossness of their twin-guitar attack, with Kevin Whitworth and Ron Nine’s radiant fuzz tones intertwining in perfect disharmony. The song moves with a juggernaut stateliness, exuding psychedelic vibes that sting rather than mollify. Nine’s exasperated vocals are like a less abrasive cousin to Kurt Cobain’s. He even had the Nirvana frontman’s blond hair, making Love Battery’s lack of commercial success seem like a cruel conspiracy. I mean, listen to “Foot,” with its speedy, surging rock geared to put said appendage to the pedal to the (heady) metal. More exhilarating than “Rusty Cage” and “Even Flow” combined, it should have been a hit, but maybe it was too exciting for radio. “Damaged” wows with a woozy slide guitar motif that leads into a riff/chord progression that alludes to Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine,” and the Whitworth/Nine guitar army proves it’s just as mighty as that of Mark Arm/Steve Turner.

Talk about a strong opening triptych. But then “See Your Mind” raises the bar even higher. It’s pure fucking adrenaline, mercurial, revved-up biker rock with liquid acid in its gas tank. The way Nine and the band sing “mind” here will blow yours. By contrast, “Side (With You)” is a massive, lurching power ballad on which Whitworth peels off a wonderfully serpentine solo. Things return to uptempo fireworks with “Cool School (Trane Of Thought),” a slamming, turbulent tribute to jazz and Beatniks that sounds closer to James Blood Ulmer playing Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” than to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, or Charlie Parker, all of whom are name-checked on this bad boy. The vicious coda will flip your wig and then incinerate it. “Sometimes” and “23 Modern Stories” prove that even Love Battery’s ballads hit with a bludgeoning beauty and a slurring majesty. “Blonde” boasts fantastic, swerving dynamics and melismatic guitar riffs with horn-like tones. It’s a real tour de force of their dueling guitar alchemy. By album’s end, you realize why Dayglo is an apt title; because this record stood out from Seattle’s grunge status quo, soaring above its muddy jams purling in the garden of sound.

The main goal of this review is to spur a quality label to reissue Dayglo on a physical format, with liner notes, previously unseen photos, bonus tracks… the whole (Ron) Nine. It’s too good and important to be relegated to the streaming services. Jonathan Poneman, white courtesy telephone… -Buckley Mayfield

Jackson 5 “ABC” (Motown, 1970)

I am asking you to take seriously the second album by the Jackson 5. ABC peaked at #4 in the US albums chart, and it marked a significant advance for the Gary, Indiana song-and-dance boys, led by the irrepressible 11-year-old Michael. Even though “I Want You Back” hit big on the J5 debut LP, this was when it dawned on the world that he was destined for supernatural stardom. (Note: I’m not going to touch on Michael’s post J5 years and all the problematic baggage he accrued until his death in 2009. Rather, I’m going to focus on the abundantly raw and fresh talent of the pre-adolescent Jacko, for the sake of everybody’s mental health. If you want to read an unsparing analysis of Michael’s troubled life, check out Paul Morley’s devastating The Awfully Big Adventure: Michael Jackson In The Afterlife.)

You know the two #1 singles here—“The Love You Save” and the title track— by heart, and yet (if I may project) you still get a rush when you hear them 50-plus years later. They were written by The Corporation, a songwriting/production team headed by Berry Gordy and including Freddie Perren, Deke Richards, and Fonce Mizell, brother of Larry, another formidable songwriter/producer. These ringers were trying to fill the void left by supreme hit-makers Holland/Dozier/Holland, who’d departed from Motown in late 1967.

Whoever decided to start the album with “The Love You Save” deserves respect. The excitement meter slams to 11 from the first second as Michael’s voice cuts through the Funk Brothers’ session-pro bubblegum-funk/soul hullabaloo like a perfectly modulated clarion. The vocal interplay is fantastic; these are the best “woo”s, the best “bum da bum bum”s. It was likely rehearsed for grueling hours under the relentless tutelage of Berry Gordy and papa Joe Jackson. You can hear the prodigies’ voices pinging around the stereo field with quickness and stealth. From that breathless beginning, the LP descends into the lightweight, strings-laden ballad “One More Chance.” It verges on maudlin, but some nice, subtle guitar clangs in the margins. As for “ABC,” anyone who grew up on pop radio in the early ’70s and/or watched the Jackson 5 TV cartoon series can’t help feeling their heart inflate with euphoric helium from the first falsetto “ba ba ba BA BA.” The carefree, spring-legged funk of this pop perfection provides an endlessly renewable source of energy; ask Naughty By Nature and Ghostface Killah. Listening to “ABC,” you don’t even pause to think about how in the hell an 11-year-old from the Midwest’s stinkin’ armpit could know about love and how he could have the gonads to implore a girl to show him what she can do. Counterpoint: Love isn’t as easy as ABC… nor even as XYZ.

Let us now linger on “2-4-6-8,” the album’s underdog champion, written by the Northern soul star Gloria Jones and British songwriter Pam Sawyer, who also penned the Supremes’ “Love Child.” “2-4-6-8” is a lesser-known classic that’s actually more sublime than the two number ones. The guitars, bass, drums, handclaps, and vocal arrangement are all phenomenal; Jermaine steps up righteously when needed and the backing falsettos are on point. The melody and chorus (basically a cheerleader’s chant) should come off as corny, but are utterly inspirational, and the undulating funk rhythm acts as a sonic trampoline. When Michael shouts, “I may be a little fella/but my heart is as big as Texas/I have all the love a man can give/and maybe a little bit extra,” you might die from the cuteness. I once played this song 20 straight times, and I’ll probably do so again. It’s cheaper and more effective than any upper on the market.

After that peak, the highlights somewhat taper off. The Holland/Dozier/Holland tune “(Come Round Here) I’m The One You Need” is a headlong headrush of Motown Northern soul, but kind of boilerplate-y. Co-written by Stevie Wonder, the power ballad “Don’t Know Why I Love You” really pushes Michael to the extreme of his emotional range with regard to the mystery of love. Against the odds, the song convinces you that this little dude actually has experienced romantic turmoil. And how ballsy was it to attempt the heavy, dank funk of Funkadelic “I’ll Bet You”? The song’s actually better suited for the Temptations, but J5 gamely embody its grown-folks funkitude. The guitarist (damn Motown for the lack of credits) goes the fuck off with a fried solo that’s redolent of Dennis Coffey’s crispy tones. The album closes with “The Young Folks,” which the Jacksons’ mentors the Supremes originally did. It’s unintentionally funny to hear MJ trying to inhabit the persona of a spokesman for the young generation. Still, it’s a solid orchestral soul tune with a killer bass line and Michael emotes passionately with jutted jaw.

The prodigious Motown factory was humming along at an astonishing rate in 1970, and J5 certainly benefited from it. But the brothers also showed they could rise to the sky-high standards Gordy & co. demanded from their roster, even though they were too young to vote. I daresay that this is J5’s peak. Now let us know who played on it, Mr. Gordy. -Buckley Mayfield

Nancy Sinatra “Boots” (Reprise, 1966)

It must’ve been great to be a young Nancy Sinatra. She had father Frank’s DNA, the gilded singer’s music-biz connections, and an easy in with his record label, Reprise. On the other hand, it must’ve been awful to be a young Nancy Sinatra. She had to perform in the shadow of the 20th century’s most celebrated vocalist, an entertainer whose accomplishments she could never come close to matching. And she was a woman trying to assert a degree of autonomy in an industry and an era not conducive for female artists to do so.

Despite all of those hindrances, Nancy Sinatra carved out a nice little niche for herself as a quasi-kitsch pop-cult icon who parlayed a brief but brilliant creative partnership with Lee Hazlewood into at least three all-time classic songs—two of which are “Some Velvet Morning” and “Sand.” Sinatra’s 1966 debut album contains the other tune and, woman oh woman, has she ever gotten a lot of mileage out of those walkin’ boots. More on that later.

With the wily composer/producer Hazlewood, Sinatra transitioned out of her bubblegum image into something more sophisticated. Her debut album, which peaked at #5 in the US, was produced by Hazlewood and arranged by Billy Strange. It starts unpromisingly with “As Tears Go By,” the Andrew Loog Oldham-Jagger-Richards ballad. Done as a bossa nova with persistent, mellow shakers and rimshots as percussion, “Tears” proves that lachrymose melancholy is not Nancy’s best mode, although she really nailed it with her interpretation of Dolly Parton’s “Down From Dover” on Nancy & Lee.

Day Tripper,” the first of two Beatles covers here, is Vegas-y but not annoying about it, with horns and women backing vocalists singing “ba da ba ba” in place of the famous guitar riff. The drums stomp like Motown’s Funk Brothers on steroids and I’m guessing Lee decided to sneak in the “Boots” bass line. When DJing, I like to follow this with Hazlewood’s “In Our Time,” which was his sly homage to “Day Tripper.” (Nancy did “In Our Time,” too, but with less pizzazz than Lee.) The other Beatles cut is “Run For Your Life.” Sinatra reverses genders on Lennon’s problematic, stalker-ish rocker from Rubber Soul as the musicians give it a proto-Austin Powers-esque treatment: brash horn charts, swinging piano, twanging guitar. Sinatra emphasizes every “little boy” with withering disdain, and that took ovaries at a time when the Beatles were indisputable gods.

The second best Hazlewood song on the record, “I Move Around” is one of Lee’s, uh, most moving songs. The backing “ooh”s and “ah”s are to swoon for and though the expensive session-player sheen that glazes these songs suggests a desire to win over mid-’60s squares, it can’t dim the song’s poignancy. Lee’s “So Long, Babe” is swanky country rock with a deceptive middle finger raised. You can imagine Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval drawing deep inspiration from this. A cover of the Knickerbockers’ sassy Nuggets standard “Lies” fits snugly in Sinatra’s wheelhouse, with its wronged romantic partner perspective. However, the backing vocals verge on Chipmunks-level hilarity.

And now for “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” Reviewing this song is like critiquing Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In logo or Johnny Carson’s nicotine chuckle or Richard Nixon’s jowls. It’s so ingrained in American Boomer consciousness that describing it seems superfluous—and that’s exactly why I’m writing about it. It’s music that makes the lizard brain wiggle, thanks largely to that descending, twangy double-bass line. “Boots” is perhaps the most seductive anthem of vengeance ever penned, and Sinatra owns it, her take-no-shit, deadpan delivery a distaff simulacrum of Hazlewood’s. The “Boots” single deservedly sold over a million copies.

Interestingly, the original plan was for Hazlewood to release “Boots” himself, but Sinatra suggested that she sing it to change the power dynamic to a vengeful woman, which at the time had a more radical charge than vice versa. She was so right. (Lee later did it, too, because those expensive vices of his weren’t going to pay for themselves.) “Boots” has been covered dozens of times, including by the Supremes, Megadeth, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Crispin Glover. And just by reading the title, you’ll have the song stuck in your head for hours. You’re welcome.

Light In The Attic Records recently kicked off a Nancy Sinatra reissue campaign by releasing the great 2xLP comp, Start Walkin’ 1965-1976. -Buckley Mayfield

Loop “The World In Your Eyes” (Head, 1987)

Loop’s heyday was brief (1987-1990), but it burned intensely. Over three studio albums, 11 singles and EPs, and a few compilations, the British group—who were named after an obscure Velvet Underground track—combined the best qualities of indomitable rock icons the Stooges and Hawkwind. (Many listeners and critics in the ’80s accused Loop of ripping off Spacemen 3, but the latter were such blatant emulators of older rock legends that the claim strikes me as absurd. Both Loop and Spacemen 3 siphoned inspiration from similar unimpeachable sources and possessed similar sonic aesthetics, so no wonder their music bore close resemblances. It was not at all hard for me to embrace both artists with conflict-free gusto.)

Why am I reviewing The World In Your Eyes—a comp of early singles that later grew to an odds-and-ends triple CD release in 2009—instead of a studio album proper? Because it most impressively represents Loop’s strengths and range and it contains my favorite track by them: “Burning World.” They are the rare band whose every release is worth copping, though, so if you see anything bearing that wavy Loop logo, grab it.

The World In Your Eyes begins with Loop’s weakest track, “16 Dreams,” whose linear, fuzz-and-grind guitar/bass attack (Suicide-al throb transposed to Neanderthal rock dynamics) is the closest they came to the C86 indie-rock aesthetic that still lingered in Britain then. John Wills—who later formed the sporadically great Hair And Skin Trading Co. with Loop bassist Neil Mackay—brings the boxiest drum sound ever, and it’s not right (Stooges reference intended) for Loop. Better is “Head On”’s methodical, serpentine rock—on the prowl like Iggy’s younger, less confident brother. Bandleader Robert Hampson lets off a wonderfully elastic wah-wah guitar solo, but again, the 4-square beats sound as if they’re coming from a lethargic drum machine.

The aforementioned “Burning World” slows everything the fuck down to an opiated plod and piles stacks and stacks of delayed and phased guitars over tambourine-enhanced beats that clomp out a laggard tempo. Mackay’s bass line is sly seduction itself, bobbing elegantly eastward. The band leverage a lysergic, languorous whorl that rhymes perfectly with Opal’s “Soul Giver.” Nine minutes is just a tease for the gilded eternity that this blissfully apocalyptic song betokens. Hard to follow that, but Loop made their cover of Suicide’s “Rocket USA” even more ominous than the original through the armada-of-wasps buzz that the guitars and bass generate. Hampson & co. were utterly in synch with Alan Vega and Martin Rev’s unstoppable monomania, so it was no surprise they took a stab at this song. (Side note: Loop had fantastic taste in covers: Can’s “Mother Sky,” Pop Group’s “Thief Of Fire,” Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” Godflesh’s “Like Rats”; you can hear ’em all on that triple-disc comp mentioned earlier.)

With “Spinning (Parts 1 & 2),” Loop really hit their primal-rocking stride. One guitar drones and one emits solar flare solos over the memorably buoyant bass line and brute, Klaus Dinger-esque Apache beat. Now they wanna be Iggy’s dogs. “Deep Hit” is the most Spacemen 3-like song here, a sexy, sloping head-nodder that induces total understanding of the raptures of heroin without ever having to inject it. I could wander pleasurably through all of eternity amid these shivering, fuzzed-out guitars that are funhouse-mirrored to heaven and back. “I’ll Take You There” is not the Staple Singers song, but rather a pinwheeling orb of caustic guitar radiation that hovers with malevolent intent. The insistent maracas action seems to be lifted from Steve Reich’s Four Organs, which I appreciate.

Brittle Head Girl” is essentially a tribute to Faust’s “Jennifer,” its see-sawing bass line and woozy guitar shimmy complementing Hampson’s earnest paean to a… brittle head girl. It was the closest Loop ever came to writing a pop song (even if “Black Sun” was their “Black Hole Sun”), but dense, regressive radio programmers weren’t ready for such hushed sublimity.

As their name implies, Loop were all about the trance-inducing power of repetition. They blew out the minimalist exoskeletons of their songs to firmament-filling dimensions, troweling on the guitar effects, generating the most brutal yet mind-expanding textures, and Moebius-stripping themselves—and you—into deep, asteroidal space. -Buckley Mayfield

Lenny White “Venusian Summer” (Nemperor, 1975)

For a musician who played drums on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and lent rhythmic bombast and intricacy to fusion gallants Return To Forever, Lenny White is (un)fairly obscure. But his debut solo album, Venusian Summer, is a stunner, every bit as dazzling as its Larry Kresek-illustrated, sci-fi cover.

It helps that White gathered some of jazz’s most burning instrumentalists to help him realize his ambitious vision. The extroverted funk of “Chicken-Fried Steak” features Ray Gomez spraying bold guitar graffiti over White’s and bassist Doug Rauch’s greasy-as-a-KFC-grill groove. Organist Jimmy Smith’s adds another layer of spiciness. I’d never eat the titular dish, but I’ll gladly lap up this track dozens of times. Funk gets stronger and more tensile yet on “Away Go Troubles Down The Drain,” with more guitar and organ pyrotechnics, this time by Doug Rodrigues and Weldon Irvine, respectively. The song’s like that old carnival ride, Tilt-A-Whirl, but with better rhythm and dynamics. Fans of Herbie Hancock’s Man-Child will tear their bell bottoms doing the splits to this.

Dedicated to the crew of the Starship Enterprise, the 10-minute “The Venusian Summer Suite; Part I. Sirenes” is commandeered by synth master Dr. Patrick Gleeson, with help from Peter Robinson on synth, Tom Harrel on synth and flugelhorn. They all engage in awe-inspiring, stellar tone painting; this is deep, overcast ambient music in the Klaus Schulze and Peter Michael Hamel veins. On “Part II,” Harrel’s flugelhorn kicks in and things oscillate to a higher level, recalling Deodato in “Also Sprach Zarathustra” mode or Isaac Hayes stretching out with one of his orchestral-funk epics. Hubert Laws’ far-roaming flute solo and Robinson’s clavinet co-star in this space-pimpin’ track.

Side two’s dominated by a couple of lengthy showcases for that furious fusion virtuosity your punk-loving buddies warned you about. “Mating Drive” is the most RTF-like song here, a gleaming, cruising, rococo tour de force that would make prime-time Mahavishnu Orchestra bow in respect. The piece revels in excess like the most audacious prog-rockers and fusioneers, and earns their indulgence tenfold. That’s to be expected when you have studs such as Larry Young (organ), Rauch (bass), Gomez (lead guitar), Onaje Allan Gumbs (organ), and Rodrigues (rhythm guitar) at your command. LP-closer “Prince Of The Sea” begins mellowly then gradually accelerates into a fluid jazz-funk groove filigreed by Gumbs’ icily pointillistic acoustic organ. What follows is a battle royale between guitar gods Larry Coryell and Al DiMeola: the former’s insanely intricate and mercurial guitar solo versus the latter’s fleet-fingered, fuzz-toned curlicues of virtuosity. We get articulate wails galore from both of these prolix axe heroes in this duel for the (s)ages.

I bought my copy of Venusian Summer for $3 many years ago, but it still usually sells for under $10 in the US. So there’s really no excuse to not grip your own copy and cheaply ride the lightning out of this solar system. -Buckley Mayfield

Chrome “Alien Soundtracks” (Siren, 1977)

Alien Soundtracks was where Chrome became the Chrome over which freaks worldwide have been flipping their lids for over four decades. Following the solid yet fairly trad 1976 debut LP The Visitation with founder Damon Edge at the controls, Alien Soundtracks is the San Francisco industrial-psychedelic-rock band’s first record with the uniquely blasted guitarist Helios Creed in the lineup. And what a difference he made.

Though recorded during punk’s first rude bloom, Alien Soundtracks aptly sounds as if it’s beaming in from a more grotesque and bizarre planet, one on which Johnny Rotten and Joey Ramone—gawd love ’em—would seem like innocuous cartoon figures. Allegedly recorded to accompany a live sex show, Alien Soundtracks indeed generates erotic charges, but in a form that Pornhub likely would regard as too twisted.

Album-opener “Chromosome Damage” fades in as if rising from a pit, then clicks into an accelerated, warped rock attack that reeks of rocket fuel and amphetamines. Edge croaks, “I wanna fly, I wanna fly away” before the song just fades out and morphs into a nightmarish, backward-sucking inversion of French psychonauts Heldon. Creed’s guitar sounds like if Jimi Hendrix were irradiated with Strontium-90; Helios forges some of the sickest tones ever to be associated with the mundane term “rock.” The lysergic intro of “All Data Lost” leads into a skittering, Jaki Liebezeit ca. Tago Mago ratatat and Edge’s voice downshifts into a Syd Barrett-like murmur that ripples into infinity. “SS Cygni” finds Chrome at their funkiest, but this is the hypnotic machine chug of This Heat more than it’s the bon vivant strutting of James Brown or the Meters. ‘Tis a pity it doesn’t last at least three times longer. By contrast, “Nova Feedback” is eerie, menacing, and woozy, as Creed peels off proggy, contemplative riffs that contrast with the doom-laden business roiling below. It’s a masterpiece of chiaroscuro.

The strangeness does not let up on side 2. “Pigmies In Zee Park” unloads helter-skelter guitar, percussion, synths, and mysterious vocal consternation before a gong hit produces a segue into a Floydian head trip. Edge dares a grotesque mockery of a Johnny Mathis croon about “pigmies [sic] in the park by the zoo waiting for you.” It’s damned creepy. Finally, things shift again into a manic, automaton shuffle, like a threshing machine operating in triple time. The move epitomizes Chrome’s masterly madness. “Slip It To The Android” almost comes across as a novelty-dance track, with its bustling bongo-like beats and insectoid Moog buzzes, but Creed’s needly guitar solos and Gary Spain’s Jean-Luc Ponty-esque electric-violin riffs reveal Chrome’s rarely noted Frank Zappa influence.

The methodical funk of “Pharoah Chromium” could be early Black Sabbath covering Funkadelic’s “You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks,” with an articulate, anguished Creed solo glazing this strange trudge. It sounds as if Helios let second guitarist John Lambdin take lead on “ST 37,” a Residents boogie cross-hatched with all sorts of wonky synth tones and percussion timbres. It was distinctive enough to inspire a ’90s Texas band to name themselves after it. “Magnetic Dwarf Reptile” is as bizarre as its title, and it enables Creed to flaunt that muted, radiated tone that hovers in the region of Richard Pinhas’ axe work for French sci-fi-obsessed psych juggernaut Heldon. Here and elsewhere, Creed proves he can finesse exceedingly precise arabesques or unleash massively distorted riffs that dwarf Tony Iommi’s.

That sound would dominate the essential 1979 follow-up, Half Machine Lip Moves and other otherworldly classics such as 3rd From The Sun, but all of Chrome’s ostentatious mutations cohered most rewardingly on Alien Soundtracks.

(Alien Soundtracks has been reissued on vinyl four times. A word to the wise, though: Avoid the Cleopatra editions—which is good advice in general for any release.) -Buckley Mayfield

Ned Lagin “Seastones” (Round, 1975)

Seastones might be the strangest document to emerge out of the vast Grateful Dead diaspora. From 1970-1976, Ned Lagin was the psych-rock figureheads’ modular-synth guru, a computer-savvy maverick who generated bizarre subliminal electronics onstage and in the studio. Outside of those actions, Lagin composed Seastones from 1971-1974 with help from a lot of the same crew who contributed to David Crosby’s 1971 cult classic, If I Could Only Remember My Name: Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Grace Slick, David Freiberg, and Croz himself. But aside from Garcia and Slick’s distorted voices, it’s nearly impossible to detect these prominent musicians’ personalities amid the microcosmic mysteriousness of Seastones.

Lagin classified this record as “Electronic Cybernetic biomusic,” and superficially it resembles the ambient excursions that Brian Eno purveyed in the ’70s and ’80s, Morton Subotnick’s disorienting Buchla synth parabolas, and Gil Mellé’s unsettling Moog miasmas in The Andromeda Strain soundtrack. But parts of Seastones also point ahead to the mercurial glitchtronics of ’90s IDM. Whether artists such as Markus Popp or Alva Noto ever heard Lagin’s arcane opus remains unknown, but the similarities are remarkable.

Seastones is divided into 10 tracks, but the album seems like one organism—or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it flows like a lysergic dream, with subtly changing episodes. Lagin keeps the sonic activity submerged near the ocean’s floor, with most of the vocals appearing to ripple from underwater. While the credits list Garcia’s guitar, Lesh’s bass, Hart’s gong and Spencer Dryden’s cymbals, they’re hard to discern among the synths (ARP, E-mu, Buchla), prepared piano, clavichord, and Interdata 7/16 processor that Lagin deployed to manifest these microbial movements. But you don’t need to know how this sausage was made to enjoy its peculiar flavors.

If you’re the type of Dead fan who thinks American Beauty represents the pinnacle of their career, you’ll likely find Seastones impenetrable, and you can keep on “Truckin’” without it. But if you dig, say, “What’s Become Of The Baby” and adventurous electronic music that nudges your mind to strange, subaquatic realms, you’ll find Seastones an engrossing enigma. Just be prepared to give it many listens—preferably on quality headphones—in order to grasp its crab-like maneuvers.

Important Records reissued a remastered version of Seastones on LP and CD in 2020. -Buckley Mayfield

Miguel De Deus “Black Soul Brothers” (Underground, 1977)

Miguel De Deus played guitar and sang for the outstanding Brazilian psych-rock groups Assim Assado and Os Brazões—the latter of whom were the fantastic Gal Costa’s backing band during the heady years of 1969 and 1970 and who should at least be as well known and regarded as Os Mutantes. Alas, De Deus—who died in 2007—and his bands still lack the high profile of Mutantes, but obrigado anyway to the Portuguese label Groovie for reissuing Black Soul Brothers and that hot Assim Assado LP in 2016 and 2017, respectively. These records provide a vivid picture of a musician with a brazen wild streak and keen instincts for the funk.

Right from jump of opening cut “Cinco Años,” MDD lets us know that the funk’s gonna be strong, bulbous, and bubbly on Black Soul Brothers. The female backing vocalist—who is maddeningly uncredited—soars in radiant counterpoint to MDD’s alpha-lech grunting. (His voice is an acquired taste that you may never embrace, but the music’s too good to reject the band outright.) You can practically smell the sexual friction in the elastic keyboard riffs twanging between the busy rhythmic hustle and bustle. “Pedaços” peddles a festive funkiness that would segue nicely in a set of tunes by War, Jimmy Castor Bunch, AWB, and Cymande (particularly, “Bra”). I don’t pass out compliments like that every day.

“Mister Funk”—which written by De Deus and Nelsão Triunfo—may be titled with heavy-handedness, but it’s a greasy, brassy groove bacchanal that will surely make your gang feel kool. The salacious summertime soul of “Flaca Louca” may test your patience due to MDD’s goofy growling, but the woman on the mic compensates for his shortcomings. At least you can’t say Miguel lacks enthusiasm…

The album peaks on “Black Soul Brother,” which was co-written by Paulo Rocco and the album’s producer, Santiago “Sam” Malnati. It’s extravagant funk that makes Sly Stone and Tina Turner seem like wallflowers. Whoever the woman singing with Sarolta Zalatnay-esque zest is, she convinces me that she needed her own album. Maybe she got it, but we’ll likely never know. The rowdy funk of “Lua Cheia” gets splattered with MDD’s gruff yelling, but the mellifluous sax parts and a bass line that coils like a gymnast working out on the uneven bars tilt the song into the W column. Bafflingly, MDD closes the record with the ballad “Fábrica De Papéis,” even though his voice isn’t in the least suited for this style. But the music’s nicely lush and seductive, the keyboard and guitar sparkling and caressing with tenderness, and the female backing vox is requisitely dulcet.

Forty-four years after its initial release, Black Soul Brothers still sounds like an explosive party platter that would make James Brown get up offa that thing, pronto. Its potency more than overcomes its creator’s grating vocal flaws. -Buckley Mayfield

Meat Puppets “Up On The Sun” (SST, 1985)

Kurt Cobain’s favorite Meat Puppets album was II. Obviously. And it’s not hard to understand why Nirvana covered three songs off of it (“Plateau,” “Lake Of Fire,” and “Oh, Me”). Its combo of poignant, desert-fried mysticism and virtuoso, Tasmanian Devil punk packed a distinctive punch—especially for 1984. As great as II is, though, I like Meat Puppets’ follow-up even more.

When Up On The Sun tumbled off the SST Records conveyor belt of awesomeness in 1985, it hit fans like a solar flare. Curt Kirkwood (guitar), Cris Kirkwood (bass), and Derrick Bostrom (drums) had taken another great leap forward, leaving behind their punk roots for a bizarre agglomeration of psychedelia, country/bluegrass, and prog rock. I’m happy to report that Up On The Sun still blazes as hot as it did over 35 years ago. Either that or I’m stuck in my 23-year-old mindset. Anyway

The opening title track finds Curt in mellow stoner sage vocal mode (think Jerry Garcia crossed with Steve Miller) as the group slouch into a Grateful Dead-like, implied-funk amble. Then the buoyant chorus shocks you into a body-wide alertness, as if you’ve actually found yourself on the titular star. Helluva way to begin your best album. The intro to “Maiden’s Milk” barges in with a Zappa-esque motif of absurdly frilly prog-jazzitude, then the song shifts to a swift, Leo Kottke-esque bluegrass romp, with bonus chipper whistles. Here, we become aware that Curt switches into different styles and tones with an unparalleled, speedy nonchalance that would make Frank’s mustache curl with envy.

The album’s greatest achievement, “Away” recalls both the Police’s “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around” and the Feelies’ “Away” (what are the odds?). There’s a faint undercurrent of swerving, Möbius-strip insistence in Curt’s guitar riff that speaks of Afrobeat knowledge, and the track feels as if it’s going to fly right out of the grooves into that fiery orb in the sky. The mercurial country funk of “Animal Kingdom” is awash with wonder about said domain, and the bridge features Cris’ bass mimicking noises of imaginary creatures. Nice!

Another highlight is “Swimming Ground,” which combines head-spinning country-rock euphoria and touching nostalgia for a childhood idyll. It’s as if the Puppets spiked the concept of “Americana” with the strongest amphetamines and LSD—both of which it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine the band consuming in those heady days. “Buckethead” is not a tribute to the Guns N’ Roses guitarist, as he didn’t hit public consciousness till the early ’90s, but the fleet, fluttering filigrees Curt peels off here would surely make him doff his KFC container in respect. The song sounds as if Fear Of Music-era Talking Heads had lost their uptightness and put pedal to the metal. It gives quirkiness a good name.

Up On The Sun‘s remaining five songs offer nonstop excitement. “Enchanted Porkfist” is a clunky pun, but this fast and furious instrumental zooms and curlicues like an American Southwestern Gentle Giant. It’s a new breed of prog rock in which unpredictable tempo changes and virtuosity sound as natural as getting a sunburn in Arizona, Meat Puppets’ home base. Throughout, Curt flaunts superhuman reflexes yet an unbelievably gentle touch that enables him to generate riffs that zip by at an astonishing clip while also sounding velvety, twinkly, and pliable—it really is miraculous, like the Dead’s “Dark Star” at 78rpm. “Creator” abounds with Curt’s faux-wise gobbledygook about deities—which is just as valid as any “good book”’s gobbledygook, and it boasts the advantage of rocking way harder than the Bible or Koran.

Every Meat Puppets release after Up On The Sun receded farther away from its unprecedented incandescence, and that’s okay. Cobain and company knew that trying cover anything on it would be a fool’s errand, because the songs here are too dauntingly sui generis. You have to know your limitations. -Buckley Mayfield

Brute Force “Brute Force” (Embryo, 1970)

People of dubious maturity levels like to ridicule Herbie Mann for posing shirtless and exposing his man pelt on the cover of his very good bargain-bin LP Push Push. But listen up: Besides being a savvy musician with a keen ear for prevailing trends, Mr. Mann flaunted sharp A&R acumen for the Atlantic Records subsidiary Embryo in the early ’70s. (Oh, by the way, the flautist also released at least six great albums as a bandleader—which is six more than the mooks who mock him have made.)

Anyway, one case in point for Herbie’s acute scouting skills are Yellow Springs, Ohio’s finest, Brute Force, a sextet whose best-known member was Sonny Sharrock… who guested on some of Mann’s own records. Now that I have your attention, let’s discuss why you need this overlooked album by this obscure group.

Produced by the Herbster himself, Brute Force immediately busts out of the gate like a thoroughbred with its ass on fire. “Do It Right Now” is a rock-and-soul “seize the day” anthem with bandleader Richard Daniel’s vocals swathing heads in warmth in the mellow-vibrant vein of Terry Collier and Lou Bond. Sharrock’s fiery guitar filigree really launches this song skyward. The anti-conformity song “Some Kind Of Approval” bubbles somewhere between early-’70s Curtis Mayfield and Stark Reality. Daniel gets off a sublime keyboard solo and Sharrock adds zonked guitar roughage for this soul-jazz gem that’ll raise your spirits and heart rate.

The Deacon” rambles soulfully like peak Booker T. & The MGs, with its rapid conga slaps and peppy horns making me want to watch NFL highlights from the ’70s. “Right Direction” moves in said place, and you’ll want to shoot its euphoric Latin rock into your veins—percolating congas, sweeping horns, and Daniel’s vocal flights of unstoppable positivity and all. On “Monster,” an incredibly cool bass and conga intro leads into an uptempo horn-rock jam with guitar fibrillations stroked from the instrument’s nut. It sure sounds like Sharrock’s diabolical handiwork, although he’s not credited. Still, I’d bet your stimulus check that it is indeed Sonny shredding. The playing recalls his outré work on his and wife Linda’s Paradise LP. The song builds to an intensity and wildness that bear the Sharrockian stamp, so it can’t help being a highlight.

Speaking of which, “Ye-Le-Wa” is another one. 14.5 minutes of balletic free jazz that waxes and wanes with brassy verve, this track’s not unlike Pharoah Sanders‘ output of that same era, but with more of a grounding in out-rock protocols. Daniel’s soulful vocals may not match Leon Thomas’ high-flying yodelics from “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” but they’re certainly moving, even if they simply repeat the title. The record closes with “Doubt,” a tranquil, flute-enhanced comedown after the previous blowout. Strangely, it recalls the beautifully placid “Love Sketch” by Paul Revere & The Raiders side project Friendsound. Will wonders never cease?

So, whether you’re a Sonny Sharrock completist or someone who simply enjoys soul jazz that rocks with finesse and fiery interplay, you need Brute Force. Herbie Mann would never steer you wrong, shirt or no shirt. -Buckley Mayfield

Ben Sidran “Puttin’ In Time On Planet Earth” (Blue Thumb, 1973)

One wonders how a nerdy-looking, non-famous white keyboardist/singer convinced legends such as Miles Davis drummer Tony Williams, James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield, and session bassist Phil Upchurch of Rotary Connection and Chess/Cadet Records fame to back him on his third album, Puttin’ In Time On Planet Earth. Granted, Ben Sidran had co-written Steve Miller Band’s 1969 “Lady Madonna”-biting hit “Space Cowboy,” but still. You wouldn’t think a guy like this would have that kind of clout. Maybe Sidran simply charmed them into the fold, and coaxed Blue Thumb Records to compensate them handsomely? Whatever the case, praise your deity of choice that these cats somehow gathered to lay down this understated gem.

I’ve heard five Ben Sidran albums, and Puttin’ In Time On Planet Earth is the best. Now, the opener, “Full Compass” (which Upchurch wrote), a 39-second burst of flamboyant, Mahavishnu Orchestra-like fusion, is a red herring. But on the next track, “Play The Piano,” Sidran’s true nature emerges. It flaunts Sidran’s hip, Mose Allison-esque vocals that express how doing the thing that the title says is salvation. Sidran tickles out wonderful cascades of chords on the far right side of a grand piano while Upchurch and Stubblefield lift the rhythm from Prime Mates’ “Hot Tamales,” one of the greatest Latin/New Orleans funk songs ever. Your ears will do somersaults of joy. The striding blues jazz of “Have You Heard The News” exudes that irresistible Mose bonhomie and is boosted by the deft Mr. Williams on drums.

Face Your Fears” features old Sidran buddy Steve Miller on acoustic guitar. It’s an inspirational jazz-pop song with Frank Rosolino on trombone and Sidran on Mellotron bringing new tones to the record, and it really soars in the second half thanks to Miller’s wonderfully warped electric-guitar solo and Tim Davis’ blissful backing vocals. “Walking With The Blues” is actually more dulcet smooth jazz than anything that sounds like Howlin’ Wolf. Here, Sidran sings in his most comforting, confidential tones as Bill Perkins exhales sultry, sinuous tenor sax solos. It’s quite precious.

As fine as all of this has been, Planet Earth really peaks on the last two tracks. I’ll be damned if the title track doesn’t share the same rhythm as that B-boy favorite, Can’s “Vitamin C.” Coincidence? I hope not. I love the idea of Clyde Stubblefield paying homage to Jaki Liebezeit. Upchurch lends crucial wah-wah guitar to this very classy approximation of blaxploitation-flick funk, while Sidran peels off keyboard runs that evoke Deodato circa “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)”.

Even better is “Now I Live (And Now My Life Is Done).” An ultra-slinky groove snakes with guile as Sidran vamps with enough verve to make Donald Fagen green with envy while guitarist Curley Cooke is on crystalline form, somewhere between George Benson and Pat Martino. Sidran’s use of bells and boinger percussion toy really add spine-tingles to this surreptitiously funky song. Throughout, Sidran recites an existentialist poem written by doomed 16th-century prisoner Chidiock Tichborne, who was executed for plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I. Crazy backstory, right? This is simply one of the most sublime tracks I’ve ever heard, regardless of genre, and alone worth the price of admission, and then some. -Buckley Mayfield

David Crosby “If I Could Only Remember My Name” (Atlantic, 1971)

This major-label album has emerged through nearly five decades of fluctuating interest and apathy to become at once a bargain-bin staple and a cult favorite. You don’t see that happen very often. My used copy’s cover is torn and frayed as much as David Crosby’s life has been, and that ugly exterior somehow makes the music within the grooves seem that much more special.

If I Could Only Remember My Name arose in the aftermath of Crosby’s emotional devastation following the death of his girlfriend, Christine. The former Byrd was eight miles low when he entered the studio. Emotionally and artistically buoyed by friends in high places (and high friends in spaces), Croz manifested a record that was like a miraculous mirage of folk-rock jamming and heart-string-tugging lyrics.

Name might have been the greatest pity party ever thrown, and it proved that a dozen or so millionaire musicians can set aside their egos and create an enduring work of healing spirituality, in order to mend a damaged psyche. It’s also the rare LP that has influenced middling indie-rock artists such as Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens as well as delighted lovers of rarefied psychedelia.

It begins with “Music Is Love,” a pinnacle of hippie rock. The song rides an easygoing acoustic-guitar riff and hand percussion/handclap rhythm, bolstered by a simple, indisputable message/mantra: “Everybody’s saying music is love.” Everybody was saying no such thing back then or at any other time, but isn’t it lovely to think so? Through the pure beauty of the tune, though, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Written by Crosby, Graham Nash, and Neil Young, this tune must’ve made Stephen Stills very jealous.

Then comes the “Cowgirl In The Sand”-like “Cowboy Movie,” which sounds like a laid-back James Gang with its subtle, clipped funk undertow. Grateful Dead members dominate here, with Jerry Garcia on guitars, Mickey Hart on drums, Phil Lesh on bass, Bill Kreutzmann on tambourine. Over their Haight-Ashbury groove, Crosby relates a harrowing tall tale about an Indian woman who’s not what she seems. Not sure this track needs to be over eight minutes, but maybe the drugs were kicking in real nice when Croz and company cut it. “Tamalpais High (At About 3)” is a mellow, wee-hours CSN tune with gorgeous wordless vocal harmonies—a motif on Name. With Nash joining Croz on vocals, the song goes airborne thanks to Garcia and Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen unspooling liquid gold filigrees.

For a lot of people (maybe even me), “Laughing” is the LP’s peak. You have the goddess Joni Mitchell and Nash on silken backing vocals, Garcia getting glorious on pedal steel, Phil Lesh on bass, and Kreutzmann on drums. They all lock into synch for this languorous sigh of a song that’s like a more rhythmically easygoing version of “Cowboy Movie.” Think of it as the aural analogue to the LP cover, on which the descending sun glows above the ocean that’s superimposed over Crosby’s pensive stare. The album’s most menacing track, “What Are Their Names” starts with spare, “Dark Star”-esque intrigue, thanks to Garcia’s spindly, stellar picking. With Mitchell, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, and David Freiberg on backing vocals, Croz and the crew intone lyrics about the evil men who run the country/world. Timeless stuff, unfortunately. Bonus: Seattle resident and Santana star Michael Shrieve’s on drums.

The album’s final four songs are marked by some of the most beautiful and majestic vocal arrangements and performances of the ’70s. The traditional “Orleans” is a showcase for Crosby’s soaring choirboy voice and delicately gorgeous acoustic-guitar strumming. You can hear its profound influence on Fleet Foxes, for what that’s worth. This track bleeds seamlessly into “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here,” whose vocal origami of ancient-sounding majesty prefigures Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard. Yep.

There are fewer rougher bummers than losing a lover to death, obviously, but Crosby and his posse of West Coast all-stars turned the sourest lemon into the sweetest lemonade on If I Could Only Remember My Name. -Buckley Mayfield