Album Reviews

The 13th Floor Elevators “Bull Of The Woods” (International Artists, 1969)

The production’s flawed, Roky Erickson only appears on four of the album’s 11 songs, the band members sound world-weary, and Tommy Hall’s jug mostly has gone AWOL. Yet Bull Of The Woods—which was recorded in 1968 when the 13th Floor Elevators were disintegrating and Roky was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and experiencing the torments of electroconvulsive therapy at a Houston psychiatric hospital—is fantastic. As much as I love the foundational psych-rock documents The Psychedelic Sounds Of… and Easter Everywhere, I often feel that Bull is my favorite work by these Texan psych-rock icons. And that’s a testament to the songwriting and guitar-playing chops of Stacy Sutherland, who forever has remained in Roky’s shadow—unjustly so! Listening to Bull might be akin to hearing a mythical Velvet Underground record on which Sterling Morrison somehow grabbed the reins from Lou Reed and revealed his hidden genius.

Now, as a vocalist, Sutherland’s the polar opposite of Roky: drawling, understated, uncharismatic. No matter. Stacy can write fascinating, multi-part songs and play a mean guitar; his is a glinting, choppy style with implied funkiness. You can hear that right away on the Roky-sung opening track “Livin’ On.” It choogles into earshot like CCR on downers or JJ Cale with a brawnier backing band, with Sutherland’s guitar clanging slyly at oblique angles above the laid-back groove. “Barnyard Blues” is Sutherland channeling Dr. John’s casually funky, swampy rhythm sorcery, powered by Ronnie Leatherman’s stalking, fathoms-deep bass line and Danny Thomas’ in-the-pocket drumming.

“Till Then”—co-written by Sutherland and Hall, with the former singing—is a paragon of beautiful, breezy rock, swathed in consoling “la la la”s. The song suavely bewitches until a mini rave-up raises the roof—the first of many such moves that distinguish Sutherland and Hall’s uncanny penchant for breathtaking dynamics. For those missing the more aggressive feel of Easter Everywhere, Roky and Hall’s “Never Another” will fill the void, although Hall’s electrified-jug bloops are mixed way down low. Thomas’ horn arrangements sound as if they were dropped in from a Herb Alpert session, but their incongruity charms, against the odds. Sutherland achieves some kind of peak with “Rose And The Thorn.” A sublime, existential slice of psychedelia that ebbs and flows with unpredictable fluidity, it’s like four great songs stitched together by a masterly editor, lifting you higher with every savvy swerve. “Down By The River” is not a Neil Young cover, but rather a Stones-like rocker with understated swagger in its groove and deceptively stinging guitar shafts that foreshadow the great ’90s trashadelic group Royal Trux.

With Sutherland’s “Scarlet And Gold,” the bass and drums achieve serious dub motion and pressure while Stacy sings with mellow gravitas, his earnest voice halo’d by gorgeous backing “oh”s. The song boasts another thrilling dynamic shift that launches the song into a higher stratum of psychedelic splendor, as Sutherland again proves himself the master of this strategy. “Street Song” sounds like a more lysergic take on the Stooges “Little Doll” template. This is tectonic-plate-shuddering rock augmented by some astonishing proto-dub churn, streaked with pitiless guitar pyrotechnics. Monumental metamorphoses occur, each surprising change elevating you to a higher state of consciousness. Fucking genius.

But this isn’t even Bull‘s peak. That would be “Dr. Doom,” on which Roky and Stacy sing in splendid unison. Of all the phenomenal songs in the Elevators’ canon, this one hits hardest and deepest for me. It’s sacred music distilled into three minutes of spiritual psych-pop, and its almost comical horn overdubs somehow enable it to soar even higher. The lyrics are mystical poetry sung with so much sincerity, you swallow them whole and feel enlarged for doing so. In this way, the song’s like the Beach Boys’ greatest tune, “Feel Flows.” Dig this heavy handful:

(chorus) Beginning no end, alpha no omega
Two mouths one voice still appears
(verse) We won’t join in sameness, we are each one different
We won’t join in oneness when we’re each one whole
We’ll be like in feeling, being of the spirit
Housed in body crystals, ever always soul
We’ll be right beside him, all we’ve been is beauty
All will be in union, from our life unfolds

From this summit, Bull gently descends back to earth. Bass boss Leatherman comes through with “With You,” a sweet waltz-time swooner with bliss-inducing vocal arrangements. In retrospect, maybe the Elevators should’ve given Ronnie more chances to write. And ol’ Roky delivers an ideal album-closer with “May The Circle Remain Unbroken,” an eerie, sparse ballad that sounds as if Erickson is evaporating before our ears, hymning his demise with an angelic hush, as we, with perfect hindsight, see the circle breaking brutally.

I’ve listened to Bull Of The Woods at least 100 times in my life and have found it to be the rare album that never loses an iota of its luster. Make no mistake: The Elevators got stuck at the top floor. -Buckley Mayfield

Ciccone Youth “The Whitey Album” (Enigma/Blast First, 1988)

When The Whitey Album came out, many Sonic Youth fans and critics treated it as a trifling post-modern prank. And yes, it does have its share of shtick, starting with the project name and nudge-wink title. You wondered if Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley were trolling their underground-rock fan base with two Madonna covers, a karaoke take on Robert Palmer’s MTV smash “Addicted To Love,” a clever-clever homage to John Cage’s “4′ 33”,” and an embarrassing rap fiasco. But while at the time those moments dominated the discourse around The Whitey Album, the record actually contains some of the Youth’s most interesting anomalies.

Remember, the recording of The Whitey Album occurred between 1986’s EVOL and 1987’s Sister—Sonic Youth’s peak period. So even if they were just screwing around, they couldn’t not create fascinating shit. Plus, they had fIREHOSE bassist/vocalist Mike Watt in the studio with them. Back then, Watt was depressed about the tragic vehicular death of long-time Minutemen bandmate D. Boon. When Watt traveled to the East Coast with girlfriend/Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler, who was headed to Yale for an internship, he stayed with Sonic Youth for a bit and ended up recording two songs with them destined for EVOL. The Ciccone Youth side project was part of an effort to inspire Watt to start playing music again and lift him out of his funk. It worked, and in the process SY fans got a nice little curio.

As for the Madonna and Palmer covers, they inspired yuks back in the day, but did Ciccone Youth do it for the lulz or because they genuinely loved the songs? With 20/20 hindsight, I’ll say both. Another goof, the self-explanatory “Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening To Neu,” finds Gordon and Suzanne Sasic talking about managing Dinosaur Jr. while listening to “Negativland.” Near the end, there’s a short burst of grandiose noise rock with what sounds like guitar god J Mascis going the fuck off on his axe. But “Tuff Titty Rap” [insert Beavis & Butthead laugh] is the group’s nadir, with Moore “rapping” over clunky, rudimentary drum-machine beats. 40 seconds of it is too long.

Now let’s move on to the good parts that compose the majority of The Whitey Album. “G-Force” pits Kim Gordon freestyling a spoken-word story about a brash woman up for adventure against oneiric, slow-motion psychedelia with subliminally funky drum-machine beats. “Platoon II” offers more basic, funky beats, which are swathed with ice-cold guitar feedback and gently delayed klang. It’s a real low-key head-nodder that foreshadows Dälek, who are the only hip-hop crew ever to collaborate with krautrock legends Faust. “Macbeth” is rugged, ruthless funky rock that stands among Sonic Youth’s best songs. “Children Of Satan/Third Fig” excellent hypnotic rock with a pseudo-robotic beat that augments the sonorous clangor and chiming of the guitars, until a bass riff ruptures the mesmerism at song’s end. The revelation here is how damned groovy this unintentional (?) funk comes across.

Some other highlights include “Moby-Dik,” a minute of Dieter Moebius-like electronic weirdness; “March Of The Ciccone Robots,” which sounds like a cover of PiL’s “Chant” with a ton of sludge caked on it and powered by pummeling, quasi-techno beats; and “Making The Nature Scene,” a scouring, beat-heavy rework of a harrowing Confusion Is Sex song that sounds like Big Stick.

So, look beyond the gimmicks and you have a fascinating oddity from an underground band who, when The Whitey Album received its delayed release, were ascending to alt-rock-mainstream success. More than 30 years later, the record stands out not as wry meta-commentary, but as a brilliant lark/tangent in Sonic Youth’s sprawling catalog. -Buckley Mayfield

Roy Ayers “Coffy” (Polydor, 1973)

Blaxploitation flicks flourished briefly and brightly in the ’70s, but most have been forgotten, except by fanatical film scholars and heady hip-hop producers. But the soundtracks that accompanied them have had a much longer shelf life in the public’s consciousness. Thankfully, the guardians of these gritty and flamboyant urban cinemascapes have kept awareness and availability alive all these decades later, and heads are consequently richer for having easy access to classics of the genre such as Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly, Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, James Brown’s Black Caesar, Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man, and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song. Along with these monuments to long-sideburned coolness, Roy Ayers’ Coffy belongs snugly in the top 10.

Of course, Ayers had established himself as a jazz-funk catalyst previous to this swanky soundtrack, and consequently his catalog has become one of the most fertile plundering grounds for hip-hop producers. In Ayers’ canon, Coffy is one of the richest source for said samples. I haven’t seen the movie, in which a nurse tries to get justice and revenge against the drug dealers responsible for misleading her 11-year old sister to drug addiction, but no matter. Ayers and his crack team of musicians have forged a treasure trove of action-packed jams that slap, from penthouse to pavement.

“Coffy Is The Color” kicks things off in a manner as peppy and funky as Curtis Mayfield or Stevie Wonder on happy pills, powered by chikka-wakka guitar from Billy Nichols (or is it Bob Rose?), William King’s percolating congas, Ayers’ lithe vibes, and Richard Davis’ tensile yet rubbery bass. Ayers sings, and he ain’t bad for a vibraphonist, though he’s no Curtis or Stevie. “Pricilla’s Theme” starts as a mellow gold instrumental, a breezy, cushiony reverie that’s silk-sheet luxury… until Ayers goes elegantly manic on vibes and the bass/drums/percussion groove gets (gy)rated XXX. Talk about a split personality!

On “King George,” Ayers places his stage-whispered chat about the titular pimp over a lubricious, methodical rhythm that evokes War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” If you’re gonna evoke, evoke the best, right? “Aragon” is as super-fly as Mayfield’s “Super Fly,” but soul-jazzier; Roy and comrades pack so much coolness, tension, and action into 2 minutes 52 seconds. “ King’s Last Ride” is as flashy and funky as a pimp’s wardrobe, but it’s a tease at 65 seconds. On “Brawling Broads” (oh those wacky ’70s), Richard Davis’ strutting bass line and Dennis Davis’ in the pocket slaps undergird Ayers’ delicately spine-tingling vibes motif. “Escape” brings white-knuckled suspense funk with rapid bongos/congas, trombone, and trumpet. Co-written by orchestrator/keyboardist Harry Whitaker, “Exotic Dance” is the classiest strip-club jam you’ll ever hear. Whitaker’s electric piano is a soulful swirl that would fog up Ramsey Lewis’ spectacles. Ayers leaves the two strangest tracks for last, with “Vittroni’s Theme” and “End Of Sugarman,” recalling Roy Budd and Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, respectively. Respect!

Of course, there are a couple of satiny, seductive soul ballads that sparkle like jizz on a moon-illuminated headboard, but the real reason to gulp this Coffy is for the velvet-sinewed funk. Plus, the vibraphone—especially in Ayers’ deft hands—is such a bountiful source of beguilingly cool timbres that these tracks hit with a freshness beyond what most soundtracks in the genre can generate. -Buckley Mayfield

Seesselberg “Synthetik 1.” (self-released, 1973)

I’m fascinated by artists who release one amazing album and then go quiet, for whatever reason. Examples? Skip Spence, the United States Of America, Tomorrow, Friendsound, Ibliss, McDonald & Giles, Kendra Smith, Young Marble Giants. German brother duo Seesselberg belong in this pantheon, too.

In the early ’70s, Wolf (b. 1941) and Eckhart (b. 1952) Seesselberg self-released some of the most innovative electronic music this side of Conrad Schnitzler and Morton Subotnick, and then vanished in a puff of fried synth circuitry. If you own one of original 1,000 copies pressed, however, you could sell it and travel the world on the earnings.

Thankfully, golden-eared curators have kept the nine precious cuts on Synthetik 1. in circulation over the decades, preserving what sounds like the birth of certain strains of IDM and techno, over 10-20 years before those styles emerged. The Seesselberg bros were clever electronics boffins who built their own synths, which obviously added special sauce to their distinctive sound. These 46 minutes reveal two nerds reveling in the temperamental strangeness of their gear, testing its parameters, and thereby drawing a blueprint for future synth iconoclasts to emulate—assuming they had the keen instincts to find Synthetik 1. and the maverick talent to fuck with its DNA. It is indeed an exclusive cult who have done so.

Synthetik 1. starts spectacularly with “Overture (If Somebody Survives We Will Have A Return Match),” a compendium of burbling, zapping, and oscillating sounds that sets a disorienting tone and warns the listener that Seesselberg are serious about sending you to the craziest quadrants of the omniverse. The 62-second “Eintrachtkreis-Paranoia” is a staccato panic-inducer that resembles the Ronald Frangipane-composed “Fuck Machine” sequence in The Holy Mountain. The equally brief “Verhütungsfreudenwalzer (Kontinenzmusik Für Eine Akademie)” sounds like a computer stuttering a disturbing mantra. These two snippets come off like the brothers playfully fucking about with their equipment. The more focused “Speedy Achmed (Verhaltensanweisung)” offers low-key, sinister pulsations and eldritch screeches that foreshadow Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey. The A-side closes with a nearly 11-minute track bearing an absurdly long German title. Its ominous whirs, distant abattoir emissions, and eerie avian whistles make it a close cousin of Tonto’s Expanding Head Band‘s “Jetsex.”

The flip side begins with Synthetik 1.‘s highlight, “Phönix,” a 10-minute piece Wolf composed for a 1972 film of the same name. It’s a dazzling menagerie of high-pitched synth discombobulations ruptured by pulsating spaceship-door percussion, emergency-warning bleeps, and weaponized drones. I imagine the track scoring the movie’s climactic scenes in which astronauts meet terminal doom. There’s no way anyone gets out of this piece alive. The last two tracks (both with long German titles you’ll instantly forget) reiterate Synthetik 1.‘s m.o.: creating bizarre electronic abstractions that “go nowhere” in the traditional sense that dull people expect them to venture to. Essentially, Seesselberg are all about generating an interesting array of tones for its own sake—escapism with a sense of danger about it.

Some will complain that Synthetik 1. lacks “humanity” or “warmth,” but sometimes it feels great simply to immerse oneself in the alien sonography of custom-built synthesizers and lose all sense of reality. Seesselberg made that scenario a breathtaking certainty nearly 50 years ago. Enter their secret society.

[Synthetik 1. has been reissued officially on CD by Plate Lunch (2001) and on LP by Wah Wah (2013). Both are pricey imports, but totally worth it.] -Buckley Mayfield

Darondo “Let My People Go” (Luv N’ Haight/Ubiquity, 2006)

The late Bay Area vocalist Darondo flared brightly and briefly from 1972 to 1974, releasing three swanky singles and opening a show for James Brown before exiting the music biz. In the ensuing decades, Darondo’s life took an unpredictable path that led him into television hosting, working as a physical therapist, and getting hooked on cocaine, before he eventually circled back to singing in his 60s, thanks to Costa Mesa-based Ubiquity Records sub-label Luv N’ Haight re-releasing his small output with bonus tracks on the tight and wonderful collection Let My People Go. I’m glad I had the pleasure to see William Daron Pulliam perform in Costa Mesa in the late ’00s; he could still sing and dance like a man half his age. Sadly, he passed away in 2013 at age 66.

If the opening title track doesn’t get your libido throbbing, you may want to see a doctor. It’s low-slung, sexy funk that swings like an elephant schlong, with Darondo’s voice exuding a weary vibrancy that effortlessly oozes soul, not unlike Al Green’s and Curtis Mayfield’s. But wait, it gets better. “Legs (Part 1)” is simply one of the most prurient funk jams extant, like Commodores’ “Brick House” multiplied by AWB’s “Schoolboy Crush,” but much cooler and more understated. I’ll go out on a limb and call it better than more famous lower-extremity-worshipping songs such as Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” and ZZ Top’s “Legs.” As a bonus, it boasts one of the filthiest falsetto performances on tape. Sadly, I don’t think Part 2 ever got released.

For a change of pace, swoony, swaying soul ballad “Didn’t I” drifts into earshot, laden with regret over a failed relationship. It became Darondo’s most covered song and the track that appeared most often in other media: the TV shows Breaking Bad, High Fidelity, The Blacklist, and The Deuce, among others. Pure seduction in song. The disc’s other ballads are silk-sheet nice, as well. “I Want Your Love So Bad” offers midtempo, honeyed yearning for a woman’s heart. Darondo brings more Green-like falsetto testifying and romantic showboating and the keyboard solo is a crystalline, serpentine spine-tingler. Yet more Green-like shivers ensue with “Sure Know How To Love Me”; those emphatic Hi Records rimshots that make you feel 73% slicker than you actually are buttress a languorous soul heart-melter that’s smooth, luxurious, yet not at all oleaginous. (Here would be a good time to praise Al Tanner’s production and Eddie Foster’s guitar work. Also, the comp’s last three tracks are enhanced by San Francisco musician Bing Ji Ling. Unfortunately, I could find no other credits.)

But as sweet as those mellow panty-droppers are, Let My People Go really thrives on its funkier cuts, such as “My Momma And My Poppa,” a paean to Darondo’s parents that will make you want to add another member to your family, if you catch my drift, and “True,” whose spare, methodical funk with sample-worthy beats is the closest D comes to the mighty Meters.

Darondo didn’t record much, but the nine songs he left have incredible staying power. Luv N’ Haight reissued Let My People Go on vinyl in 2018, but it’s already scarce and pricey. Perhaps another re-release is in order. -Buckley Mayfield

Nazz “Nazz” (SGC, 1968)

Look at that cover—four heads floating in inky darkness—and try to distinguish the individuals, besides leader Todd Rundgren. Damn near impossible. That’s because Nazz were going for a unified look in haircuts, clothes, and, it seems, even facial features. This Philadelphia quartet basically started in the mid ’60s as a boy band geared for the teen-pandering rags of the time. But the songs on their debut LP were anything but LCD fluff. On the contrary, Nazz is chockablock with stunners of varying styles. Right here, the 19-year-old Todd established his prodigy bona fides with some of the most dazzling work of his long and idiosyncratic career.

Rundgren’s genius smacks you upside the noggin from the first seconds of lead-off song “Open My Eyes.” When I first heard this on the radio as a teenager, I was in a hypnagogic state; I thought it was a cover version of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” whose weird, supercharged energy had sent the song whirling off its axis. It’s simply one of the most exciting specimens of garage-psych ever waxed. The swerving rhythm, the mind-melting bass and guitar riffs careening around the bend, the handclaps, the cymbal splashes, the flanged vocals on “eyes” and “mind,” Rundgren’s sizzling guitar solo—it’s all too much, and yet you never want it to end. If Nazz had only recorded “Open My Eyes,” they’d still be all-time legends. And yet it only peaked at #112 in the singles chart. I’ve heard this song over 100 times, and each new listen turns me into a hyper ball of hyperbolics.

Despite such a blazing start, the album’s remaining tracks don’t at all seem anti-climactic. I think people underestimate how heavy Nazz were, because “Back Of Your Mind” finds them crafting hooky hard rock with a proto-grunge riff that Mudhoney surely lifted over 20 years later… and about which Blue Cheer must’ve felt jealous in real time, assuming they heard it. Another case in point is “Wildwood Blues,” a proto-glam strut that overtakes the titular blues, like some strange melding of Cream with prime-time Slade, years before the latter rose to prominence. I can imagine the freakout crescendo coda making a young Tony Iommi shout “Cor blimey!” Nazz‘s third-best song on the album, “She’s Goin’ Down,” is another proto-grunge adrenaline-burner with a killer chorus that foreshadows power-poppers Shoes. The action packed into its five minutes is off the charts (literally): wicked zig-zagging dynamics, freewheeling guitar solo, flowery and fiery prog keyboard action, euphoric vocal harmonies, Blue Cheer-like guitar/bass detonation, and a robust drum solo, to boot. The second-best song here, “When I Get My Plane,” aptly soars during the chorus, with the word “plane” extended and falsetto’d to dazzling effect. The dynamics are ingenious, with the build up to the chorus perfectly engineered for optimal vertiginous splendor. Plus, the “ba ba ba”s and “la la la”s are to die for.

Of course, Nazz had a tender, mellower side, too, as anyone who’s heard their most popular single, “Hello It’s Me,” knows. “See What You Can Be” offers complexly harmonic pop that could segue relatively smoothly with a Mamas & The Papas or Turtles deep cut, while “If That’s The Way You Feel” is a sumptuous ballad that strives for a Left Banke baroqueness, but isn’t quite as melodically inviting or subtle as that group. The strings bear a harshness and overbearing desire to knock you out with emotion, although the vocal lead and harmonies are luscious. As for “Hello It’s Me,” I prefer this version over the lusher, more MOR-radio-friendly one Todd issued on his 1972 solo album, Something/Anything? Nazz’s rendition is a lovely, spare ballad bolstered by Rundgren’s crucial vibraphone accents, gorgeous vocal layering, and heart-melting sincerity. “It’s important to me to know that you know you are free/’Cause I’d never want to make you change for me” is a pretty mature and reasonable sentiment for a 19-year-old male songwriter.

In his liner notes, Jon Landau observed, “To listen to the Nazz is to understand immediately what rock and roll is all about. There is an exhilaration and joyfulness to what they are doing which expresses completely the attitude that rock has always sought to express. They play with such finesse and solidity, it amazes me that anything can be so simple yet so complex at one and the same time.” I don’t often agree with a Rolling Stone writer, but Landau nailed it. -Buckley Mayfield

High Rise “High Rise II” (PSF, 1986)

Japan has produced a fair number of musical units who go to sonic extremes that you rarely hear in the West. To name just a handful, Merzbow, Massona, Boredoms, Fumiya Tanaka, and even Teengenerate boast catalogs that often make their Anglo-American counterparts seem a tad restrained. High Rise, too, occupy a lofty place in the pantheon of tinnitus-inducing terrorizers from the Land Of The Rising Sun. Their sophomore full-length, II, pushes rock to a precipice of oblivion where few have gone, straining song form to near-bursting point and going so far into the red that they push the needle into oxblood on the VU meter. It’s a helluva thing.

The 53-second opener “Cycle Goddess” offers a revved-up, raucous appetizer to tip you off to the ramalama banquet ahead. The next song, “Turn You Cry,” could almost be an early Ramones or Clash tune; this is what passes for a radio song in High Rise land. Bassist Asahito Nanjo’s vulnerable, slightly reverbed vocal gets buried beneath a squealing, pummeling rock avalanche that sounds like guitarist Munehiro Narita has two more axmeisters supplementing his barbed-wire wall of rococo squealing and metallic sheets of clangor. Dr. Euro’s wrecking ball drums miraculously punch their way through the ultra-thick guitar/bass lava flow. Hard to believe only three humans are creating this monstrous sound.

The dense, adrenalized rock of “Cotton Top” roils in the tradition of MC5’s “Black To Comm,” Spacemen 3’s “Revolution,” the Stooges’ “L.A. Blues,” and Blue Cheer’s “Parchment Farm.” Rolling and tumbling relentlessly toward a termination station, “Cotton Top” is noisy hard rock distilled to a lethal essence. You know the drill, but you’ve never felt it this hard and this intensely. “Last Rites” ups the ante yet again, its bulging, aggressive rock making you feel as if you’re on top of the world, even as High Rise are intent on blowing it up. Narita proves himself a guitar guerrilla, spraying bullets and throwing flames in every direction at once, mowing down apathy and inertia with killer instincts. He crams in more ideas per minute than most guitarists do over a full LP.

Even though it’s over 13 minutes long, “Pop Sicle” is the album’s single, a quasi-’60s-style beat song that’s as hooky as anything on Jesus And Mary Chain’s Psychocandy and almost as blurred and riddled with feedback and fuzz. High Rise knew they’d hit on a seductive riff here, and they wring every last drop of psychedelic-groove juice out of it. “Pop Sicle” accelerates in the second half until your eyes are pinwheeling in their sockets and your ear drums are pulsating at 180 bpms. The song’s a psychedelic speed freak apotheosis and makes nearly everything else in the rock canon seem earthbound and moribund.

In 2018, Black Editions did a beautiful remixed and remastered vinyl reissue of II. Even that may be hard to score now, but you should put in the effort. Streaming is not the proper way to absorb High Rise’s shock tactics. -Buckley Mayfield

Shuggie Otis “Freedom Flight” (Epic, 1971)

Shuggie Otis still isn’t as famous and celebrated as he ought to be. Although his discography is relatively small, his name should be uttered in the same reverent tones the listening public reserves for superstars such as Sylvester Stewart, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince.

Now, Otis’ 1970 debut LP proper Here Comes Shuggie Otis has some stellar moments, but Freedom Flight is where he really blossoms. He would follow it up in 1974 with another classic, Inspiration Information, before going many years without releasing new music. David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label revived interest in Otis’ mellifluous mélange of psychedelia, blues, and funk with its 2001 reissue of Inspiration Information that included four cuts from Freedom Flight. It was one of the best music-biz moves the Talking Heads frontman has ever made.

Otis certainly had connections to some of the top players in the biz thanks to his father, the R&B artist/bandleader Johnny Otis. But still, for a 17-year-old to create an album as ambitious and brilliant as Freedom Flight is astonishing. It’s no wonder legends such as Frank Zappa, Al Kooper, and the Rolling Stones wanted to tap the multi-instrumentalist prodigy’s talents.

Ice Cold Daydream” is a fantastic opening number, complex yet catchy funk rock that could make Sly Stone do the splits out of respect. Shuggie’s guitar effects are sweet as hell, and he plays organ and bass like a badass, too. Somehow I’d gone my whole life not knowing about Mike Kowalski—who’s played with the Beach Boys, Nick Drake, and John Martyn—but he proves himself to be a truly funky drummer. Papa Johnny chips in with percussion, which was very nice of him.

Shuggie flexes his formidable blues muscles on “Me And My Woman” and “Purple.” Written by Gene Barge, the former song is about a roller-coaster romance and though it’s pretty straight-ahead, it’ll put serious lead in your pencil. (Does anyone still use this expression? No? Cool.) Shuggie plays guitar, bass, and keys, and his guitar solo is a thing of ornate beauty, while his rhythm guitar chikka-wakkas are nasty. “Purple” is a simmering, shimmering seven-minute blues stroll that one could imagine working well in a classy strip joint. Shuggie once again excels on guitar, bass, and organ and Jim “Supe” Bradshaw adds crucial harmonica accompaniment.

My two favorite tracks here are “Sweet Thang” and “Strawberry Letter 23.” The former was co-written with certified Dirty Old Man Johnny Otis and received high-powered help from George Duke on organ, Wilton Felder on bass, and Aynsley Dunbar on drums. This is swampy funk that’s greasier than Dr. John’s Gris-Gris in a New Orleans grease fire. “Sweet Thang” is so sexy, I can’t think of a metaphor or simile that’ll do it justice, but your libido will surely throb like it’s never throbbed before. “Strawberry Letter 23” is Shuggie’s most famous song, thanks to the Brothers Johnson’s glazed-soul cover that dominated radio in 1977—and justifiably so. Shuggie plays everything on it, and dozens of listens to his and the Brothers Johnson’s versions cannot diminish the elegant elation that this mellow, pastel soul gem induces. Shuggie’s sleigh and orchestral bells and his gilded, ascending guitar arpeggios lift this song to the seventh circle of heaven. It’s one of the purest expressions of enchantment ever put to tape, up there with Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.”

Finally, the nearly 13-minute “Freedom Flight” is a patiently unfolding, bluesadelic drift that’ll get you floating in the way that a Hendrix jam at its most blissed-out can do. Duke, Dunbar, and Felder appear again, but it’s Richard Aplanalp on tenor sax and oboe who steals the song. Aplanalp played on Bruce Palmer’s The Cycle Is Complete, and it shows. His blowing has that tender yet questing tone that suggests intimacy with the eternal. The band achieves a peaceful, easy feeling, in excelsis. “Freedom Flight” serves as an exclamation mark in lavender haze to an album that’s a manifesto of artistic adventurousness… created, I remind you, by a 17-year-old. -Buckley Mayfield

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