Album Reviews

Yoko Ono “Fly” (Apple, 1971)

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This is one of the triptych of records you need to pull out to shoot down the Yoko haters—of whom there are many, because we live in a deeply flawed world. The other two? 1970’s Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band and 1973’s Approximately Infinite Universe. Of course, there are other solid Ono releases, but these three make the most persuasive case for Yoko as an important artist.

Let’s be honest: Ono used her connection to husband John Lennon to gain access to the phenomenal musicians who play on Fly (Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner, Jim Gordon, Joe Jones, and, you bet your ass, Lennon himself) Don’t front: You would, too, if you were in her position. But it’s what she does with the assemblage of massive talent that makes this double LP so righteous.

Ono wrote all 13 tracks on Fly, and if she’d only conceived the 17-minute “Mind Train,” this full-length would still be worth your precious time. “Mind Train” is like Tago Mago/Ege Bamyasi-era Can, with all the loose-limbed, trance-inducing funk and id-mad vocal improv tics that that implies. Lennon seems to be having a ball, unspooling a bunch of weird guitar arabesques and eruptions while Voorman and Keltner do their best Czukay/Liebezeit impressions. All I can say is, “¡Hallelujah!”

As for the other highlights, “Mind Holes” starts almost like a Popol Vuh-/Dzyan-like kosmsiche reverie before shifting into disjointed blues-rock vamping. On “Don’t Worry, Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow),” Clapton, Starr, and Voorman grind out a sick, funky blues-rock groove that would make John Lee Hooker say, “DAMN!” More filthy, stripped-down funk comes with “Hirake,” over which Ono commands listeners to open their box, trousers, legs, thighs, flies, ears, nose, mouth, city, world, etc. with unhinged urgency. Yes, ma’am, whatever you say!

Weirdnesses abound on side 3, as you might expect when Fluxus mischief-maker Joe Jones enters the studio. “Airmale” is enhanced by eight of Jones’ “automatic instruments,” which play themselves with only the turn of a switch, as Ono wails in tongues. If you thought the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” was strange, well, “Airmale” says, “Hold my beer.” With “Don’t Count The Waves,” Ono’s voice gets electronically treated into an eerie, delay-laden shriek as she intones the title, accompanied by a grotesquerie of percussive accents. “You,” the last of the Jones experiments, features lease-breaking metallic percussion splatter and shrill whinnies that will make 98.3 percent of Beatles fans shit twice and die. And let’s not overlook “O’Wind (Body Is The Scar Of Your Mind),” on which Keltner and Gordon slap out rapid beats on tablas while Ono moans with ceremonial gravitas and ululates with anguished ecstasy. It’s a weird standout on an album full of oddities.

Fly‘s not all good, though. “Mrs. Lennon” is a maudlin ballad that’s almost as insufferable as “Imagine.” On “Fly,” the soundtrack to Yoko’s 23-minute film of the same name, Ono shatters preconceptions about the female voice and any attendant decorum associated with it (a good thing); but the piece is worth perhaps one listen in a lifetime, just to revel in the sheer absurdity of millionaires sanctioning such tomfoolery. Even Lennon’s backward-sucking guitar slurs can’t redeem it.

Most humans now lack the attention span and tolerance for strangeness that Fly demands of its listeners. But you, Jive Time blog reader, you’re made of sterner stuff. I think you’re gonna dig a lot of this messterpiece. -Buckley Mayfield

Osmonds “The Plan” (MGM, 1973)

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Write off the Osmonds at your own peril. Sure, they’re easy laughingstocks: a family of squeaky-clean Mormons trying to come off as the Caucasian Jackson 5. But these clean-cut brothers had oodles of talent and big budgets boosting their blatantly commercial vision. Throughout the ’70s, they excelled at bubblegum pop, glam, soul, funk, disco, and even a glossy strain of metal on “Crazy Horses.” Stop snickering and spring for a few of their early-’70s LPs for proof… while they’re still cheap.

Where were we? Oh, yes, The Plan. It’s universally considered the Osmonds’ most ambitious work: a concept album about the Mormon faith (Google it), written by Merrill and Wayne, and produced by Alan. Now, nobody’s more leery of overblown songs devoted to imaginary deities than your reviewer. But I’m gonna try to set aside my agnostic biases and judge this opus on a purely sonic basis. And on that level, The Plan mostly succeeds.

(Will it convert you into a Mormon? I sure hope not, but you’ve been known to do stupider things. Oh yes you have.)

Let’s get the stinkers out of the way first. “Before The Beginning” is a Vegas-y, oh-so-earnest ballad with that most annoying of balladic tropes: a crying baby. The tender as fuck orchestral ballad “Darlin’” liberally ladles on the syrup while “Are You Up There?” comes off as bombastic as anything on Aphrodite’s Child’s 666, but it’s not nearly as sublime. Slightly better is “Let Me In,” a dashing slice of ELO-ish orchestral pop that the Avalanches sampled on Since I Left You. It’s very accomplished schmaltz that reached #36 on the Billboard chart.

A couple of tunes reveal that Osmonds can do heavy rock better than most Mormons you may know. On “Traffic In My Mind,” they take a quasi-freaky stab at Deep Purple or Grand Funk Railroad gnarliness. “The Last Days” finds the Osmonds trying to sound ominous but not really convincing you that they can summon aural Armageddon. Still, it’s a valiant attempt, and the main riff would make Iron Butterfly nod in respect.

The two best cuts—“Mirror, Mirror” and “One Way Ticket To Anywhere”—are very good, indeed. The former’s an oddly metered romp animated by jittery skeins of harmonica and jaw harp while the latter’s as super-charged as Sweet’s “The Ballroom Blitz” and the Beatles’ “Back In The U.S.S.R.” “One Way Ticket” soars and dazzles like a motherfucker, bolstered by funky drumming, manic cowbell thunking, and a wicked fuzz-guitar solo.

The chart-dwelling “Goin’ Home” closes The Plan with a bellbottomed stomp augmented by alpha-male horn charts; this is climaximum rock and roll that is perhaps the Church Of The Latter-day Saints version of the Rolling Stones’ “Rocks Off.” Talk about ending an album on a god-damn high… Still, my agnosticism remains steadfast. -Buckley Mayfield

War “The World Is A Ghetto” (United Artists, 1972)

 

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I’m not in the habit of reviewing records that have dwelled on the charts (it went to #1 and was Billboard magazine’s album of the year, selling more copies than anything else in 1973), but War’s The World Is A Ghetto ain’t your typical platinum LP. Sure, smash single “The Cisco Kid” greatly helped its ascension, but when you get beyond that feel-good, heavy-lidded funk shuffle, things get dark, psychedelic, and real as shit.

On this, their fifth full-length, War were really hitting their stride. The large LA ensemble had proved they excelled at funk, rock, Latin, R&B, calypso, and fusions thereof—with and without ex-Animals vocalist Eric Burdon. Their music was geared for outdoor parties and radiated a bonhomie that you sensed aspired to unite racial and social groups—even on ostensibly ominous cuts like surprise radio staple “Slippin’ Into Darkness.”

Still, some critics have lamented the extended length of songs like “City, Country, City,” “Four Cornered Room,” and the title track, but fug these short-attention-spanned busters. If concise songs are more your speed, though, you’ll love the aforementioned “Cisco Kid” and “Where Was You At.” The latter’s a brisk, clipped funk number with gospel call-and-response vocals, with its irresistible groove toggling between tough and breezy. The sub-4-minute “Beetles In The Bog” is one of those let’s-end-the-album-on-a-rousing-note songs, powered by massed “la la la”s, a nimble, strutting bass line, and a martial rhythm.

But the real nitty-gritty of The World Is A Ghetto occurs on its longest tracks. “City, Country, City” is a 13-minute instrumental that vacillates between passages resembling Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” and bustling, urban jazz-funk that nearly beats Kool & The Gang at their own game. War seriously stretch out and build up a humid head of steam here. A midnight-blue ballad, “The World Is A Ghetto” is suffused with a sublime malaise over its 10-minute duration, but it possesses enough gumption to keep its chin up in the struggle to survive, despite the pervasive gloom of the song’s sentiment.

With “Four Cornered Room,” Ghetto hits a shocking peak. It starts with one of the starkest, most menacing blues-rock riffs to which you’ve ever trembled (oddly, you can hear its influence in the later work of Seattle drone-metal deities Earth). The massed “ooh”s and “zoom zoom zoom”s add layers of chillingness to the song, while the phased and panned guitar and percussion disperse things into a psychedelic zone of extreme zonkedness. It sounds like War wrote and recorded this tune after smoking some extremely strong ganja, playing as if in a paranoid daze. “Four Cornered Room” puts most stoner rock to shame. Low-key, it’s a career highlight in a catalog loaded with diverse zeniths. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Joe Henderson “The Elements” (Milestone, 1974)

 

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Would you look at this lineup renowned jazz saxophonist Joe Henderson assembled here… Alice Coltrane on piano, harp, harmonium, and tamboura; Charlie Haden on bass; Michael White on violin and flutes; Leon Ndugu Chancler on drums; Kenneth Nash on a wide, international array of percussion instruments. All of these badasses converged to create a Henderson’s most rewarding album of the ’70s—if not his entire career.

Divided into the four elements, as it says on the tin, the album possesses four distinct moods on each track, all of them worth their extended durations. “Fire” coasts in on a buoyant Latin shuffle and bop-wise instrumental interplay, occasionally blooming into full-throated ebullience. This is not the fire music you may have been expecting. Yes, it’s pleasant and full of Henderson’s mellifluous blowing, but it’s not the barn-burner at which the title hints. “Air” wafts into the region of Alice Coltrane’s Ptah The El Daoud, on which Henderson also played. This is elegantly turbulent jazz bolstered by the timbres of African percussion, as Henderson, Coltrane, White, and Haden engage in a gregarious conversation in which each makes fascinating assertions.

Side 2 is where things really get interesting. On “Water,” Coltrane’s tamboura purrs ominously and Henderson’s sax seductively warbles warpedly over a gently bubbling percussion foundation. “Water” is—wait for it—fucking deep. Henderson saves the best for last with “Earth,” which is quite simply one of the funkiest cuts ever, as Ndugu and Haden lock into a groove that you never want to end. If that weren’t enough, Alice’s tamboura arcs into a transcendent halo of chakra-vibrating tones while Henderson concocts what may be the most memorable and melismatic motif of his career. At another point, White gets off a mantric violin solo that sounds plucked rather than bowed, while later in the piece, Nash recites a meditation that contends “time is only now” while Henderson intones ultimate peace vibes on flute.

If you need further confirmation that “Earth” is a kozmigroov jam for the ages, note that Four Tet included it in all its 13-minute glory for his 2004 LateNightTales mix. Truth be told, “Earth” should go on every mix ever. It exemplifies a certain mystical strain in jazz while radiating an overwhelming sensuality. You can almost imagine it fitting onto Miles Davis’ On The Corner, but it’s somehow too sexy even for that libidinous masterpiece. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Monster Magnet “25…Tab” (Glitterhouse, 1991)

 

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For a minute in the early ’90s, I thought Monster Magnet were gonna blow the hell up. They had a charismatic, good-looking frontman (Dave Wyndorf), gargantuan riffs, more effects pedals than J Mascis (perhaps), a surprisingly deft way with a hook, and a kickass slogan: “It’s a Satanic drug thing… you wouldn’t understand.” But alas, Monster Magnet never took off like they should have, instead existing for more than a quarter century as a cult psych-rock band with heavy-metal inclinations—or is that a cult heavy-metal band with psych-rock inclinations? Don’t ask me, I’m in terrible sleep debt.

Anyway, Monster Magnet’s early singles and albums like Spine of God placed them in the vanguard of the American hard-rock ghetto. When 25…Tab came out soon after Spine, my circle of friends and I lost our fucking minds… and found nirvana. (Yeah, dude, we loved thi more than Nevermind, which came out the same year.) Mostly we loved the 32-minute “Tab…” a track too mammoth for the overused word “epic.” (A buddy of mine used to listen to this song obsessively while training for a marathon; it helped!) Wyndorf babbles lysergic nothings over a riff that make “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”’s sound like bubblegum pop. A panoply of guitar FX fibrillates like Hawkwind jamming in an insane asylum. A new high in heavy is achieved. Most grunge sounded trés twee compared to this.

The remaining two cuts here can’t help sounding a bit underwhelming after that mantra of destructive distortion. Still, “25/Longhair” is 12.5 minutes of outrageously revved-up, Deep Purple-y rampaging (think Machine Head x In Rock), with Wyndorf croaking like Steppenwolf’s John Kay through a Stephen Hawking voice generator. “Lord 13” downshifts the album into a hard-strumming conclusion, sounding like an Agitation Free or Embryo outtake laced with rueful beauty. Monster Magnet’s gentle comedown is still more fried than most rock bands’ wildest freakouts. With some poignancy, Wyndorf sings “What do I want from me?/A clock that goes 13/A deal with the pyramids/A way to know everything.”

It’s a Satanic drug thing…you wouldn’t understand. I can live—and die—with that. -Buckley Mayfield

 

 

Tantra “The Double Album” (Importe/12, 1980)

R-52217-1173438602.jpeg Much Euro disco is simply progressive music given an abundance of party drugs and guided by stricter adherence to steady 4/4 kickdrums, the better to grease dancers’ libidinous movements. I mean, just look at the track lengths on Italian group Tantra’s most easily obtainable release, The Double Album, which compiles 1979’s Hills Of Katmandu and 1980’s Tantra. The record’s peaks, “Hills Of Katmandu” and “Wishbone,” clock in at 16:20 and 15:40, respectively. And contrary to the common perception that disco is soulless machine music, the eight tracks on The Double Album—composed and arranged by leader Celso Valli—abound with moving male and female vocals and the passionate instrumental virtuosity reminiscent of the most revered prog-rock groups.

Case in point is the epic opener, “Hills Of Katmandu.” It’s a speedy space-disco gallop, powered by swift congas and bongos, heroic guitar flourishes, diaphanous female vocals (uncredited, unfortunately), and a synthesizer dialed into an exotic Eastern timbre and formulating a sinuous melody that augments the lyrics’ persuasive escapist theme. This deceptively complex, multi-part piece was obviously geared to eradicate all of your cares while helping you to lose a few pounds on the dance floor. It may not be as famous as Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder’s “I Feel Love” or Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover,” but it deserves to be.

The six shorter cuts don’t come close to the greatness of the epic bookends here, but they mostly transcend boilerplate happy-happy disco shenanigans. “Top Shot” radiates suspenseful, cop-show rhythmic urgency and features an absurdly upful melody and vocal line that contrast with the lyrics, which deal with spiritually hollow excess: “I get my kicks daily/I’m friends with most of the big shots/I’m full of dope mainly/To cut out most of the stage flops/Don’t really know what to do/I think I’ll kill myself.” At one point there appears an intricately fiery guitar solo that would make Deep Purple or Van Halen fans snap their heads around and say, “DAMN.”

The supremely ebullient dance jam “Mother Africa” unsurprisingly bears a heavy African influence in the chanted vocals with Anthony Taylor’s soulful vocals and those beguiling women singers extolling Africa’s “Tempting and inviting/beautiful, exciting” enticements. LP finale “Wishbone” contains one of the most tensile and sinewy bass lines in disco history, but the plangent sitar flourishes elevate the track to a higher spiritual level, while brash brass charts thrust it into pulse-racing, action-film territory. This is how you end an album, y’all.

When an American electronic label called Italians Do It Better sprouted in 2006, the owners surely had artists like Tantra in mind. They’re not wrong. -Buckley Mayfield

Charanjit Singh “Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat” (His Master’s Voice, 1983)

R-2108668-1460535363-6734.jpeg There’s something to be said about self-explanatory titles. They help the critic and, more importantly, enable the listener to get a grip instantly on what’s happening within the record’s grooves.

That being said, what Indian Bollywood session musician Charanjit Singh achieves on Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat is extraordinary, in that nobody had ever attempted to merge those genres. What emerges on this 1983 LP is a primitive form of acid house, a few years before the Chicago pioneers of that club-music style had conceived the Roland TB-303 squelch and TB-808 beats that propelled it into a futuristic phenomenon in the mid ’80s among heads attuned to underground electronic music. Yeah, Mr. Singh beat the Windy City producers to the punch, but it’s only since about 2010—thanks to Bombay Connection’s reissue—that anyone outside a small circle of cognoscenti in his home country had an inkling what the hell was going on in this synth sorcerer’s lab.

All 10 ragas here pump and snake around the 4-on-the-floor 808 beats for about five minutes; they’re at once functional and sui generis, with the ancient melodies of classical Indian music getting synthesized into bizarre, ultra-vivid convolutions that sound so wrong they’re right. Purists will be outraged, but outraging purists is never a bad thing. “Raga Lalit,” for instance, is a gradually accelerating gyroscope of spangly, fibrillating, simulated santoor tones that causes a vertiginous rush. The rest of the album basically wrings subtle variations on this theme. If this is proto-acid house, it’s proto-acid house with a PhD in instrumental virtuosity. The mercurial motifs that swirl around the über-basic rhythms lift this project into utterly sublime, distinctive realms.

Even if you’ve never had the slightest desire to bust a move to acid house or haven’t the slightest clue about raga’s sonic intricacies, you have to respect the ingenuity Singh displays on Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat. It’s not every decade that you encounter such originality, you know. -Buckley Mayfield

HEAD “HEAD” (Buddah, 1970)

 

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Nik Raicevic (aka Nik Pascal, aka HEAD) is an enigmatic analog-synth maestro who recorded five albums for his own tiny Narco label in the early ’70s. In a very strange turn of events, he somehow found himself in 1973 playing percussion for the Rolling Stones on “Can You Hear The Music,” the most psychedelic song on Goats Head Soup. (I still want to know how the hell this happened.)

Anyway, Raicevic convinced Buddah—a subsidiary of MGM Records—to put out this blatantly pro-drug LP under the alias HEAD. Maybe he had sway because he used a Moog synthesizer, which equalled record-biz gold for a hot minute back in the day. (Nik had recorded this album in 1968 and self-released it under the title of Numbers, using the catchy moniker 107-34-8933.) The Buddah version came with an eight-page coloring book and these notes on the back: “The sound of numbers for soaking in soft dreams. Sweet moments and private notes making a rhyme into a habit. An album that creates the ultimate environment for the smoke generation. Taste it.” Dude…

The year 1970 was a halcyonic time when you could open your debut album on a major-label subsidiary’s dime with a 17-minute tracks called “Cannabis Sativa.” Drop the needle on it and instantly feel like you’re slowly spinning horizontally in the most fucked-up aviary ever conceived. Mechanical bird twitters and what sounds like a pitched-up wind chime flutter over a sonorous, oscillating “woooaaahh” motif. Hypnosis will be yours. “Cannabis Sativa” mixes well with Tonto’s Expanding Head Band’s “Riversong” and Conrad Schnitzler’s “Electric Garden.” Try it in your next DJ set.

The Doppler Effected whooshes and disconcerting bleeps on “Methedrine” make it feel as if you’ve been transported to a planetarium in which—despite the track’s title—it feels as if the air vents are pumping out DMT. This is severe, depopulated synth sorcery, geared to disorient and alienate. That Raicevic was doing this in 1968 testifies to his innovative vision. Musicians today are still trying to achieve this sort of interstellar desolation, but often with computers and software programs, and yet aren’t capturing that sense of chilling menace to the degree that Raicevic did. HEAD ends with “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide” (of course it does), which is simply “Cannabis Sativa” played twice as fast while sounding half as trippy. Sort of a bummer, but I can deal with it.

Here’s a pro tip: Buy any Nic Raicevic album you can find, no matter how pricey it is. They’re all dome-crackers. Despite reissues of obscure electronic opuses flooding bins with increasing frequency over the last decade, it appears with each passing year that such a campaign isn’t going to happen with our man Nik’s catalog. But, you know, if we can get a Bruce Ditmas archival release, perhaps anything is possible. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Terry Riley “Descending Moonshine Dervishes” (Kuckuck, 1982)

 

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If you will allow a controversial opinion, I maintain that nobody’s music embodies pure peace like Terry Riley’s. From In C to A Rainbow In Curved Air to Persian Surgery Dervishes to Shri Camel and beyond, the legendary American composer has forged a body of work that’s established minimalism as an ultimate conduit of sonic transcendence and an overall sense of well-being. If all of your chakras aren’t resonating with utmost harmoniousness while you’re listening to Riley, you may want to schedule a soul-doctor appointment.

Although Descending Moonshine Dervishes isn’t typically rated among Riley’s greatest accomplishments, it should be. Honestly, I’ve always been a Rainbow In Curved Air/Persian Surgery Dervishes/Shri Camel guy, but Portland label Beacon Sound’s fantastic 2016 vinyl reissue—with a strong remastering job done by former Seattle producer Rafael Anton Irisarri—has me reconsidering. The more I listen to it, the more I’m convinced that Moonshine is Riley’s peak, which means that it’s among the loftiest works of art in the Western world. If you will allow another controversial opinion…

It starts with urgent burbles similar to those of one of Riley’s greatest hits, “Poppy Nogood And The Phantom Band,” then ascends to an ever-so-dissonant cruise-control drone that pits two competing organ motifs against each other to create a wonderful friction. Sporadic surges in intensity increase the sublimity of the drone, creating the sensation of frantic yet salubrious cellular activity. (I should say that this magnum opus was mostly improvised live at Berlin’s Metamusik Festival in 1975. Terry was on a goddamn roll that night, y’all.)

At times, Descending Moonshine Dervishes is almost too much to handle, as the surfeit of silvery tones gather density and crash against the shore of your consciousness, inundating you with way more pleasure than you deserve in one lifetime, let alone in one sitting with an LP. Such is the man’s benevolence, though, that he keeps bestowing you the godly goods, never really letting up on celestial symphony that emanates from his modified Yamaha YC 45D organ.

Really, Riley? 52 minutes of this? How are we ever gonna deal with the escalating shitshow of reality after such a glut of galactic gloriousness? If god exists, she’s playing this in her lair—and then perhaps seguing into an epic Bösendorfer piano piece by Charlemagne Palestine, for good measure. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Lard Free “Lard Free” (Cobra, 1977)

 

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Disregard the somewhat goofy name: Lard Free were one of the heaviest French rock groups of the ’70s (a decade laden with heavy French rock groups). Led by multi-instrumentalist Gilbert Artman, they cut three great albums, peaking with Lard Free (also known as III and Spirale Malax, in later iterations; the excellent Wah Wah label reissued Lard Free’s catalog on vinyl in 2010). Where Lard Free’s previous two full-lengths fused Miles Davis’ late ’60s/early-’70s electric jazz with outward-bound acid rock, their third LP soared into even headier realms of unprecedented futuristic fusions.

The entire first side is consumed by “Spirale Malax,” which fades in on Yves Lanes’ mutedly radiant synth, which whorl in the vicinity of Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air, but soon come the shafts of Xavier Baulleret’s molten guitar and Jean-Pierre Thirault’s spectral clarinet filigree. Artman funnels all of these elements into a massive cyclotron, generating a disorienting vortex of highbrow hijinks. It’s like listening to Tangerine Dream’s Zeit and Iannis Xenakis’ La légende d’Eer while on a Tilt-A-Whirl.

“Spirale Malax” really is one of the most stunning pieces of music ever conceived, a surreal, 17-minute acid trip full of phantom, Doppler-effected drones, trance-inducing tom-tom-thumping, and panic-inducing guitar pulsations. Then it fades out as it came in. Utter, terrifying perfection.

The four-part “Synthetic Seasons” suite on the flipside isn’t as mind-boggling as the A-side, but it’s plenty out there and gripping. It begins with eerie synth ectoplasm punctuated by distant, methodically off-kilter drums and guitar and clarinet that seem to be shrieking in the next studio over. By the second section, the drumming comes to the fore, beating out a military tattoo, while the guitar describes a pattern as complicated as a cauliflower and the clarinet drones mournfully.

The weirdness intensifies in the third part, with a swarming synth drone blooming, until the clarinet mournfully surfaces, like Eric Dolphy in a funereal mood. In the final segment, a seductive and menacing funk beat saunters into earshot, while the guitar grunts and the synth twitters in a melancholy mode (Acid Mothers Temple fans will recognize this combo). The track traverses some of prog-rock’s most anguished terrain, replete with Lanes’ wavering wall of synth grotesquerie. “Synthetic Seasons” could soundtrack Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal—if it didn’t get so damn funky in places.

With this album, Lard Free entered the pantheon of heaviest, headiest French music, along with Heldon, Magma, Spacecraft, Igor Wakhévitch, and Art Zoyd. -Buckley Mayfield

 

23 Skidoo “Seven Songs” (Fetish, 1982)

 

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Funk got really weird in the UK in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The Pop Group, A Certain Ratio, Medium Medium, Cabaret Voltaire, Rip Rig + Panic, and, to a lesser degree, Pigbag were all finding interesting ways to mutate the American art form in their own severely agitational, Anglo manner. London’s 23 Skidoo were right in the thick of that heady era of funk reinvention, and Seven Songs was their crowning achievement. Here they mastered a sort of funk concrète and wasteland ambience that suggested a bizarre meeting between the Meters and Throbbing Gristle. (That group’s Genesis P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson co-produced the record with Ken Thomas.)

Seven Songs spectacularly launches with “Kundalini,” which starts with what sounds like a Theremin being finger-banged and a rendition of Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner.” Then comes a mad conflagration of death-march kickdrums, rapid-fire bongos, Tarzan hollers, and dudes grimacing commands like “Move me, get down, spread!” and “Rise!” This is sex music of extreme urgency and chaos. And, as the title indicates, it’s writhing with the sort of primal, libidinous energy that accumulates at the base of the spine… if you believe in Hindu philosophy and that intense branch of yoga. Fuck yeah.

This amazing LP-opener leads into the ultra-tight funk sparkplug “Vegas El Bandito,” which sounds like a lean, late-’60s James Brown instrumental, but Latinized and dubbed out, with Alex Turnbull’s trumpet dispersing into Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis territory. That trumpet part gets delayed and dispersed into a cauldron of heavily FX’d guitar and ghostly drones of unknown origin on “Mary’s Operation.”

The desolate, post-industrial scrapyard dub of “New Testament” recalls “Super 16” on Neu! 2, but in the last minute, it transitions into a distant, Zoviet-France trance-out that sets the scene for “IY,” the album’s most flagrant party jam. This bongos-heavy, pell-mell jazz-funk juggernaut makes you want to have tantric orgasms and overthrow corrupt governments (sorry for the redundancy). The relentless momentum grinds to a near halt with “Porno Base,” in which uptight Englishwoman Diana Mitford natters on about the benefits of young people avoiding pleasure while a reverbed bass plucks and chains rattle in the foreground. It’s an early-’80s British thing; you wouldn’t understand.

The EP closes with“Quiet Pillage,” a sly homage/subversion of Martin Denny’s exotica landmark “Quiet Village,” its idiosyncratic percussive timbres, strange animal and bird sounds, whistles, and thumb piano making the record feel as if it’s staggering to the runoff groove with a dazed expression. What a baffling and oddly satisfying way to finish things.

23 Skidoo went on to cut some other interesting records—1983’s Coup EP (the Chemical Brothers’ pilfered its bass part on “Block Rockin’ Beats”), 1984’s Urban Gamelan, and 2000’s 23 Skidoo—but their best ideas cohered most fortuitously on Seven Songs. There’s nothing else like it. -Buckley Mayfield

 

Les McCann “Invitation To Openness” (Atlantic, 1972)

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You probably know keyboardist Les McCann for his uproarious hit with Eddie Harris, “Compared To What,” but with Invitation To Openness, he occupies a much more chill zone, as exemplified by the 26-minute lead-off track, “The Lovers.” The opening keyboard movement foreshadows a blissful peace, not unlike Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, with Corky Hale’s harp trills adding more timbral tranquility to proceedings. A few minutes in, drums and percussion slide into earshot and a laid-back groove akin to Julian Priester’s sublime “Love, Love” commences, aided by Bill Salter’s stealthy bass. Five minutes in, Yusef Lateef takes the piece to a higher level with snake-charming oboe melismas. Five minutes later, Cornell Dupree and David Spinozza (who’s worked with Paul McCartney and John Lennon) peel off some wah-wah-tinged blaxploitation riffs that seriously enliven the song, inspiring Bernard Purdie (or it Alphonse Mouzon?) to funk up the rhythm to the max. 

“The Lovers” waxes and wanes (but mostly waxes) over its long duration, sounding remarkably composed for an improv jam featuring more than a dozen players. It’s one of the most magical spontaneous-epic recordings in the post-Coltrane world, a cool outpouring of loving spirit by musicians working at the loftiest level of groupmind telepathy. Love, love it. 

By contrast, side two can’t help seeming somewhat less momentous. Nevertheless, the two long cuts on it are worth playing in your next hip lounge DJ set. The 13-minute “Beaux J. Poo Boo” is subtle soul-jazz that, while it’s playing, makes you feel about nine times cooler than you actually are. Its gentle propulsion and Lateef’s fluid, mellow flute arabesques lull you into a state of contentment until close to the end, when nearly all hell breaks loose. But these cats are too cool to ever really go nuclear with the freakouts. 

On the 12-minute “Poo Pye McGoochie (And His Friends),” we hear another pensive beginning before the band heats up with advanced, velvety groove science. McCann’s crispy, spacey Moog motif rears its head periodically to break up the intricate, cerebral passages. Once you hear that Moog brashly flexing, you’ll want to call it up in your mental jukebox every time you need a jolt of adrenaline. Bonus: a badass drum solo near the end by Mouzon (I think). As with the other two pieces, it sounds like all the players amassed in the studio under producer Joel Dorn were simply enjoying the hell out of themselves and reveling in the loose sense of adventurousness McCann had instructed them to strive for.

Invitation To Openness is one of those rare classics you can still find in used-vinyl bins for $1-$5. Snap it up. -Buckley Mayfield