Album Reviews

Secos E Molhados “Secos E Molhados” (Continental, 1973)

Secos E Molhados recorded six albums, but I’ve only heard this one, their 1973 debut. Because Secos E Molahdos is so great, maybe I don’t need to her anything else by this Brazilian group. Oftentimes, bands peak with their first full-length and their discography becomes a case of diminishing returns. I suppose curiosity will get the better of me and I’ll eventually check out later releases. But for now, Secos E Molhados will keep me sated until further notice.

From the first seconds of the opening tune, “Sangue Latino,” you’re struck by the excellent production values here. Willi Verdaguer’s bass tones have the richness of Dave Richmond’s playing on Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire De Melody Nelson (pretty much the gold standard, along with anything massaged or thumbed out by Herbie Flowers and Larry Graham), and it contrasts extremely well with Ney Matogrosso’s countertenor, which initially fooled me into thinking he was a woman. Now that I know his gender, Ney comes across as a Freddie Mercury-esque presence on the mic—and one of the best goddamned singers I’ve ever heard.

More proof comes from Matogrosso’s unbelievably gorgeous lead vocal and from João Ricardo and Gerson Conrad’s dulcet backing vox on the acoustic guitar ballad “O Patrão Nosso De Cada Dia.” Even better is the heartbreakingly pulchritudinous “Rosa De Hiroshima,” a sparse folk-rock ballad whose emotional resonance could make a dictator cry. For variation, there are the strutting, rollicking glam-rock of “O Vira” and “Mulher Barriguda” the latter of which boasts strafing harmonica and manic piano, summoning the over-the-top energy of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz.”

Secos E Molhados peaks on “Amor” and “Assim Assado.” The former is my go-to Secos E Molhados jam in DJ sets, as it possesses an ascending, sidewinding bass line and vocal harmonies that caress your frontal lobes like the tenderest lover does your nether regions, all while being festively funky. Yes, the erotic imagery is necessary for this almost unbearably sensual song, which stands up to anything by peak-era Os Mutantes. Another DJ favorite, “Assim Assado” is spiced by quirky ocarina motifs (by Zé Rodrix of Som Imaginário), fuzzed-out, Blue Cheer-like guitar soloing, and a melody that arches and curves like a swan’s neck.

Fala” provides an ideal note on which to close the album—a ballad that gathers momentum and orchestral sweep as it goes, soaring to the vanishing point with the grace and grandeur of a bald eagle. That Dick Hyman-esque synth solo that squiggles into earshot, though, steers the piece toward a surprisingly charming and absurd tangent.

Secos E Molhados isn’t as well known as other classic Brazilian albums by Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, Gilbert Gil, Gal Costa, and Tom Zé, but it deserves to be worshipped just as fervently as those essential documents of South American music. -Buckley Mayfield

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark “Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark” (Dindisc, 1980)


The first four OMD LPs represent some of the most affecting and influential electro-pop creations ever to ruffle a synthesizer manual. Their first one has always been my favorite of the bunch… and not just because of the rad Peter Saville die-cut cover design. Beyond the brilliant packaging, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark set an incredibly high bar for swoonworthy melodies, efficient, heart-pumping beats, and clean-blooded male vocals. Mofos are still biting their style in 2018.

Even better than Soft Cell and Depeche Mode, OMD songwriters Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys struck upon an approach that fused instantly hummable tunes with unusual textures. Of their debut album’s 10 songs, a mind-boggling nine could logically be singles. The only exception is “Dancing” (irony!), an amazing anomaly that’s almost Residents-like in its subterranean otherness and strange array of FX’d voices; shockingly, its rhythm is closer to that of Throbbing Gristle’s “20 Jazz Funk Greats” than to anything on Top Of The Pops.

But, as I said, the majority of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark bursts with a striking accessibility that is anything but LCD. The cleverly titled “Mystereality” boasts a sax part that lends the morosely peppy song a Roxy Music-like air, and the singing even resembles that of Brian Eno’s early solo efforts. “Electricity” is a fairly blatant homage to Kraftwerk circa Radioactivity, but it’s done with so much poised panache and sugar-rush urgency, slack is cut. The synth arpeggio in the heartbreak anthem “Messages” signifies an almost unbearable wistfulness, and the keyboard solo in the song’s middle section bears the grandeur of Kraftwerk at their Trans-Europe Express haughtiest.

My favorite OMD track of all time, “Julia’s Song,” contains the group’s most seductive bass line, which anchors some of their richest drones and a gorgeously sinuous melody that I wouldn’t mind being the last thing I heard on this mortal coil. “Red Frame/White Light” is an instant classic of frantic, spine-tingling effusiveness that would be a career highlight for most acts, but on this record it’s about the fifth-best cut.

You really can’t go wrong with any of the first four OMD full-lengths, but if you can only spring for one, go for this zenith of emotional synth-pop. -Buckley Mayfield

[You may also want to read our 2014 review of OMD’s Architecture & Morality.]

Commodores “Machine Gun” (Motown, 1974)

Commodores’ debut album is a stone funk classic. Devoid of the sappy ballads that made them beloved with suburban, mainstream folks and companies that pipe music into retail establishments and medical offices, Machine Gun bursts with lubricious groove science.

Right from the off, the title track glides into one of the smoothest clavinet-powered, pimp-roll rhythms ever cut, then gets festooned with flamboyant analog-synth oscillations, chikka-wakka guitar, and minimalist, grunting bass. An instrumental that the Beastie Boys (and their producers, the Dust Brothers) had the good sense to sample for “Hey Ladies,” “Machine Gun” is practically glam in its flashy gestures, its extravagant strut. The track reached #22 on the charts; not bad for a funk instrumental. That it appeared in the porntastic 1997 film Boogie Nights should not surprise anybody with a libido.

The rest of Machine Gun finds myriad ways to exploit said libido through funk’s manifold, malleable rhythmic tricks. The lascivious, loitering, and not a little creepy “Young Girls Are My Weakness” foreshadows Commodores’ smash 1977 hit “Brick House,” while “I Feel Sanctified” and “The Bump” stimulate party muscles in a very effective manner. The lyrics won’t win any Nobel or Pulitzer prizes, but they get the job done, allowing future solo star Lionel Richie to get his dirty-young-man ya-yas out. Another fantastic, clavinet- and synth-enhanced instrumental joint, “Rapid Fire,” closes the LP’s first side.

Side two opens with “The Assembly Line,” an oft-sampled, slow-blooming explosion of soulful euphoria written by Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer that recalls Anglo-Caribbean greats Cymande [see my review of their 1972 debut album in Jive Time’s archives]. Though it starts with a parody of circus music, “The Zoo (The Human Zoo)” is Machine Gun‘s most socially conscious song, and it went on to become a favorite on the Northern soul circuit, but with “Gonna Blow Your Mind,” we’re back to decadence in excelsis, with an intimate boudoir-funk jam. “There’s A Song In My Heart” harks back to “The Assembly Line”’s easygoing sunniness, while LP-closer “ Superman” is an urgent bustle of extroverted funk, blown out to aptly superheroic dimensions to match the titular subject.

Without a doubt, Machine Gun is essential for funk aficionados, and, low-key, it’s one of the highlights of Motown’s 1970s discography. To quote one of their best-known tunes, it’s “mighty mighty, just lettin’ it all hang out.” -Buckley Mayfield

Fire Engines “Lubricate Your Living Room” (Pop:Aural, 1981)

A fascinating book could be written about Scotland’s original post-punk scene, and I hope somebody’s on the case. One band who should figure prominently in such a tome is Fire Engines. Led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Davy Henderson, Fire Engines were a pop group, but spiky as fuck, buoyant yet abrasive, and terminally enamored of Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band. You can glean that from one listen to Fire Engines’ breathtaking 1981 single “Candyskin,” which nicks the melody from Beefheart’s “Sweet Sweet Bulbs,” and adds a phenomenal spring to its step.

Coming out slightly before that 45, Lubricate Your Living Room was a revelatory mini-LP that established Fire Engines as one of the UK’s most exciting rock bands. With a lineup filled out by Graham Main (bass), Murray Slade (guitar), and Russell Burn (drums), the Engines used Captain Beefheart’s guitar sound circa Trout Mask Replica and Doc At The Radar Station as their foundation: a nerve-fraying, traumatically trebly tonality. But instead of distorting the blues and translating rock into intimidatingly difficult math equations as the Magic Band did, Fire Engines sped up No Wave to a splenetic, amphetamine shriek, with Henderson yawping about consumerism’s pros and cons and problematic relationship dynamics. He begged listeners to “get up and use me” as if he were just another good on the marketplace.

Like contemporaries the Fall, Fire Engines lived for repetition in their rhythms and riffs. Unlike the Fall, the Engines loved manic cowbell patterns and had a propensity for freaky funk that distinguished them among their Scottish peers. These Edinburgh speed demons plowed so compulsively into their grooves, you expect their instruments to burst into flames, and/or for the needle to fly off the record.

Fire Engines only lasted a couple of years (1980-1981), but they staked a claim to immortality with a catalog consisting of a mere 18 songs. (Acute Records’ 2007 Hungry Beat CD comp might be your best bet—outside of streaming services—to hear what all my fuss is about.)  Lubricate Your Living Room is probably the definitive document of their raw, jagged, Beefheart-on-bennies rock.

Also, as with many records reviewed on this blog, this one could use a reissue. May this critique—however infinitesimally—help to make that a reality. -Buckley Mayfield

Paul Horn “Inside” (Epic, 1968)

Inside is a classic chillout album hiding in plain sight in nearly every bargain bin in America. Recorded in 1968 inside the Taj Mahal while flautist Paul Horn was traveling with the Beatles (nice work if you can get it), Inside sold over a million copies—and it seems as if most of those ended up getting sold back to shops. Idiots…

Regarded as one of the first recordings to combine New Age and world-fusion music, the record is distinguished by its 28-second sustained echo, which lends everything a spaced-out, cavernous feeling that’s supremely calming. You like calm, yeah?

“Prologue/Inside” begins with album with sacred chants before the main flute motif enters, an enchanting filigree that the underground hip-hop collective So-Called Artists sampled for their track “I Don’t Know How To Start This.” (It sounds amazing in that context, too.) “Mantra I/Meditation” combines male chants and tranquil flute figures that gently waft into amorphous formations to evoke profound contemplation and serene isolation. This is music to play when you need to decompress and focus on the essentials in your life—like achieving inner peace, aligning your chakras, or organizing your record collection.

“Agra” was sampled by both Prefuse 73 (“Afternoon Love-In”) and Mr Scruff (“Jazz Potato”)—not a bad feat for a forlorn hymn of ethereal poignancy. “Shah Jahan” is an ideal soundtrack to a gentle massage, as Horn transforms the flute into a conduit to the deepest reservoirs of tabula rasa mind state. He saves his most complex piece, “Ustad Isa/Mantra III,” for last, but it’s still a slow-motion floating dream of a composition that freezes time’s frenetic forward motion to a golden stasis.

In sum, Inside is like a long, easy sigh that you dread to hear end. That it came out on a major label shows you how open-minded big corporations were 50 years ago. Either that or the execs were on much stronger drugs… -Buckley Mayfield

The Slits “Cut” (Island, 1979)

Over a decade before riot grrrl was a term or a movement, the Slits embodied its spirit on their uniquely radical debut album, Cut. Consisting of British musicians Ari Up, Viv Albertine, Tessa Pollitt, and Palmolive (the band’s drummer, who left before Cut was finished, opening the door for Budgie, a dude who’s also played with Siouxsie & The Banshees, the Creatures, and others), the Slits bust out of the gate with their busts bared on the LP cover, while caked in mud. (Yep, they gave zero fucks.)

Now that they’d snagged your attention, the Slits went for the jugular with their crazy rhythms, dubbed-up punk, left-field funk, raw reggae bastardizations, and ramshackle feminist anthems. Credit should also go to producer Dennis Bovell, whose aptitude at the console made these unlikely elements cohere into a vivid collection of sonic sucker punches that makes you feel wonderfully woozy.

Cut‘s first two songs—“Instant Hit” and “So Tough”—fail the Bechdel Test, in that they reportedly are about drug-addled PiL guitarist Keith Levene and the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, respectively. No fear, though, feminists: The oddly buoyant reggae and clattering new-wave/dub eccentricity of them compensate for their focus on men. The proto-riot-grrrl content will come soon enough.

The charmingly askew “Spend, Spend, Spend” critiques the emptiness of consumerism to a zombified reggae lurch while its conceptual counterpart, “Shoplifting,” captures the churning anxiety and accelerating pulse rates of the titular subject. As a bonus, it possesses one of the most marrow-curdling shouts in music history, courtesy of Ari Up, and a killer descending dubwise bass line by Pollitt.

FM” equates radio’s frequency modulation with “frequent mutilation,” set to music that’s too radically oblong for most stations, although the sporadic, tom-heavy beats bang hard. Later in the album, a couple of soured-love tunes follow: “Ping Pong Affair” pairs slack, slanted reggae with lamenting lyrics over a familiar story of botched romance. Even better is “Love Und Romance,” a ferociously torqued piece of dubbed-out rock laced with sarcastic observations about relationships, skewering their tendency toward triteness and possessiveness.

Cut peaks on “Typical Girls,” the Slits’ greatest song, musically and lyrically. A masterpiece of sarcasm, its disdain for restrictive expectations toward women makes the patriarchal status quo seem horribly banal, thereby spurring women to lead more interesting, fulfilling, and progressive lives. Musically, the song epitomizes the Slits’ penchant for surprising dynamics and hairpin-turn rhythmic shifts, as it looms and sprints in a bizarre, exhilarating ska-rock fusion.

The 2000 CD reissue contains two bonus tracks, including a cover of Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” The Slits’ brutal, gut-wrenching version ranks among the best among very stiff competition (e.g., Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight & The Pips, CCR; note also that 4 Men With Beards reissued Cut on vinyl in 2005.).

I’ve played Cut nearly 100 times in my life, and it never fails to send shockwaves of delight through my body and mind. It’s a classic of femme-powered subversion that, for all its inspirational moments, is nearly impossible to replicate—almost in the way that nobody can really follow in the footsteps of the Shaggs’ Philosophy Of The World. This stuff is just too distinctive for the imitators.

(Bellingham, Washington-based director William Badgley completed a documentary about the Slits last year; keep your antennae up for local screenings of Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits.) -Buckley Mayfield

Tomita “Pictures At An Exhibition” (RCA Red Seal, 1975)

How many times have you flipped past this record? Probably dozens of times—or hundreds, if you’re like me. Then one day I said, “Fug it, I’m gonna splurge.” So I dropped the $3 it cost (never pay more than $3 for this) in order to find out what this bargain-bin staple’s all about.

Glad I did, but not happy about all the years I squandered by ignoring it for so long. For Pictures At An Exhibition is probably the strangest interpretation of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky 10-track suite for piano, circa 1874. Not that I’ve heard them all, but it’s hard to believe anyone else has surpassed Isao Tomita’s synthesizer-powered rendering. (Although Emerson, Lake & Palmer do get pretty dang freaky on their 1971 effort.)

It’s axiomatic that Pictures At An Exhibition has became a showcase for virtuoso keyboardists. And that Tomita is. But he took the challenge further by deploying Moog, Mellotron, tape recorder, Sony mixer, and loads of effects. In doing so, the Japanese musician blew out the Russian’s classical composure to often grotesque, sci-fi dimensions.

When “The Gnome” kicks in shortly after the rather staid “Promenade,” you realize you’re in a much different century than Mussorgsky’s, as Tomita unleashes a display worthy of Morts Subotnick and Garson with regard to its array of shockingly spasmodic dynamics and spacey tonalities. Aswirl with ill timbres and graced with a powerfully melancholy melody, “The Old Castle” possesses a ruined grandeur. “Ballet Of The Chicks In Their Shells” is as unhinged as anything by Jean-Jacques Perrey & Gershon Kingsley or Cecil Leuter—or even Garson, in his most playful mode. It’s hilarious how impish this “Ballet” is.

The furiously industrious, industrial “Limoges/ Catacombs” manically swerves and ominously drones before “Cum Mortuis In Lingua Mortua” steers things toward an unexpected tangent into lugubrious and wistfully beautiful realms. However, that fosters a false sense of security for the album’s craziest piece, “Baba Yaga (Hut On Fowls’ Legs),” an unnervingly antic, swooping composition that’s like a bizarre collaboration between electronic frogs and metallic avians. “Great Gate Of Kiev” offers an unbelievably grandiose and haunting conclusion, but not without its share of shocking transitions and appeals to conventionality.

One random Discogs commenter said this about Pictures: “The most complex, deepest, grandioso electronic album ever. Nothing come closer technicalwise. Incredible taste and power, unparalelled character.” [sic] I normally don’t place a lot of weight on what Discogs randos with dubious syntax have to say, but in this case I have to cosign. Look for Pictures in your next bargain-bin excursion. -Buckley Mayfield

Vangelis “Beaubourg” (RCA, 1978)

I’m generally a fan of LPs that feature two sidelong tracks—mainly for the sheer audacity and large-scale ambition it demonstrates. If you’re gonna take up a whole side of wax, you’d damn well better come with the fire, right? And that’s what Vangelis (born Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassio in Volos, Greece, 74 years ago) does on Beaubourg, a record that must’ve made the execs at RCA sweat bullets as they tried to figure out how to market this dark beast. Viewed from a certain angle, it could be the Greek composer’s Metal Machine Music (also an RCA release)—but without the hilariously snarky liner notes.

Beaubourg followed some of Vangelis’ most accessible and popular releases in his discography, including Heaven And Hell, Albedo 0.39, and Spiral. So when Beaubourg dropped in 1978, at a time when 69 percent of musicians in the industry were making their disco moves, it must’ve baffled fans. Reportedly inspired by Centre Georges Pompidou’s architecture in Paris, Beaubourg is more Xenakis than Moroder.

The nearly 18-minute “Part I” immediately thrusts you into a state of disorientation and panic, as Vangelis works his synthesizer sorcery toward its most chthonic ends. The opening stretches sounds like Morton Subotnick possessed by demonic forces, as warped, spasmodic bleeps streak across the stereo field like malevolent comets. It sounds as if Vangelis improvised this panoply of bizarre, chaotic, and sometimes eerily beautiful passages while in the throes of an epic DMT bender. As he had nobody in the studio but himself, Vangelis probably said, “Fuck it, I have Chariots Of Fire and Blade Runner soundtracks ahead of me, so I might as well bust out all of my weirdest moves before I rake in my millions.” Or maybe he just wanted to make RCA’s executives, marketing directors, and publicists sweat bullets. Whatever the case, this piece messes with your mind more effectively than even Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze’s mind-altering marathons.

The 21-minute “Part II” traverses some of the same territory as its predecessor, but in a more subdued manner, yet it’s still pretty unnerving in an Andromeda Strain soundtrack way. (Highest praise, by the way; respect to Gil Mellé.) Like Beaubourg‘s A-side, the B-side changes every 10 or 15 seconds, moving from fascinating episode to intriguing development with a rapidity that suggests a genius working at the zenith of his prodigious creative powers.

This may be a minority opinion, but I’ll take Beaubourg over Chariots Of Fire or Blade Runner any day. It’s a bonus that it likely made major-label bigwigs sweat bullets. -Buckley Mayfield

Grace Jones “Warm Leatherette” (Island, 1980)

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Grace Jones’ cover of the Normal’s “Warm Leatherette.” It must’ve been on a specialized program via Detroit public radio in the early ’80s. I was familiar with the original, by future Mute Records boss Daniel Miller. I loved—and still love—its relentless minimalism and abrasive synth tones going off like a haywire car alarm—apt for a song about the unexpected eroticism of a vehicular accident. (Thanks, J.G. Ballard.) Miller sings the macabre song with all the emotion of an automaton, which was somehow perfect for its lyrical circumstances. Jones, a black Jamaican woman, made “Warm Leatherette” sound even colder and more menacing than the nerdy white Englishman mustered.

How could this happen? The short answer is, Grace Jones is a freak of nature, an enigmatic woman who’s more man than most men will ever be, while also being a legit goddess. Why did this happen? Because, if I may conjecture, Grace Jones loves to take risks and subvert unlikely songs until she overshadows the original versions. The result with the title track of her fourth album is supremely unnerving and riveting.

Jones’ decision to cover “Warm Leatherette” must’ve seemed like a total WTF?! to Island Records’ execs, but in hindsight, it was a genius move. With a band full of session badasses like Sly Dunbar (drums), Robbie Shakespeare (bass), Wally Badarou (keyboards), Barry “White” Reynolds (guitar), Michael “Mao” Chung, and Uziah (Sticky) Thompson (percussion), Jones’ “Warm Leatherette” is bound to sound vastly different from the Normal’s synth ditty. She and the band use a crescendoing power chord to sub for the original’s synthesizer wheeze, while Badarou quotes James Brown’s “Sex Machine” riff. The rhythm is a juggernaut of funky skank, helping to transform this “Warm Leatherette” into a vastly different vehicle, as guitars and keys emulate siren sounds near the end. You could almost party to this rendition, if you were perverse enough.

Whew, it’s exhausting just trying to do justice to that Normal cover. Warm Leatherette has seven other tracks, most of them covers that deviate with almost as much idiosyncratic panache. The Pretenders’ “Private Life” sounds like a Sade tune, but with much more dubwise gravitas. Jones & co. inhabit Roxy Music’s “Love Is The Drug” as if it’s a skintight blue-velvet jumpsuit, slightly skanking up the disco-funk rhythmic chassis and adding staccato guitar-clang punctuation.

The silky Motown soul of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” gets an uptempo revamp with much more robust drums and bass and an extended percussion breakdown. Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” lends itself easily to slouching into a laid-back Jamaican groove, and Jones stretches her usual taut delivery as far as it can go. It can’t surpass the late Mr. Petty’s yowl, but she gives it a valiant try.

The two songs originating from Jones and her band—“A Rolling Stone” and “Bullshit”—are, respectively, rollicking R&B that bubbles with erotic promise and strutting R&B that bumps and throbs with S&M promise. To be honest, though, everything here pales besides “Warm Leatherette.” It is simply one of the greatest covers ever, a radical transformation of such unlikely provenance that it feels and sounds like a cosmic joke. But as a later Grace song put it: cry now, laugh later. -Buckley Mayfield

George Harrison “Electronic Sound” (Zapple, 1969)

Imagine the deafening sound of Beatles fans’ scratched heads and befuddled mutterings when they heard—IF they heard, rather—George Harrison’s second solo LP, Electronic Sound. Even in a post-“Revolution 9” world, Electronic Sound isn’t what Fab Four aficionados really expected or wanted from their idols. But multimillionaire musicians are gonna do what they please, aren’t they?

So, if the sitar-loving Beatle wants to put out two sidelong Moog synthesizer demos, he’s gonna damn well do it. One has to admire the bull-headedness and lack of concern for commercial prospects shown by a member of the world’s most popular rock band, with regard to Electronic Sound—even if the music therein lacks what many people seek in synthesizer records—coherence, thematic development, rhythm, melody. But if you enjoy zoning out to a panoply of strange sounds that can’t really be replicated on traditional instruments, you may find Electronic Sound to be your cup of LSD.

“No Time Or Space” is actually an edit of a synth demonstration given by American composer and Moog representative Bernie Krause (of the great Beaver & Krause; see the review of their awesome Ragnarök in our archives). He and Harrison convened in LA when the latter was producing an album for Apple Records artist Jackie Lomax. Krause didn’t know his noodlings would appear on Harrison’s album, and holy shit, was he angry about it, because the piece was destined for a forthcoming Beaver & Krause release. Rough cock-block, Sir George! Krause asked to have his name removed from Electronic Sound‘s credits, and one surmises that thereafter, Bernie would change the station whenever “Here Comes The Sun” came on.

Dramatic backstory aside, “No Time Or Space” can be a fun headphone listen if you’re properly dosed or drunk or just wandering around a desolate city after 2 am. Fans of Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, Morton Subotnick, Throbbing Gristle and, indeed, Beaver & Krause should find plenty of interesting episodes per minute occurring during the track’s nearly half-hour running time. It’s a series of unnerving, sometimes terminally dystopian emissions spraying out in many directions—the product of toxic circuitry. You can also hear echoes of this piece in the synth freakout of Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein.” Harrison… er, Krause really exploited the hell out of that Moog, unleashing dozens of extreme expressions from it, Jackson Pollocking all over the stereo field.

“Under The Mersey Wall,” by comparison, clocks in at a mere 18:41, and offers way fewer thrills per square inch than its counterpart. George still displays a fairly deft grasp of the Moog’s capabilities, and damn if a lot of “Mersey Wall” doesn’t foreshadow some of Gil Mellé’s queasy moves and diseased tonalities on The Andromeda Strain soundtrack.

An anomaly in Harrison’s catalog, Electronic Sound is a curio for the die-hard George/Beatles head who’s game for expanding said head.

[There is confusion about which track is which, due to errors in the original pressing, which were corrected in subsequent reissues. It’s possible I have reversed these pieces when describing them. Nevertheless, the analysis holds and, as Sonic Youth put it, confusion is sex.] -Buckley Mayfield

The Red Crayola “The Parable Of Arable Land” (International Artists, 1967)

Newsflash: The most far-out album on Lelan Rogers’ International Artists label was not created by the 13th Floor Elevators. Nope, that honor goes to Houston’s the Red Crayola (later the Red Krayola, because crayon corporations are spoilsports). Fifty years ago, guitarist/vocalist Mayo Thompson, drummer Rick Barthelme, bassist Steve Cunningham, and the Familiar Ugly (you know, those folks) came together to formulate a blueprint for psychedelic music that few—even the band themselves—have matched in structure and ingenious madness. Their debut album, The Parable Of Arable Land, remains a classic that continues to inspire heads who love the sound of confusion.

The album’s unique format spawns six somewhat conventional songs that are surrounded by “Free Form Freak-out”s. The effect is like a bizarre DJ set in which the transitions are ruptured by instrumental and vocal anarchy. These are howling voids, calamitous cacophonies out of which songs escape, like inmates from a burning insane asylum. The Red Crayola shattered rock-song norms, filtering free-jazz and avant-garde composition into their primordial psychedelic ooze. We’re still experiencing flashbacks from it.

“Hurricane Fighter Plane,” the first song proper, soars in on one of the most ominous, driving bass riffs ever conceived. Thompson sarcastically revels in the destructive power of the titular subject while guitar and organ whorl with sinister intent, the vaportrail of exhaust after a strafing sortie. 13th Floor Elevators frontman Roky Erickson allegedly guests on keys here, as well as on “Transparent Radiation.” Speaking of which, this stands as one of the strangest ballads of all time, a surrealist ecology lament (I think) in which Thompson’s droopy, lachrymose vocals relate the following:

Styrofoam people quite violent

Clear light glowing right out of my tent

Expert men not knowing what they meant

Eating babies for nourishment

A funny bird with forehead bent

Ozone over our continent

Slogans tell me that I can rent

Transparent radiation”

That was one of the more coherent passages. Anyway, you gotta love the beautiful, shambling melodic figure that ekes its way through distant harmonica plumes. Spacemen 3’s 1987 cover extrapolated this lo-fidelity gem into a celestial symphony of tragic grandeur; they really blew it out into an interstellar sprawl.

Its hard to be more explicit than “War Sucks,” an emphatic boot to the balls of the politicians responsible for sending Americans to Southeast Asia to fight an unwinnable war. One consolation prize for such a brutal, massive loss of life is this proto-punk, metallic KO to bellicosity. (Spectrum—led by Red Crayola superfan Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember—covered “War Sucks” in 2009.)

If side 1 flexes raging rock muscles, side 2 explores weirder, more subdued moods. Well, “Pink Stainless Tail” is the exception; it’s an adrenalized analogue to “Hurricane Fighter Plane,” inflated by one of those riffs that you want to punch the sky to for hours. Garage-psych doesn’t get much more potent. “Parable Of Arable Land” sounds like the pitch-shifted quacking of a mechanical duck in the throes of a traumatic trance, while a panoply of percussion toys get a workout. This is a freak-out of a less free-form nature. The LP closes with “Former Reflections Enduring Doubt,” a deeply affecting ballad laced with juddering guitar FX, Thompson’s voice lugubrious and laden with Leonard Cohen-esque desolation. Parable goes out with a whimper, but what an odd whimper it is.

It’s a mystery why Drag City—who has issued several Red Krayola and Mayo Thompson works—isn’t giving Parable a deluxe 50th-anniversary reissue. That being said, this one’s not that hard to find. And find it you should. -Buckley Mayfield

Sun Ra “Disco 3000” (El Saturn, 1978)

In the last half of the ’70s, music-biz law mandated that every artist had to cut a disco record. James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, the Meters, esteemed jazz veterans like Yusef Lateef and Miroslav Vitous—it didn’t matter how established and respected you were; the industry-wide disco diktat had to be obeyed.

In 1978 while in Italy, Sun Ra and his tight quartet, the Myth Science Arkestra, paid lip service to disco (see the LP title), but as you’d expect from Herman Sonny Blount, the results here don’t at all conform to the genre’s major traits; nor are they exactly music to snort coke to, nor do they serve as preludes to getting laid. Rather, Disco 3000 is yet another anomaly in Sun Ra’s vast, strange discography. And that’s quite enough for me—and for you, too, I would wager.

On the astonishing 26-minute title track, over a chintzy rhythm-machine’s quasi-cha-cha beat, saxophonist John Gilmore and trumpeter Michael Ray blow mad, exclamatory arabesques, while Mr. Ra busts out some of his most severely warped tones on multiple keyboards and Moog synthesizer, raising plumes of alien glitter gas. All pretenses of regular meter quickly fly out the window. Throughout, Ra engineers passages of brilliant chaos, letting his insane menagerie of feral fibrillations and disorienting drones lift the piece into freeform, uncharted territory. If this is disco (it isn’t, let’s be honest), it’s a particularly Saturnine interpretation of the genre. I don’t think even renowned Italo-disco DJ Daniele Baldelli could smoothly segue “Disco 3000” into a KC & The Sunshine Band or Tantra track.

On “Third Planet” and “Friendly Galaxy,” piano, sax, drums, trumpet, and drums (played by Luqman Ali) cohere into rather conventional, bustling bop compositions. They offer respite before Ra and company head outward-bound again on “Dance Of The Cosmo-Aliens,” whose splenetic, galloping rhythm-box beats get wreathed with the sort of eerie, fairground organ motifs that haunted the Eraserhead soundtrack. The piece throbs with a manic intensity not unlike that of Killing Joke’s “Change,” oddly enough. Again, this ain’t disco as your lewd uncle Tony knows it.

On Disco 3000 in Sun Ra’s eloquent hands, space continues to be the place. And that’s quite enough for me. (Art Yard beneficently reissued Disco 3000 on vinyl in 2009.) -Buckley Mayfield