Psych and Prog

Weather Report “Sweetnighter” (Columbia, 1973)

Here’s the Weather Report album most loved by club DJs. The grooves these fusion virtuosi wrangle on Sweetnighter run hot, long, and thick.

From the get-go, keyboardist Joe Zawinul’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz” proves Weather Report aren’t messing around. Swift, swaggering, and suave, this is epic blaxploitation-film funk. The auxiliary percussion by Dom Um Romao (chucalho, bell, tambourine) and Muruga (Moroccan clay drums) really lifts this undulating python of a track to the next level of groove trigonometry. Another Zawinul-penned marathon, “125th Street Congress,” comes out of the gate growling and prowling, its loping, chunky funk ready to dazzle your legs for 12 freakin’ minutes. Miroslav Vitous’ bass is gravid and funky enough to get Miles Davis to strut (and he never danced) while Romao’s panoply of percussion toys get a serious workout. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s “Non-Stop Home” features phenomenally intricate and unconventionally funky drumming from Eric Gravatt and Herschel Dwellingham (think CAN’s Jaki Liebezeit circa Ege Bamyasi) while he blows an unusual melody. Wayne’s other composition, “Manolete,” boasts complex polyrhythms in a festive, almost prog-rock configuration. It’s one of his most anomalous and interesting tracks.

But Sweetnighter is not all dance-floor heat. Weather Report get sublimely moody here, too. Take Zawinul’s “Adios,” for example: It’s a beautiful, desolate, twinkling meditation clearly left over from his days composing with Miles Davis’ electric-era groups, especially circa In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. On Vitous’ “Will,” the group creates a shaker-heavy fantasia, its languid, Latin jazz introversion all subdued sublimity and subliminal slinkiness.

Make no mistake: Sweetnighter is one of the brightest jewels you can still find in bargain bins. -Buckley Mayfield

Neu! “Neu! ’75” (Brain, 1975)

Of their indomitable holy trinity of albums, Neu! ’75 tends to be these krautrock legends’ most overlooked full-length. (The less said of their mid-’80s dud, Neu! 4, the better.) Neu! ’75 lacks the first one’s groundbreaking motorik epicness of “Hallogallo” and the grand industrial-rock grind of “Negativland” and the second one’s crazy experiments (out of necessity) and the monster jam “Lila Engel.” But Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger’s third LP has plenty of reasons to stake a claim in the canon—and in your record collection.

“Isi” zippily starts ’75 with one of Rother’s most uplifting guitar and keyboard figures while Dinger smacks out Autobahn-cruising beats that metronomically turn over with engineering-major elegance. While this song’s playing, you will sense that all is right with the world, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. “Seeland” has the distinction of being culture-jamming group Negativland’s label name and of evoking an absolutely aching strain of melodic gorgeousness, a sundown resignation of existential gravitas. Dig how Rother’s guitar eloquently wails with a Robert Fripp-in-Düsseldorf grandeur. However, “Leb’Wohl” might be Neu!’s dullest moment. It’s the aural equivalent of sleepy-time tea; the musicians seem to be nodding off in the studio while waves lap in the background.

But don’t fret. “Hero” comes barging in with some of Neu!’s most conventionally hard-rocking bravado, as Dinger snarls proto-punk vocals about a hero riding through the city after his honey went to Norway, new drummer Hans Lampe chops out a staunch “Apache” beat, and Rother kerrangs heroically, as it were. In a better world, “Hero” would’ve been a hit on rock radio. “E-Musik” continues the band’s irresistible, ascending chug to the heavens, coming off like a more conflicted, less streamlined version of “Hallogallo.” It’s a 10-minute tribute to relentless forward motion, with Rother sending arcs of golden six-string light over the choppy rhythm. The coda is baffling, though: a grotesquely slowed voice literally evincing a snore, followed by Rother’s guitar part from “Seeland” entering, backward. “After Eight” closes the album with an anthemic gush of mercurial motorik pummeling. I’ve never in my life more wanted to floor it down the highway on a Harley-Davidson… okay, except for Can’s “Full Moon On The Highway.”

’75 should’ve been the record that broke Neu! Into mass consciousness, but alas, they remained a cult act—albeit one of the most influential ever in underground rock. -Buckley Mayfield

Dennis Coffey And The Detroit Guitar Band “Evolution” (Sussex, 1971)

Even if you’ve never heard Evolution in its entirety, you’ve likely heard bits and pieces of Dennis Coffey And The Detroit Guitar Band’s debut LP sampled in dozens of hip-hop tracks. Head over to whosampled.com and gawp at the profusion of producers who’ve used Coffey and company’s extravagant funk and lysergic guitar tones to punch up their own cuts. (“Scorpio” alone has been sampled or covered 104 times.)

So, yeah, Evolution can safely be considered a foundational building block of hip-hop. The album’s essentially divided into freaky psychedelic funk heaters and simmering mellow joints that still possess traces of funk in their trunks. In the latter style you’ve got “Summer Time Girl,” “Sad Angel,” “Wind Song,” “Garden Of The Moon” (the last sampled by P.M. Dawn for their track “Even After I Die” from their stellar 1991 debut LP). These songs spotlight Coffey’s nuanced melodic chops and unerring ability to write carefree tunes. It helps that he enlisted fellow Motown session badasses like Bob Babbitt (bass) and Jack Ashford (percussion), as well as Rare Earth’s Ray Monette (tenor guitar) and Joe Podorsek (baritone guitar).

As lovely as those pieces are, though, you go to Evolution for the pure, uncut funk. Album-opener “Getting It On” busts out the gate with guitar pyrotechnics that portend extraordinary action over a taut funk rhythm; Coffey gets off a wild wah-wah solo near the end foreshadowing many other moments here. Sampled by Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, and nine others, “Getting It On” is a potent way to start an album.

“Impressions Of” is the epitome of blaxploitation-flick funk. Bolstered by chikka-wakka guitar and laced with interludes of crystalline languidness, it makes you want to sprint 100 yards in 9 seconds flat. “Big City Funk” is exactly what it says on the tin. Thankfully, that big city is Detroit, and its innate funkiness is world-class and filthy as hell. Then there’s the radical makeover of “Whole Lot Of Love” [sic], which funks the fuck out of the Led Zeppelin metal-blues classic. Genius.

The record’s climax (and Coffey’s career peak), obviously, is “Scorpio,” one of the unlikeliest American hits ever, though eminently deserving that status. Very few instrumentals make the top 10 in the US, and the fact that there’s an extended drum/conga solo in the middle of the song further distinguishes “Scorpio” as an anomaly. Babbitt’s bass solo also is a master class in maximizing funkiness with minimal gestures. It’s no surprise why this track’s become a fixture in breakdancing circles.

As a lad growing up the Detroit area, I’d hear “Scorpio” on the radio and become transfixed by its galvanizing dynamics and percussive audacity. How could this be happening on a medium as humble as radio? It’s still a mystery—plus, Sussex was an indie label. (For additional appreciation of “Scorpio”’s greatness, go YouTube its airing on Soul Train. You won’t be sorry.)

In case you haven’t gathered by now, Evolution is a funk classic with sizzling psychedelic flourishes, and it still turns up occasionally in the wild at reasonable prices. Grip it with gusto. -Buckley Mayfield

The Ceyleib People “Tanyet” (Vault, 1968)

Here it is, the greatest raga-rock record that was ever jammed out by a bunch of session players in LA. Ry Cooder is the Ceyleib People’s best-known member, but the ad-hoc group also included guitarist/sitarist Mike Deasy (aka Lybuk Hyd), bassist/keyboardist Larry Knechtel, and drummer Jim Gordon, all of whose long lists of credits include plenty of Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inductees, even if they themselves largely have toiled in obscurity.

This is a short concept album with copious liner notes by Deasy. These notes drift into some prime late-’60s hippie mythos about peace and love and gods and goddesses, all of which coalesces into a sort of cosmic cautionary tale. Thankfully, the 12 brief songs are all instrumental, so you can simply immerse yourself in the music, if you so desire. But if you want to get a sense of the sensibility here, the title, Tanyet, is described as “Mother of all things. Natural essence of love and beauty. Captured in the meadows through the trees of life’s forest, like a ray of sunlight, giving life to the inner breath of all creatures.” I remember my first acid trip too…

The first side exudes paradisiacal vibes, almost like a white-male-rocker take on Alice Coltrane’s Journey In Satchidananda. Blissed-out sitar mellifluity and tamboura drones give way to some gnarled guitar riffing that sounds like Cooder repurposing some of the Safe As Milk ideas he spooled out for Captain Beefheart. Jim Horn’s lilting woodwinds lend things some warped Peter And The Wolf melodic motifs.

But the second side is where shit gets really deep. You can hear Gordon’s funky drumming coming to the fore while over the top the sitar and the guitars start to spangle and jangle to the heavens, eastward. There’s one passage in particular—during the tracks “Tygstl” and “Pendyl”—where the Ceyleib People lock in on a groove so funky and hypnotic it could almost be a foreshadowing of Miles Davis’ On The Corner—but sounding as if powered by ayahuasca rather than coke. It might be my favorite single moment in all of music, the quintessence of psychedelic rock in its full-blooming 1968ness. The band’s record company had the good sense to isolate this part of Tanyet for a 7-inch single, which you can currently find on Discogs for hundreds of dollars. Hurry while supplies last…

Thankfully, you can obtain Tanyet for far less than that sum, as it’s been reissued a handful of times in the 50 years since it blew open minds even farther open. -Buckley Mayfield

Sun Dial “Other Way Out” (Tangerine, 1990)

Other Way Out is one of those rare albums I’ve owned on three formats, and yet that sort of obsessiveness still seems inadequate to convey how much I love this album by Sun Dial, an English psych-rock group led by guitarist/vocalist Gary Ramon. No exaggeration, I must have played Other Way Out more than any other LP released in the ’90s—hundreds of times. So, why haven’t you heard it? (Apologies if you have and dig it.) This album should be canonical. But despite being reissued often since its original release in 1990, it nonetheless remains a mere cult favorite.

Part of the problem is that the many iterations of Other Way Out mostly have been issued by tiny labels, although in 2006, the big US indie Relapse put out a double CD with several bonus cuts. And then in 2010, the big UK indie Cherry Red did a nice vinyl re-release, so OWO is circulating, but it’s still not reaching as many people as it should. If everyone who’s raved about Mercury Rev’s overrated Deserter’s Songs owned Other Way Out, the world might be in a much better place.

LP-opener “Plains Of Nazca” starts in media res with Anthony Clough’s Vox Continental organ drone, then takes off with drummer Dave Morgan’s quasi-funky rhythm and golden spangles of electric guitar and a phantom angelic coo in the distance. Ramon’s voice is shrouded in a sick phaser effect (or is it being run through a Leslie speaker?) as he intones as if stoned immaculate a few psychedelic scenarios seemingly composed under the influence of Owsley. Clough’s organ solo is a fairground fantasia of pure spiral-eyed bliss. After clocking this stunning tune, one worries that Sun Dial may have peaked too early. But no. It gets better.

“Exploding In Your Mind” is practically the Platonic ideal of ’60s-via-’90s psychedelia, an upgrade on what the Dukes Of Stratosphear were doing, but with genuine, serious intent. The wah-wah power is strong with this one, and the whole song seems to be flowing through chartreuse magma. The refrain of “colors exploding in your mind” will induce said phenomenon—unless you’re a lysergic virgin, perhaps. This is the part where I always feel transported to a place beyond the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Suffused in a huge swirl of phaser and illuminated by Anthony Clough’s bamboo flute and Ramon’s florid acoustic guitar strums, “Magic Flight” offers a self-fulfilling prophesy of its title. What a spectacular dream.

If OWO had only consisted of these three songs, it would be glowing regally in the psych-rock pantheon. But there are yet more thrills ahead. On “World Without Time,” Sun Dial billow out some low-key, semi-baroque bliss rock with hints of early Pink Floyd, augmented by Morgan’s Turkish talking-drum percussion. With “She’s Looking All Around,” the band unveil a rococo power ballad that could—stay with me now—be an alternative universe “Stairway To Heaven” / “Nights In White Satin” hybrid. The record closes with “Lorne Blues,” the most menacing track here, a snarling, low-flying number not too far from what fellow British psych-rockers Loop were doing on Heaven’s End and Fade Out.

So, yeah, as you can see by this geyser of praise, I’ve been loving Other Way Out to death since its initial release 28 years ago. Now it’s your turn. -Buckley Mayfield

Cecil Leuter “Pop Electronique” (Neuilly, 1969)

Pop Electronique represents some kind of zenith of effusive, beat-heavy, Moogsploitation-leaning library music. The mad handiwork of French musician Roger Roger (1911-1995; that apparently was his real name), this record is a playground for Moog fanatics and electronic-music and hip-hop producers looking for outrageous samples. The 14 tracks here, each titled “Pop Electronique,” all running in the 1:30-2:40 range, have no vocals to get in the way of your Akai MPC pilferings. Leuter’s concision and precision pay huge dividends. There’s not one dull second on Pop Electronique.

The album begins with some a quirky, lopsided funk nugget that could be a ’90s track by Beck, Cibo Matto, or Money Mark. The next track spits out a spasmodic, rippling panoply of what sound like robot bird belches over hypnotically strummed guitars—groovy in a most peculiar way. A triumvirate of mod, go-go dance tracks that sound like they could score the most decadent, dexedrined orgy in cinematic history ensues. Leuter was getting into 101 Strings territory here, embellishing things with splenetic Morse code Moog cheeps and squeaks.

Whereas the LP’s first side abounds with hyper-kinetic party jams that are almost too fun, the flipside will make you flip in an entirely different manner. Pop Electronique gets stranger and more abstract as it goes, ending in a claustrophobic funhouse automaton nightmare of obsessive-compulsive zaps and spasms and repetitive conga hits. On track 10, the drums drop out and Leuter just lets loose with a wonderfully demented arpeggio splurge. On the 11th cut, he manifests a more abstract bleep and woob infestation similar to the hallucinatory work of Nik Raicevic, whose Head LP I reviewed on this blog last year. Cecil followed that one with a very discombobulated and stripped-down cha cha. It’s crazy to think the man was in his late 50s when he concocted these nutty tunes. I don’t know what Monsieur Leuter was on during the recording of Pop Electronique, but I want whatever it was.

(Dare-Dare reissued Pop Electronique in 2000, while Fifth Dimension unofficially re-released it in 2016. Read more about library music on Jive Time’s blog here.) -Buckley Mayfield

Takehisa Kosugi “Catch-Wave” (CBS/Sony, 1975)

It was only five months ago when I reviewed Taj Mahal Travellers’ August 1974 in this space, and sadly, on October 12, that group’s leader, Takehisa Kosugi, passed away at age 80. So, this seems like an opportune time to review the violinist/composer’s best-known solo work, Catch-Wave.

Consisting of two sidelong tracks, Catch-Wave is not a million kilometers from what Taj Mahal Travellers were doing. To recap: In my review, I wrote, “These Travellers sacralize your mind with an array of string instruments, mystical chants, bell-tree shakes, and Doppler-effected electronics that are as disorienting as they are transcendent.” Here, Kosugi improvises solo on violin and electronics to similar trance-inducing effect.

In the 26-minute “Mano-Dharma ’74,” Kosugi manifests a fantastically desolate and gently fried sound that falls somewhere among rarefied realms of Terry Riley’s “Poppy Nogoods All Night Flight,” Fripp/Eno’s “Swastika Girls,” and Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho soundtrack. The fibrillations and oscillations wax and wane with hallucinogenic force and logic while a steadfast drone woo-whoas in the middle distance. After a while, you begin to think of this track not so much as music as it is the alien babbling of a mysterious organism that’s eluded scientific study. This is very bizarre psychedelic minimalism, and I love it.

“Wave Code #E-1” clocks in at a mere 22 minutes, and features Kosugi’s deep, ominous voicings, in addition to a modulating drone that almost sounds like Tuvan throat-singing. Heard from one angle, it may seem like Kosugi is merely fucking around with the cavern of his thorax, like a child in front of the rotating blades of an air-conditioner. Heard from another angle, though, this piece comes off like the Doppler Effected groans of a woozy and weaving deity hell-bent on scaring the bejesus out of you. Somehow, this cut is even stranger than the very weird A-side… and I love it.

Besides helming Taj Mahal Travellers, Kosugi played in Group Ongaku, was part of the Fluxus movement, and acted as music director for Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1995-2011. He was one out-there cat, and he created some timeless music, of which Catch-Wave is a prime example. Rest easy, master musician.

[Note: The excellent Superior Viaduct label is reissuing Catch-Wave on Nov. 9] -Buckley Mayfield

Ananda Shankar “Ananda Shankar” (Reprise, 1970)

East-West musical fusions proliferated like mad in the ’60s and ’70s—hell, they’re still happening, if not as frequently as they used to when society as a whole was more open-minded and psychedelically inclined. Most of these efforts stem from Western musicians dabbling with Eastern forms. Indian sitarist/composer Ananda Shankar’s self-titled 1970 debut LP is the rare record where an Eastern musician tries his fleet-fingered hands at rock, and the result is fabulous.

For this album, Shankar only used one other Indian musician: tabla specialist Pranish Khan. The rest of the pick-up band included bassists Jerry Scheff (Elvis Presley, the Doors’ L.A. Woman) and Mark Tulin (Electric Prunes); drummer Michael Botts (Bread); guitarists Drake Levin (Paul Revere & The Raiders, Friendsound) and Dick Rosmini (Van Dyke Parks, Phil Ochs); and keyboardist/Moog savant Paul Lewinson. They serve him well.

Ananda (who was Ravi Shankar’s nephew) had the audacity to tackle two sacred cows of classic rock—the Rolling Stones and the Doors—and the skills to breathe vital new life into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Light My Fire.” The former is one of the greatest Rolling Stones covers ever. If you’re going to make a concession to rock conventions, this is the way to do it. The rhythm’s funked up to a humid degree, while Shankar leaves out most of the lyrics, with only the chorus chanted by women vocalists. Shankar’s sitar takes the lead and he really psychedelicizes and embellishes the main riff, while Paul Lewinson’s Moog accents contrast wonderfully with the sitar’s sanctified twangs. Even Mick and Keef would have to concur that this version is a gas gas gas. Meanwhile, Shankar’s “Light My Fire”—which is already very well-suited to Indian scales—fits the Doors’ original like a perfectly tailored Nehru jacket.

Shankar’s original compositions peak with “Metamorphosis,” a gorgeous, gradually unfolding, cinematic song that should have classed up a movie in the early ’70s in a montage where a couple grow deeper in love and/or attain a sexual climax. (Whoa, that frenzied ending!) “Sagar (The Ocean)”—the only track here played in the Indian classical style—consists of 13 minutes of glinting sitar spangles and brooding Moog fugues. It’s a totally hypnotic tone poem in Sanskrit and analog circuitry and a soundtrack for your most profound and chillest hallucinogen experience. “Dance Indra” is what you might hear in the hippest Indian restaurant in the Western world: a composition of ceremonial grandeur celebrating humanity’s highest emotions and most harmonious sentiments. The album closes with “Raghupati,” an exultant piece powered by celebratory Hindi chants, allegedly from 10 of Shankar’s friends, in praise of the deity Rama. It induces a glorious sense of well-being, and as a bonus, it’s powered by a funky rhythm.

Ananda Shankar is the rare East-West fusion record that works in the discotheque and in the temple. Bow down to its hedonistic holiness. -Buckley Mayfield

Shocking Blue “At Home” (Pink Elephant, 1969)

In America, Shocking Blue were archetypal one-hit wonders. And that one hit, “Venus,” is a definitive slab of sexy, late-’60s psych-pop that still gets the juices flowing. But you’d best believe these Dutch party-starters had much more to recommend them than that one global smash/ promiscuous chart-topper.

At Home offers a motherlode of instant charmers that encompass the familiar tropes of the era’s accessible end of the trippy-rock spectrum. Robbie van Leeuwen was an expert craftsman of indelible hooks, which he embroidered with acoustic and electric guitars, sitar, bass, and drums that unerringly hit the sweet spot between radiofriendliness and opium-den seductiveness. Vocalist Mariska Veres imbued his catchy-ass compositions with a domineering sensuality that made every listener feel like a lust object.

It would be overstatement to call Shocking Blue an “important” band, but they remain a remarkably durable font of pleasure-inducing songs. “Love Machine” is a deceptively funky, frilly Doors-like ditty that contains the immortal line, “the love machine makes the world turn around.” Truth bomb. “Poor Boy” is the closest SB got to a legit psychedelic freakout, while “Love Buzz” laid the foundation for Nirvana to do a bang-up job with this slinky, lubricious come-on of sike-pop on Bleach, making van Leeuwen an even richer man. Shit, dude deserves all the lucre he can get with tunes as mesmerizingly musky as this.

“Acka Raga” is the album’s peak and my favorite SB song. It’s a sitar-laced instrumental that epitomizes a certain strain of East-West intermingling that was flourishing at the end of the psychedelic ’60s. Shocking Blue pack so much erotic exotica into a little more than three minutes here. You could loop “Acka Raga” for a couple of hours and soundtrack a spectacular orgy with it. (Please invite me to that.)

At Home is a great place to start your Shocking Blue adventure. It’s fairly light entertainment, but damn, does it have staying power. (Trivia: Seattle boasted a Shocking Blue tribute band for many years called the Daemon Lovers. They were fantastic.) -Buckley Mayfield

Hapshash And The Coloured Coat “Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids” (Minit, 1967)

This album seemingly just materialized from the vapors of that heady year of 1967. It’s a freakish one-off, a slapdash, communal psychedelic happening magicked into existence by British graphic designers Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, with help from producer Guy Stevens and many other ringers and hangers-on (Groundhogs’ Tony McPhee, Tyrannosaurus Rex’s Mickey Finn, and some bloke named Brian Jones are in the mix). If the music lived up to its spectacular cover, it would be one of the greatest records of all time. It’s not quite in that echelon, but it is mighty great—especially for visual artists dabbling with music.

H-O-P-P-WHY” launches the album with a deep, primal chug that’s bolstered by barrelhouse piano—an approach that foreshadowed the Rolling Stones side project Jamming With Edward! It also sounds not too far off from what the Mothers Of Invention were doing on “Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet” from 1966’s Freak Out! LP. The spirited, chanting vocals and harmonica here recur throughout Featuring The Human Host And The Heavy Metal Kids, and I’m not complaining.

The awesomely titled “A Mind Blown Is A Mind Shown” is a tambourine-, harmonica-, and bongo-heavy hippie hoedown that nicely sets the scene for the LP’s zenith, “The New Messiah Coming 1985.” This cut is perhaps the biggest influence on krautrock demigods Amon Düül I; it’s a hypnotic mantra riding a basic, folkadelic, acoustic-guitar riff, unison chants (“WE ARE!”… “I AM!”), bells, finger cymbals, awesome gong splashes, and a clodhopping caveman beat. Honestly, if the whole album had been just 40 minutes of this, it would be a stone classic and everyone who heard “Messiah” would have a hard time not basing a religion around it. As it is, the song fades out right when it should be intensifying. Oh, well… maybe next lifetime. “Aoum” is more a kundalini-yoga chanting exercise than a song, but what do you expect from a track named after the sacred sound that signifies the essence of ultimate reality?

Empires Of The Sun” is a relentless, joyous romp that fills all of side 2. Hapshash throw in everything they’ve got in this maximalist über-jam, which appears to be tumbling down a mountainside in an avalanche while all of the group’s friends whoop, holler, intone “hari krishna” and “om,” and fake orgasms to the tumultuous freakout. There are also some of the wildest flute or ocarina trills you’ll ever hear. It’s a peak-time burner, for sure, and a helluva way to end a debut album.

Hapshash’s second full-length, Western Flier (1969), sounds little like this dazzling gem, going off in a corny, song-oriented direction that doesn’t play to their strengths. It’s shockingly bad, one of the biggest sophomore slumps in rock history. Little wonder Hapshash split after this, but wow, what an initial splash they made. -Buckley Mayfield

Spacemen 3 “Dreamweapon” (Fierce, 1990)

This anomaly in the sublime British space-rock group Spacemen 3’s catalog might be their headiest release, judging by how highly the true heads I know rank it. Inspired by minimalist composer La Monte Young, Dreamweapon is where Pete Kember, Jason Pierce, and company abandon rock and simply space the fuck out—at great length.

The two-part “An Evening Of Contemporary Sitar Music”—recorded live in London in 1988 by a full band—is a 44-minute study in patient, spangly guitar’d minimalism… with (spoiler alert) no sitar. Very little happens, but what does occur takes on a monumental importance. Over a foundation of murmuring oscillations (is it the sound of some god[dess] repeatedly guffawing? At least one acid trip suggested it was.), Pierce or Kember picks out a spidery, raga-like figure on electric guitar with laid-back insistence. As the piece progresses, the motif gains in intensity, and there’s a quote of “Just To See You Smile” from the Recurring LP. Does all this six-string foreplay build to a revelatory climax? No, it does not. However, you have to give “Dreamweapon” credit for this: It’s one helluva way to come down easy from a hallucinogen trip. I have first brain-cell experience with this scenario.

As for “Ecstasy In Slow Motion,” it’s doubtful there’s ever been more truth packed into one song title. This may be hard to believe, but there seems to be a harmonium drone humming underneath a shivering guitar that’s wailing a prayer to the electricity gods and then swirling skyward into a celestial orb of blinding light. This music is the elixir of eternal sonic truth, your most powerful, extended orgasm transferred into sine waves. Whenever I listen to this track, I always feel as if I’m dissolving into some sort of divine essential oil. It really is the best shit ever. “Spacemen Jam,” by contrast, is a desolate, bare-bones blues meditation that comes as something of an anticlimax after unprecedented heights of “Ecstasy In Slow Motion”—but what wouldn’t?

Dreamweapon has had many iterations, most of them on CD. Earlier this year, though, the great Superior Viaduct label reissued Dreamweapon on 2xLP with the two bonus tracks originally found on Space Age Recordings’ 2004 CD re-release and liner notes by Spacemen 3/Spiritualized bassist Will Carruthers. I highly recommend you get the Superior Viaduct version. -Buckley Mayfield

McDonald And Giles, “McDonald And Giles” (Island, 1970)


McDonald And Giles sounds like the name of a high-level law firm, but it actually was the evanescent project of multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and drummer Michael Giles, who played on King Crimson’s groundbreaking 1969 LP, In The Court Of The Crimson King. (Michael’s brother Peter plays bass on McDonald And Giles.) They left the band following a US tour that year, although Michael Giles helped out on King Crimson’s second album, In The Wake Of Poseidon. It was one and done for Ian and Michael, but oh what a relic they left behind.

McDonald And Giles begins with the multi-part epic “Suite In C,” which exudes an elegance and pulchritudinous intricacy that were the province of British prog-rock musicians of the late ’60s and early ’70s. What I mean is, there was a post-Sgt. Pepper’s frou-frou quality that mated with the folkadelia of Pentangle, Incredible String Band, and Fairport Convention to form a pastoral, beatific sound that transported you to Elysian Fields—but in a very circuitous manner. This was beyond the ken of Americans. Although there is a point at 7-and-a-half minutes in when the song swerves into a parody of old-timey genres à la the United States Of America’s “I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar,” so I contradict myself. Sorry.

“Flight Of The Ibis” is startlingly similar to KC’s lilting, gorgeous ballad “Cadence & Cascade,” but “Ibis” is even more sublime and as fragilely spectacular as peak Left Banke. Somehow, Giles just nudges out Greg Lake for vocal poignancy. Whenever I play this zither-enhanced tune in a DJ set, I’m disappointed when the whole bar or club isn’t in tears and hugging one another. Similarly, “Is She Waiting?” is a melancholy ballad with spindly acoustic guitar and piano that can hold its own with the Zombies, Moody Blues, and White Album-era Beatles.

McDonald And Giles‘ zenith is the Giles-penned “Tomorrow’s People – The Children Of Today,” which contains some of the most robust, funky drums in prog history. No wonder the Beastie Boys sampled it for “Body Movin’”; it’s surprising more hip-hop producers haven’t leveraged its meaty hits. McDonald’s flute takes flight in a display of rococo jauntiness while Michael Blakesley’s trombone and McDonald’s clarinet form soar in an incomparable effusion of optimism. We could all benefit from shooting this horn chart into our veins daily.

The 21-minute suite “Birdman” features former KC lyricist Peter Sinfield scripting another many-tentacled composition, this time about a man who learns how to fly. This is one of those sidelong marathons that flaunt McDonald and Giles’ prog inventiveness and eclecticism (freakbeat, jazz, churchy organ prog, orchestral soundtrack bombast, etc.). It’s not all amazing, but the ambition is breathtaking.

If you dig the first two King Crimson albums, you should check out McDonald And Giles—and maybe sample that killer drum break in “Tomorrow’s People” while you’re at it. -Buckley Mayfield