Blastitude Number Seven
issue 8  june/july 2001
page 2



Reviews (various)

The third-best studio album by The 13th Floor Elevators. They only made three, and this is definitely the third-best, but don't let that scare you. I first got interested in Bull Of... when Forced Exposure called it only 'a subtly-tranced masterpiece of lo-key psychedelics'. Who wouldn't get interested? Then Charles Lieurance played me "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?", a track from Bull Of..., as it appeared on some compilation (Rhino?), and it actually was 'a masterpiece of lo-key, tranced psychedelics'. After all this enticement, I went right ahead and bought the Collectables CD reissue for $11 new at the Antiquarium in Omaha. (And why can't more CDs cost $11? I know I'd buy a lot more…)
       Alright, let's give it a spin...well, the first song "Livin' On" sounds pretty good, kind of a funky strutter, with the electric jug a burblin', and a sly vocal by Roky…in fact, it's quite a bit more sly than the sly moments on their previous album Easter Everywhere….these guys really are slowin' down! Right on time with further confirmation (of this increased slowness) is the second track, "Barnyard Blues," an almost comically laid-back and slowed-down boogie blues tune, sung in a sorta soft-spoken near-mushmouth style by guitarist Stacey Sutherland, two minutes and thirty seconds that feels like five minutes and thirty seconds (in a good way). (I like the way Sutherland sings "Someday, I hope to give name.")
       The next track "Till Then" is co-written by Sutherland and Hall, and sung by Sutherland in the dreampoppy falsetto-y voice heard to great effect on Easter's "Nobody to Love." (Although there's kind of a 'studio choir' of vocals going through a lot of the song - could be Roky in there or it could even be Sutherland doing overdubs…) It's got an upbeat feel-good rhythm and a "La-la la la la….La-la la la la" chorus - really a little gem of feel-good psychedelic garage stuff.
       With the fourth track "Never Another," Roky makes a triumphant return as lead vocalist, Tommy Hall's electric jug is grooving (he only appears on two or three songs on Bull, taking a well-deserved break after saturating the first two records with his mysterious and constant sound), and you're right back in Easter Everywhere territory, only now it's been stoked by that new and slower Bull-groove, and what's more the song quickly gets bogged down in a weird bridge (or is it the chorus?) with french horn overdubs (producer Ray Rush's idea?), only to escape via a few guitar licks into one of the least laid-back grooves on the album, a rideout over which Roky ad libs and testifies and really kinda gets himself worked up, almost sounding like a gospel soul singer scatting out an ephiphany, while the band kinda raves up behind him.
       "Rose and the Thorn" is an epic ballad sort of thing, with a rather melodramatic chord progression that lives up to its programmatic title, with Sutherland singing like he's standing on a mountain. Still gotta love the glorious distant female background vocals, and how the band picks up for another dreamy upbeat rock chorus. Jeez, "Down By The River" just kinda went right by me while I was finishing up the last sentence…it was short….was it instrumental? I think Sutherland sang at the beginning but then just kinda disappeared. No, it's not a Neil Young cover, Sutherland having the sole credit. (Again,
Stacey Sutherland was the bandleader on Bull of the Woods.)
"Scarlet and Gold" is another one of Sutherland's programmatic numbers ('costume melodrama' rock?), not a bad one either, with more of those great distant background vocals, and another 'symbolic juxtaposition' in the title that sounds like it coulda come from King Arthur lore. It maintains the vibe, but its not really one of the more essential tracks on the LP, and I'm glad Sutherland didn't go down these Arthurian roads any more than he did.
        "Street Song" lives up to its title, a tough rocker with a heavy tom-tom beat and another cool double-tracked swagger vocal from Sutherland. Great echo-drenched guitar overdubs, that come on like they're gonna play the whole Who-ish heavy rock riff but are clipped off so that the echo rings out over the rhythm section rumble. It's sloppy but it's heavy. Did I mention laid-back? This album is even more zoned-out than Easter Everywhere, while somehow being more traditional at the same time. Next is the memorably titled "Dr. Doom," probably named after the Marvel Comics supervillian who had by the time this was recorded already appeared in the Fantastic Four comic book. It doesn't really live up to any connotations the title might give, starting out like a perverse take-off on twee-pop, with more french horns, before kicking into another Easter groove with a sublime circular vocal line in which Sutherland is joined by Roky for a great sound. Unfortunately it's lost a bit due to more french horn overdubs. Really kind of a shame. It's another Hall-Sutherland composition but the electric jug doesn't appear. "With You" is credited to someone who's name is "Leatherman." It sounds basically like an Elevators song, though again not really an essential one. It's tracks like this, and to a lesser extent, "Scarlet and Gold," that solidify Bull's place as third-best Elevators studio album. But then comes the last song on the album, one of the very best three-four minutes of music ever credited to the 13th Floor Elevators, a Roky Erickson composition, the aforementioned "Will The Circle Remain Unbroken?" Completely shaken echo-y percussion that sounds like Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy by Sun Ra, a psychedelic western-folk part played on the anchoring guitar, bolstered by Hammond organ playing that plays sweet southern melodies but also sounds like it's going to teeter into Carnival of Souls territory any second. Then there's Roky's singing (or is it Roky? it doesn't really sound like him or Sutherland…), hushed, sad, sweet, calm, resigned, as the echo-y vast tones surround him and buoy him. All doused in vintage psychedelic studio reverb. A must hear, and a very effective closer for Bull in the Woods, as fine of a third-best album as any band could hope for.

These records strike me as 90s versions -- maybe self-conscious, maybe not -- of 'real persons folk LP' artifacts. I don't know a whole lot about the real persons folk movement, or if I'm even referring to it correctly, but there was a thread on Drone-On recently about it. It seems there's this compilation CD called Love, Peace, and Poetry that is a decent introduction to this whole genre, which basically consists of weird awkward people singing weird awkward personal folk songs, the kind of things you might find in a thrift store for 25 cents, released twenty years ago, featuring some superficially innocuous cover of a guy with slightly long hair smiling or something, but you can tell there's something not…quite…right about the cover photo, like maybe there's some weird painting hanging on the wall behind him that would never appear on a more profesh singer/songwriter album cover. So you buy it and take it home, and thirty seconds into the first cut your basic reaction is that it's a rather awkward (and maybe even poor) attempt at some sort of then-contemporary "Are you going to San Francisco?" vibe by someone who wants to but will never be James Taylor, but something compels you to keep listening, and by the fourth cut on side one the weirdness is still happening and it's getting weirder and pretty soon you notice that your cats are gone, all the mirrors in your house have turned upside down, the sky outside is now pink, and the guy on the record is STILL singing about butterflies.
        Or at least that's one way it might go; again, I haven't really experienced the 'real persons' genre myself, but I think that these records from Flipped Out might be the closest I've gotten. It would be quite an experience to find these records in a thrift store 20 years from now, with their cheap pasted-on B&W covers and plain-label aesthetic, and with the woozy folk music contained in the grooves. It's almost like coming across these records now, in their own Siltbreeze-contemporary decade, where all kinds of records have pasted-on B&W covers and woozy folk music contained in the grooves, is the wrong way to do it. The weirdness of these records would be more effective if they were filed in between the Swingle Singers and Herb Alpert than if they were filed between Hall of Fame and Tower Recordings, but.
       Macarthur Parker is a one-sided LP, basically just one long song or three or four songs with a rambling, connected, suite-like feel, the song parts dropping out for long extrapolative cello/guitar sections and whatnot…it's actually quite cool. There is plenty of that 'post-Siltbreeze forlorn-ness' in the way the opening acoustic guitar chords sort of sit there in the thinly recorded air. The vocals enter (sung by Macarthur himself?) and he has a unique crisply-enunciated deep-ish voice, sounding a little kooky when he sings lyrics like "she's my designated driver/and my holocaust survivor." There's also a profane edge lurking underneath, Macarthur occasionally breaking into near-rants peppered with "f" words and the like. It's good, man -- the cello really makes it. I've spun this one-sider quite a bit just this weekend and it's good and still getting better.
       And, in fact, I'm currently spinning the Connie Acher & Jelly LP for maybe the fourth time and it's starting to connect too. It initially went under/over/around my radar, but this time its fragile little folk/pop is sounding just about right. Acher lives in NYC. Her songs are short and kind of sweet and pretty, but also kind of awkward sounding, like they might fall apart any minute. Arrangements are sparse, mainly just her accomplished but delicate and unassuming guitar playing and vocals. Jelly, her backup band, seems to consist of another electric guitar player, a skewed sort of kitchenette-type percussionist, and not much else. (Male vocals appear, but only on one song that I remember.) It might be recorded live -- in the middle of side two Acher is heard introducing a song, though if there's an audience I can't tell from listening. It all goes down pretty nicely, with a fair share of that certain combination of dreamy 'n' skewed that I pretty much demand from my post-folk/psych/rock listening diet.
        You can get both of these records plus another Connie Acher LP for $20 postpaid from Flipped Out. At least that was offered in the last group mail I got from the label.

Flipped Out Records

BIG WHISKEY: The Bloated Museum of Treachery CD (WARM FREEDOM OF TONGUE); Plays the Music of Chuck Stallion & the Mustangs CD-R (SLIPPYTOWN)
Bloated Museum is, I'm gonna go right out and say it, a masterpiece. Just when you thought the psych/jam/drone/improv gtr/drum duo concept was getting tired, along comes this to remind you that good music just happens, baby. Not since the Daily Dance CD reissue on Warm-O-Brisk has said concept gotten such a head-cleaning. I don't know if guitarist etc. Don Rettman is doing overdubs or what -- I doubt it, because the whole record has a very live feel -- but he'll get some kind of whooshing/rumbling mysterio-rake going, perhaps through delay pedals (though it doesn't really sound like it), and then he'll get something else going on top of that, usually slightly more 'rock' referencing, and both things really seem to play with and around each other with their own life, not just lock and drone like too many perps are doin' these days.
      You can tell the guy is a 'real' player and that he's not afraid of rock music. In fact, track two is almost ALL rock, with Rettman playing this two/three-note blues/wah groove over and over until its overtones start playing it right back and drummer Dave Bryson gets a groove going on his toms and the whole thing trances out and bubbles for about ten minutes. And while the blues/stutter/trance thing is going on, sure enough, these swooping low-dive feedback patterns can be heard in the background, and they eventually start coalescing into tweaked melodies that almost sound like Larry Young himself wandered in and is playing some funky Hammond B-3. How does Rettman do it? I don't know, his credit reads "gtr/keys/perc/
etc" -- maybe he's playing the guitar with his hand and keyboards with his feet.
        After that track, a number you could actually dance to, comes a languid thunderstorm type drone-out that you could really only lay down to. And the hits don't stop either -- seven longish tracks adding up to a full 62 minutes of music. In fact, the only thing possibly keeping this alb from masterpiece status is that it is a little long...maybe one track too long...but if they were gonna take one off, you'd hate for it to be track four, a glorious subdued-but-dangerous percussion trance-out for which Bryson should be given THE gold medal. As good as Rettman is, Bryson is just as instrumental in giving these jams their shape, whether he's tracing the smoke in the air above Rettman's blasted landscape with delicate cymbal work, or assaying the aforementioned trance/groove style in a perfectly minimalist fashion. Eddie Flowers described this aspect of the CD very well on his Slippytown website: "I dig that most of it has all this distorted guitar and shit on top of drumming that's in-the-pocket like a Krautrocker lost in a 'shroom-trance...This CD is a perfect example of what folks can do once they 'discover' the 'secret' of music is simple: rhythm + sound = music. Infinite arrangements are then wonderfully possible."
        Speaking of Eddie Flowers, his estimable Slippytown culture empire has put out another Big Whiskey disc, this one a CD-R called Big Whiskey Plays the Music of Chuck Stallion & the Mustangs. It starts disorientingly with the very end of a live set by some other band (with a Sun Ra aesthetic in their keyboard). There's a bit of applause, and then two or three minutes of barely recorded talking and fumbling, and then, after an edit, we go into some music by Big Whiskey, probably playing after the set we just heard end.
        Track two, the first 'real' track, is more 'rock' than anything on Bloated; slightly chimy, perhaps slightly drunken, and even slightly marchy. None of the mystro-haze that permeates all of Bloated is in evidence; this music is starker and cruder. The irony is that this time they have a third member, a "guitar/tapes/percussion" guy called Fritz; I almost wonder if he was supposed to be credited on Bloated instead of this album!
        But then, track two is only three minutes long; track three is back towards Bloated territory with dense foggy noise/drone/scrape/swirl/shudder that goes on for 11 minutes. Fritz seems to be more in evidence. As the CD progresses, it continues to evince more of a rock/pummel vibe (check the scorching "In the Court of King Cooper") and less of a mystro-hush pan-envelopment angle as Bloated. Although on track 5, we're back to chiming, tinkling, shaking AACM-ish whisper percussion and quiet out-rock guitar. And more and more again anon. It's all solid, and a worthy followup to Bloated, although it decidely doesn't have the masterpiece aura of its predecessor. Which, in a way, is kind of a relief. I mean, no one should be that good!
        ...............Aw shit, this just in, the mail, that is: Pictures of an Exhibitionist, the third release by Big Whiskey, this one featuring two 20+ minute tracks (aka the 'one jam per side' psych LP template) recorded live in the studio of WPRB Radio, Princeton, as it was broadcast out over the wilds of Jersey, Philly, etc. in July 2000. And they are that good, again. I can't say it's as good as Bloated Museum of Treachery, because the switch-up to 'one jam per side' methodology makes it fresh, not comparable. Either way, this is primo fog-jam rumble. It's like I'm back listening to a side-long No-Neck jam for the first time. And the cover art is exquisite, in a way that only Matt Focht (you might not know him) could describe as "pimped-out." To buy it, get with Gold Teeth.

Slippytown, one more time!
Gold Teeth Records



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