I am currently nursing an annually re-emergent infatuation
with Love's 1967 masterpiece Forever Changes, only made worse this time by
reading Andrew Hultkrans (short) book-length interpretation of the dodgy
happenings in the record and how and why they freak us out. Forever
Changes (listen on lala) is an exemplary psychedelic record - Hultkrans describes it a "peerlessly
psychedelic" - because everything it says must be inferred, nothing is direct or clear. The trappings of flower
power are squeezed for their nectar and the limp petals are carefully pressed
and preserved in this Victorian scrapbook of a record. I caught myself thinking
this record should be covered by a crack early music group brandishing period
instruments, with Julian Cope's snotty recitation standing in for the departed Arthur Lee. Forty years, and this record is changing
people. Maybe that's what he meant.
None of the three records illuminated below, waiting to be reviewed on my desk, have quite the synergy
of form, facade and fear that make Forever Changes so intoxicating, and its an unfair thing to expect they would, but they
all contain parts of the equation and bear some vague resemblance.
When Devendra Banhart emerged, I was among the many to
accuse him of trying to be/grant him the mantle of being the New Marc Bolan, delicate sylvan
noodling of his Tyrannosaurus becoming a sleazier, drug-addled T. But perhaps
he is our Arthur Lee without the paranoia that makes such an out cat as Lee so
affable. Banhart has Lee's pampered,
scene-king dandy shtick down to a carefully perused script, but mirrors the
reversal of the times between then and now. Lee was apocalyptic and frightened, aware of
the world collapseing around him. Banhart instead embraces fully the vapidity of
the never-happen-to-me set in his later albums and his new joint Megapuss, and,
to borrow a phrase from Tim Gunn perusing frenzied fashion designers trying to
appear sincere on television, makes it work. Surfing vacillates between spot-on
to stupid, often in the bounds of the same song. The opener "Crop Circle Jerk '94"
is an infectious nostalgia romp of tambourine and handclaps, like if the
Daptones were inflating a minor song form Hair with their secret post-Stax
genius. "Theme from Hollywood" is even more insipid than the name suggests, but
the Sunset Strip swagger it inhabits is catchy as hell. You wish you were having
too much fun too. Elsewhere in the album, though, conceptual brainfarts stink
up the room: The foolish, simplistic race commentary "Duck People Duck Man"
leaves you wondering if the objects of the song or the singer are the foolish
ethno-tourists, metaphorically and personally buying their hummus from Trader
Joe's. I'm not opposed to Trader Joe's, I wish one would open up down here in the
dirty South, but it is a week substitute for the real culture.
Banhart and cohorts manage to occasionally make
hipster gibberish sound momentarily genius with their confident delivery. Take "Hamman",
his chants bear weight that their words could never convey. The difference
though is at the center of Arthur Lee's tangled language is the Abyss; in
Banhart's, it might just be a Trader Joe's, and truthfully, I would probably
spend more clock time at the Trader Joe's than the Abyss if they had one here.
Listen on lala
MV&EE with the Golden Road
Matt Valentine and Erika Elder possess little if no swagger
on Drone Trailer, in fact one wonders if they can pull themselves off the
floor. On the six lugubrious acid
workouts on this record, they go into various dark terrains of the psychedelic mindset.
"Anyway" is sun-bleached power riffs blasted out of the busted speakers of cars
abandoned in the desert. "The Hungry Stones" is harrowing in the solo Neil
Young variety, but both speak to a comfort with the formlessness that Lee
approached during the abstract portions of his songs. The epic length "Weatherhead
Hollow" can be seen as an extended variant of the we're all normal and we want our freedom section of Love's "The Red
Telephone", humanity hanging on the threads of gossamer acoustic guitars in the
Or, they could be seen as jams of the most egregious
looseness. Either way, I'm OK with it. Like Lee and his Baroque dandyism,
Valentine and Elder make you believe they fully live in the spirit world they conjure.
"Twitchin'" can then been seen as the exposition on this record. It is like a John Martyn tapestry pulled
apart to get at the threads. Their loose
application of harmoniousness between the vocals and the music takes some getting
used to, but here in the desert of the psychedelic soul, the location
sketched out in the gossamer closing track "Huma Cosm", we have plenty of time.
MV+EE's MySpace page
Fire on Fire
Fire on Fire are psychedelic formalists of the highest
water. Their approach is that of the crack, cracked string bands of yore like
Incredible String Band and Holy Modal Rounders and the lush chamber dwellers like
Love. The group lives and makes stirring acoustic music communally, howling in
unison like Sacred Harp Singers terrified to find themselves in Purgatory. "Sirocco"
sets the tenor of this splendid record, accordions offering counterpart to a
precision cycle of banjos and hand percussion. The chorus offers if we tear this kingdom down, let be with a deserving and joyous sound.
Amen, and the kingdom is all around you.
Fire on Fire are dead serious in mission, but do it with a rapturous
and confident manner that you want to sign up with their cult recruiter. "Heavy
D" is a perfectly wrought chantey not about the rapper - at least I don't think
so - but a meditation on heaviness itself. "Assanine Race" is serpentine in
meaning like much of their material, and that of great psychedelic music, and
it points to what is so potent about this music. They utilize and exploit the
most accessible of folk plainsong melody, using them as a raised bed out of
which grows frightening vines that eventually choke everything else out. You enter their garden to smell the roses but
find yourself quickly tangled in thorns.
If I were to have any complaints about this record, it would
be that it is too much. I fell head over heels for their self-titled EP because
in its five tracks formed the four walls and roof of a house in which you could
spend some time. The Orchard is like a real orchard: endless with row after
precision row of ripe luscious fruit for the tasting. After a while I find
myself no longer listening specifically but contextually and ultimately when the
hypnotic "Haystack" comes around the bend, I have had too much fruit, lost in
their plantings, delirious to the point of collapse. I think this is what all psychedelic music
really goes for, that kind of completion where attention becomes irrelevant because
one is in union with the waves crashing around you.
Fire on Fire's MySpace page
Top: Photo from a production of Marat/Sade (where Arthur Lee got the line we're all normal and we want our freedom) staged by the Directorate of Morale, Welfare, and Recreation at Fort Gordon, GA