November 2010

Christopher: Breakin' in the West Coast (Psych) Scene

There’s a ridiculous cache of Texas based psych bands dating to the sixties. And while most of the focus has been on Austin and its surrounding environs, Texas is bigger than most folks realize. So in each one of those cities and towns you’ve heard of, there were a few notable groups kicking around.

The difference between the Austin groups and those that hailed from elsewhere is that there were a wealth of bands that didn’t split and head west. Christopher, though, apparently didn’t care too much for Houston – well its precursor United Gas didn’t and headed out to Las Vegas, kicked around there a bit showed off some talents and was eventually asked by a label to change its name so as not to be confused with Pacific Gas and Electric.

Regardless of the circumstances behind the band changing its name, the fact that all involved wound up in Los Angeles and earning the right to record an album speaks to the ensemble’s talent. And while there’s really not too much negative press on this lone, self titled album from 1970, it seems that there wasn’t too much there beyond a talented group and a penchant for writing songs stoners might enjoy.

Twink: Accidental Career (Psych) Highlights

Honestly, there’re probably too many stories to tell involving Twink – both musically and socially - to ever have it succinctly wrapped up into a single piece of writing. It’d be difficult to figure a book any shorter than three hundred pages would suffice. Or a two hour documentary. Some one needs to get on that.

Twink, who drummed for everyone from the Pretty Things to Hawkwind, possesses such a ridiculously unruly back catalog that about a decade back, an entire album’s worth of material, which was oddly dubbed experimental in nature, was unearthed. And the guy didn’t even really recall the works.

Stephen David Heitkotter: More Low Run (Psych) Drudgery

The internet is a wealth of promulgated myths. There’s as much misinformation as anything else on here (This site is no exception. I’m sure there’re a few misleading bits here and there.). So, when attempting to dig up some semblance of historical fact regarding Stephen David Heitkotter’s only album reading stuff about him living in a mental institution doesn’t necessarily do much for me. That being said, even my mentioning the song writer and band leader’s potential mental instability serves to bolster previous claims. It’s probably a crook, but so are most privately pressed albums which are today sought after by geeks of me level.

So, whether or not Heikotter was a nutter or not is still up in the air. It would account for some of the more shambolic spots on his lone disc, but still. You know.

Anyway, working in a trio and rambling through five tracks, each of which has totally disregard for pop song’s duration, finds Heikotter and his rhythm section mining some slower psych compositions. It all works out to being just about the same sort of stoned shuffle.

Randy California: Haze, Spirit, Hendrix and Hard Rock

After being intrigued and then endlessly disappointed by Spirit and it’s verbosely titled Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus it’s something of a surprise that Randy California was able to spit out a relatively engaging disc of early seventies hard rock and psych.

Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds is as poorly titled as any record Spirit released. At the same time, though California was able to reign in some of the less workable combinations of folk, jazz and psych that so freely intermingled in that other group. We can all attribute the relative success of this disc to that combination, or lack there of. But what’s also important to note, is the unaccredited appearance of Jimi Hendrix’ British rhythm section. Both Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell turn in some work here. And while it’d be impossible to differentiate between what those folks turned in, what the Spirit drummer and basser were capable of and whoever else plays on this disc, a few tracks sound more Hendrixian than others.

Richard Youngs: At Least One-Third Succesful at Being Avant Garde and Entertaining Concurrently

There a number of things working in favor of Richard Youngs’ 1990 album Advent, one of them being the fact that Table of Elements, an imprint of note for working with profound guitar theatrics from the late seventies’ New York scene, released it. Of course, Jagjaguwar has reissued it, so maybe that point’s moot.

Working against this album is that it was on Pitchfork’s radar, yeah an easy target, but I’ll still take aim. Thing is, the website only gave the disc an 7.5 rating, which isn’t bad, but Modest Mouse has probably scored higher and that band’s pretty much rubbish.

In Youngs’ favor, Advent finds itself mostly concerned with musical territory hashed out by the likes of the aforementioned minimalists, but also Terry Riley, if his affinity for electronic keyboards was replaced with a penchant for grand pianos, and even Steven Reich to the point that these compositions – all three of them, each clocking in at about ten minutes apiece – develop as slowly as your grandmother moves from her recliner to the toilet with a weird apparatus affixed to assist here getting up and down. See, we do have something to be thankful for during the beginning of this holiday season.

Tarkus: Obvious (Hard Rock/Psych) Exaggerations

Living in Peru and naming your band Telegraph Avenue after either the street in San Fran or Oakland (after all the one in the East Bay leads smack dab into the middle of the Berkeley campus) seems like an odd move. And its perhaps part of the reason that band, apparently, petered out. Resulting from the disintegration of that ensemble, though, was Tarkus’ formation. It doesn’t sound like the most overwhelming transition seeing as neither group is all that (in)famous at this point. But Peru (and Argentina) and the rest of Sur America are currently having their musical histories raked over to locate some random, scarce psych gems. This isn’t Los Saicos in stance or style, but Tarkus is sure to appeal to tweekers out there with a Zeppelin fetish and concurrent Ozzie fixation.

Those two name checks right there might be inofficious, but are going to have to suffice. Of course, reducing Tarkus to just those two things is ludicrous, but after a cursory listen the Zeppelin thing is all too apparent. That being said, these Peruvians had the good sense to eschew ten minute compositions for the stinging brevity of works unfolding over the course of its lone, self titled album.

While the album maintains that hard rock feel, there’s a bit of left over psych stuff springing from the cracks. Opening “Tema Para Lilus” with a guitar line pregnant with pauses points to the ensembles sensitivity towards weird songcraft. Compounding what should be apparent by the time listeners make it that deep into Tarkus’ are the theatric vocals settling in somewhere alongside The Rocky Horror Picture Show for its obvious exaggerations.

Purling Hiss: Enough LSD to Stun a Cow

If you’re familiar with Birds of Maya – or even if you’re not and can summon sounds of seventies hard rock shot through with enough LSD to stun a cow – than Purling Hiss isn’t gonna be too difficult to fully grasp. Granted, Mike Polizze, who comprises all of Purling Hiss, has taken all those seventies influences, but boiled down the song-craft to its UR-essence. That’s not to detract from Birds of Maya and it’s stoned glory, there’s just more of a sheen gleaming off of this Purling Hiss effort as opposed to the greasy stench emanating from that other outfit.

Von Bingen: Primitive Futurises, Sounds and/or Noise

As a disclaimer, what follows is basically effusive gushing.

Anyway, it’s difficult to get plainly excited about a new work when listening to so much music over an extended period of time. There’s so much mirroring and borrowing that at times everything within a genre seems almost indecipherable from the next album that’s set to be released and swing through one’s mind.

Von Bingen doesn’t arrive as a wholly unique project. That’s almost impossible. But in the group’s attempt to merge a few different, although easily relatable musical ideas, the results wind up being extraordinarily entertaining. Still, this album probably isn’t for folks who enjoy concise pop songs – well, maybe it is if you’re also given over to extended form, Eastern improvisations that seemingly float in space and time only to resolve themselves when the music demands it and not necessarily the people playing.

Von Bingen – comprising Daniel Presnell, Jenni Pace Presnell, Richard Smith  and Joshua Stevenson – could probably be passed off as a solo, studio endeavor. It’s obviously not, though. And probably benefits by the combination of personalities who contribute to the work here.

The Blue Things: Hinting at a Psych Still a Few Years Off

Pretty much every group starting up ‘round the time that the Beatles ostensibly changed popular music seemed to move along in the same trajectory as the Brit based group. It also kinda seems that prior to the four’s arrival Stateside that most rock groups were tossing around bleary eyed folk stuff and fey rock and roll which resulted in a wide spread of groups all sounding just about the same.

Of course, there were slight stylistic differences, one group relying more on acoustic guitars and standards or another all electric while attempting to forge some new type of rock lingua franca. There wasn’t too much that gelled and today remains tremendously engaging.

And for all the kind words spilled detailing the Blue Things’ career, the Kansas band ranks as one of those ensembles that just won’t impact too many modern listeners.

That’s not to say that the band was either void of talent or completely incapable of working up a good racket. Spread across a two disc anthology issued through the Collectables imprint are more than a couple good compositions, but not too many more.

Sleep and the Weird Resurgence in Dumb Metal Being Figured as High Art

Yes, that is one of the most shockingly cheeseball covers of any album – metal related or otherwise  - perhaps in the history of recorded music. Should that dissuade you from taking in the churned out grooves here? Nope. If that album cover is the worst of all time, the dumb rock music on here ranks almost as highly in the other direction. That’s not even hyperbole – and I’m generally pretty forthcoming when I get all verbose about a work.

Circuit Rider: Is Jim Morrison in There? Nope.

Good lord. This deal is symptomatic of a greater problem. Certainly there a number of folks out there lauding untrained musicians and artists as the true holders of the creative spirit and not people trained in academic institutions. Of course, the funny thing is those outsiders, sooner or later, are embraced by intellectuals and written about in long form essays detailing disabused talents.

Gaunt: Plucked Outta Columbus

It wouldn’t be difficult to make a case for Columbus, Ohio’s Gaunt to be figured as just another nineties band whose career was eventually wrecked in part due to major labels descending upon almost any city in search of the next Nirvana.

That’s reductive, to be sure. Gaunt doesn’t bear much more than a passing similarity to that Seattle troupe. Of course, there’s a tossed off charm being expounded by the shambolic and skuzzy songs, each over run with feedback and simple chords charging to some unknown endgame. It sounds as if even Gaunt doesn’t know what’s set to follow, but manages to hold on just tight enough to keep it all from flying apart.

Forming in 1991, Gaunt’s musical lineage probably stretches back to forgotten bands from Columbus seeing as the group’s first order of business was working up compositions for a split with the New Bomb Turks. There was something there.

The Charlatans: A Nascent San Fran Psych

The phenomenon that counts as the San Francisco rock scene can’t have any determinate beginning. Different folks figure the impetus for all that acid inspired rock stuff as coming from any number of groups – the Dead, the Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service. But for whatever reason – well, there’s actually a good one that we’ll get to in a moment – The Charlatans have been largely ignored.

King Darves:Tony Rettman is More Amusing Than This Disc is Good

When not writing endless histories on hardcore of the Detroit variety, Tony Rettman is apparently being hilarious while writing liner notes.

For the King Darves release, there’s mention of the clap. What else needs to be said after that? Probably nothing. And that’s for the best seeing as the De Stijl released album is kinda verbose as its working to be bucolic and outsidery. It succeeds on all counts.

Switched Up Psych: Dungen Used to Be Really Good

It’s been damn near close to a decade that Dungen’s been releasing music. Over that time various strains of psych music have risen to relative prominence in the underground. Reissues have swept up ridiculous sums of money and the States got a new president.

None of those things directly impact that way anyone could or should listen to Dungen’s music. And there’s really no way to figure that history has impacted the designs behind the group’s sound. Two very specific things have changed since the release of the band’s 2001, self titled album.  

Firstly, head honcho Gustav Ejstes has gone from recording everything himself to enlisting other players in the pursuit of studio excellence. Dungen has also, somehow, become less complicated. Dungen just sounds different, less muscular and more jacked into prog sounds then ever before.

Of course, all of these things can be seen as an extension of the each other, but whatever.

As with any ensemble that’s been around there was bound to be change, though. And if Skit I Allt, which apparently translates to something like ‘Fuck It All,’ winds up being as far gone as these Swedes get, then that’s not too awful.

Tame Impala: The Aussie version of Dungen

Seeing as Dungen hasn’t released too much material in the last few years worth listening to, there might as well be a new wave of rock groups approximating that band’s sound. Intentional or not, Tame Impala comes off in that light. And while only a modicum of ‘press’ outlets have made that connection, it’s there and pretty easy to hear. Everything from the hyperactive drum patters to the purposefully spacey wave of sounds backing each track, these Aussies are the Cliffs Notes for that Swedish band.

It’s funny reading the bit worked up on Tame Impala over at Daytrotter. Apart from the accompanying narrative having nothing to do with the music or even being applicable to explaining an aural sensation, the comments section is a litany of bullshit only a bunch of tiny minded dullards would be capable of. Cries of ‘the best album of the year’ abound. There might be a mention of Dungen in there somewhere, but the vacuous nature of all of this is beyond ridiculous.

Tame Imapla aren’t a waste of time, but the illustrious Lester Bangs was weary of hype. And I’d be hard pressed to think of another occasion where such strains of nonsense were considered fact – apart from anything regarding Animal Collective, of course.

Gonn: Tougher than the Rest of Iowa

Lauding garage bands at this late date is a seemingly empty endeavor. That being said, some acts from the furthest reaches of American civilization remain immensely intriguing. For being so removed from huge cities – New Yawk, Los Angeles, Chi, etc – a group of miscreant, Iowa natives felt it necessary to rave up some of the most twisted, distorted and forward leaning grooves during a two year period.

Between 1966 and 1968, GONN gigged around the middle of nowhere in a hearse, apparently, performed at state fairs and otherwise, cut some sides and all of this in front of a Nazi flag as frequently as possible.