Psych and Prog

Rotary Connection “Aladdin” (Cadet Concept, 1968)

Sprawling multiracial/multi-gendered Chicago-based ensemble Rotary Connection were the Sly & The Family Stone of the Midwest. Over the course of six albums from 1967 to 1971, Rotary Connection achieved a zenith-y fusion of loose, hippie-rock dynamics and orchestral-soul flamboyance—as well as a knack for bizarre, enchanting reconfigurations of other artists’ songs. Arranged by the studio genius Charles Stepney, this music should’ve been topping charts and entering critical canons and selling out arenas. But, alas, heads weren’t quite ready. And while some 21st-century sticks in the mud might grumble about Rotary Connection sounding “dated,” I would counter that observation with “What a time stamp for a band to carry for eternity!”

Rotary Connection’s second album, Aladdin more effectively flaunts the group’s songwriting chops than does their cover-heavy 1967 debut full-length—which, I hasten to add, is fantastic in its own way, too. “Life Could” sets the tone with a flourish; it’s like if Blood, Sweat & Tears had more finesse, more soul, and better vocalists. Rotary Connection’s not-so-secret weapon, Minnie Riperton, establishes her dominance right away, her solar-powered range and emotional depth propelling the song to heights most rock groups cannot dream of reaching. “Life Could” is a paragon of horn-rock bombast and grandstanding psychedelic soul. Holy shit, what an opening salvo… And it’s followed by the aptly soaring “Teach Me How To Fly,” a tune nearly hysterical with hope and inspirational brio. Two tracks in, and the listener may already be overwhelmed.

“Let Them Talk” downshifts the tempo a bit, as its intro of Lothar And The Hand People-like quirkiness blossoms into a rambling slice of Free Design-esque sunshine pop, before it deviates into a withering critique of squares who can’t handle “hippies, yippies, and freaks.” This song may make you think of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band at their most cynical. Written by Japanese psych-pop phenom Harumi Ando, “I Took A Ride (Caravan)” finds Stepney and company blowing out the original to a phenomenal psychedelic swirl of sitar, harp, strings, and horns, with Riperton shining at her most dulcet. The title cut is a mellow, Motown-like stormer with strings, flute, and cloud-busting chorus. It’s an absurd sunburst of optimism, especially when heard with a set of 2018 ears.

While “Magical World” broods with a lush 5th Dimension/Supremes glow, “I Must Be There” comes off like a more ornate and sophisticated take on what the Beatles were attempting on “The Inner Light” or what It’s A Beautiful Day tried to achieve on their symphonic-psych debut LP. “I Feel Sorry” puts similar efforts by late-’60s Moody Blues into the shade, bolstered by a serpentine guitar solo worthy of SRC’s Gary Quackenbush. But “Paper Castle”—an ostentatious anthem about the fragility of civilization—steals the show. It’s an ultimate album-closer, radiating an ecstasy that borders on the apocalyptic. The ambition here is off the scales, the bombast as baroque as heaven.

While every Rotary Connection album has much to offer—even the holiday-themed PeaceAladdin is the work that best demonstrates their compositional brilliance and whip-smart dynamics. Fifty years after its release, this cult classic can still be found for relatively low prices in used bins… at least for now. -Buckley Mayfield

Butthole Surfers “Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis” (Touch And Go, 1985)

For a stopgap EP released between two mind-boggling LPs, Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis sure has had legs. Three of its four songs became staples in Butthole Surfers’ live sets and lead track “Moving To Florida” has become the pinnacle of blues mockery/homage among white rock groups. And the title Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis exists on a whole other level of sacrilegious brilliance, to boot.

Slotted between Psychic…Powerless…Another Man’s Sac and Rembrandt Pussyhorse in the Surfers discography, Cream Corn finds these Texas psychonauts flexing blues, psych-rock, industrial, and country-rock muscles with rude intensity. I’ve heard “Moving To Florida,” a ludicrous send-up of blues-singer machismo, over a hundred times, and it still cracks me up. No, I can’t believe it, either. Most songs that lean heavily on humor begin to pall after a few listens, but “Moving To Florida” has retained its absurdist potency for over three decades. Every line out of Gibby Haynes’ mashed-potatoes-filled mouth—uttered between bursts of spasmodic blues-rock demolition—is a comedic gem. I’m tempted to cut and paste the whole lyric sheet here, but a few examples should suffice. “I’m going to move down to Florida/And you know I’m gonna have to potty-train the Chairman Mao/…I’m gonna grind me a White Castle Slider out of India’s sacred cow/…They be making tadpoles the size of Mercurys down in Florida/That be telling Julio Iglesias what to sing.” Fuck me running, Gibby’s a walking advertisement for the rewards of daily hallucinogen-gobbling.

“Comb” sounds like a Big Black song being played at 16 rpm. It’s a sluggish, brutish slab of disorienting industrial-music waste that you should play for your worst enemy; I mean this as a compliment. “To Parter” begins with the Surfers’—and indeed any band’s—most ominous riff (thanks to mad-genius guitarist Paul Leary), building to a tumultuous, sinister, psychedelic ordeal that makes you feel as if you’re being sucked into a vortex of bilge water. “And all the teachers who were flunkies/They all taught you and me,” Haynes bellows, before he approximates the gibbering and wailing of a dementia patient. “Tornadoes” ends the EP with scathing, speedy punk-rock as played by maniacs, becoming ever more unhinged as the song progresses. You could probably see this sort of finale coming, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling.

Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis (did showbiz legend Sammy, the subject of the title, ever hear it, one wonders?) is an essential piece of the crazy puzzle that is Butthole Surfers’ catalog. -Buckley Mayfield

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

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

Ibliss “Supernova” (Aamok, 1972)

Ibliss are not a household name—even in households that contain plenty of krautrock albums. And that’s not right. The German group’s lone full-length, Supernova, may have failed to gain vast mindshare due to their propensity to jam for extended periods and to eschew typical rock song structures with verses and choruses; the four tracks here average over 10 minutes in length. Nevertheless, Supernova belongs in your collection, and though you’re probably not affluent enough to afford an original, Spain’s blessed Wah Wah Records came through again with a reissue in 2009. Do not sleep on it.

With a lineup featuring Andreas Hohmann, who drummed on Kraftwerk’s brain-blasting first LP (the one with the red and white traffic cone on the cover; one of those early joints that Kraftwerk maddeningly don’t want you to hear) and Basil Hammoudi, percussionist for the crucial pre-Kraftwerk unit Organisation, Ibliss had serious krautrock credentials. You can hear those members’ percussive might and skill on the opening track, “Margah.” It’s a rhythmic fusillade with sporadic chants, and it really grabs your attention. When Rainer Büchel’s sax comes spiraling in with feral verve and Wolfgang Buellmeyer’s Santana-esque guitar leaves stinging welts on your ears, the track elevates to a whole ‘nother level of jazz-rock sublimity. Complex yet funky and hypnotic, “Margah” bursts with humid life.

By contrast, “Drops” is sly as hell, creeping in on wispy flute and tintinnabulating bells before blossoming into a low-key psych-rock journey to the center of your pineal gland, with ample cowbell action, billowing sax, and piercing flute. It’s a deft exercise in gradually layering elements and intensifying every instrument until an elegant catharsis is attained. Then in the last couple of minutes, all the elements swirl as if in a vortex, leading to a certifiably psychedelic and dazzlingly disorienting conclusion.

If Supernova has a hit single, it’s “High Life,” an unstoppable 13-minute epic of churning and sparse funk. The track canters with a military precision that would make the Meters and CAN proud, but the rococo flute filigrees keep the freak flag flying. “Athir” closes the album with a peaceful, spacious lament led by melancholy flute and an array of percussion toys. It’s in the same family of pregnantly tense songs as Pink Floyd’s “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun.” Lofty company, but totally justified. If all this ain’t enough, Supernova is engineered by krautrock’s Lee “Scratch” Perry, Conny Plank. Uh-huh.

/So, I’ve done my part to help make Ibliss a household name. Now it’s your turn. -Buckley Mayfield

Brainticket “Cottonwoodhill” (Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, 1971)

Spoken of in hushed tones by people who’ve eaten their weight in hallucinogens, Cottonwoodhill lives up to the hype. However, not everyone will dig the monomaniacal groove that dominates 26 of the album’s 34 minutes. It’s a helluva groove, granted, but some people have trouble with that sort of obsessive repetition. So, be forewarned.

Brainticket always get classified as “krautrock,” but they were based in Switzerland and their leader, keyboardist/flautist Joel Vandroogenbroeck, is Belgian; the other players on this LP hail from Italy and Germany. Whatever the case, these musicians created one of the most notorious head-wreckers in the rock pantheon. The warning on the inner gatefold—“Only listen once a day to this record. Your brain might be destroyed!”—is only slightly hyperbolic.

The album’s first song, “Black Sand,” starts in mid-gallop, born ready to sprint to the vortex of your cortex and stimulate the hell out of it. One of the great lead-off tracks in rock history, it’s a glinting slash of acid rock, marked by Ron Bryer’s burning liquid guitar leads, Vandroogenbroeck’s brash organ avalanches, and the most wicked, hollowed-out vocals (run through a Leslie speaker?). For most bands, “Black Sand” would be an album peak, but not here. Oh, no. Just you wait. “Places Of Light” is the mellow jam before the storm, with a mellifluous flute motif, poet Dawn Muir’s stoned intonations, and snarling organ riffs that would give Brian Auger Hammond envy.

So, about that peak… The two-part “Brainticket” begins with traffic/vehicle/horn sounds, out of which coalesces an über-repetitive master riff: a grinding, staccato behemoth of psychedelic propulsion that’s geared to zoom in and out for eternity. It’s the eventful foundation over which Muir rambles lysergically—hissing, gasping, groaning, and moaning the play-by-play of her harrowing LSD misadventure while what could be explosions in an analog-synth and Theremin factory transpire in the background. The whole track’s an existential freakout of frighteningly surrealistic intensity.

The first time I heard this album, I myself was on ac*d, and let me tell you, “Brainticket” loosened my already-tenuous grasp of reality, transporting me directly into the brains of the mad European musicians concocting this disorienting psych-concrète maelstrom. (It’s no mystery why Nurse With Wound sampled the main theme for their “Brained By Falling Masonry.”) “Brainticket” inevitably ends in cataclysmic cacophony, one woman’s awry trip alchemized into one of the most delirious psychedelic experiences on wax. You can’t not feel wrung out after listening to it. They don’t make ’em like this anymore… because most folks just can’t handle that level of madness… plus, it’s hard to market.

(The Lilith label reissued Cottonwoodhill in 2010, so you don’t need to spend three figures to hear this masterpiece on vinyl.) -Buckley Mayfield

Phil Upchurch “The Way I Feel” (Cadet, 1970)

ORCHESTRA ARRANGED AND CONDUCTED BY CHARLES STEPNEY” it reads under the title of The Way I Feel, and if that doesn’t sell you on this album, then I don’t know what to tell you. Because Stepney, as you should know, was a studio wizard who conjured certified magic for Rotary Connection, Minnie Riperton, Marlena Shaw, Ramsey Lewis, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and other talented musicians in Chicago during the ’60s and ’70s. But, of course, there’s more to The Way I Feel than Stepney’s exceptional ideas. Phil Upchurch—who also played with Rotary Connection and several other Stepney-associated artists—is a wonderfully expressive, virtuosic guitarist and bassist who issued a grip of very good LPs in the era mentioned above, including this one. (I don’t waste my time with mediocrity, dig?)

It must be said that this album contains its share of fluff—albeit sophisticated, extremely well-played and arranged fluff. Two Gordon Lightfoot covers? Not sure that’s totally necessary. Those E-Z listenin’, airy fantasias plus Quincy Jones/Cynthia Weil’s “Time For Love (Is Any Time)” find Upchurch in restrained, contemplative mode, offering classy dinner music. Similarly, the effervescent soul pop of “Wild Wood,” buoyed by a bevy of female backing vocalists singing “Hey baby, sha la la sha la la la,” is rather lightweight compared to Upchurch’s best material.

Much better is “Peter, Peter,” an Irwin Rosman composition that Upchurch turns into serpentine psychedelia while flaunting his mercurial jamming skills and facility for shifting between phenomenal fuzz and crystalline tones. Other highlights include “I Don’t Know,” a “Willie The Pimp”-style slab of nasty blues rock, and “Pretty Blue,” a laid-back, lascivious instrumental.

But with “Electrik Head,” Upchurch perversely saves the best for last. And, whoa, holy shit! It’s a career-peak song, an effusion of translucent guitar pyrotechnics, a cascade of icy, pointillist, tonal eloquence. I’ve played this psychedelic mind-blower in many a DJ set, and will continue to do so for as long as I can. Because I like to make a room full of people stop their chatter, put down their drinks, and gawk in amazement at the Hendrix-level sorcery going on here. Because it’s one of the greatest pieces of music the 20th century has yielded. Because I’m a sonic philanthropist who wants to take you to (Up)church. -Buckley Mayfield

The Dukes Of Stratosphear “25 O’Clock” (Virgin, 1985)

When 25 O’Clock came out 32 years ago, it sounded at once like a prank and a homage. That it was released on April 1 convinced many that it was indeed more the former. The cover screamed love for Cream’s Disraeli Gears, the pseudonyms hinted at British whimsy, and the music approximated the various permutations of late-’60s psych-rock with a maniacal fan’s ear for detail. When it emerged that the Dukes Of Stratosphear were actually the popular new-wave group XTC and not a forgotten gaggle of acid-gobblers from two decades earlier, some listeners kind of soured on the premise, but many others said fuck it, who cares—this record rules, no matter if it hadn’t been languishing in some vault, unheard and accruing legendary status. Count me in the latter bunch.

A concise, perfectly formed six-song EP, 25 O’Clock begins with the title track, a serpentine stormer in the vein of Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night,” with an organ sound akin to Chick Corea’s on “Imp’s Welcome,” of all things. It’s an obsessive love song about a bond that transcends the ordinary parameters of time, and it’s a sure sign that the Dukes know their ’60s psychedelia over under sideways down. “Bike Ride To The Moon” effervesces in the same sonic playground in which Syd Barrett frolicked, capturing the late Pink Floyd leader’s knack for loony melodies and beautifully chaotic song structure. You can totally imagine this song on The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.

“My Love Explodes” is simply one of the most exciting songs ever, an adrenalized agglomeration of nearly every trick in the psych-rock playbook. A bonkers rave-up that could singe the hair off the Yardbirds and Count Five, it evokes an LSD trip that’s simultaneously exhilarating and harrowing. Perhaps too predictably, it ends with a “7 And & Is”-like explosion and a recording of a nerd vehemently dissing the song. Talk about a buzzkill… But all returns to bliss with “What In The World??…” an oneiric inversion of’ “Rain” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”—two of the Beatles’ greatest compositions.

“Your Gold Dress” offers more Pink Floyd worship; it’s a minor-key, low-slung snake-charmer of a tune bolstered by liberal usage of vocal FX, backward phased guitars, sitar-ized guitar, and harpsichord. The EP’s peak may be “The Mole From The Ministry,” a blatant revamp of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but “Mole”—replete with a Mellotron motif that would make the Moody Blues weep and a false, backward-sucking false ending that summons a phantom “I buried Paul” in your mind’s ear—makes the Beatles’ paragon of creepy psych comedown seem like a bit of teatime frippery.

Yes, 25 O’Clock is pastiche, but it’s the pinnacle of pastiche. It’s my favorite work by XTC, and I’m still not sick of it a hundred listens later. -Buckley Mayfield

Yatha Sidhra “A Meditation Mass” (Brain, 1974)

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The favorite album of no less an authority than Ultima Thule co-owner Alan Freeman (who also wrote the crucial krautrock encyclopedia The Crack In The Cosmic Egg), A Meditation Mass is a German kosmische rock klassik. It’s a product from that insanely fecund time when German freaks sought myriad ways to bust out of Anglo-American rock’s standard operating procedures. Which means that Yatha Sidhra’s Meditation Mass—ushered into existence partially thanks to experimental guitarist Achim Reichel’s publishing company, Gorilla Musik—shrugged off trad rock’s blues roots and explored a looser, more outward-bound strain of sonic journeying.

Led by brothers Rolf and Klaus Fichter, Yatha Sidhra deployed Moog, flute, vibes, electric piano, guitars, drums, and bass to cast their elongated spells over this four-part Meditation Mass. The nearly 18-minute part 1 calmly unfolds electric guitar spirals, peaceful flute wisps, and gently tumbling drums in the vein of Pink Floyd’s “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun,” but this is even more laid-back. The unhurried pace and contemplative aura thoroughly ease your mind, inducing a heightened sense of well-being.

Part 2—by far the shortest section at three minutes—could be the radio track, ja? It begins as a stolid, melancholy trudge, then shifts into an uptempo Soft Machine-like prog-jazz canter. Sadly, only in a much more enlightened world would this piece enter the earshot of more than the most serious heads. The 12-minute part 3 picks up where part 2 left off. If you’re into serpentine flute flights in a space-rock context (and who in their right mind isn’t?), this movement will give your sweet spot goose bumps. It eventually achieves a fiery, jazzy lift-off into Passport-esque complexity and density. Peak moment, for sure. With part 4, Yatha Sidhra attain a cyclical resolution, as the track reverts to the opening segment’s tranquil trance mode.

While I don’t rate A Meditation Mass as highly as the good Mr. Freeman does, I do think it’s an outstanding record. Listening to its undulant 40-minute trip, I feel as if I’m gliding toward the vanishing point where the sun drops into the sea, cool breeze tickling my neck hairs, not a goddamn worry in my head.

Peace. Out. -Buckley Mayfield

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

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

 

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