Steve Krakow is an impossible figure to miss in the Chicago psych scene. Operating under the alias Plastic Crimewave, Krakow has served as writer, illustrator and radio personality for his explorations into the “Secret History of Chicago Music,” while juggling his time as a prolific musician and booking agent for the Million Tongues Festival and the Chicago Psych Fest. The latter is now in its fifth year, with the three-day affair offering a Friday feature in Moonrises, a group of moonlighting musicians that includes Krakow’s manic guitar playing laid atop the formidable free-jazz drumming of Tiger Hatchery’s Ben Billington, and nuzzled against the throb of Libby Ramer’s organ. Read the rest of this entry »
The transition from static structure to impulsive improvisation is a tricky leap. Most musicians obey either one method or the other, lacking the immense skill and range required to jump back and forth. Given that Sweden’s Dungen is a band with a knack for executing careful compositions, psychedelic without being aimless, structured without being suffocating, it comes as a surprise that their bassist Mattias Gustavsson would opt to create a ten-piece ensemble to explore the outer limits of his craft. Though he insists the group is leaderless—they all don white cloaks on the cover and on the gatefold photo to underscore their uniformity—the rhythm section is the pivotal force anchoring the impromptu sets. The vinyl-only release is split between two recording sessions featuring different players that somehow manage to achieve the same effect: orchestral rock with ethereal aspirations. The effort succeeds in large part despite the confusing cosmology (the asteroid belt is awarded an astrological symbol, there is a Hebrew astrology chart backed by verse from a Persian poet on the record sleeve) and one must credit the achievement to a group of talented musicians intent on subsuming their egoism in favor of collective expression. Read the rest of this entry »
Celebrating the demise of something seems counterintuitive and anti-climatic, but Plastic Crimewave Sound isn’t just some buncha Chicago jerks; it’s these Chicago jerks, fronted by the ever-mustachioed Plastic Crimewave. Sure, the ridiculous heights of recording with Ya Ho Wah 13’s Djin Aquarian likely aren’t forthcoming, but there are scant dudes who can say they’ve even had the opportunity to perform with that sub-terra legend. Whatever counted as the troupe’s regular lineup apparently disintegrated sometime last spring, the travails of everyday life being cited as the main reason. You know, babies and marriage? All this PCS hoopla, though, surrounds the group’s (probable) final recording, a tape-only affair being issued through an imprint helmed by Running’s bassist. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s easy to be lulled into some sense of expectation on “Back to Land,” Wooden Shjips’ fourth full-length album, due out in November. And while Ripley Johnson and company have reeled in some of their long-winded rambling, there’s still not a wealth of focus here. That’s the point, though. Recorded in Portland, not the band’s Bay-area birthplace, “Land” brims with a rough-hewn pop sensibility, deterred only by Johnson’s fuzzy guitar lines. But even those have been opened up, giving listeners the opportunity to, you know, kinda hear what’s going on, instead of encountering an indecipherable wall of scuzz. Still, he doesn’t grant easy access—the solo on “Ghouls” being sheathed in noise, any sense of its melodic intentions disappeared behind wah-wah blurs. What enables the band to continue shoving the same formula into disc after disc, though, are Johnson’s leads remaining mysterious and shiftless, even if some songs strive for structure. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dave Cantor
Camped out at the Shadow Shoppe, a recording studio doubling as a residence in an industrial area near Amsterdam, Jacco Gardner’s been burrowing into an insular universe.
It’s a place the multi-instrumentalist has been exploring for almost a third of his life. And it’s been fully realized, in musical terms, as “Cabinet of Curiosities,” which Chicago’s Trouble in Mind issued Stateside earlier this year.
With the album’s release, Gardner’s granted listeners access to a collection of vivid “fairytales,” as he calls them, each recorded on his own at the Shoppe, save for the disc’s more complicated drumming. The work’s been cobbled together over the last eight years, drawing from the more baroque moments of sixties pop music. There aren’t any distinct hints of contemporary Europe in Gardner’s songs, and an unknowing listener could easily mistake just about anything “Cabinet” offers as a selection from the first psychedelic era. It’s more than mere retread, though—it’s a twenty-four-year old’s imagination splayed out over twelve tracks. But “Cabinet” would warrant notoriety even if Gardner hadn’t played guitar, bass, keys and a variety of synthesizers.
Despite his ostensible squatting, his homeland Holland has embraced “Cabinet,” sending Gardner on a series of TV appearances and performances at venues that would overwhelm U.S. musicians of comparable popularity over here. Read the rest of this entry »
Tireless San Francisco rockers Thee Oh Sees took a leisurely approach to touring on their latest album. Released back in April, “Floating Coffin” marks visionary John Dwyer’s twelfth album in ten years. Full of ambition but not hinged on direction, OCS (as the group was originally billed) began as Dwyer’s extracurricular project way back when. Several releases, some name changes, and a few band members later—the current count is five—Thee Oh Sees’ fertility has endured.
Just like on past albums, concept and cadence on “Floating Coffin” have been thrown into the woodchipper and expectorated. Or, imagine a game-show wheel with narrow pegs jutting out along the circumference of its pizza-sliced face, and the labels fuzz rock, psych-folk, psych-pop, garage, punk, noise, children’s songs and Krautrock tapering into the center. The wheel is spun and an excitement of the outcome builds, only there’s no stopping device. The wheel remains perpetually unpredictable. This is how Thee Oh Sees have proven that time, not concept, is all they need to be a truly great band. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dave Cantor
Maybe there are better known and better respected heavy psych bands out there, but none with as persistent a vision as Britain’s Hawkwind.
The ensemble has counted dozens of participants, with guitarist and songwriter Dave Brock being the most constant stimulus to recording and touring since 1969. Despite the frequent turnover, Hawkwind has attached itself to a sound equal parts komische and UK psychedelia. Other bands continue to mine the troupe’s approach for inspiration, but Brock and company remain a singular entity among festival freaks and would-be psychedelic cultists.
Hawkwind’s 1975 “Warrior on the Edge of Time” is ready for re-release after spending nearly a decade out of print. While the band’s only chart success came several years earlier, on a track helmed by future Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, “Warrior” exudes sci-fi weirdness and wild riffing tantamount to anything Sabbath was capable of. Maybe all the supplemental electronics were a bit much at the time of its release, but the up-and-down sprint of “Opa-Loka” should be heavy enough for anyone with a reserved appreciation for synthesizers. Read the rest of this entry »
Ecstatic Improvisation: “The Source Family” Documents the Strange Days of Father Yod and Ya Ho Wha 13Jam Band, Psychedelic, Rock No Comments »
By Dave Cantor
Perched atop one of the highest points in California, Djin Aquarian remains a figure wedged into the country’s history of out-music and social experiments. Neither defines him, but both contribute to the aura surrounding a communal, religious group called the Source Family he was a member of in the seventies. Thirty-six years later, the views and practices espoused by its god-head, Father Yod, make most middle-Americans squeamish. At the time this all went down, the Family must have been at least a little terrifying.
“We worked and lived in [this world],” Djin says. “But on the other hand, we were very different. … We had sex differently, we ate differently. … we sealed ourselves off … didn’t go out of the Family and kept growing through that.”
The Source Family, helmed by a war-vet-turned-restaurateur with the given name Jim Baker, could be lumped into the miasma of 1960s social experiments. But there’s something else going on. Smoking weed was a ritual, but drugs weren’t a focus. They weren’t totally freed from monetary concerns—Baker’s Sunset Strip health-food eatery sustained them. It’s all curious—the reams of music they recorded as Ya Ho Wha 13 are, too. Read the rest of this entry »
When the Beatles, the Stones and The Beach Boys started to spread the seeds of drug-addled psychedelics in the music scene in the late sixties, their influence reached musicians in South America, who reshaped and repurposed the music they heard to make it their own. One of the best-known examples of this is “Tropicalia,” a 1968 album that featured Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Tom Ze and Nara Leao. That disc launched a groundbreaking multimedia movement that resonates to this day. Sadly, there are no tracks from that album on this interesting compilation that brings together both well-known and obscure Brazilian musicians who took on the genre and mixed it with various other sounds. Many of the tracks are rare, like “Sorriso Selvagem,” a 1966 track from The Gentlemen, a northeastern Brazilian band that disappeared without a trace but that included Ze Ramalho, a highly respected artist from that country. Read the rest of this entry »
The greatest myths are good stories. And tales behind the discovery of any band are just decent fiction—or at least realities tweaked well enough to conjure up towering imagery.
Sweden’s Goat isn’t issuing its Stateside debut because of outstanding European festival performances but rather because a band it shares practice space with just shot a video over to Chris Reeder, UK’s Rocket Recordings honcho, and he dug it. That’s only part of the story, though.
“Over the course of the next few months when we were putting the seven-inch together, the band themselves started communicating with us,” Reeder says about his earliest digital interactions with the Swedes. “Then we didn’t really hear anything else from them until about May … when out of the blue ‘World Music,’ all finished and mastered, landed in our inbox.” Read the rest of this entry »