Herbie Mann’s Embryo label may not have had the greatest track record, but it was never less than interesting during its eight-year run, as LPs by Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, Brute Force, Miroslav Vitous, and others, attest. Ol’ Herbie seemingly gave his artists free rein, and most of them took full advantage. One of the Atlantic Records subsidiary’s standout releases is Circles by composer/keyboardist William S. Fischer. Fischer—who doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page—plays Moog synthesizer on this very curious record, which boasts Billy Cobham on drums, Ron Carter on bass, vocalist Bill Robinson, no fewer than five cellists, and superstar session guitarists Hugh McCracken (Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Van Morrison et al.) and Eric Weissberg, who played the banjo theme to Deliverance. That’s a helluva lot of firepower for a musician of such (unjust) obscurity. The album’s first track doesn’t really betray how strange Circles will get. “Patience Is A Virtue” is a slow-burning psychedelic-soul number in the vein of Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong’s “Message From A Black Man,” and given gravity by Fischer’s cello army. But then, catching you unawares, “Saigon”’s acid rock surges somewhere in the vicinity of Jefferson Airplane, Phil Upchurch, and It’s A Beautiful Day’s “Time Is.” If that weren’t enough of a radical juxtaposition, the abstract Moog exploration of “Electrix” sounds as peculiar and disturbing as anything off a Nik Raicevic LP or George Harrison’s Paul Beaver-assisted Electronic Sound. Another 90-degree twist happens with “Chains,” which almost prefigures the nocturnal slowcore rock of bands like Codeine or Low. Nothing on side 1 makes any goddamn sense, and that’s a wonderful thing. Turn the record over for another shocking transition, “There’s A Light That Shines,” a poker-faced pop-gospel ditty sung with utmost sincerity and sweetness by Robinson, but laced with Fischer’s crispy Moog embellishments. It’s the LP’s low point, but its cloyingness is nullified by “Circle.” With its unusual dynamics and dark orchestrations, this song’s excellent funk rock sounds like Chambers Brothers attempting their own Forever Changes. “Green Forever” delivers orchestral funk of David Axelrod-esque complexity, powered by Cobham’s ridiculously mercurial drumming and fiery guitar interplay redolent of Miles Davis’ ’70s-era hired guns like John McLaughlin and Pete Cosey. You have to admire someone who ends a debut album with a track like “Capsule”—a cavalcade of chittering and purring Moog blurts. You have to remember, this synth was rather new in 1970 and musicians were eager to explore its outermost capabilities, sometimes for the sheer novelty effect. Fischer does that here, and if you’re of a psychedelic mindset, you’ll gleefully go along for the whole seven-minute tour de force. Like Fischer’s other albums—Akelarre Sorta and Omen, both from 1972—Circles is long out of print on vinyl although in 2003 Water Records re-released it on CD. It’s one of those true oddball records that need to hit more ears ASAP, regardless of format. -Buckley Mayfield
Evening Star‘s cover art—by Oblique Strategies co-creator Peter Schmidt—looks like fairly typical New Age LP fare, but the music therein is far from typical in that genre. This meeting of the prog-rock deities—King Crimson leader/guitarist Robert Fripp and former Roxy Music synth wizard Brian Eno—resulted in some of the most sublime ambient music this side of Discreet Music For Airports [sic]. Of course, the duo had cut the tape-delay masterpiece No Pussyfooting in 1973, its two sidelong tracks dilating listeners’ sense of time and ensnaring their minds in seemingly infinite loops. So fans were somewhat primed for another deep dose of head music. While not quite as lapel-grabbing as No Pussyfooting, the five tracks on Evening Star do possess a subtly alluring quality.
Opening track “Wind On Water” enters earshot on supremely gentle guitar ululations in the upper register, swathed in ambrosial drones that evaporate all cares and induce a preternatural calm. This makes “The Heavenly Music Corporation” off No Pussyfooting sound like heavy metal. “Evening Star” deepens the pervasive sense of tranquility. A gorgeous, crystalline three-note keyboard motif that should be your phone’s ringtone forever chimes in the foreground while Fripp launches foghorn-y wails in the background. An acoustic guitar jangles in the slim lacunae between those elements. The whole thing’s ecstatically lugubrious.
“Evensong” is a slight lullaby that pales in comparison to the two classics before it. However, the Eno solo composition “Wind On Wind” sounds like a benevolent god murmuring “there there” to you as she caresses your forehead. It’s a one-way ticket to Cloud 9, the key to absolute mental peace. Thus side one ends.
For side two, Fripp & Eno have something completely different in mind. Where side one floated in utmost placidity, the 28-minute “An Index Of Metals” tolls like an Emergency Alert System alarm. The tension is palpable from the start, and it only gets more ominous as it goes. The plot thickens with each passing minute, as Fripp’s guitar starts rolling in ever-larger waves, crashing on the shore of your ears with greater intensity and inhabiting more foreboding atmospheres. By the end of “An Index Of Metals,” you’re convinced it belongs in the pantheon of darkest music you’ve ever cowered to.
I’d wager it was Fripp who steered the ship into possibly the creepiest waters either musician had ever plunged. I keep thinking about the hilariously shocking transition that occurs on King Crimson’s debut LP, where the diabolical climax of “21st Century Schizoid Man” smacks abruptly against the utterly pacific “I Talk The Wind.” Fripp loves to subvert expectations. Your puffy-cloud fantasia’s been subsumed by a sinister undertow. Who is Eno to get in the way of that? -Buckley Mayfield
Like many releases from SST’s incredible run in the ’80s, Happy Nightmare Baby languishes out of print. Opal’s only studio LP proper is a fabulous, valuable record, and in a just world, it would not be as scarce as it is. In a just world, SST—which is run by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn—or a label specializing in reissues would have kept the lovely masterpiece in print perpetually. But no. Ginn seems not interested in keeping his label’s greatest titles available to the general public. Only tenacious bands with top-flight lawyers have managed to get the rights to their SST output for legit reissues. Sorry to bog you down with this minutiae, but if you want a vinyl copy of Happy Nightmare Baby, you’ll likely have to shell out major coin; I paid $40 for an original last year. Even the used CD I bought eight years ago cost $12, which is kind of scandalous.
Anyway, to the music, which was created by Rain Parade guitarist/vocalist David Roback and Dream Syndicate vocalist/bassist Kendra Smith. Their combined discographies reveal them to be songwriters whose work is built to last. And so it goes here. “Rocket Machine” launches Happy Nightmare Baby into T.Rextacy from the get-go, its slowed-down Bolan-esque boogie an instant initiation into Opal’s psychedelicized recontextualization of ’60s and ’70s classic rock moves. “Magick Power” uncoils like a serpentine Doors epic, but it’s infused with Smith’s sly feminine charms instead of Jim Morrison’s macho bravado. And that makes all the difference. (I’m a Doors fan, by the way, so hold your hate mail.)
On “She’s A Diamond,” Opal blow out a bluesy shuffle with fuzzed-out wah-wah guitar and glaze it with glorious, icy female backing vocals behind Smith’s wonderfully opiated drawl. You can hear why Roback picked Hope Sandoval for his next band, Mazzy Star, as she followed in Kendra’s compellingly lackadaisical steps. “Supernova” sounds what I imagine heroin feels like; it’s a languid strut, accentuated by guitars that spray gold glitter, and there’s also what sounds like an electric cello swirling in the background. Seductively stalking keyboard and bass riffs power “Siamese Trap,” augmented by Roback’s articulate guitar love cries. If you haven’t gathered by now, Happy Nightmare Baby possesses some of the most immersive and alluring sex music you’ll ever hear.
The Strange Days-era Doors-y title track casts a spell at once beatific and sinister, which is incredibly hard to do. “Soul Giver” offers the perfect ending to the album, with its methodical, tidal undertow and hypnotic, majestic sweep. Suki Ewers’ snaky, Manzarek-like organ arabesques really elevate the song to the highest echelon of extended psych jams. I used to put this on mixtapes next to Loop’s “Burning World,” and it was a helluva stoned 1-2 punch.
I realize it won’t be easy (thanks, Greg), but you should do whatever it takes to get Happy Nightmare Baby into your life—and, yes, you deserve better than a YouTube rip. -Buckley Mayfield
Though he was immortalized in Tom Tom Club’s 1981 hit “Genius Of Love,” Hamilton Bohannon remains somewhat under-recognized as a suave scientist of funk and disco. This despite releasing about a dozen great records throughout the ’70s and ’80s that contained some of the most exciting and irresistible rhythms ever waxed—as well as, it must be admitted, some of the tritest lyrics and most cloying ballads ever conceived. But Bohannon more than made up for these flaws through his ability to lay down chugging dance tracks that you wish lasted for hours rather than minutes.
Maybe Bohannon didn’t earn greater recognition because on his LP covers he usually looked overly formal and a bit geeky, and his speaking voice on record is shockingly square. Further squareness ensues on the Dance Your Ass Off‘s cover, which blurs a profile of an actual woman’s ass and has the admonition, “PLAY THIS RECORD LOUD P.S. Dance Your Ass Off is not used in the sense of profanity.” [Italics mine.] Above this, Bohannon thanks God and Jesus Christ “for giving [him] strength and inspiration to write, arrange, direct, produce and record this Album.” Points deducted for all of this, but I still recommend Dance Your Ass Off as an ultimate party platter, blessedly free of his usual momentum-killing balladry.
Right from the opening title track, drummer/arranger/composer/producer Bohannon and his crack band lock into a crisp, swift disco kick and cymbal-tap rhythm, buttressed by a nasty bass line, handclaps, bongos, and swampy guitar snarls—and surprisingly dark strings. You can safely ignore nearly all Bohannon lyrics, as they’re always boilerplate party exhortations and meta descriptions about the actual music, albeit sung with utmost sincerity. For example: “Wiggle when you dance/Now wiggle when you walk/Let’s dance, let’s dance, let’s dance all night/We’re gonna rock your soul and set your feet on fire.” Not exactly Marvin Gaye- or Eugene McDaniels-caliber verbiage, eh?
The rest of Dance Your Ass Off alternates between freewheeling disco with flamboyant string accompaniment and slightly slower and greasy-as-fuck funk that nods to the Meters (see “The Groove I Feel” and “Zulu”). If you dig chicken-squawk guitar and militaristically precise drumming, then you’ll love these two cuts. The guitar on the former is particularly wicked. For my money, “Trying To Be Slick” is the LP’s highlight. It’s like Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” on speed, but with more mad flute embellishments and much less socially conscious lyrics, of course. Think of it as music to set sprinting world records to. The paradoxical thing about music that inspires hedonism—like Bohannon’s—is that it usually requires incredible discipline and control to create.
Super hypnotic, minimal, and repetitious, Dance Your Ass Off in places could be a blueprint for house music, almost a decade before the fact. Verily, these songs are DJ tools of the highest order. -Buckley Mayfield
Heads still ain’t ready for A.R. Kane. The British duo emerged in 1986 on One Little Indian, sounding like the black Jesus And Mary Chain on their debut single, “When You’re Sad.” Maybe too much. It was a nice homage, but it reflected little of A.R. Kane’s unique personality. That would soon come with 1987′s Lollita EP on 4AD and the Up Home! EP in 1988, followed closely by their debut full-length, 69 and the Love-Sick EP. These records revealed a group commingling dream pop, soul, ambient dub, and electric-era Miles Davis in a wholly distinctive manner. (Major footnote: A.R. Kane also contributed to M/A/R/R/S’s 1987 smash hit “Pump Up The Volume,” which you can still find in bargain bins with some regularity.)
Opener “Baby Milk Snatcher,” the track that became the highlight of 69, slowly arises from slumber into recumbent, refracted dub bliss. It revolves around irradiated guitar grind, cyclical bass pressure, and Rudy Tambala’s tranquilized soul croon. The chorus of “baby, so serene/slow slow slow slow/baby, suck my seed” summarizes the mood of casual, lush eroticism pervading the song. “W.O.G.S.” features lyrics about being sold down and floating down the river, which aptly mirrors the music’s aquatic, solemn dubgaze haze.
“One Way Mirror” is the EP’s zenith, a fractured, shimmering specimen of radiant psychedelic-rock/dub fusion that reifies your disorientation. Tambala sings in surrealistic puzzles, but the line “I’m going up till I lose my skin” sums up the general feeling of self-abnegating transcendence. The record concludes with “Up,” which is some kind of peak of weightless, amorphous rock. It’s about ascending a stairway to heaven on the Black Star Liner (the shipping line that Jamaican politician Marcus Garvey instituted in 1919 to transport goods and people to Africa), and it’s unbearably poignant.
A.R. Kane would go on to record the housier, astral-jazzier, and more accessible “i” double LP and the not-so-great New Clear Child, but Up Home! remains their most concentrated blast of brothers-from-another-planet rock sorcery. You can also find these tracks on the 2012 double-CD compilation Complete Singles Collection. -Buckley Mayfield
Following Rain Parade’s extraordinary 1983 debut LP Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, Explosions In The Glass Palace couldn’t help sounding like a tiny bit of an anticlimax. But the five-song mini album by the standard-bearers of Los Angeles’ short-lived Paisley Underground scene (a term none of the participants probably ever want to hear or see again; sorry!) stands as a superb little collection of West Coast psychedelia.
Key Rain Parade singer-songwriter David Roback was mostly gone and working on Opal (and then later, the Clay Allison Band and Mazzy Star) by the time the group cut Explosions; he’s only credited on the EP’s last track, “No Easy Way Down.” But Roback’s brother Steven, Matt Piucci, and Will Glenn ably picked up the compositional slack. “You Are My Friend” is a bejangled, tender-hearted slice of mellifluous raga rock that could’ve come from the pen of Roger McGuinn or Lennon-McCartney circa “Rain.” As a homage to psych-rock’s first vital steps, it’s a goddamn beaut. By contrast, eerie waltz-time zoner “Prisoners” creeps in with stealth, bolstered by majestically arcing guitar sighs and moans, evoking those comfortably numb, sublimely ponderous Pink Floyd space-outs.
The blissful, gently rippling midtempo rock of “Blue”—which contains the poignant line “All our tears couldn’t bring her home”—strikes me as ideal for driving the idyllic back roads around Big Sur, California. (You haven’t been to Big Sur? You should try to remedy that soon.) If there’s a lull in Explosions, it occurs on “Broken Horse,” a Steven Roback-penned acoustic-guitar ballad whose slightly melodramatic, melancholic Neil Young vibe breaks the EP’s lysergic spell. But things elevate dramatically on Explosions‘ peak “No Easy Way Down.” It’s one of the deepest, most seductive psychedelic excursions Rain Parade ever made, echoing the Door’s “The End” via the main riff’s spellbinding Eastern lilt and Will Glenn’s rich, sacred Hammond B-3 whorls.
The year after Explosions, Rain Parade created one more very good album on Island, Crashing Dream, before folding, but they still occasionally play out. In fact, in 2014 they headlined Seattle’s Hypnotikon Festival, and revealed flashes of their old selves. Rain Parade’s catalog may be small, but it’s all wonderful, including the exquisite Explosions In The Glass Palace. -Buckley Mayfield
Scottish musician/vocalist Thomas Leer made some of the most interesting song-based electronic music of the original post-punk era, but he’s never achieved much more than cult status. In all honesty, though, he should be as well known as Soft Cell, if not as widely loved as New Order, to name only two contemporaneous UK acts. 4 Movements was the first Leer release I heard, and it remains my favorite to this day, although Private Plane EP and the Contradictions LP are also highly recommended. As another British group, Hot Chocolate put it, every 1′s a winner.
4 Movements‘ opener, “Don’t,” is a gleaming jewel of continental dance music overlaid with Leer’s elegantly pained vocals. It strikes you as accessible and danceable synth pop on one level, but there’s something deceptively complex happening under the surface: a sneakily wiggly bass line, frosty and fibrillating synth whorls, spectral backing vocals… or are they yet more synths? Whatever the case, you’re paying close attention and working up a sweat. “Letter From America” shimmies into earshot with a quasi-cha-cha rhythm and an exotic array of synth tones, which elevate this song into the vicinity of Haruomi Hosono’s all-time stunner, Cochin Moon. Perhaps the EP’s most poppy cut, “Letter From America” finds Leer singing with a seething, Howard Devoto-like suavity.
“Tight As A Drum”—which bears a vague resemblance to David Byrne and Brian Eno’s “The Carrier” from My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts—is staunch, five-dimensional dub in a hall of illusory synth mirrors—very disorienting. I love to play this track at DJ gigs and watch people try to make sense of it. The final track, “West End,” slithers with a silvery, slick rhythm and bursts with tightly controlled, ecstatic synthetic horns. Again, there’s a lot of subliminal sonic sorcery going on: contrapuntal synth lines, bizarre burbles and ripples. It’s like a new kind of snake-charmer music, and it’s incredibly sensuous.
Thomas Leer was on fire creatively during this period, and you should seek out anything with his name on it from then—especially 4 Movements. (Oh, by the way: Someone should reissue this… perhaps Superior Viaduct or Dark Entries?) -Buckley Mayfield
Osmium captures Parliament (aka Funkadelic) at a time before their trademark stylistic traits had firmly solidified. Consequently, it’s a wildly diverse record, full of songs both expected (if you’re familiar with the P-Funk catalog) and very surprising—like, “check the record to make sure this is still the band from Detroit led by George Clinton” surprising. Yes, Osmium is at core a soul album, but it’s a helluva lot more, too. Because any George Clinton production—especially from the ’60s and ’70s—can never be typical.
Osmium—alternately titled Rhenium and First Thangs in subsequent releases; a 2016 reissue of it is floating around, too—begins with a prime slice of horndog funk, “I Call My Baby Pussycat,” with Eddie Hazel and Tawl Ross’ guitars and Billy Bass Nelson’s bass really setting fire under asses. Things grind to a solemn halt with “Put Love In Your Life,” a soul-gospel-tinged ballad sung with baritone gravity by Ray Davis… but then it unexpectedly shifts into a florid psych-pop anthem. Wow, my ears just got whiplash. If that weren’t strange enough, the Ruth Copeland-penned “Little Ole Country Boy” swerves into mock-country territory, replete with jaw harp, tabletop guitar embellishments, and Fuzzy Haskins’ Southern-honky vocal affectations; think the Rolling Stones, but with tongues more firmly jammed in cheek. More ear whiplash. Ouch! (Yes, De La Soul producer Prince Paul sampled the yodeling part for “Potholes In My Lawn.”)
“Moonshine Leather” peddles the sort of sublimely sluggish bluesy funk that occupied some of Funkadelic’s earliest releases, while “Oh Lord, Why Lord/Prayer” is a baroque-classical/gospel hybrid, sung with utmost passion and soul by Calvin Simon and Copeland. It’s definitely the frilliest and most churchy P-Funk track I’ve heard. As an agnostic, it sort of gives me hives, but there’s no denying the sincerity and skill behind the song.
Side two begins with “My Automobile,” yet more Stonesy faux country, but with sitar (?!) accompaniment, quickly followed by the revved-up, libidinous “Nothing Before Me But Thang,” which is the wildest, most Funkadelicized cut on Osmium. The struttin’, ruttin’ “Funky Woman” is indeed funky and ready to make any party you’re attending lit, as the kids say. The hippie-fied gospel rock of “Livin’ The Life” sounds like something off of Godspell or Hair, but it’s not bad at all.
Parliament saved the best for last with “The Silent Boatman.” Another Ruth Copeland composition (she also co-produced the LP, by the way), “The Silent Boatman” is one of the most beautiful and moving songs in all creation. A slowly building, majestic ballad aswirl in Bernie Worrell’s organ and glockenspiel, it’s a poignant tale lamenting inequality and strife on Earth and redemption in the afterlife. When the bagpipes come in, you feel as if you’re being swept up in a highly improbable dream in which Parliament become the most persuasive religious sect ever to enter a studio. Going way against type, “The Silent Boatman” might be the closest Clinton & company ever got to godliness. Ruth Copeland was their secret weapon, although she never again recorded another proper album with the group. But what a legacy she left. -Buckley Mayfield
Nearly all my friends and acquaintances who are into psychedelic music tap Brown Rice* as their favorite Don Cherry album, and one listen reveals why. It’s at once the grooviest, spaciest, and most cosmic-sounding record in the legendary jazz trumpeter’s catalog. Cherry’s hunger for new, adventurous sounds spurred him to travel around Africa, Europe, and the Far East and absorb influences from those regions. For Brown Rice, he called on some trusted comrades to help him realize his ambitious visions, including drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Charlie Haden (both of whom played with Ornette Coleman and Cherry on seminal LPs The Shape Of Jazz To Come and Change Of The Century), and saxophonist Frank Lowe. They and other key contributors combine to create perhaps the most rewarding introduction into Cherry’s large canon.
Leading off, of course, is the title track, the leftfield rare-groove monster jam that launched a million chills on a million cool underground-hip-hop producers and other sussed cats. Verna Gillis’ distinctively eerie “ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh”s continuously undulate under Bunchie Fox’s electric bongos (Bunchie Fox’s electric bongos!), two electric pianos made to sound like a weirdly tuned marimba, Haden’s wah-wah bass eructations, and Cherry’s confidential whispers. Here and there, Lowe unleashes some ravishing rasps on his sax. There’s nothing else really like “Brown Rice”’s alien funk, and it’s worth the price of admission alone. The 14-minute “Malkauns” finds Cherry and company delving into Holy Mountain soundtrack territory. Moki’s tamboura drones in timeless, chakra-aligning tones and Haden’s contemplative acoustic bass sojourns dominate the first 4.5 minutes, then Cherry’s triumphant trumpet fanfares and Higgins’ cymbal-intensive rhythms kick up the energy to a spritely gallop. The track then becomes a virtuoso duel between Cherry and Higgins, as the tamboura/bass players maintain a staunch foundation. The last couple of minutes return to the tamboura/bass interplay, to which you can imagine Alejandro Jodorowsky zoning out.
Another epic piece, “Chenrezig” features Cherry’s guttural, spiritual chants (in a language I can’t discern) foghorn over Hakim Jamil’s tense, rumbling bass and Ricky Cherry’s sparse piano. When Don’s trumpet enters a few minutes in, things tranquilly lift to a more exalted plane. All the while, a surreptitiously coiled rhythm shuffles below. Until it accelerates near the end, “Chenrezig” comes off as a less turbulent, more introspective take on Bitches Brew‘s outward bound fusion. “Degi-Degi” closes the LP with Cherry urgently whispering about the goddess of music over a bustling rhythm—Haden’s bass is especially buoyant—and Don’s spiraling trumpet motifs that make you feel as if you’re conquering a new planet.
In The Penguin Guide To Jazz, Brian Morton and Richard Cook called Brown Rice “a lost classic of the era and probably the best place to sample the trumpeter as both soloist—he blows some stunningly beautiful solos here—and as the shamanic creator of a unique, unearthly sound that makes dull nonsense of most ‘fusion’ work of the period.” Listen to these learned Brits; they know what they’re talking about. -Buckley Mayfield
*Brown Rice was originally titled Don Cherry in the US and its first pressing here came via Horizon/A&M in 1977.
While it’s foolhardy to generalize about Felt fans, one thing seems certain: Most consider Ignite The Seven Cannons (i.e., the one with “Primitive Painters” on it) or Forever Breathes The Lonely Word as their best album. I beg to differ. For me, this British band—who issued 10 albums and 10 singles in 10 years throughout the ’80s—peaked with The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Stories and this perfectly formed mini LP. I know—shocking, right?
There’s nothing really crumbling on Felt’s debut, but there’s plenty of antiseptic beauty. And while that may seem like damning with faint praise, I mean this in the strongest terms: Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty is utterly sublime, lack of grit be damned.
“Evergreen Dazed” instantly sets a tone of spangly grandeur, courtesy of the rococo guitar leads by the classically trained Maurice Deebank. An instrumental that plucks heartstrings in the key of gee whiz, “Evergreen Dazed” exudes a most brilliant crystalline poignancy. On “Fortune,” frontman Lawrence’s voice sounds like a perfect merger of Bob Dylan’s sneer and Lou Reed’s sardonic deadpan, while the music saunters and glints with casual elegance. This isn’t rock as most know it, but rather some English back-garden reverie or a drawing-room samba. One imagines Lawrence, at this early stage of Felt, wrinkling his nose at the vulgarity of most rock. The swooning continues on “Birdmen,” whose languid psychedelia gyres around a glacially chiming, hypnotic guitar pattern.
“Cathedral,” which has been one of my favorite songs for over 30 years, is absolutely worthy of the title. The intro’s a majestic brandishing of silvery guitars, and then Lawrence and co. swoosh in with those intimate-yet-distant vocals and a gently undulating unrock attack, marked by Deebank’s jangly guitar shimmer. The last half of the song contains some of the greatest spidery guitar calligraphy this side of a Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd duel. The Deebank-written “I Worship The Sun” is Crumbling‘s most propulsive tune; it actually builds up a rocking head of steam. As with all of the other tracks, though, drummer Gary Ainge only seems to use the toms, because as Lou Reed sagely noted, cymbals eat guitars. Still, it’s odd not to hear any kicks or snares over an entire album.
“Templeroy, another Deebank piece, ends the record on a somewhat anticlimactic note. This one meanders a bit too close to the Earth compared to the preceding five songs. Plus, Lawrence sounds like he’s suffering a panic attack, and not in a good way. If I were sequencing Crumbling, “Cathedral” would conclude the disc, so we could all exit the theater with tears in our eyes and our souls inflated to bursting point. Nevertheless, Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty maintains a porcelain gorgeousness that, if current trends hold, will never fade. -Buckley Mayfield
This four-track EP was like a coming attraction for the monumental, instant-classic LP that came out a bit later in 1991, Loveless. Although it’s generally overlooked in comparison to its successor, Tremolo actually contains some of My Bloody Valentine’s greatest compositions.
“To Here Knows When,” of course, appeared on Loveless, but it’s a bizarre choice for a single. Then again, that’s how crazy-like-a-fox Alan McGee operated Creation back in those halcyon daze. The man did not subscribe to conventional wisdom—at all. “To Here Knows When” blooms like a flower on Pluto, or plumes like an exploded New Age composition whose hazy amorphousness is shot through with Bilinda Butcher’s luscious coos. This could be the theme song for every baby in every womb—all atremble with wonder, but burbling with an undercurrent of foreboding at the horrors to come once the umbilical’s snipped. “Swallow” may be the most beatific song in MBV’s blessed canon—which is saying a helluva lot. But seriously… I dare you to find a more opiated, erotic piece of exotica than this Butcher-sung tune. MBV mastermind Kevin Shields really hit on a sensual, peaceful groove here. I could use at least 30 minutes of it, to be honest.
By contrast, “Honey Power” is about as straight-ahead of an uptempo rocker as MBV wrote in this era. Still, it contains plenty of those urgent, tremolo-laden guitar torrents, as Shields and Butcher unleash lavender flames of quasi-kazoo-like timbres. As with the preceding two tracks, “Honey Power” features a coda that adds a wonderfully disorienting aura to the record. (If I were more of a contrarian, I’d say these concluding tangents were the best parts of Tremolo.) The closing “Moon Song” swirls in an almost old-fashioned mode of romantic balladry, although the honeyed drones and muted bongos beneath Shields’ sincere singing nudge the song away from sentimentality.
In 1991, MBV could do no wrong. Tremolo‘s phantasmagorical whirl of astral ambient rock found them pulling way ahead of the pack… and it wasn’t even their peak release from that year. (By the way, we really could use a vinyl reissue of this EP.) -Buckley Mayfield
If you can only own one Pussy Galore record, make it Sugarshit Sharp*. This six-track EP represents the most potent distillation of the New York City group’s raunchy, rambunctious rock moves. It also contains the greatest Einstürzende Neubauten cover ever; “Yü-Gung.” (Some versions of Sugarshit Sharp contain a bonus track, “Penetration In The Centerfold,” originally by Devo and rendered by Pussy Galore with teeth-gnashing ferocity.)
The entire A-side of my Caroline Records copy of Sugarshit Sharp is consumed by “Yü-Gung,” which in Neubauten’s Teutonic hands was a stark, industrial nail-biter that wanted to scare the shit out of you. In Pussy Galore’s grimy mitts, the song becomes a fiery noise-rock/quasi-disco fusion, with samples from Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe The Hype” and Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” humorously surfacing amid the chaos. Jon Spencer is at the end of his tether, screaming “Feed my ego!” as he, Julia Cafritz, and Kurt Wolf crank out rusty-toned, power-chord avalanches and Bob Bert gets wicked on the drums. This was some of the wildest party music of that great year of 1988, and it still sounds rowdier than anything current indie rock’s producing.
“Handshake” is a hell-raising soundtrack for violating the speed limit and flipping off cops on freeways. Again, Pussy Galore remind us how timid and tentative most current rock sounds by comparison. “Sweet Little Hi-Fi” is so menacing and sexy, it should receive a restraining order. The part where Spencer barks in muffled tones, “Indivisible! Outstanding! Eternal! One riff!” is aptly meta and descriptive. “Brick” gives trash rock a fistful of amphetamines and a hot foot, to boot, cohering into a perfect merger of Hasil Adkins and Motörhead. “Renegade!” is another raw grunt of primal rock, in case the preceding five tracks haven’t sated you. Mercifully, this EP’s only about 18 minutes long; anything more and you’d be a mere husk of a human afterward. -Buckley Mayfield
*Honestly, you really should own more than one Pussy Galore record. Also crucial: Right Now!, Dial ‘M’ For Motherfucker, Groovy Hate Fuck.