Psych and Prog

Wendy & Bonnie “Genesis” (Skye, 1969)

The perfectly named Wendy and Bonnie Flower made one great album, Genesis, and then dispersed after Skye Records went bankrupt following its release and its producer Gary McFarland died as they were planning their sophomore LP. The Flower sisters thereby became members of the cherished one-and-done club, which includes Skip Spence, Billy Nichols, Ceyleib People, Friendsound, the United States Of America, McDonald & Giles, and Baby Huey, to name a mere handful. That Wendy & Bonnie were 18 and 15, respectively, when Genesis came out adds to the luster of their legend.

These teens obviously were extremely precocious songwriters and singers, but Genesis likely wouldn’t have ascended to its burnished status without contributions from a cast of stellar session musicians such as drummer Jim Keltner, keyboardist Mike Melvoin, and guitarist Larry Carlton. They all play their asses off for these gifted upstarts, and it’s goddamn precious to witness. Production from bossa-nova/jazz vibraphonist McFarland and label support from Skye co-owner and Latin-jazz percussionist Cal Tjader, who’d heard and loved the duo’s early demos, further bolstered the recording sessions.

Genesis busts out of the gate with “Let Yourself Go Another Time,” a seductive, low-slung rocker with the ladies’ unison vocals racing with Michael Lang or Mike Melvoin’s kozmigroove keyboard whirlwinds, like Ray Manzarek on amphetamines. Auspicious! “The Paisley Window Pane” dips 180º in the opposite direction with a delicately beautiful and morose ballad buttressed by Carlton’s languid acoustic guitar picking. Wendy and Bonnie’s intertwining vocals are exquisite, full of Karen Carpenter-esque yearning. “I Realized You” is a ballad that shifts into a featherlight psych-pop brooder somewhere between the 5th Dimension’s pensive pulchritude and Laura Nyro’s sophisticated chords. It’s yet more proof that the Flower sisters are sophisticated beyond their years. “By The Sea,” a spare yet complex ballad illuminated by ice-crystal piano coloration, was covered by Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier and sampled by Super Furry Animals.

Things pep up on “You Keep Hanging Up On My Mind,” a Margo Guryan-esque sunshine pop tune with a few clouds around the edges. During the poised, rocking coda, Carlton and bassist Randy Cierly go off on brilliant serpentine runs. The uptempo, driving psych of “It’s What’s Really Happening” approaches the sublimity of the United States Of America, with bonus gorgeous vocal harmonies. The baroque, lacily beautiful psych of “Five O’Clock In The Morning” could make the dudes in the Left Banke nod in appreciation. The understated psych of “Endless Pathway” highlights the radiance of Wendy and Bonnie’s unison vocals, but they’re just different enough to create a ghostly undercurrent. Utterly beguiling, “Children Laughing” is a swaying lullaby pitched somewhere between the Millennium and Broadcast. Genesis ends with perhaps its strongest cut, “The Winter Is Cold,” a rocker with chill-inducing, contrapuntal vocal harmonies. The song has moments of seriously groovy psychedelia, with Carlton unleashing distorted solos that recall Howard Roberts’ work with Electric Prunes circa Release Of An Oath.

I recently saw someone online selling an original pressing of Genesis for $160. Luckily, Sundazed has reissued the LP three times in the last 14 years. A record this gorgeous should never be out of print. -Buckley Mayfield

Josefus “Dead Man” (Hookah, 1970)

A human skull on a record cover usually leaves me cold, as I associate it with the sort of metal subgenres I find unappealing or the kind of edgelord industrial music for which I have no patience. For that reason, I avoided Josefus’ Dead Man for years, pre-internet. Finally, enough praise from reputable sources eroded my bias and I copped Numero Group/JR’s 2014 reissue. Ever since, the Southern-fried, hard-rock good times have been rolling at the Mayfield domicile.

The obi strip of my reissue hypes this Texas quartet as “being far ‘too psychedelic’ and skull-crushing for Houston’s International Artist label to touch.” I dunno about that, record-company guy, but Kenny Rogers’ bro Lelan did sort of blow it by not signing these sensitive hombres. I mean, Josefus were no Bubble Puppy, but come on…

The album starts with “Crazy Man,” whose midtempo, wistful boogie recalls Led Zeppelin’s “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do” and is buoyed by Pete Bailey’s biker-rock soul belting. Bailey comes off as something of a Lone Star State Robert Plant (but way more vulnerable), lending his singing a higher degree of pathos than Bob’s. “Crazy Man” establishes Bailey’s habit of choking up at crucial moments, which intensifies the songs’ poignancy. On “I Need A Woman,” Josefus grind out some testosteronic, ominous blues rock in which Bailey leers in a manner that would make ZZ Top blush, if not Greetings From L.A.-era Tim Buckley. Lust never sleeps.

Dead Man‘s nadir is, perhaps surprisingly, “Gimmie Shelter” [sic]. This adequate cover only serves to spotlight how awesome the Stones’ original—and indeed, Merry Clayton’s rendition—is. Josefus simply fail to invest the song with the ominous gravitas it demands, treating it more as an opportunity to rock a party. Dudes, you went on a fool’s errand (and misspelled “Gimme”), but Mick and Keith’s accountants surely appreciated your effort. However, Josefus rebound spectacularly with the album’s greatest cut, “Country Boy.” Drummer Doug Tull’s fantastic breakbeat in the intro gives way to a killer riff that lilts with a frilly panache. Bailey wishes/laments, “I’d love to spend some time being a rich girl’s toy/Because it seems so sad to be a country boy/Ain’t nobody out here who’s on my side/I’m so ugly I gotta stay in and hide/Sweet rich darlin’ let me be your toy/Because it seems so sad to be a country boy.” Even though I’m one of the world’s most urban mofos, I can sympathize with Bailey—which is a testament to the freighted emotion of his delivery.

With its marauding riff, unpredictable, prog-ish dynamics, and Plant-like wails, “Proposition” scans as the heaviest track on the record. So it’s apt—and kind of funny—near the end when the band quotes the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy.” Album-closer “Dead Man” begins with a methodical ramble, its rhythm akin to the Doors’ “Five To One” and Ibliss’ “High Life.” Ray Turner’s bass riff is a master class in strutting hypnosis. The track’s marathon length allows guitarist Dave Mitchell to flex many of his flashiest riffs and Turner to generate a relentless, low-end cascade à la the MC5’s “Black To Comm.” There’s enough exciting ebbing and flowing dynamics and showmanship here to reward the listener for the duration of its 17 minutes. When the music’s over, turn out the lights.

Original copies of Dead Man have gone for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. The only one for sale on Discogs now lists at $2,750. Pure insanity… Thankfully, reasonably priced, legit reissues shouldn’t be too hard to find. Find out once and for all why it seems so sad to be a country boy. -Buckley Mayfield

Heldon “Interface” (Cobra, 1977)

When someone opines that “French music is weak” or some such uninformed blather, you should drop a dose of Heldon on them—specifically Interface, guitar/synth master Richard Pinhas and company’s most devastating platter. There are many other such records from France with which you could hit said ignorami, but Interface‘s payload might be the most effective. The album’s dominated by Moog synthesizer emissions, but there’s nothing trendy or whimsical about these tracks. Interface might be the mother of all bombs from the fecund ’70s French underground.

Pinhas helmed a nearly flawless seven-album run from 1974 to 1978, moving from cosmique Fripp-ian guitar drones and pensive pastoralism to futuristic electronic brutality, peaking in the latter mode on 1977’s Interface—although 1976’s Un Rêve Sans Conséquence Spéciale gives it a run for its laser beams. With their later LPs, Heldon, according to The Stranger, “invented a kind of end-times proto-techno that the French military should’ve enlisted for defense purposes.” Can’t argue with that.

“Les Soucoupes Volantes Vertes”—which was written by drummer François Auger—instantly tingles your nerves and puts you on your toes, prepping you for combat with aliens as it fades in with a throbbing Moog bass, skewed beats, and elasticated Moog III and Moog B riffs. “Which freakin’ planet am I on?” you’ll wonder, as your adrenaline dangerously spikes. On the two-part “Jet Girl,” Pinhas’ obsession with Robert Fripp resurfaces in the form of elephantine guitar wails amid rolling and thumping drums and ominously oscillating Moog bass. The track’s an approximation of a chaotic, cyborgian King Crimson, as cold and terrifying as an Antarctic ice storm.

Bandleader Pinhas lets bassist Patrick Gauthier take the reins for “Le Retour Des Soucoupes Volanes”; it’s some rugged man-machine shit, powered by Moog bass and drums, but with radiant ostinatos around the edges—a weird blend of contrasts. Another showcase for Auger, “Bal-A-Fou” is a spacey tantalizer with unusual percussion timbres and accents that recall Herbie Hancock’s early-’70s groups at their farthest out. When Auger’s drums enter, things build to a momentous tumult. By song’s end, you’re convinced that Heldon should’ve been scoring blockbuster interstellar-war movies instead of John Williams and his ilk. “Le Fils Des Soucoupes Volantes (Vertes)” reprises the opening track’s steamrolling menace, but is even more intense.

All of this great stuff is but a prelude for the pièce de résistance, “Interface.” The mother(fucker) of all dystopian, automatons-dueling-to-the-death epics, it’s a 19-minute ordeal of panned, flanged, and deranged drums, airlock synthesized percussion, pitched-down cymbal splashes, strident guitar anguish, and a Moog bass part so springy it makes you think of trampolines the size of football fields. The way the bass interacts with Auger’s slanted martial beats and manic fills is utterly hypnotic. Every element’s geared to make you feel as if the walls are closing in, the heat is rising, the end is near. Seemingly no one here gets out alive, until… Pinhas ruins the doom-laden vibe with a glammed-up, ’50s-vintage guitar riff in the final 10 seconds. I get the joke, but resent how it disrupts the riveting spell the preceding 18 minutes had cast. “Interface”’s relentless terminal march found an analog in Billy Cobham’s “Inner Conflicts,” even though the legendary fusion drummer claims not to have heard it. Whatever the case, if you crave more of that infernal Heldon vibe, check out Cobham’s unintentional tribute.

Thankfully, Interface rarely falls out of print. The excellent German label Bureau B most recently reissued it in 2020. -Buckley Mayfield

The 13th Floor Elevators “Bull Of The Woods” (International Artists, 1969)

The production’s flawed, Roky Erickson only appears on four of the album’s 11 songs, the band members sound world-weary, and Tommy Hall’s jug mostly has gone AWOL. Yet Bull Of The Woods—which was recorded in 1968 when the 13th Floor Elevators were disintegrating and Roky was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and experiencing the torments of electroconvulsive therapy at a Houston psychiatric hospital—is fantastic. As much as I love the foundational psych-rock documents The Psychedelic Sounds Of… and Easter Everywhere, I often feel that Bull is my favorite work by these Texan psych-rock icons. And that’s a testament to the songwriting and guitar-playing chops of Stacy Sutherland, who forever has remained in Roky’s shadow—unjustly so! Listening to Bull might be akin to hearing a mythical Velvet Underground record on which Sterling Morrison somehow grabbed the reins from Lou Reed and revealed his hidden genius.

Now, as a vocalist, Sutherland’s the polar opposite of Roky: drawling, understated, uncharismatic. No matter. Stacy can write fascinating, multi-part songs and play a mean guitar; his is a glinting, choppy style with implied funkiness. You can hear that right away on the Roky-sung opening track “Livin’ On.” It choogles into earshot like CCR on downers or JJ Cale with a brawnier backing band, with Sutherland’s guitar clanging slyly at oblique angles above the laid-back groove. “Barnyard Blues” is Sutherland channeling Dr. John’s casually funky, swampy rhythm sorcery, powered by Ronnie Leatherman’s stalking, fathoms-deep bass line and Danny Thomas’ in-the-pocket drumming.

“Till Then”—co-written by Sutherland and Hall, with the former singing—is a paragon of beautiful, breezy rock, swathed in consoling “la la la”s. The song suavely bewitches until a mini rave-up raises the roof—the first of many such moves that distinguish Sutherland and Hall’s uncanny penchant for breathtaking dynamics. For those missing the more aggressive feel of Easter Everywhere, Roky and Hall’s “Never Another” will fill the void, although Hall’s electrified-jug bloops are mixed way down low. Thomas’ horn arrangements sound as if they were dropped in from a Herb Alpert session, but their incongruity charms, against the odds. Sutherland achieves some kind of peak with “Rose And The Thorn.” A sublime, existential slice of psychedelia that ebbs and flows with unpredictable fluidity, it’s like four great songs stitched together by a masterly editor, lifting you higher with every savvy swerve. “Down By The River” is not a Neil Young cover, but rather a Stones-like rocker with understated swagger in its groove and deceptively stinging guitar shafts that foreshadow the great ’90s trashadelic group Royal Trux.

With Sutherland’s “Scarlet And Gold,” the bass and drums achieve serious dub motion and pressure while Stacy sings with mellow gravitas, his earnest voice halo’d by gorgeous backing “oh”s. The song boasts another thrilling dynamic shift that launches the song into a higher stratum of psychedelic splendor, as Sutherland again proves himself the master of this strategy. “Street Song” sounds like a more lysergic take on the Stooges “Little Doll” template. This is tectonic-plate-shuddering rock augmented by some astonishing proto-dub churn, streaked with pitiless guitar pyrotechnics. Monumental metamorphoses occur, each surprising change elevating you to a higher state of consciousness. Fucking genius.

But this isn’t even Bull‘s peak. That would be “Dr. Doom,” on which Roky and Stacy sing in splendid unison. Of all the phenomenal songs in the Elevators’ canon, this one hits hardest and deepest for me. It’s sacred music distilled into three minutes of spiritual psych-pop, and its almost comical horn overdubs somehow enable it to soar even higher. The lyrics are mystical poetry sung with so much sincerity, you swallow them whole and feel enlarged for doing so. In this way, the song’s like the Beach Boys’ greatest tune, “Feel Flows.” Dig this heavy handful:

(chorus) Beginning no end, alpha no omega
Two mouths one voice still appears
(verse) We won’t join in sameness, we are each one different
We won’t join in oneness when we’re each one whole
We’ll be like in feeling, being of the spirit
Housed in body crystals, ever always soul
We’ll be right beside him, all we’ve been is beauty
All will be in union, from our life unfolds

From this summit, Bull gently descends back to earth. Bass boss Leatherman comes through with “With You,” a sweet waltz-time swooner with bliss-inducing vocal arrangements. In retrospect, maybe the Elevators should’ve given Ronnie more chances to write. And ol’ Roky delivers an ideal album-closer with “May The Circle Remain Unbroken,” an eerie, sparse ballad that sounds as if Erickson is evaporating before our ears, hymning his demise with an angelic hush, as we, with perfect hindsight, see the circle breaking brutally.

I’ve listened to Bull Of The Woods at least 100 times in my life and have found it to be the rare album that never loses an iota of its luster. Make no mistake: The Elevators got stuck at the top floor. -Buckley Mayfield

Nazz “Nazz” (SGC, 1968)

Look at that cover—four heads floating in inky darkness—and try to distinguish the individuals, besides leader Todd Rundgren. Damn near impossible. That’s because Nazz were going for a unified look in haircuts, clothes, and, it seems, even facial features. This Philadelphia quartet basically started in the mid ’60s as a boy band geared for the teen-pandering rags of the time. But the songs on their debut LP were anything but LCD fluff. On the contrary, Nazz is chockablock with stunners of varying styles. Right here, the 19-year-old Todd established his prodigy bona fides with some of the most dazzling work of his long and idiosyncratic career.

Rundgren’s genius smacks you upside the noggin from the first seconds of lead-off song “Open My Eyes.” When I first heard this on the radio as a teenager, I was in a hypnagogic state; I thought it was a cover version of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” whose weird, supercharged energy had sent the song whirling off its axis. It’s simply one of the most exciting specimens of garage-psych ever waxed. The swerving rhythm, the mind-melting bass and guitar riffs careening around the bend, the handclaps, the cymbal splashes, the flanged vocals on “eyes” and “mind,” Rundgren’s sizzling guitar solo—it’s all too much, and yet you never want it to end. If Nazz had only recorded “Open My Eyes,” they’d still be all-time legends. And yet it only peaked at #112 in the singles chart. I’ve heard this song over 100 times, and each new listen turns me into a hyper ball of hyperbolics.

Despite such a blazing start, the album’s remaining tracks don’t at all seem anti-climactic. I think people underestimate how heavy Nazz were, because “Back Of Your Mind” finds them crafting hooky hard rock with a proto-grunge riff that Mudhoney surely lifted over 20 years later… and about which Blue Cheer must’ve felt jealous in real time, assuming they heard it. Another case in point is “Wildwood Blues,” a proto-glam strut that overtakes the titular blues, like some strange melding of Cream with prime-time Slade, years before the latter rose to prominence. I can imagine the freakout crescendo coda making a young Tony Iommi shout “Cor blimey!” Nazz‘s third-best song on the album, “She’s Goin’ Down,” is another proto-grunge adrenaline-burner with a killer chorus that foreshadows power-poppers Shoes. The action packed into its five minutes is off the charts (literally): wicked zig-zagging dynamics, freewheeling guitar solo, flowery and fiery prog keyboard action, euphoric vocal harmonies, Blue Cheer-like guitar/bass detonation, and a robust drum solo, to boot. The second-best song here, “When I Get My Plane,” aptly soars during the chorus, with the word “plane” extended and falsetto’d to dazzling effect. The dynamics are ingenious, with the build up to the chorus perfectly engineered for optimal vertiginous splendor. Plus, the “ba ba ba”s and “la la la”s are to die for.

Of course, Nazz had a tender, mellower side, too, as anyone who’s heard their most popular single, “Hello It’s Me,” knows. “See What You Can Be” offers complexly harmonic pop that could segue relatively smoothly with a Mamas & The Papas or Turtles deep cut, while “If That’s The Way You Feel” is a sumptuous ballad that strives for a Left Banke baroqueness, but isn’t quite as melodically inviting or subtle as that group. The strings bear a harshness and overbearing desire to knock you out with emotion, although the vocal lead and harmonies are luscious. As for “Hello It’s Me,” I prefer this version over the lusher, more MOR-radio-friendly one Todd issued on his 1972 solo album, Something/Anything? Nazz’s rendition is a lovely, spare ballad bolstered by Rundgren’s crucial vibraphone accents, gorgeous vocal layering, and heart-melting sincerity. “It’s important to me to know that you know you are free/’Cause I’d never want to make you change for me” is a pretty mature and reasonable sentiment for a 19-year-old male songwriter.

In his liner notes, Jon Landau observed, “To listen to the Nazz is to understand immediately what rock and roll is all about. There is an exhilaration and joyfulness to what they are doing which expresses completely the attitude that rock has always sought to express. They play with such finesse and solidity, it amazes me that anything can be so simple yet so complex at one and the same time.” I don’t often agree with a Rolling Stone writer, but Landau nailed it. -Buckley Mayfield

High Rise “High Rise II” (PSF, 1986)

Japan has produced a fair number of musical units who go to sonic extremes that you rarely hear in the West. To name just a handful, Merzbow, Massona, Boredoms, Fumiya Tanaka, and even Teengenerate boast catalogs that often make their Anglo-American counterparts seem a tad restrained. High Rise, too, occupy a lofty place in the pantheon of tinnitus-inducing terrorizers from the Land Of The Rising Sun. Their sophomore full-length, II, pushes rock to a precipice of oblivion where few have gone, straining song form to near-bursting point and going so far into the red that they push the needle into oxblood on the VU meter. It’s a helluva thing.

The 53-second opener “Cycle Goddess” offers a revved-up, raucous appetizer to tip you off to the ramalama banquet ahead. The next song, “Turn You Cry,” could almost be an early Ramones or Clash tune; this is what passes for a radio song in High Rise land. Bassist Asahito Nanjo’s vulnerable, slightly reverbed vocal gets buried beneath a squealing, pummeling rock avalanche that sounds like guitarist Munehiro Narita has two more axmeisters supplementing his barbed-wire wall of rococo squealing and metallic sheets of clangor. Dr. Euro’s wrecking ball drums miraculously punch their way through the ultra-thick guitar/bass lava flow. Hard to believe only three humans are creating this monstrous sound.

The dense, adrenalized rock of “Cotton Top” roils in the tradition of MC5’s “Black To Comm,” Spacemen 3’s “Revolution,” the Stooges’ “L.A. Blues,” and Blue Cheer’s “Parchment Farm.” Rolling and tumbling relentlessly toward a termination station, “Cotton Top” is noisy hard rock distilled to a lethal essence. You know the drill, but you’ve never felt it this hard and this intensely. “Last Rites” ups the ante yet again, its bulging, aggressive rock making you feel as if you’re on top of the world, even as High Rise are intent on blowing it up. Narita proves himself a guitar guerrilla, spraying bullets and throwing flames in every direction at once, mowing down apathy and inertia with killer instincts. He crams in more ideas per minute than most guitarists do over a full LP.

Even though it’s over 13 minutes long, “Pop Sicle” is the album’s single, a quasi-’60s-style beat song that’s as hooky as anything on Jesus And Mary Chain’s Psychocandy and almost as blurred and riddled with feedback and fuzz. High Rise knew they’d hit on a seductive riff here, and they wring every last drop of psychedelic-groove juice out of it. “Pop Sicle” accelerates in the second half until your eyes are pinwheeling in their sockets and your ear drums are pulsating at 180 bpms. The song’s a psychedelic speed freak apotheosis and makes nearly everything else in the rock canon seem earthbound and moribund.

In 2018, Black Editions did a beautiful remixed and remastered vinyl reissue of II. Even that may be hard to score now, but you should put in the effort. Streaming is not the proper way to absorb High Rise’s shock tactics. -Buckley Mayfield

Shuggie Otis “Freedom Flight” (Epic, 1971)

Shuggie Otis still isn’t as famous and celebrated as he ought to be. Although his discography is relatively small, his name should be uttered in the same reverent tones the listening public reserves for superstars such as Sylvester Stewart, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince.

Now, Otis’ 1970 debut LP proper Here Comes Shuggie Otis has some stellar moments, but Freedom Flight is where he really blossoms. He would follow it up in 1974 with another classic, Inspiration Information, before going many years without releasing new music. David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label revived interest in Otis’ mellifluous mélange of psychedelia, blues, and funk with its 2001 reissue of Inspiration Information that included four cuts from Freedom Flight. It was one of the best music-biz moves the Talking Heads frontman has ever made.

Otis certainly had connections to some of the top players in the biz thanks to his father, the R&B artist/bandleader Johnny Otis. But still, for a 17-year-old to create an album as ambitious and brilliant as Freedom Flight is astonishing. It’s no wonder legends such as Frank Zappa, Al Kooper, and the Rolling Stones wanted to tap the multi-instrumentalist prodigy’s talents.

Ice Cold Daydream” is a fantastic opening number, complex yet catchy funk rock that could make Sly Stone do the splits out of respect. Shuggie’s guitar effects are sweet as hell, and he plays organ and bass like a badass, too. Somehow I’d gone my whole life not knowing about Mike Kowalski—who’s played with the Beach Boys, Nick Drake, and John Martyn—but he proves himself to be a truly funky drummer. Papa Johnny chips in with percussion, which was very nice of him.

Shuggie flexes his formidable blues muscles on “Me And My Woman” and “Purple.” Written by Gene Barge, the former song is about a roller-coaster romance and though it’s pretty straight-ahead, it’ll put serious lead in your pencil. (Does anyone still use this expression? No? Cool.) Shuggie plays guitar, bass, and keys, and his guitar solo is a thing of ornate beauty, while his rhythm guitar chikka-wakkas are nasty. “Purple” is a simmering, shimmering seven-minute blues stroll that one could imagine working well in a classy strip joint. Shuggie once again excels on guitar, bass, and organ and Jim “Supe” Bradshaw adds crucial harmonica accompaniment.

My two favorite tracks here are “Sweet Thang” and “Strawberry Letter 23.” The former was co-written with certified Dirty Old Man Johnny Otis and received high-powered help from George Duke on organ, Wilton Felder on bass, and Aynsley Dunbar on drums. This is swampy funk that’s greasier than Dr. John’s Gris-Gris in a New Orleans grease fire. “Sweet Thang” is so sexy, I can’t think of a metaphor or simile that’ll do it justice, but your libido will surely throb like it’s never throbbed before. “Strawberry Letter 23” is Shuggie’s most famous song, thanks to the Brothers Johnson’s glazed-soul cover that dominated radio in 1977—and justifiably so. Shuggie plays everything on it, and dozens of listens to his and the Brothers Johnson’s versions cannot diminish the elegant elation that this mellow, pastel soul gem induces. Shuggie’s sleigh and orchestral bells and his gilded, ascending guitar arpeggios lift this song to the seventh circle of heaven. It’s one of the purest expressions of enchantment ever put to tape, up there with Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.”

Finally, the nearly 13-minute “Freedom Flight” is a patiently unfolding, bluesadelic drift that’ll get you floating in the way that a Hendrix jam at its most blissed-out can do. Duke, Dunbar, and Felder appear again, but it’s Richard Aplanalp on tenor sax and oboe who steals the song. Aplanalp played on Bruce Palmer’s The Cycle Is Complete, and it shows. His blowing has that tender yet questing tone that suggests intimacy with the eternal. The band achieves a peaceful, easy feeling, in excelsis. “Freedom Flight” serves as an exclamation mark in lavender haze to an album that’s a manifesto of artistic adventurousness… created, I remind you, by a 17-year-old. -Buckley Mayfield

Love Battery “Dayglo” (Sub Pop, 1992)

Love Battery are the semi-forgotten men of Seattle’s early-’90s rock explosion. And that’s not right. Too psychedelic for grunge purists despite having Sub Pop’s imprimatur and too grunge-y for psych-rock purists despite cutting a righteous cover of Pink Floyd’s “Ibiza Bar,” Love Battery never caught on like some of their Emerald City brethren: Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, etc. But it was not for lack of quality songs and albums. Sometimes shit just doesn’t break for a band—even with major-label backing, which they received from PolyGram subsidiary Atlas after departing Sub Pop. (/sarcasm)

But Love Battery—who were named after a Buzzcocks song off 1978’s Another Music In A Different Kitchen, although they don’t really sound like that British pop-punk group—released at least one dynamite full-length: Dayglo. Now tragically out of print on both vinyl and CD (prices for the latter are outrageous), Dayglo holds its own with the strongest early-era Sub Pop releases: Bleach, Prison, Superfuzz Bigmuff, Pigeonhed, Severe Exposure, etc.

Right away on “Out Of Focus,” Love Battery establish the bossness of their twin-guitar attack, with Kevin Whitworth and Ron Nine’s radiant fuzz tones intertwining in perfect disharmony. The song moves with a juggernaut stateliness, exuding psychedelic vibes that sting rather than mollify. Nine’s exasperated vocals are like a less abrasive cousin to Kurt Cobain’s. He even had the Nirvana frontman’s blond hair, making Love Battery’s lack of commercial success seem like a cruel conspiracy. I mean, listen to “Foot,” with its speedy, surging rock geared to put said appendage to the pedal to the (heady) metal. More exhilarating than “Rusty Cage” and “Even Flow” combined, it should have been a hit, but maybe it was too exciting for radio. “Damaged” wows with a woozy slide guitar motif that leads into a riff/chord progression that alludes to Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine,” and the Whitworth/Nine guitar army proves it’s just as mighty as that of Mark Arm/Steve Turner.

Talk about a strong opening triptych. But then “See Your Mind” raises the bar even higher. It’s pure fucking adrenaline, mercurial, revved-up biker rock with liquid acid in its gas tank. The way Nine and the band sing “mind” here will blow yours. By contrast, “Side (With You)” is a massive, lurching power ballad on which Whitworth peels off a wonderfully serpentine solo. Things return to uptempo fireworks with “Cool School (Trane Of Thought),” a slamming, turbulent tribute to jazz and Beatniks that sounds closer to James Blood Ulmer playing Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” than to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, or Charlie Parker, all of whom are name-checked on this bad boy. The vicious coda will flip your wig and then incinerate it. “Sometimes” and “23 Modern Stories” prove that even Love Battery’s ballads hit with a bludgeoning beauty and a slurring majesty. “Blonde” boasts fantastic, swerving dynamics and melismatic guitar riffs with horn-like tones. It’s a real tour de force of their dueling guitar alchemy. By album’s end, you realize why Dayglo is an apt title; because this record stood out from Seattle’s grunge status quo, soaring above its muddy jams purling in the garden of sound.

The main goal of this review is to spur a quality label to reissue Dayglo on a physical format, with liner notes, previously unseen photos, bonus tracks… the whole (Ron) Nine. It’s too good and important to be relegated to the streaming services. Jonathan Poneman, white courtesy telephone… -Buckley Mayfield

Loop “The World In Your Eyes” (Head, 1987)

Loop’s heyday was brief (1987-1990), but it burned intensely. Over three studio albums, 11 singles and EPs, and a few compilations, the British group—who were named after an obscure Velvet Underground track—combined the best qualities of indomitable rock icons the Stooges and Hawkwind. (Many listeners and critics in the ’80s accused Loop of ripping off Spacemen 3, but the latter were such blatant emulators of older rock legends that the claim strikes me as absurd. Both Loop and Spacemen 3 siphoned inspiration from similar unimpeachable sources and possessed similar sonic aesthetics, so no wonder their music bore close resemblances. It was not at all hard for me to embrace both artists with conflict-free gusto.)

Why am I reviewing The World In Your Eyes—a comp of early singles that later grew to an odds-and-ends triple CD release in 2009—instead of a studio album proper? Because it most impressively represents Loop’s strengths and range and it contains my favorite track by them: “Burning World.” They are the rare band whose every release is worth copping, though, so if you see anything bearing that wavy Loop logo, grab it.

The World In Your Eyes begins with Loop’s weakest track, “16 Dreams,” whose linear, fuzz-and-grind guitar/bass attack (Suicide-al throb transposed to Neanderthal rock dynamics) is the closest they came to the C86 indie-rock aesthetic that still lingered in Britain then. John Wills—who later formed the sporadically great Hair And Skin Trading Co. with Loop bassist Neil Mackay—brings the boxiest drum sound ever, and it’s not right (Stooges reference intended) for Loop. Better is “Head On”’s methodical, serpentine rock—on the prowl like Iggy’s younger, less confident brother. Bandleader Robert Hampson lets off a wonderfully elastic wah-wah guitar solo, but again, the 4-square beats sound as if they’re coming from a lethargic drum machine.

The aforementioned “Burning World” slows everything the fuck down to an opiated plod and piles stacks and stacks of delayed and phased guitars over tambourine-enhanced beats that clomp out a laggard tempo. Mackay’s bass line is sly seduction itself, bobbing elegantly eastward. The band leverage a lysergic, languorous whorl that rhymes perfectly with Opal’s “Soul Giver.” Nine minutes is just a tease for the gilded eternity that this blissfully apocalyptic song betokens. Hard to follow that, but Loop made their cover of Suicide’s “Rocket USA” even more ominous than the original through the armada-of-wasps buzz that the guitars and bass generate. Hampson & co. were utterly in synch with Alan Vega and Martin Rev’s unstoppable monomania, so it was no surprise they took a stab at this song. (Side note: Loop had fantastic taste in covers: Can’s “Mother Sky,” Pop Group’s “Thief Of Fire,” Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” Godflesh’s “Like Rats”; you can hear ’em all on that triple-disc comp mentioned earlier.)

With “Spinning (Parts 1 & 2),” Loop really hit their primal-rocking stride. One guitar drones and one emits solar flare solos over the memorably buoyant bass line and brute, Klaus Dinger-esque Apache beat. Now they wanna be Iggy’s dogs. “Deep Hit” is the most Spacemen 3-like song here, a sexy, sloping head-nodder that induces total understanding of the raptures of heroin without ever having to inject it. I could wander pleasurably through all of eternity amid these shivering, fuzzed-out guitars that are funhouse-mirrored to heaven and back. “I’ll Take You There” is not the Staple Singers song, but rather a pinwheeling orb of caustic guitar radiation that hovers with malevolent intent. The insistent maracas action seems to be lifted from Steve Reich’s Four Organs, which I appreciate.

Brittle Head Girl” is essentially a tribute to Faust’s “Jennifer,” its see-sawing bass line and woozy guitar shimmy complementing Hampson’s earnest paean to a… brittle head girl. It was the closest Loop ever came to writing a pop song (even if “Black Sun” was their “Black Hole Sun”), but dense, regressive radio programmers weren’t ready for such hushed sublimity.

As their name implies, Loop were all about the trance-inducing power of repetition. They blew out the minimalist exoskeletons of their songs to firmament-filling dimensions, troweling on the guitar effects, generating the most brutal yet mind-expanding textures, and Moebius-stripping themselves—and you—into deep, asteroidal space. -Buckley Mayfield

Chrome “Alien Soundtracks” (Siren, 1977)

Alien Soundtracks was where Chrome became the Chrome over which freaks worldwide have been flipping their lids for over four decades. Following the solid yet fairly trad 1976 debut LP The Visitation with founder Damon Edge at the controls, Alien Soundtracks is the San Francisco industrial-psychedelic-rock band’s first record with the uniquely blasted guitarist Helios Creed in the lineup. And what a difference he made.

Though recorded during punk’s first rude bloom, Alien Soundtracks aptly sounds as if it’s beaming in from a more grotesque and bizarre planet, one on which Johnny Rotten and Joey Ramone—gawd love ’em—would seem like innocuous cartoon figures. Allegedly recorded to accompany a live sex show, Alien Soundtracks indeed generates erotic charges, but in a form that Pornhub likely would regard as too twisted.

Album-opener “Chromosome Damage” fades in as if rising from a pit, then clicks into an accelerated, warped rock attack that reeks of rocket fuel and amphetamines. Edge croaks, “I wanna fly, I wanna fly away” before the song just fades out and morphs into a nightmarish, backward-sucking inversion of French psychonauts Heldon. Creed’s guitar sounds like if Jimi Hendrix were irradiated with Strontium-90; Helios forges some of the sickest tones ever to be associated with the mundane term “rock.” The lysergic intro of “All Data Lost” leads into a skittering, Jaki Liebezeit ca. Tago Mago ratatat and Edge’s voice downshifts into a Syd Barrett-like murmur that ripples into infinity. “SS Cygni” finds Chrome at their funkiest, but this is the hypnotic machine chug of This Heat more than it’s the bon vivant strutting of James Brown or the Meters. ‘Tis a pity it doesn’t last at least three times longer. By contrast, “Nova Feedback” is eerie, menacing, and woozy, as Creed peels off proggy, contemplative riffs that contrast with the doom-laden business roiling below. It’s a masterpiece of chiaroscuro.

The strangeness does not let up on side 2. “Pigmies In Zee Park” unloads helter-skelter guitar, percussion, synths, and mysterious vocal consternation before a gong hit produces a segue into a Floydian head trip. Edge dares a grotesque mockery of a Johnny Mathis croon about “pigmies [sic] in the park by the zoo waiting for you.” It’s damned creepy. Finally, things shift again into a manic, automaton shuffle, like a threshing machine operating in triple time. The move epitomizes Chrome’s masterly madness. “Slip It To The Android” almost comes across as a novelty-dance track, with its bustling bongo-like beats and insectoid Moog buzzes, but Creed’s needly guitar solos and Gary Spain’s Jean-Luc Ponty-esque electric-violin riffs reveal Chrome’s rarely noted Frank Zappa influence.

The methodical funk of “Pharoah Chromium” could be early Black Sabbath covering Funkadelic’s “You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks,” with an articulate, anguished Creed solo glazing this strange trudge. It sounds as if Helios let second guitarist John Lambdin take lead on “ST 37,” a Residents boogie cross-hatched with all sorts of wonky synth tones and percussion timbres. It was distinctive enough to inspire a ’90s Texas band to name themselves after it. “Magnetic Dwarf Reptile” is as bizarre as its title, and it enables Creed to flaunt that muted, radiated tone that hovers in the region of Richard Pinhas’ axe work for French sci-fi-obsessed psych juggernaut Heldon. Here and elsewhere, Creed proves he can finesse exceedingly precise arabesques or unleash massively distorted riffs that dwarf Tony Iommi’s.

That sound would dominate the essential 1979 follow-up, Half Machine Lip Moves and other otherworldly classics such as 3rd From The Sun, but all of Chrome’s ostentatious mutations cohered most rewardingly on Alien Soundtracks.

(Alien Soundtracks has been reissued on vinyl four times. A word to the wise, though: Avoid the Cleopatra editions—which is good advice in general for any release.) -Buckley Mayfield

Meat Puppets “Up On The Sun” (SST, 1985)

Kurt Cobain’s favorite Meat Puppets album was II. Obviously. And it’s not hard to understand why Nirvana covered three songs off of it (“Plateau,” “Lake Of Fire,” and “Oh, Me”). Its combo of poignant, desert-fried mysticism and virtuoso, Tasmanian Devil punk packed a distinctive punch—especially for 1984. As great as II is, though, I like Meat Puppets’ follow-up even more.

When Up On The Sun tumbled off the SST Records conveyor belt of awesomeness in 1985, it hit fans like a solar flare. Curt Kirkwood (guitar), Cris Kirkwood (bass), and Derrick Bostrom (drums) had taken another great leap forward, leaving behind their punk roots for a bizarre agglomeration of psychedelia, country/bluegrass, and prog rock. I’m happy to report that Up On The Sun still blazes as hot as it did over 35 years ago. Either that or I’m stuck in my 23-year-old mindset. Anyway

The opening title track finds Curt in mellow stoner sage vocal mode (think Jerry Garcia crossed with Steve Miller) as the group slouch into a Grateful Dead-like, implied-funk amble. Then the buoyant chorus shocks you into a body-wide alertness, as if you’ve actually found yourself on the titular star. Helluva way to begin your best album. The intro to “Maiden’s Milk” barges in with a Zappa-esque motif of absurdly frilly prog-jazzitude, then the song shifts to a swift, Leo Kottke-esque bluegrass romp, with bonus chipper whistles. Here, we become aware that Curt switches into different styles and tones with an unparalleled, speedy nonchalance that would make Frank’s mustache curl with envy.

The album’s greatest achievement, “Away” recalls both the Police’s “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around” and the Feelies’ “Away” (what are the odds?). There’s a faint undercurrent of swerving, Möbius-strip insistence in Curt’s guitar riff that speaks of Afrobeat knowledge, and the track feels as if it’s going to fly right out of the grooves into that fiery orb in the sky. The mercurial country funk of “Animal Kingdom” is awash with wonder about said domain, and the bridge features Cris’ bass mimicking noises of imaginary creatures. Nice!

Another highlight is “Swimming Ground,” which combines head-spinning country-rock euphoria and touching nostalgia for a childhood idyll. It’s as if the Puppets spiked the concept of “Americana” with the strongest amphetamines and LSD—both of which it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine the band consuming in those heady days. “Buckethead” is not a tribute to the Guns N’ Roses guitarist, as he didn’t hit public consciousness till the early ’90s, but the fleet, fluttering filigrees Curt peels off here would surely make him doff his KFC container in respect. The song sounds as if Fear Of Music-era Talking Heads had lost their uptightness and put pedal to the metal. It gives quirkiness a good name.

Up On The Sun‘s remaining five songs offer nonstop excitement. “Enchanted Porkfist” is a clunky pun, but this fast and furious instrumental zooms and curlicues like an American Southwestern Gentle Giant. It’s a new breed of prog rock in which unpredictable tempo changes and virtuosity sound as natural as getting a sunburn in Arizona, Meat Puppets’ home base. Throughout, Curt flaunts superhuman reflexes yet an unbelievably gentle touch that enables him to generate riffs that zip by at an astonishing clip while also sounding velvety, twinkly, and pliable—it really is miraculous, like the Dead’s “Dark Star” at 78rpm. “Creator” abounds with Curt’s faux-wise gobbledygook about deities—which is just as valid as any “good book”’s gobbledygook, and it boasts the advantage of rocking way harder than the Bible or Koran.

Every Meat Puppets release after Up On The Sun receded farther away from its unprecedented incandescence, and that’s okay. Cobain and company knew that trying cover anything on it would be a fool’s errand, because the songs here are too dauntingly sui generis. You have to know your limitations. -Buckley Mayfield

David Crosby “If I Could Only Remember My Name” (Atlantic, 1971)

This major-label album has emerged through nearly five decades of fluctuating interest and apathy to become at once a bargain-bin staple and a cult favorite. You don’t see that happen very often. My used copy’s cover is torn and frayed as much as David Crosby’s life has been, and that ugly exterior somehow makes the music within the grooves seem that much more special.

If I Could Only Remember My Name arose in the aftermath of Crosby’s emotional devastation following the death of his girlfriend, Christine. The former Byrd was eight miles low when he entered the studio. Emotionally and artistically buoyed by friends in high places (and high friends in spaces), Croz manifested a record that was like a miraculous mirage of folk-rock jamming and heart-string-tugging lyrics.

Name might have been the greatest pity party ever thrown, and it proved that a dozen or so millionaire musicians can set aside their egos and create an enduring work of healing spirituality, in order to mend a damaged psyche. It’s also the rare LP that has influenced middling indie-rock artists such as Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens as well as delighted lovers of rarefied psychedelia.

It begins with “Music Is Love,” a pinnacle of hippie rock. The song rides an easygoing acoustic-guitar riff and hand percussion/handclap rhythm, bolstered by a simple, indisputable message/mantra: “Everybody’s saying music is love.” Everybody was saying no such thing back then or at any other time, but isn’t it lovely to think so? Through the pure beauty of the tune, though, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Written by Crosby, Graham Nash, and Neil Young, this tune must’ve made Stephen Stills very jealous.

Then comes the “Cowgirl In The Sand”-like “Cowboy Movie,” which sounds like a laid-back James Gang with its subtle, clipped funk undertow. Grateful Dead members dominate here, with Jerry Garcia on guitars, Mickey Hart on drums, Phil Lesh on bass, Bill Kreutzmann on tambourine. Over their Haight-Ashbury groove, Crosby relates a harrowing tall tale about an Indian woman who’s not what she seems. Not sure this track needs to be over eight minutes, but maybe the drugs were kicking in real nice when Croz and company cut it. “Tamalpais High (At About 3)” is a mellow, wee-hours CSN tune with gorgeous wordless vocal harmonies—a motif on Name. With Nash joining Croz on vocals, the song goes airborne thanks to Garcia and Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen unspooling liquid gold filigrees.

For a lot of people (maybe even me), “Laughing” is the LP’s peak. You have the goddess Joni Mitchell and Nash on silken backing vocals, Garcia getting glorious on pedal steel, Phil Lesh on bass, and Kreutzmann on drums. They all lock into synch for this languorous sigh of a song that’s like a more rhythmically easygoing version of “Cowboy Movie.” Think of it as the aural analogue to the LP cover, on which the descending sun glows above the ocean that’s superimposed over Crosby’s pensive stare. The album’s most menacing track, “What Are Their Names” starts with spare, “Dark Star”-esque intrigue, thanks to Garcia’s spindly, stellar picking. With Mitchell, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, and David Freiberg on backing vocals, Croz and the crew intone lyrics about the evil men who run the country/world. Timeless stuff, unfortunately. Bonus: Seattle resident and Santana star Michael Shrieve’s on drums.

The album’s final four songs are marked by some of the most beautiful and majestic vocal arrangements and performances of the ’70s. The traditional “Orleans” is a showcase for Crosby’s soaring choirboy voice and delicately gorgeous acoustic-guitar strumming. You can hear its profound influence on Fleet Foxes, for what that’s worth. This track bleeds seamlessly into “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here,” whose vocal origami of ancient-sounding majesty prefigures Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard. Yep.

There are fewer rougher bummers than losing a lover to death, obviously, but Crosby and his posse of West Coast all-stars turned the sourest lemon into the sweetest lemonade on If I Could Only Remember My Name. -Buckley Mayfield