Psych and Prog

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

Can “Can” (Harvest, 1979)

Can’s 11th studio album, Can (aka Inner Space), generally receives less attention and praise than their earlier, better-known full-lengths, but it’s actually a pretty strong record. There are some duds here, to be sure, but when they’re good, they’re very good. Even at this late, these krautrock legends still had mad creative juice.

By 1979, Can were in a weird place. Original bassist Holger Czukay was relegated to editing tape in the studio; Traffic and Stomu Yamash’ta bassist Rosko Gee replaced him, while fellow Traffic member Rebop Kwaku Baah joined the group as a percussionist. Wonderfully idiosyncratic singers Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki were long gone, so guitarist Michael Karoli assumed vocal duties with a workmanlike blandness. Yet despite this inauspicious situation, Can still delivered five excellent tracks (out of eight), which is quite respectable for a band 11 years into their career.

Can opens with one of the unit’s greatest tracks of any period, “All Gates Open.” (Note: The new Can biography by Rob Young and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt uses this phrase as its title.) Jaki Liebezeit kicks out a busted-metronome beat that sort of mocks disco while Czukay ladles in mysterious, menacing noises and Karoli jams out a riff that the Fall stole for “Shoulder Pads 1 & 2.” Eventually and without warning, Schmidt generates a radiant swell of tones that overwhelms you like an orgasmic epiphany. And then there are the bluesy harmonica parts—about the last thing you’d expect in a Can composition. This is an eight-minute epic worth every odd second. Another eight-plus minutes of weirdness, “Safe” finds Karoli channeling Carlos Santana’s rococo, piercing runs and Czukay creating a bizarre, cavernous soundworld as Liebezeit keeps lopsided martial time. “Sunday Jam” offers more Latin-rock lushness with a rhythm that gushes forth with an abundance of “Black Magic Woman” intrigue. Side 1 slays all in its path.

Side 2 starts extremely well, with “Sodom” and “A Spectacle.” The former is a very ominous rock song that bears the gravitas of Goblin or post-Syd Pink Floyd, as Karoli wrenches serpentine, liquid silver from his guitar. The latter is an elegantly spluttering specimen of disco (not disco) that starts startlingly in mid-stride. As Gee’s bass line sends your ears on a thrilling roller-coaster ride, Liebezeit concocts a miracle of stutter-funk footwork and sticksmanship. You need at least three legs to dance to this track properly.

“E.F.S. Nr. 99 (Can Can)” is where things get dicey. This admittedly spirited cover of a piece by the 19th-century composer Jacques Offenbach was seemingly done for its wordplay potential alone. Let us never speak of it again. “Ping Pong” captures 25 seconds of a ping-pong ball bouncing. Why?! Dunno. Because they could? Finally, the flamboyant biker-rock blowout of “Can Be” recalls “Full Moon On The Highway” from Landed, but it’s not as badass.

So, yeah, Can ends bafflingly badly, but its high points are so stratospheric, they’re cancelled out. Don’t pay attention to the fans who say Can didn’t make any great records after Future Days or Soon Over Babaluma. This one’s a stunning sleeper. -Buckley Mayfield

Taj Mahal Travellers “August 1974” (Columbia Japan, 1975)

When talk turns to ultimate space-out albums, as it inevitably must if you’re living life to the fullest, you have to include this sprawling double album by Japan’s Taj Mahal Travellers in the conversation. Recorded live almost 44 years ago, the four sidelong tracks on August 1974 will test most people’s patience, as the album’s 88 minutes dilate time and alter space with no conventional vocals, beats, bass, or even structure, really. Instead, violinist Takehisa Kosugi and his stoic ensemble improvise drones that meander through the cosmos in a state of rigorous wonder. 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.

The variations that occur in each of August 1974‘s four untitled tracks are subtle. The pieces toggle between tranquility and chaos with gradual and unpredictable shifts in intensity. The second one for, example, features what seems like some unidentifiable beast’s growl synthesized into an unsettling lament while a mandolin fibrillates with emergency-room adrenaline, before things slide into a bleak vista of woebegone moans, metallic percussion, sporadic timpani hits, and bizarre, electronically treated vocals. The organic and the synthetic elements blend indistinguishably—probably because everything seems as if it’s running through processors that leave an otherworldly sheen on all the elements.

The final cut is an amazing agglomeration of ominous synth pulsations, strafing electric-violin motifs, and a menagerie of strange percussive timbres. It’s here where August 1974 achieves its psychedelic zenith. If you suffer from ADHD and can only handle about a third of an hour of music at a time, go straight for track 4, which packs the most excitement per minute.

Let’s be clear about Taj Mahal Travellers: They’re not for everybody; this may be the biggest understatement I’ve ever made. They may only be for a few thousand people in the entire world. (The YouTube video of August 1974 stands at 1,501 views as I type.) Nevertheless, the impact that their enigmatic sonic streams of consciousness have made on those folks who do get it is profound. And under the right circumstances—out in nature, in a darkened room while under the influence of your favorite hallucinogen, in a vehicle moving through a mountain range, etc.—this record will put your mind through some uniquely rewarding contortions.

(Good news: Belgium’s Aguirre Records reissued August 1974 on vinyl in 2018.) -Buckley Mayfield

Rotary Connection “Aladdin” (Cadet Concept, 1968)

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

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

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

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

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