Album Reviews

Billy Cobham “Inner Conflicts” (Atlantic, 1978)

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Conventional wisdom says that you should be leery of most jazz LPs from the late ’70s onward, but Inner Conflicts by ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Billy Cobham is an exception to that rule. Not that Inner Conflicts is a traditional jazz record. Nope. It’s actually a left-of-center fusion work with loads of Latin percussion and inflections—plus a mammoth electronic experiment that’s a phenomenal anomaly in Cobham’s catalog. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Inner Conflicts‘ title track is by far the most impressive Heldon homage ever conceived by a jazz artist. (Google “Heldon/Richard Pinhas” and prepare to have your life changed for the better, if you’re not already familiar.) This beastly alien cut sounds like it could fit right in on Heldon’s infernal classic Interface, which came out in 1977. It finds Cobham drumming up a turbulent solar storm while also generating—with Moog Modular 55 programming help from John Bowen—a bizarre mélange of bleepy, gurgly synth emissions fit to score that mythical sequel to The Andromeda Strain. At almost 11 minutes, “Inner Conflicts” is a war of attrition on your nervous system, but totally worth the extreme exertion.

Inner Conflicts‘ remaining four songs are much more conventional, but interesting in their own right. “The Muffin Talks Back” is a flamboyant, eventful Latin jazz-funk fusion that hints at the gluttonous percussion fiesta—featuring Prince protégé Sheila Escovedo and her father Pete—to come on side two. “Nickels And Dimes” could be a rollicking, TV-cop-show theme in waiting, all blustery brass and woodwinds and frantic xylophone and marimba by Frank Zappa cohort Ruth Underwood. “El Barrio” starts as a lurching, heavily percussive, festive jam powered by whistles, congas, timbales, and other percussion instruments, before smoothing out into a undulating throb of Latin jazz marked by Cobham’s busy, potent kit work. The coolly burbling “Arroyo” showcases John Scofield’s well-modulated, Santana-esque shrieking guitar calligraphy.

Throughout the album, Cobham of course acquits himself as a powerful, kinetic, and inventive leader, asserting the world-class rhythmic skills that have made him desirable to so many musicians, including Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Peter Gabriel, and Deodato. But it’s that cataclysmic wonder, “Inner Conflicts,” that remains most vivid in your shattered mind afterward. -Buckley Mayfield

Liquid Liquid “Optimo” (99 Records, 1983)

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When the Superior Viaduct label reissued Liquid Liquid’s most famous EP last year (along with their other 12-inches), I and many other heads rejoiced. It finally made the New York post-punk funk group’s vastly influential “Cavern” accessible to vinyl lovers who don’t have deep pockets (unlike the track itself—*rimshot*) or who have reservations about purchasing bootlegs. As you probably know, “Cavern” inspired Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It),” one of the hugest hip-hop-party jams ever. “Cavern” boasts one of history’s most infectious, buoyant bass lines—thanks, Richard McGuire—and its tensile rhythm makes you want to jump through the ceiling of a basketball arena. You can understand why a popular hip-hop group would want to use it as the foundation for club banger; you can also understand why Liquid Liquid were miffed when Melle Mel & co. lifted the bass part of their song without giving them credit (Sugar Hill Records house bassist Doug Wimbish duplicated it). No doubt 21st-century bands like LCD Soundsystem and Tussle were taking notes to this stripped-down warehouse-funk bomb.

As for the rest of the four-track EP, “Optimo” places Sal Principato’s staccato, nervy New York vocals over a polyglot percussion attack, with some of the most manic cowbell hits you’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. This is a slippery, shuffling funk cut not too dissimilar to what A Certain Ratio were up to in Manchester a few years before with the dazzling “The Fox.” It should be noted that all four Liquid Liquid members played percussion, which helped to make their music the rhythm banquet it is.

Optimo‘s flipside tends to get overlooked, but it too features greatness. “Scraper” flaunts a bulbous bass line and all manner of piquant percussion touches, as well as Dennis Young’s beautifully supple marimba motif. “Out” is the record’s most dubby piece and strides in a pretty strange meter. Good luck dancing to it!

Also, good luck finding even Superior Viaduct’s Optimo reissue, let alone an original copy; it’s already sold out! Time for a repress, perhaps. Optimo should never be oop. -Buckley Mayfield

Milton Nascimento- Minas (EMI, 1975)

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Some albums just ooze a singular atmosphere and vibe that transcend language or rational thought. Milton Nascimento’s Minas is one of those albums. A Brazilian singer-songwriter who boasts a commanding, supple vocal style, Nascimento has collaborated with many prominent American and English musicians (Wayne Shorter, Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Peter Gabriel, Jon Anderson, Cat Stevens, and, uh, Duran Duran), yet his own records aren’t that well known here. But among the record-collector cognoscenti, he’s revered as something of a prog-folk-soul genius. You could think of Nascimento as something of a South American Tim Buckley, but even that doesn’t quite nail his special talent.

My Brazilian import copy of Minas contains scant info about the recording, but maybe not knowing every detail of it somehow enhances the listening experience. Savor the mystery! Milton sings in Portuguese, a wonderfully musical language that has a warm, tranquilizing effect on me. He enlists a children’s choir on a couple of tracks, which is one of my least favorite ploys, but for some reason it’s not as cloying as usual in Nascimento’s hands. Much of Minas is deceptively beautiful; most of the songs here don’t immediately stun you, but rather over repeat listens their oddly alluring contours begin to make sense and trigger your pleasure centers. By the fifth listen, you’re convinced Minas is a classic song cycle as devastatingly moving as Buckley’s Starsailor, Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, or any of Scott Walker’s first four solo joints.

Minas‘ highlight is “Fé Cega, Faca Amolada” (which Royal Trux, of all people, reverently and authoritatively covered; look for it on their box set Singles, Live, Unreleased). Co-written with Ronaldo Bastos, this song finds Milton trading unbelievably expressive vocals with Beto Guedes as the music flares and lopes with balletic grace and soulful buoyancy, like some superhuman strain of tropical pop whose rewards will never cease. I’ve no idea what they’re singing, but the vocalists convey powerful uplift, and that lump in my throat is real. Someone at the usually trustworthy Dusty Groove site noted about Minas that “the backings have a positive, triumphant quality that’s extremely upbeat and bright, yet without sounding commercial at all.” This is accurate. Nascimento and his cohorts gently unleash a new kind of beauty on us here and we should all devote a good chunk of the rest of our lives to luxuriating in it—language barrier be damned. -Buckley Mayfield

Gary Wilson Trio- “Another Galaxy” (Feeding Tube, 2016; orig. released 1974)

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This fantastic album’s going to surprise all but the most clued-in Gary Wilson fans. For those only familiar with the Endicott, New York cult musician’s mildly obsessive new-wave lounge funk, they’ll be taken aback—in a good way!—with the avant-garde jazz moves Gary and company bust on this long-unheard 1974 date. Seeing as Wilson is literally a John Cage disciple (at age 14, he visited the great man at his home to discuss music), Gary’s quest for far-out concepts and sounds should come as no surprise, and that spirit pervades Another Galaxy.

Absent Wilson’s regular-guy romantic vocals and featuring Wilson on standup bass and piano and Garry Iacovelli on drums and percussion, Another Galaxy strives to reach said far-flung galaxy with a sound that’s in the vicinity of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band, Alice Coltrane’s piano/organ-centric Warner Bros. phase, and Sun Ra’s intergalactic strangeness. The opening title track leads you into febrile, funky jazz territory, bolstered by Wilson’s tensile flights of fancy on the bass and Natale (Chris) Putrino’s flaring wah-wah guitar, which will please Larry Coryell fans. The askew, oblong “Study For Three” triggers those John Cage and Sun Ra comparison reflexes… and, hell, even Wolfgang Dauner’s Et Cetera; it’s a baffling amalgam of frenetic drum splutters, extended bass groans, and atonal piano runs—guaranteed to make any gathering extremely uncomfortable. And that’s one reason why I love it.

“Softly The Water Flows” tones down the hyperkinetic sonic puzzles and eases into a lovely 90-second piano-led meditation. The 14-minute “Hate And Depression” blasts off with Iacovelli’s frantic, subtly powerful drum solo and then Wilson solos methodically and stoically on bass. Four minutes in, tenor saxophonist Tyrone Parks III and Iacovelli join in and the group explodes into a swerving free-jazz cauldron. Artful chaos ensues… and keeps shooting off sparks into all directions in a serious endurance test of nerves. But you’re tough—you can handle it.

This reissue is limited to 500 copies. It would be a strategic error to hesitate grabbing one before they’re gone again. -Buckley Mayfield

Luscious Jackson “In Search Of Manny” (Grand Royal, 1992)

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Talk about love at first listen… Luscious Jackson’s debut EP on the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label busts out of the gate with one of the coolest tracks in ’90s hiphop. “Let Yourself Get Down” is not so much trad rap as it is an action-packed hybrid of heaviest pimp funk, freakiest psychedelic rock, and come-hither R&B—plus, that sample from Dr. John’s “Right Place Wrong Time” just elevates it over the top. It’s an auspicious omen for the rest of the seven-track, 25-minute record, which has no weak moments and, Natural Ingredients notwithstanding, represents Luscious Jackson’s peak. Curiously, I thought these four NYC women were going to be superstars, but they ended up becoming more like cult heroines whose career sputtered sooner than expected.

But let’s accentuate the positive, of which there’s plenty on In Search Of Manny. “Life of Leisure” sashays on a shuffling funk beat and louche, jazzy coronet and oboe riffs, showing LJ can excel at down tempos and melancholy moods, too. “Daughters Of The Kaos” unexpectedly starts with a flamenco-guitar sample and then explodes into a maniacally chaotic funk jam, lifting Mitch Mitchell’s beat from the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Little Miss Lover” to stunning effect. The rapping is seductively sotto voce, a brilliant decision for such a busy, kinetic track. “Keep On Rockin’ It” and “She Be Wantin’ It More” let in some sweet folk-rock guitar amid complex rhythms and beautiful singing and on-point rapping by Jill Cunniff and Gabrielle Glaser.

“Bam-Bam” brings yet more slashing funk that’s fit for a blaxploitation flick, with badass drummer Kate Schellenbach flashing serious Bernard Purdie-esque chops. “Satellite” closes the EP with a speedy, almost R.E.M.-like gallop into lush, dreamy melodicism. It’s a denouement nobody really saw coming, but it typifies Luscious Jackson’s brilliance, right out of the gate. –Buckley Mayfield

Cymande “Cymande” (Janus, 1972)

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Here’s a stone-classic album that’s still not widely known enough—even with its uplifting funk track “Bra” being sampled by De La Soul on “Change In Speak” from 3 Feet High & Rising and appearing in Spike Lee’s 1994 film Crooklyn. (Hip-hop and electronic-music producers have sampled Cymande at least 77 times, according to who-sampled.com.) Cymande put out three strong albums (I’ve not heard their fourth, Arrival), but their debut is the best, if only judging by how often I play tracks from it in DJ sets. It’s one of those rare funk full-lengths that you can play from start to finish without lifting the needle off a tepid ballad.

But to call Cymande merely a funk band is inadequate. The English nonet—who featured musicians from London, St. Vincent, Guyana, and Jamaica—also incorporated jazz, reggae, calypso, and progressive rock in their inspirational tracks, and such hybridization resulted in highly flavorful material that is bathed in a spiritual glow that can’t be faked. Cymande call it “nyah-rock,” which they describe in the liners as “the music of the man who finds in life a reason for living.” I’ll say.

Side 1 is largely mellow and meditative and marked by Patrick Patterson’s fluid guitar ruminations, Steve Scipio’s lithe bass lines, Mike Rose’s circuitous flute motifs, and Ray King’s soulful vocals that carry subtle hints of Caribbean patois. LP opener “Zion I” is the exception: a spiritual reggae tune with righteous massed vocals and a bass line on which you can trampoline.

Side 2 is where Cymande really shines. “Dove” (sampled by the Wu-Tang Clan in “Problems” and the Fugees in “The Score,” among many other places) is simply one of the greatest pieces of music ever waxed. It begins in great intrigue, Patrick Patterson’s guitar modulating a Santana-esque wail, setting the scene for Steve Scipio’s world-beating, sidewinder bass line to lift the track onto a higher, more libidinous level. Stealthy, undulant funk beats and blissed-out “la la la la-la”s contribute to making the 11-minute “Dove” one of the ultimate sex jams. The aforementioned “Bra” is simply one of the most joyous pieces of music ever waxed. The next time you’re really down, play it and feel your worries dissolve amid its levitational rhythms, percolating congas and bongos, and triumphant horn charts. “The Message” is more subdued, but no less seductive with its nocturnal funk strut. “Ras Tafarian Folk Song” is definitely the album’s weak link, but that could just be my bias against religious belief systems talking. Thankfully, it’s over in three minutes. Everything else on Cymande, though, deserves to be blazed into your memory banks till your last breath—especially “Dove.” -Buckley Mayfield

Blurt “Blurt” (Red Flame, 1982)

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Blurt don’t get enough respect. Led by poet/saxophonist/blurter Ted Milton, they were one of the oddest and most galvanizing bands from Great Britain’s post-punk movement. Surfacing a year after 1981′s live full-length In Berlin, their self-titled debut studio LP consists of seven tracks that strip funk and jazz-inflected no wave down to insanely logical essentials. These lean vehicles operated by Milton, his brother Jake (drums), and Pete Creese (guitar) get your hips twitching and your brain itching. The songs are both tight and spacey—a rare combo of elements that coheres into trance-funk jams punctuated by Milton’s rude, shredded sax jags and spluttering, megaphoned rants. If you saw Ted Milton doing his thing on the street corner, you’d give him a wide berth. See him onstage or hear him on record and you’re transfixed and repulsed in equal measure.

“Dog Save My Sole” instantly sets the template for Blurt: solid-as-hell, tom-tom-heavy funk beats that hit you in your root chakra; geometrically precise, lightly discordant guitar figures that cycle like ∞; and Milton’s raucous sax squawks and mad shouts. The weirdly galloping “Trees” might appeal to fans of Ornette Coleman’s Of Human Feelings, which also came out in 1982. Milton’s sax is at its most mellifluous and Creese’s guitar takes on a percussive, Afrobeat tenor. “Physical Fitness” crunches your abs with rolling and tumbling tom-tom and kick-drum beats while Ted lays down some knuckle-biting, spy-jazz motifs and Creese scratches out a guitar riff that sounds like a strangled tiger snarl.

“Empty Vessels” is streamlined funk with an undulating groove that you never want to end—trust me on this. Creese executes a minimalist, “King Sunny Adé on a short leash” guitar mantra, while Ted spits leery squiggles of sax over everything. The rudimentarily funky “Play The Game” sounds like it’s repeatedly falling down the stairs into a Manhattan jazz club circa 1961, as TM shreds his larynx with some babble. Without warning, the song speeds up… because Dada. “The Ruminant Plinth” is the closest Blurt comes to a single (which it was): It’s the sort of jittery yet maniacally disciplined jazz funk that could make Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70 sweat their asses off. With contrarian bullheadedness, Blurt closes with “Arthur,” the LP’s slowest cut; Ted and the guys sound relatively narcotized, but the melismatic jazz funk will surely put you in a strange reverie.

There’s nothing on Blurt that’s as rabble-rousing and catchy as their early-’80s singles “The Fish Needs A Bike” and “Get,” but this remains Blurt’s most consistent full-length effort and an essential, bizarrely shaped piece of the original post-punk puzzle. -Buckley Mayfield

Julie Tippetts “Sunset Glow” (Utopia, 1975)

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Sunset Glow came to my attention in the ’90s when underground-rock musician Bob Bannister of Tono Bungay mentioned in some zine that it was his favorite album of all time. That recommendation spurred me to search for the British soul vocalist’s debut LP, which I’ve only been able to find on CD. (Tip: A label could make a nice chunk of change with a vinyl repress of Sunset Glow.)

Previously Tippetts had sung with Brian Auger’s dynamite soul-jazz group the Trinity and had some success with their epic cover of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch.” (Who didn’t back then?) With Auger, Tippetts—then known as Julie Driscoll; she changed her name when she married prog-rock keyboardist Keith Tippett—belted her numbers with flamboyant bravado and soulful throatiness. She has a voice you remember and savor. Its passion and timbre suggests she lives life to the fullest, and then some. So it’s somewhat of a surprise to dip into the aptly titled Sunset Glow and encounter a suite of seven songs that confront you on much more intimate and poised terms—although if you’re familiar with Driscoll’s superb 1969 album from ’71, the shock’s not quite so strong. In fact, they make wonderful companion pieces in her catalog.

Sunset Glow‘s opening song, “Mind Of A Child,” is a slow-blooming flower of summertime soul balladry that stands up with the best of your Joni Mitchells, Margo Guryans, and Linda Perhacses. You say “YES!” to it within a minute, and revel in its pensive bombast, if you have any damn sensitivity in you at all. “Oceans And Sky (And Questions Why?)” approaches a Linda and Sonny Sharrock-ian level of astral-jazz levitation and chaos. The title track carries a wandering, woebegone air that’s tempered with hints of optimism; one hears similarities here to Tim Buckley at his most oceanically amorphous.

“Lilies” and “What Is Living” find Tippetts in sublime mantric mode, singing in her most dulcet timbre and as if in a trance. You feel as if she and the band are slyly luring you into a slow vortex of sensuality and existentialism. The latter’s lyrics—“What is living—if you can’t live to love?/What is living—if you can’t love to give?/What is living—if you can’t give everything?/What is everything—if it’s not living?”—possess a satisfying circularity and humble wisdom. The final track, “Behind The Eyes (For A Friend, R),” is just Tippetts singing and playing piano in a tender, gorgeous tribute to the recently paralyzed Robert Wyatt. What a classy finale.

Tippetts enlisted a crack band of Canterbury prog musicians to help her realize her special vision, including her husband, various Soft Machine and Centipede members, and South African drummer Louis Moholo. They manifested an apotheosis of artful folk jazz that could almost be viewed as the British version of Tim Buckley’s Lorca. Yeah, it’s that sublime. -Buckley Mayfield

Beaver & Krause “Ragnarök (Electronic Funk)” (Limelight, 1969)

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Back in 1997, I spotted a tattered copy of Ragnarök in a New Orleans used-record shop. The sexuagenarian owner had carefully wrapped the entire cover with clear tape, as it was eroded and moldy with water damage. Intrigued, I asked the proprietor to play the record so I could determine if I wanted to drop the $34 he was asking for it. (At the time, that was a very large amount for me to spend on a used LP.) From the first seconds of the title track, I knew I had to have it, astronomical sum be damned. It sounded like the most sinister and strange dystopian-sci-fi-film theme this side of Gil Mellé’s Andromeda Strain score. Years later, I found a clean copy, but I’ve always kept the original to remind myself of that magical moment in NOLA that turned me on to the peculiar genius of synthesizer maestros Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause.

Before they cut Ragnarök, Beaver & Krause had put together the synth-demonstration box set The Nonesuch Guide To Electronic Music. It’s good for a listen or two, and then you put it on your shelf to impress collectors. In 1967, Beaver wilded out on a Moog in the Monkees’ “Star Collector.” And Krause played a key role in helping George Harrison record his 1969 Moog-powered LP Electronic Sound; side two was essentially Krause giving Harrison a synth tutorial, which Krause had no idea would be released and with which he wasn’t pleased. Around the same time, Krause and Beaver cut Ragnarök, their masterpiece—and, maddeningly, their hardest release to obtain. On the back cover, Beatles producer George Martin rhapsodizes about B&K’s Moog prowess: “Among the earliest to realize the potential of the instrument, their knowledge and technique of its use are unsurpassed.” The late studio wizard was on point.

Dropping the needle on Ragnarök, following the spook-out of “Ragnarök,” you get 180º’d by the folky ballad on Moog and 12-string guitar that is “The Fisherman.” It features Krause’s earnest, not-unpleasant vocals that verge on sentimentality and lyrics that derive from an 8th-century poem by Chinese writer Li Po. “Circle X” is an incredibly ominous and anguished piece of imaginary horror-flick musick that could’ve fit in well on David Lynch’s Eraserhead soundtrack. “Dr. Fox”—featuring kooky lyrics by Leonard Lipton, author of “Puff, The Magic Dragon”—is one of the zaniest electro-pop/pseudo-circus-music jams you (n)ever did hear. Heard while tripping on acid, “Dr. Fox” will reduce you to tears of hysterical laughter, especially the part where Krause sings, “Dr. Fox built the freaking brain box that freaks me out/Every time he plugs me in, I spin, I spin, I spin [chuckle], I spin” over bleeping-and-blorping synth spasms.

Similarly, you will not keep a straight face when hearing “Moogy Blues Funk,” an absurdly jaunty old-time ditty that’s gussied up with thickly distorted Moog belches. By contrast, “As I Hear It” boasts such a beautifully wistful melody that you just know it broke the hearts of Boards Of Canada when they (probably) heard it in the early ’90s. “Fountains Of The Dept. Of Water & Power” is a veritable wonderland of Moog-y ostinatos while “33rd Stanza Of A Hymn To Sancho Panza” conjures vertiginous space-synth menace. “Changes” and “Interplay”—which come from a film score called Breakthrough—are alternately stately and whimsical synthesizer studies, with a rare use of drums on the former.

This very odd LP has never been reissued on vinyl or CD. If there’s a good reason for this, music-industry sages, please inform us. Somebody—legitimately or not—needs to bring Ragnarök back into circulation. -Buckley Mayfield

Spacecraft “Paradoxe” (Wah Wah reissue, 2012; orig. rel. 1978)

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With Spacecraft member John Livengood’s name flung back into consciousness with the Record Store Day vinyl reissue of his and Richard Pinhas’ super-nice 1994 space-rock/ambient album Cyborg Sally, it seems like an opportune time to review Spacecraft’s Paradoxe. Keyboardist Livengood (Red Noise) and guitarist/bassist Ivan Coaquette (Delired Cameleon Family, Musica Elettronica Viva) recorded this deeply underground psych-prog classic in the mid ’70s, and it’s a serious head-bonk. (Spalax reissued it on CD in 1995 with an utterly hypnotic bonus track from 1973, the spaced-out epic “Pays De Glace”; Wah Wah put out a much-needed vinyl edition in 2012.)

One listen to Paradoxe and you wonder why it didn’t make it onto the fabled Nurse With Wound List; perhaps it was too obscure even for Steven Stapleton and company. From the first seconds of the first track, “Lumiere De Lune,” you feel as if you’ve been transported into a much weirder and more interesting sphere, as Spacecraft swathe you in a silvery miasma of interstellar synth and guitar emissions, making gravity seem like an absurd joke. “Cosmic Wheel” really ratchets up the sense of tingling disorientation and intensifies the immersion into alien frequencies. Your DMT trip would be very disconcerting if this were soundtracking it. The synthetic solar winds and chattering guitar pointillism rushing through “Chromatique One’s” sounds like the sort of brain-bending 22nd-century astral jazz that would make Sun Ra squeal with joy.

The cruise-control, star-trekkin’ “Harabizant” could be a higher-altitude Harmonia, while “Surface” writhes and arpeggiates like near-peak Heldon and Lard Free, fellow French explorers of deep space rock and far-out fusion. Coaquette’s guitar solo in the coda is heart-tremblingly gorgeous. Yet for all its sonic treasures, Paradoxe remains largely overlooked. If you’re at all into challenging, instrumental electronic rock, you owe it to yourself to track down this profoundly hallucinogenic zoner. -Buckley Mayfield

Cat Stevens “Izitso” (A&M, 1977)

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After he became a folk-pop star but before he changed his name to Yusuf Islam and said harsh things about Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie, British singer/songwriter/guitarist Cat Stevens released this odd little LP. It’s best known for the chart-dwelling “(Remember The Days Of The) Old Schoolyard,” a bit of grandiose, schmaltzy synth pop that sounds like Styx crossed with Genesis or something. Most of the rest of Izitso—a keyboard-heavy effort with Chick Corea, the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, and 11 freakin’ engineers on it—is about as insubstantial and forgettable as its title, a mix of mediocre, commercial rock bluster and effete electro pop. Today you can commonly find copies of it in bargain bins nationwide. You’ve probably passed over this one 17,000 times in your life, give or take a thousand. However, I would like to implore you to grab Izitso next time you see it, if only for the ridiculously named instrumental “Was Dog A Doughnut.”

Well before Herbie Hancock’s similar-sounding “Rockit” and even preceding Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express,” “Was Dog A Doughnut” effectively created the electro genre. Listen to the spacey array of synth tones hovering, percolating, and plinking around the stuttering, funky beats and that crazy dog-bark punctuation, which was actually a synthesizer setting and not a real or sampled canine. (Big ups to keyboardist Corea and guitarist Ray Gomez for their invaluable contributions.)
The fool who reviewed Izitso for Rolling Stone said “the electronics on ‘Was Dog A Doughnut’ are a bit too robotlike”—like that’s a bad thing. I wonder what the just right amount of “robotlike”ness would be to this critic. On the plus side, though, Roots drummer Questlove told Christine Kakaire of the redbullmusicacademy.com that Stevens was just fucking around “and created a B-boy classic. What was just him messing around for four minutes in the studio wound up being a staple in the hip hop world,which he was very shocked to discover.” Kakaire went on to note that DJ Jellybean Benitez used to play it out at the New York club the Funhouse in the early ’80s and he cut a remix of “Dog” that also became a club staple. Rave icon Frankie Bones is also a huge fan of Stevens’ most anomalous song.

The track has rightly become a cult classic, and it’s hilarious to think that an urban, club-oriented genre like electro emerged, willy-nilly, from the same brain as the troubadour who penned frilly folk-pop hits like “Lady D’Arbanville,” “Morning Has Broken,” and “Oh Very Young.” This qualifies as one of the music world’s greatest WTF? turn of events. Get thee to a bargain bin, posthaste. -Buckley Mayfield

The Stick Men “Get On Board” (Red Records, 1983)

 

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This Philadelphia quintet made James Chance and the Contortions sound like laid-back Eagles fans. To say that the Stick Men’s funk is frantic and urgent is a grandiose understatement. This five-track EP should come with blood-pressure medication. To be sure, Get On Board is highly obscure, but it somehow gained a blip of recognition in my Midwestern city in the early ’80s. I recall hearing some tracks from this record on the local NPR station’s alternative-music program on a Sunday night and having my mind properly blown. Three decades later I found a copy in a Detroit-area shop for $3. You should’ve seen my god-damn expression of surprise. It’s so good to be reunited with this wild and wired 12-inch.

The EP kicks off with “Funky Hayride,” which emerges out of a babble of chicken squawks before blooming into an absurdly fonky hoedown powered by a rubbernecking, strutting bass line that would make Larry Graham raise two thumbs. The song establishes the Stick Men’s ricocheting vocal interplay, jagged dynamics, and predilection for kinetic cowbell thwocking. It also reflects their ability to create weird tension even as they inspire you to get on down—à la the Contortions. “Bone Shadow” is an amphetamine blurt of staccato no-wave rock that could start a whirling-dervish moshpit under the right circumstances. “Action Man” sounds like the Pop Group and Clock DVA splinter group the Box in a pressure cooker. “Crash My Dome” is almost as hectic as its predecessor and studded with unpredictable moves, a sort of fleet funk that’s tied up in strange knots, like a Type-A Minutemen. “Jampire” could be an accelerated, Cubist interpretation of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”; it’s an aptly chaotic conclusion to a record that believes, like Sonic Youth, confusion is sex.

Get On Board is super brief, but with its whirlwind energy and flagrant tension, that’s sort of a blessing. You will feel wrung out and exhilaratingly stunned by the end of its 11-minute running time. -Buckley Mayfield