Album Reviews

Lou Reed “Hudson River Wind Meditations” (Sounds True, 2007)

Lou Reed’s final album—originally released only on CD, but receiving a vinyl reissue by Light In The Attic on January 12—was as much an outlier in the revolutionary rocker’s catalog as Metal Machine Music. Hudson River Wind Meditations‘ title telegraphs its sonic tranquility; the four-track album’s essentially a 180º counterpoint to the beautifully abrasive 1975 noise opus mentioned above. It’s Reed in “IDGAF about anything but my own peace of mind mode,” and, after all of the groundbreaking work he did with the Velvet Underground and the occasional shafts of brilliance of his solo career, Lou certainly earned the right to go as insular as he did here.

Reed generated these ambient compositions to soundtrack his recited meditations that his acupuncturist had recorded for him. Gradually, they morphed into music to score his Tai Chi and yoga sessions. Wind Meditations‘ value lies primarily in its two longest pieces, totaling an hour of beatless peacemongering. “Move Your Heart” consists of nearly 29 minutes of wombient swells that wax and wane with solemn dignity. The track is, in fact, meditative as well as a soothing soundbath to ease you into slumber. There’s a desolation at the core of “Move Your Heart” that makes me think it could have come out on Pete Namlook’s ambient label, FAX, if Reed had released it in the mid ’90s. The piece changes very minutely throughout its epic duration, so those with short attention spans or who thought that “Sister Ray” was a grueling endurance test will bow out well before its end.

“Find Your Note” offers yet another marathon listen (31:35—make yourself comfortable). Its interiorized drones, refrigerator-on-the-fritz hum, and microbial feedback sculpting recall Coil’s Time Machines project, all of whose tracks were named after hallucinogenic drugs. It also reminds me of Folke Rabe’s What??, which I’ve used for many an acid-trip comedown. “Find Your Note” is a supreme zone-out performance, to be sure.

The final two much shorter works somewhat come off as afterthoughts. “Hudson River Wind (Blend The Ambience)” combines recordings of sea breezes with wisps of piercing synth or guitar tones while “Wind Coda” is a striated and muted chiaroscuro of high and low frequencies that’s as austere as an Éliane Radigue piece, with waves of aquatic ambience gradually overtaking the composition.

Let’s not kid ourselves: Hudson River Wind Meditations will only appeal to a small fraction of Reed’s rock-loving fan base. The main audience for this record? Those who appreciate Metal Machine Music‘s conceptual perversity, hardcore ambient heads, and Lou completists. It’s a fascinating curio in the career of an artist whose creative restlessness yielded many more interesting experiments than uninspired flubs. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Hovercraft “Experiment Below” (Mute/Blast First, 1998)

Seattle trio Hovercraft have unjustly vanished from the Discourse™. You never see them mentioned during discussions of greatest bands/albums of the ’90s or even talk of best groups out of Seattle, which is a shame. Not even opening for Mike Watt in their early days—with Eddie Vedder on drums—lifted Hovercraft’s profile very high, though it likely helped them to get signed to Mute Records.

During Hovercraft’s existence (1993-2001), guitarist Campbell 2000 (Ryan Campbell), bassist Sadie 7 (Beth Liebling), and drummer Dash 11 (Ric Peterson) piloted a unique strain of space rock that was as psychedelic and baffling as a chemical equation. Their second and final (and best) album, Experiment Below, features seven tracks that all segue into one another—a series of outrageous jams that ebbs and flows like rivers of magma down a volcano.

Hovercraft were masters of quiet-and-loud dynamics, their lulls portending imminent terror, their crescendos explosive and extreme. The band forever kept you on edge, waiting for the next comet on fire or supernova to come to pass. Everything on their records (and during their live performances, if you were lucky enough to catch them) seems spontaneous, yet also precision-tooled. It’s a wonderful paradox.

Experiment Below‘s songs are rather long and vocal-free, and their intricacy and spurts of sculpted noise, power chords, and ice-pick tinglings never let you fully get your bearings. Some folks might flash on the longest cuts from Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates Of Dawn or the French band Spacecraft’s 1978 LP Paradoxe as Hovercraft touchstones, but Experiment Below hits with more brutality and scientific rigor than those classic works. Plus, Hovercraft’s fascination with technology’s effect on human physiology and psychology—judging from their song titles—sets them apart from most of their sonic peers.

Experiment Below has never been reissued, probably because it didn’t sell well during its initial run. That’s a sad commentary on the music public’s taste, but most things are. Last year would’ve been opportune for a 25th-anniversary edition, but alas, no. As with most ’90s records, you’ll likely have an easier time scoring the CD than the vinyl (one US dealer is selling the LP on Discogs for $200!), but as the Pop Group sang, where there’s a will, there has got to be a way. Lastly, if you dig Hovercraft, you should seek out the self-titled record by Schema, their 2000 collab with Stereolab’s Mary Hansen. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Rotary Connection “Peace” (Cadet Concept, 1968)

As an agnostic and person of refined taste, I loathe damn near all Christmas music. Always have, always will. However, I do find an infinitesimal percentage of recordings made to celebrate this bloated holiday to be tolerable. On my short list of listenable albums dedicated to xmas, Peace by the Chicago psychedelic-soul ensemble Rotary Connection certainly deserves a special spot under the tree. The fact that they focus on originals amid their freaky interpretations of “Silent Night” sure helps nudge this LP into the victory column, as do the impeccable arranging skills of Charles Stepney.

Beginning with expected solemnity, the first of three versions of “Silent Night” softly explodes into an elegantly chaotic guitar solo, frenetic, Keith Moon-like drumming, and a concatenation of bells. Somebody spiked the eggnog with LSD, praise Jesus! The second rendition’s more traditional in structure, but again boasts some outré guitar fireworks. Finally, “Silent Night Chant” deploys a slinky, funky rhythm in its serpentine, psych-rock reconfiguration of this overplayed Austrian carol. I just might spin it in my next DJ set.

Elsewhere, “Last Call For Peace” is wild-spirited orchestral soul that will make you want eradicate war forever. “Christmas Child” is smooth, progressive soul that challenges the lushest Supremes songs of the era for over-the-top production and arrangement honors. With Stepney and vocalist Minnie Riperton in tow, nothing succeeds like excess. The ballad “If Peace Was All We Had” sweeps and soars like peak-era Brian Wilson and Scott Walker and is a silky wonder of vocal layering.

The record’s not all good, sadly. “Shopping Bag Menagerie” and “Sidewalk Santa” are over-egged schmaltz. Overall, though, Peace performs the miraculous feat of nullifying my perennial “bah humbug” attitude for about 40 minutes. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Dorothy Ashby “Afro-Harping” (Cadet, 1968)

What are the odds that two of the greatest jazz harpists would hail from Detroit? Pretty damn small. But Alice McLeod (later Coltrane) and Dorothy Ashby did indeed come from the Motor City, and both helped to define this rarefied instrument, which, of course, heard more in classical-music concert halls than in jazz clubs. In another parallel between Ashby and Coltrane, both artists have gained much greater notoriety after their deaths than during their lifetimes. Better late than never, I guess…

Ashby established a modest rep in the 1950s and ’60s as an improvising, versatile harpist, playing with jazz luminaries such as Richard Davis, Jimmy Cobb, Ed Thigpen, and others, and releasing solid albums such as Hip Harp and In A Minor Groove. As the ’60s progressed, she began to move from bop to soul, funk, Middle Eastern, African, and Brazilian styles. The ’70s saw Ashby garner high-profile session dates with stars such as Stevie Wonder, Minnie Riperton, Billy Preston, and Bill Withers.

But it was Afro-Harping, recorded for the hip Chicago label Cadet, that really turned on folks—especially hip-hop producers and crate-diggers—to Ashby’s rich catalog… albeit posthumously (she passed away in 1986 at age 53). It’s frustrating that the LP bears no detailed credits, as the unidentified orchestra (conducted by Richard Evans, who also worked with Rotary Connection, Marlena Shaw, Ramsey Lewis, and Soulful Strings) and other instrumentalists are in phenomenal form here.

The record begins with the Evans-penned “Soul Vibrations,” one of the greatest opening tracks ever. Orchestral funk that swaggers with cool menace, the song’s lightened by Ashby’s pointillistically pretty harp plucks, like diamonds decorating an encroaching tank. This unique banger has dazzled up many a DJ set of mine. Not gonna lie: it’s surprising that “Soul Vibrations” only been sampled seven times, according to Whosampled.

After that early peak, things get a bit lighter in tone. “Games” is stealthy, oddly metered cha-cha that casts an utterly delightful spell, while “Action Line” peddles debonair, breezy samba-jazz in the Cal Tjader/Gary McFarland vein. The feathery and alluring “Theme From ‘Valley Of The Dolls'” (written by André and Dory Previn) and the Bacharach/David standard “The Look Of Love” prove that Ashby could thrive in a pop context. Ashby certainly put her delicately tantalizing stamp on the latter. And the way her serene harp flourishes interact with the aggressively bobbing bass line and trilling flute is breathtaking.

Those seeking high-quality funk should gravitate toward the title track, which was cowritten by Rotary Connection’s godly session guitarist/bassist Phil Upchurch. This groovy and swinging jam would segue well out of Ramsey Lewis’ “The ‘In’ Crowd.” Another funky nugget is “Come Live With Me,” whose languorous, seductive funk almost sounds like a precursor to trip-hop. Unsurprisingly, it’s been sampled over two dozen times.

If you dig Afro-Harping, you’ll likely also flip for Ashby’s less poppy and more global-music-savvy The Rubáiyát Of Dorothy Ashby (1970). You’re most likely to encounter the unofficial 2022 reissue of Afro-Harping on Audio Clarity and the 2018 reissue on Geffen. Fans may also be interested in this year’s 6xLP Ashby box set, With Strings Attached (1957-1965). Every era of Ashby’s truncated career has treasures to offer. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Telex “This Is Telex” (Mute, 2021)

I’m not in the habit of reviewing greatest-hits and best-of releases for this blog, but sometimes the curation is so strong and the discography of the artist diffuse enough in quality that it makes sense to do so. Such is the case with This Is Telex, a 14-song overview of the influential Brussels trio Telex.

Belgium’s answer to Yellow Magic Orchestra and Yello, Telex consisted of of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman, and Michel Moers. Before he formed Telex, Moulin was a prog-jazz genius in the group Placebo, whom crate-diggers/hip-hop producers worship with a reverence usually reserved for the likes of Melvin Bliss and Incredible Bongo Band. Few musicians from Moulin’s realm made the transition to synthwave-pop/cult status, which in itself is innately fascinating. (Rainbow keyboardist Tony Carey comes to mind, but even that’s a stretch; Kraftwerk obviously were influential on synthwave, but were never of it.)

Telex come across as arch keyboard/drum-machine virtuosos slumming it in the nascent synth-pop scene (they even entered that bastion of fromage overload, the Eurovision contest) and then realized that, “Hey, we’re enjoying this more than we thought and the hipsters are slurping it up.” It seems like this comp should’ve come out 10-12 years ago, the better to capitalize on the renewed interest in minimal/synthwave, but better late than never—Mute probably had to cut through thickets of record-company red tape to seal the deal.

This Is Telex begins grandly with a a radical reinvention of Sonny Bono’s ubiquitous 1967 hit “The Beat Goes On,” turning the groovy pop nugget into a chunky, bleepy slab of electro-funk, its rhythm uncannily foreshadowing Soul II Soul’s 1989 hit, “Back To Life.” (This album’s the only place you can find “The Beat Goes On/Off.”) The interpretation establishes Telex as masters of transformative covers. Another excellent example of this is “Dance To The Music,” in which the trio transform Sly &The Family Stone’s 1968 hit into silver-lamé’d robo-disco with diseased talkbox vocals. Telex excised the soul and funk from the original, but their makeover is still a riot that’ll have crowds laughing as much as they’re dancing. They’ve reproduced the absurdist, poker-faced effect that Flying Lizards had with “Money” and Devo had with “Satisfaction.”

More alchemy occurs on “La Bamba,” as Telex convert this traditional Mexican folk song into laggard trip-hop—no easy feat. On “The Number One Song In Heaven,” they bring a dash of poignancy to Sparks’ ebullient, Giorgio Moroder-produced original while slowing the tempo to an elegant shuffle. Speaking of Sparks, this comp features two collabs with the Mael brothers: “Drama Drama” and “ Exercise Is Good For You.” This joint venture—the Maels wrote the lyrics, Moers composed the music—makes sense as both groups revel in camp and humor, flamboyant melodies, and sly dance beats. Trivia: ZZ Top, of all people, used to cover “Exercise” live, often using it to close out their shows. One diversion from Telex’s usual tongue-in-cheekiness is “Dear Prudence” (which is exclusive to this compilation). Telex appear to be playing it straight, exhibiting authentic love for one of the Beatles’ most sublime psychedelic ballads. Their version’s synthetic to the core yet still hits deeply in the heart.

As for Telex’s original tunes, “L’amour Toujours” sounds at once like a parody and a genuine specimen of suave continental disco; Yello pulled the same trick. It exemplifies Telex’s penchant for creating music of artful ambiguity, as does “Eurovision,” a sincere-seeming stab at trying to win the titular songwriting contest in 1980. The result is more like a saccharine homage to Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights,” though, and it nearly came in last place—which was the group’s goal. The wonky electro-funk of “Radio-Radio” slaps hard, proving itself to be a Belgian counterpart to Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce.” Telex’s best-known song is “Moskow Diskow” from 1979’s Looking For Saint Tropez. An influence on techno, it zips through the club like a speedier “Trans-Europe Express,” replete with a synth mimicking a train whistle and percussion emulating said vehicle’s rhythmic chug. No wonder Detroit techno great Carl Craig jumped at the chance to remix it on the 1998 remix album of Telex cuts, I Don’t Like Music.

A cursory listen to Telex may lead some to regard them as a quasi-novelty band, but the impact that their deceptively advanced and detailed music had on electronic music from the ’80s onward is no joke. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Melvin Jackson “Funky Skull” (Limelight, 1969)

Chicago-based Melvin Jackson—who served as the bassist for popular soul-jazz-funk saxophonist Eddie Harris and played on John Klemmer’s 1967 album for Cadet, Involvement—released but one solo LP, Funky Skull, but oh, what a cool platter it is.

Jackson had access to several amazing musicians, who helped to elevate Funky Skull to cult-classic status. The roster includes guitarists and Cadet Records session studs Pete Cosey and Phil Upchurch, trumpeters Lester Bowie and Leo Smith, saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Bobby Pittman, and drummer Billy Hart. Despite some of these musicians having reps as serious jazz cats, they contribute to a record to which you can get down. “Funky Skull (Parts 1 & 2)” delivers churning, ebullient funk marked by Jackson’s trademark quacking bass and party-igniting horn charts by Pittman, James Tatu, Tobie Wynn, Tom Hall, and Donald Towns. Similarly, “Cold Duck Time – Parts 1 & 2” (written by Eddie Harris) offers more torqued, uproarious funk with slapstick “bee-ow bee-ow bee-ow”s from Jackson’s hooked-on-helium bass. (The unique timbres he achieves are instant smile-inducers.) “Cold Duck Time” is the cut you play when you want to launch the party to the next debauched level.

“Funky Doo”—a cowrite with the album’s producer, Robin McBride—boasts vocals by the Sound Of Feeling, but it’s eccentric feel-good funk in a slightly less exuberant mode than “Funky Skull” and “Cold Duck Time.” Another Harris tune, “Bold And Black,” melds Rotary Connection-like soul sublimity with groove-centric jazz, as singer Maurice Miller adds gospelized power. It’s inspirational, but kind of low-key with it. I like the cut of its jib.

“Dance Of The Dervish” is an excursion into abstraction, an opportunity for Jackson to flex exploratory muscles on his array of effects and to thereby disorient those who came to simply blow off steam. It’s a psychedelic curve ball, replete with Echoplexed, robust laughter. Another outlier is “Say What,” low-slung spy jazz on which Jackson’s bass sounds more like a distraught, weeping violin. “Silver Cycles” (which Jackson cowrote with Harris) is a cover of one of the saxophonist’s most transcendent and trippy compositions. No, it doesn’t top the original, but it’s a bold attempt.

Heads up: the Verve By Request label is reissuing Funky Skull on December 8—nice timing for that Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Xmas gift. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Quincy Jones “$ (Music From The Original Motion Picture Sound Track)” (Reprise, 1972)

Quincy Jones went on a film-scoring tear in the ’60s and ’70s, scoring over 30 movies for an international cast of directors. It’s not quite Ennio Morricone-level prolificness, but it’s an impressive number nonetheless. Jones’ excellent soundtracking dazzled up films such as The Lost Man, The Italian Job, The Hot Rock, In The Heat Of The Night, and They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! One of the most exciting from this fecund era is $ (aka Dollar$).

A 1971 heist movie starring Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn and directed by Richard Brooks, $ received mostly positive reviews, but over the ensuing five decades, it’s faded into obscurity. The score, however, deserves regular rotation among Quincy fans and appreciators of dynamic soul and funk in whatever context. Q relied on major talents such as Little Richard, Roberta Flack, violinist Doug Kershaw, drummer Paul Humphrey, guitarists David T. Walker and Eric Gale, keyboardists Billy Preston and Paul Beaver, and the Don Elliott Voices (among others) to help him realize his groovy vision.

The hit single here is “Money Is,” on which Little Richard sings his pioneering ass off with Jones-penned lyrics about the allure of cash on this roiling jazz-rock burner. (If anyone knows about lucre, it’s Mr. Jones.) Shifting gears, “Snow Creatures” is an eerie track full of surprising dynamic shifts, tantalizing textures, and sample-worthy passages. In fact, hip-hop greats such as Gang Starr, J Dilla, Madlib, and Common, to name only a handful, have partaken of its sonic splendors. On a whole other tip, “Redeye Runnin’ Train” is a pulse-pounding suspense-builder with urgent movement signified by Kershaw’s furious fiddle sawing.

Little Richard resurfaces on “Do It – To It” and tears it up again on this libido-liberating, quasi-throwback rocker, sounding almost as fierce as he did in his prime. “Candy Man” cuts deep as another suspenseful chiller that would segue well into the more understated pieces on Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man soundtrack. Jones really nails it in this mode. More variety comes with “Passin’ The Buck,” a funky blues number with liquid-gold guitar calligraphy by (I’m going to guess) David T. Walker.

Sampled by Mobb Deep, “Kitty With The Bent Frame” approaches Goblin territory for scary atmospheres while using a wide range of timbres to get its blood-curdling vibe across. “Brooks’ 50¢ Tour (Main Title Collage)” essentially does what the United States Of America did on the final track of their 1968 self-titled album: it reprises a highlight reel of elements that remind you of how dope the album to which you just listened is.

Rhino reissued $ on mint green vinyl (of course) in 2022, but early editions shouldn’t set you too far back. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Honey Ltd. “The Complete LHI Recordings” (Light In The Attic, 2013)

This Detroit quartet released one album in 1968 on Lee Hazlewood’s label and then vanished. Original copies of their lone record go for about $2,000, but thankfully, Light In The Attic reissued it with bonus tracks in 2013. Consisting of Laura Polkinghorne, Marsha Jo Temmer, and sisters Joan and Alexandra Sliwin, Honey Ltd. were originally called Mama Cats (pun noted) and drew on their hometown’s inspirational culture of soul music. They also found themselves playing shows with Bob Seger ca. 1967. After riots roiled Detroit that year, the band moved to LA in 1968 to try to further their music career. One audition later with Hazlewood and the legendary music man signed them to his LHI imprint.

Produced by Mr. Hazlewood, Honey Ltd.’s songs deftly balance social and political commentary with matters of the heart. The group’s savvy songwriting skills and magical, four-part vocal harmonies received considerable boost from Lee’s access to several world-class studio musicians from the Wrecking Crew, including Carol Kaye, Ry Cooder, Jack Nitzsche, Plas Johnson, Chuck Berghofer, Al Casey, Jim Gordon, and Don Randi.

The album begins with “Warrior,” which is about a lover going off to war, and it sarcastically treats his violent destiny as a good thing, as it shifts from poignant ballad to rousing rocker with verve. I dare any listener not to get swept away by the surging chorus. “No, You Are” and “I’ve Got Your Man” are harmony-rich girl-group brilliance—soaring pop that hits like a more robust Free Design. The latter tune boasts about undermining a woman’s relationship with dulcet brashness. “Eli’s Coming” is a faithful, exciting cover of Laura Nyro‘s brash soul showstopper, which only was released shortly before Honey Ltd.’s own version. The sophisticated pop-soul gem “Silk ‘N Honey” reveals further Nyro infatuation. The sublimely haunting pop of “Tomorrow Your Heart” foreshadows UK goth-pop sensations Strawberry Switchblade, except when it bursts into Motown-ish, soul-belting mode.

Honey Ltd certainly had a winning, eccentric way with covers. Their unconventionally arranged brassy interpretation of the oft-covered garage-rock standard “Louie, Louie” gets laced with fascinating vocal extrapolations. And their euphoric rendition of the Skip James blues classic “I’m So Glad” radically differs from Cream’s more famous version. Psych-pop heads will flip over the exceptionally dynamic “For Your Mind” and “Come Down,” with the latter being a hippie-rock anthem that would segue well into the United States Of America’s “Coming Down.” It features the group’s strongest vocal performance, replete with haunting undertones and undulating harmonies.

Following her short-lived stint with Honey Ltd., Polkinghorne went on to sing backing vocals with Seger, Black Crowes, and… uh, Kid Rock. But if there were any justice, she and songwriting partner Temmer would be much better known for their work in this femme-powered Motor City outfit. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Doug McKechnie “San Francisco Moog 1968-72: Vol. 2” (VG+ Records, 2023)

Better late than never, the 2020 archival release San Francisco Moog 1968-72: Vol. 1 introduced a lot of people to Bay Area synthesist/composer Doug McKechnie. Now 80, McKechnie somehow had gone barely noticed as a Moog pioneer, despite opening for the Rolling Stones at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in 1969 and appearing in the Maysles brothers’ documentary of said tragic event, Gimme Shelter. Although McKechnie performed often during the years outlined by the title of this second collection of his largely improvised electronic works, he only released a couple of cassettes back then. The Moog craze of those days somehow did not sweep up Mr. McKechnie.

Perhaps Doug’s music didn’t draw much attention in those days because it lacked a gimmicky concept, which was typical of vintage Moog-centric records. Plus, he didn’t have the academic imprimatur that some of his peers enjoyed. Rather, McKechnie was a lone-wolf hippie, relying on his instincts to create extraordinary sounds on the Moog Modular Series III synth, to which he fortuitously gained access because his audiophile/electronics wiz roommate, Bruce Hatch, owned one. McKechnie became so adept with the new instrument, he gave lectures about it and demonstrations of it in colleges and other schools.

San Francisco Moog 1968-72: Vol. 2 further delves into McKechnie’s vaults from that heady era. The first volume’s rippling drones, grand melodies, ominous throbs, and eerie drifts predated and resembled some of the things happening with the work of German artists such as Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, and Ashra. The second one skews a bit weirder and more introspective. “Search For An Honest Man” recalls Moog superstar Mort Garson’s peak-era winsome melodiousness and bleak chirpiness. “Live At The Family Dog” offers a premonition of minimal techno, with its pinprick percussion and spaciousness, before it shifts into a wickedly warped k-hole of Doppler-effected “wow”s and “whoa”s.

If you’re a fan of Keith Emerson’s flamboyant flourishes in ELP, you’ll dig the bold, spasmodic piece “Moving.” “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” is a wildly oscillating excursion, like Tonto’s Expanding Head Band experiencing an anxiety attack while “Rumble Ramp Explosion,” as the title helpfully discloses, is an extreme display of tone dispersion and simulated rocket ascension and explosion. True mindfuckery. The best track here is also the longest: over its 11-plus minutes, the meticulously designed “Glide” features a main Moog motif that icily radiates over insistent pulsations, and thus enters the massive pantheon of intense sci-fi-film suspense-builders.

The VG+ label has compiled both San Francisco Moog LPs onto one CD, if you prefer that format. One way or another, you should get this music into your ears for easy transport out of this mundane reality. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections

Prince “Dirty Mind” (Warner Bros., 1980)

Dirty Mind was the Prince record that hit me first—and hardest. If you listened to Detroit radio in the early ’80s, you couldn’t escape Prince’s music (thankfully), because “When You Were Mine” was ubiquitous on both the black- and white-oriented stations in the Motor City, if I remember correctly. If you tuned in to the influential DJ the Electrifying Mojo on WGPR, then you lucked into hearing Dirty Mind‘s deeper cuts, too. As an 18-year-old, experiencing these slammingly funky and lyrically risqué songs upon their release was like getting license to let your id run riot.

Dirty Mind lasts but 30 minutes, but the brevity intensifies its impact. Prince’s first classic LP is filler-free and devoid of the sort of ballads that padded out most of Prince’s other releases. Now, some folks love boudoir troubadourism, and Prince was a true master of the style, but I find it slightly tedious. Anyway, “Dirty Mind”—which was co-written by synthesizer wizard Dr. Fink—kicks off the album with the kind of slightly blurred come-hither synth riff that became a pervasive early-’80s sound—especially in Prince’s Minneapolis circle of musicians. “Dirty Mind” is cruise-y new-wave disco with much spring in its legs and it flaunts one of the supplest falsettos in the game. For a celebration of a slutty brain, though, this gleaming song has almost a genteel feel to it.

“When You Were Mine” boasts one of Prince’s most memorable and moving melodies and bears a great, twanging bass part that twists like an aching testicle. The hook “I love you more now than when you were mine” is deeply poignant, and the equanimity with which Prince accepts his ex’s new boyfriend is damned mature, even if now people would call him a “cuck.” Side one (the inferior side) concludes with “Do It All Night” and “Gotta Broken Heart Again.” The former’s shiny, pulsating pop-funk that’s decidedly not top-tier Prince; the latter’s the closest the album comes to a ballad. It finds Prince lamenting his romantic-loser status—something that would become harder and harder to believe as the ’80s progressed.

Side two is where the seriously libidinous action goes down. It begins with “Uptown,” a triumphant, strutting soul funk ditty in which Prince relates how a woman who initially asks him if he’s gay (spoiler alert!) later bestows him the best sex of his life. He also asserts how “Good times were rollin’/White, black, Puerto Rican/Everybody just a-freaking,” providing a glimpse into Prince’s utopian ideals and inclusive worldview. Next comes my fave cut on Dirty Mind, “Head.” It funks harder and filthier than anything else here and extols the virtues of 69 (the sex act, not the year). As a bonus, Dr. Fink’s fantastic synth freakout, if I may go out on a limb, represents orgasm. Play it at your next orgy.

The final two tracks maintain the über-sexxxy vibe. “Sister” is a frisky rock rave-up that doubles as a paean to incest. Bold for 1980… or for any year, really. “Partyup” [sic] is a close cousin to “Head,” and its sleek, decadent funk lives up to the title. In this uproarious anti-war song, Prince unequivocally proves that he’s a hedonist and not a soldier. In fact, he’d rather have a good time than die in a war, and the exciting rhythmic torque and radiant synth flares seal the deal.

Dirty Mind is the album that alerted the world to Prince’s polymorphous perversity and sexual ambiguity, both lyrically and in how he presented himself (check the cover photos). It was daring as hell for the time in the soul and rock worlds. 1981’s Controversy would further expand upon Prince’s radical, liberating views on race, sexuality, gender, and politics and solidify his status as a generational musical phenom. But Dirty Mind presented Prince in his rawest and bawdiest form, and it initiated his superstar phase. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections

Mercury Rev “Yerself Is Steam” (Mint Films/Jungle, 1991)

Mercury Rev’s 1992 debut album, Yerself Is Steam, was a sensation upon its release in the UK, as the music press there hyped the upstate New York group for months before it actually dropped. Americans who read said media were stoked, as well, including me and several of my Detroit-area friends. Our absurdly high expectations were exceeded. To this day, my buddies and I stan indomitably for Steam, though when music-publication chatter turns to definitive ’90s rock releases, Yerself Is Steam is largely overlooked. This makes no sense.

In the early ’90s, Mercury Rev—led by guitarists Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper—reigned as America’s greatest rock band, the country’s grand sorcerers of whirlwind psychedelic beauty and chaos. Steam deserved its own laser-light shows and made you feel as if your blood had been replaced with rocket fuel. The first three songs on the LP—“Chasing A Bee,” “Syringe Mouth,” and “Coney Island Cyclone”—assay a rarefied strain of bubblegum-catchy freak rock that induced the sensation of being on at least three drugs you’ve never heard of. Then it gets weirder and farther out.

Even that dreaded convention of the CD era, the hidden track, pays exorbitant dividends with the decade’s ultimate waver-lighting ballad, “Car Wash Hair.” (Initially released as a single, this lovable blissout is found only on the compact disc version of Steam.) “Syringe Mouth” in particular reaches a peak of exhilarating delirium, a lysergic splurge that singed plenty of synapses in its four chaotic minutes while “Coney Island Cyclone” is the greatest song ever written about an amusement-park ride.

“Blue And Black” is an unnervingly ponderous showcase for loose-cannon singer-songwriter David Baker to flaunt his morbid croon and ponder his impending mental breakdown over a foundation of quasi-goth brooding. The group’s most prog-like moment, “Sweet Oddysee Of A Cancer Cell T’ Center Of Yer Heart” serves as a fiendish roller-coaster ride of swerving dynamics and swelling melodic grandeur that makes Porcupine-era Echo & The Bunnymen sound like flat-footed underachievers. It’s a one-off slab of monstrous brilliance in the Rev’s catalog. “Frittering” is an expansive ice floe of psychedelia that puts a seething chill on Syd Barrett-era Floyd’s epics. Speaking of epics, the ominous “Very Sleepy Rivers” meanders with an unsettling heaviness; for over 12 minutes, the band sound like they’re marching you down to your watery demise.

That Steam came out on Columbia Records (a year after its initial micro-indie release) somehow makes the whole thing even more ridiculous. Did the conglomerate’s execs get swept away by Melody Maker and NME‘s frothing praise, too? Were they looking for the next Nirvana with Mercury Rev? Did they think Suzanne Thorpe’s flute was the future of rock?

In retrospect, the early-’90s “alternative rock” frenzy probably helped Mercury Rev to sign with a major, but Columbia’s mighty marketing machine failed to move the needle for them in the US. (Grasshopper once told me that Steam has sold more than 200,000 copies worldwide over the last 31 years, most of them in Europe.) Although Mercury Rev went on to earn more commercial success with 1998’s psych-lite, Americana-leaning Deserter’s Songs, they have yet to surpass Yerself Is Steam‘s unfettered creativity. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Cluster “Cluster II” (Brain, 1972)

Cluster 71—German geniuses Dieter Moebius, Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ first album without Conrad Schnitzler, with whom they formed Kluster in 1969—stands as an important landmark in the formation of industrial ambient music, forging forbidding expanses of desolation and agitation. Similar to Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation, 71 did not rock at all, although it often got categorized as “krautrock.” Rather, it sprawled and glowered in dank space like a malignant satellite. This was head music par excellence, but only for the headstrong who can deal with no beats or hooks whatsoever.

Moebius and Roedelius’ follow-up, Cluster II (produced by Conny Plank with his usual magically maniacal touch), found the ever-questing duo bringing in guitar to their synth-heavy miasmas, but still not rocking in any conventional way. In some regards, it’s a bit less alien and alienating than 71, but still kilometers beyond the concise, melodious synth songs on their next full-length, 1974’s Zuckerzeit.

“Plas” begins 71 with a series of grainy synth throbs and billows that accumulate mass and ominousness, before strange pulsations and shrill, panicky fanfares enter the frame, like a deflated trumpet blurt arcing across the night sky. It’s a precarious, hallucinogenic trip and a helluva bold way to open an album. On “Im Süden,” Moebius’ crispy-fried guitar riff pierces through Roedelius’ bassy synth borborygmus for nearly 13 minutes, and the effect is both hypnotic and fraught as hell. Everything intensifies and gets denser as the track progresses, until you feel as if you’re churning in the guts of a massive cement mixer, with Moebius’ chiming guitar motif tolling like a farewell message… imminent-catastrophe vibes for days. You can definitely hear this track’s influence on Austrian guitarist/laptop composer Fennesz’s early releases.

After this incredible 1-2 punch, the quality dips slightly, but the material is still deeply dissonant. “Für Die Katz” is subtly turbulent space musik for imperiled astronauts while “Live In Der Fabrik” is the sound of infinity in a circuit board or maybe the world’s most sinister video game going on the fritz… or simply mad scientists going rogue in the lab. “Georgel” consists of an enveloping drone that’s pregnant with menace and “Nabitte” ushers us to the exits with chaotic keyboard clusters, distressing groans, and slamming of unknown metal objects.

These Übermenschen didn’t let up for one second on II. Their motto seemed to be “if you’re not overcome by paranoia, we’re doing something wrong.” Truly, an unsettling bleakness pervades the entire album, one entirely at odds with the brilliant constellation cover art. You have to respect such relentless journeying to the heart of darkness.

Bureau B reissued Cluster II in 2022 and Superior Viaduct did so in 2023, so the album should be easy to find and to afford. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.