Yeaaaaaah, maaaaaaan. I’ve been writing music as opposed to writing about music, which, I think, is the superior endeavor, if you’re comparing endeavors, which, sometimes, I’ll do, even though it’s really a fruitless exercise to do so, usually, in my opinion, since you’re apples-and-orangesing at that point, and we need both, though, obviously, the former is much more important than the latter, since you quite literally cannot have the latter without the former. Right? Right!
I watched The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia last week with the hunnypot:
Yup. Incredible. I watched that trailer all slack-jawed and astonished and giddy, and then I recorded “Lawnwars.” It’s pretty good, I think, if you don’t mind me buzzing my own vuvuzela. Here it is: Lawnwars. Anyway, the movie is every bit as shockingly fantastic as that trailer makes it look, and Hank Williams III shows up to perform a few shit-kickin’ tunes, and Jesco White tap-dances along to them like an organ grinder’s monkey, and I do mean that in the best way possible, Jesco, please, put down the broken bottle, I’m being flattering here. In other news, I’m loving abusing serial commas right now, apparently. Also awesome: Recognizable Electric Wizard and Earth songs up in that soundtrack. “Vinum Sabbathi” and some fucking stone-cold jam off of Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, which, I mean, c’mon, is almost embarrassingly excellent. All in all, lots to rec about Wild and Wonderful. Cannot complain.
Stuff in the pipeline: Pram and Spacemen 3 sheeit. Also, gonna write about In Bb 2.0, which my main man Aaron turned me on to the other day after I showed him some Lab Andre Michele stuff. I suspect it’s a little on the old side in internet years, but damn it, its age has got nothing on George Brigman or pretty much anything else I’ve written about on here, so fuck it. I’m writing about it anyway.
Okee! Here’s to hoping you all desperately love the song. I do.
Of all the totemic psych bands that I unreservedly love, perhaps nobody strikes closer to the genre’s elemental core than Spacemen 3. It’s funny, then, that, for a band that so embodies psychedelia’s drug-addled core really operates on its traditional fringes. To elaborate: Jason Pierce and Sonic Boom eschewed the typical psychedelic path—maximalism, studio trickery, and an emphasis on “trippy” drugs like LSD & mushrooms—but nevertheless arrived at an arguably purer psych sound than most of the many other bands on the road-more-travelled.
That was a mouthful! Hope that made sense. One aesthetic Spacemen 3 makes a convincing case for punk-as-psych, of taking single-minded minimalism and a bald-faced fuck-you attitude and rendering it transcendently substance-worshipping. Hawkwind’s extended passages of interstellar, intramind travel seem fundamentally at odds with the three-chord, middle-finger blasts of the Sex Pistols until you hear “Revolution,” a typically hypnotic, repetitive, precision-blast of distorted snarl:
(Yes, yes, they look pretty damn corny with those bowl haircuts, but c’mon it’s 1989 and not a single person on the planet looked cool. Instead of focusing on their sunglasses, check out that shot of the band playing the deliciously simple chord progression that starts 44 seconds in. They’re just blatantly flaunting their songs’ simplicity.)
This attitude of defiant simplicity is all over the band’s work. Jason Pierce’s count-in at the beginning of “2:35,” off of Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To, is a telling rallying cry. “One,” he says, in a disembodied, reverb-drenched voice. That’s all they fucking need. “One.” They revel in it.
If aggressively simple riffs ad nauseam was all Spacemen 3 did, their schtick would be a pretty good one, but there’s more:
Sweet, disembodied bliss! Sonic Boom’s ultra-hushed, heavily reverbed vocals wafting through a Velvets-on-codeine guitar figure, with that tremendous, meandering bass line anchoring the whole thing. This is the same repetitive, minimalist ethos, but through an introspective, contemplative lens, as opposed to the precise aggression of “Revolution.”
Note the lyrics, too: Spacemen 3 did love singing about (and doing) drugs, just not the ones you typically associate with Pink Floyd. Instead of traditional psychedelics, heroin through a needle was their choice. There’s another Velvets association there, which actually points toward a really fruitful path if you’re looking for antecedents to the Spacemen 3 sound. It’s a fitting one: Like their eventual followers, the Velvet Underground took defiantly anti-psychedelic musical constituents and somehow at something with remarkable affinities with and associations to psych.
(For the record, the studio version of this song, a richly hi-fi, horn-drenched cut off of 1987’s The Perfect Prescription, mercilessly blows this YouTube clip out of the goddamned water, but I gotta make do with what I’m given.)
Pierce and Boom released a handful of fantastic albums, notably the aforementioned The Perfect Prescription and 1989’s Playing With Fire, before imploding with predictably druggy messiness. Both emerged in their own concerns which took their original band’s aesthetic and bent it to serve new and (mostly) enjoyable ends, but nothing they’ve done alone—even Pierce’s best Spiritualized work—comes close to the bare-bones brilliance of Spacemen 3’s best stuff.
I guess that’s a matter of some debate. People do love their Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, and I have to count myself among them. Either way, they’re perhaps the quintessential Play One Note band, embodying Mark Hollis’s maxim better than anyone else.
You know the drill: Spacemen 3 album reviews to follow. I’ll definitely write about those two classics, and maybe I’ll get in on that Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To, which is such an apt title I almost don’t even want to point out how fucking apt it is. Also, more Pram. Be well.
Finally! For a dude who’s writing a psych blog, I haven’t really, you know, written a whole lot about, well, psych. No more! Time for some out-and-out jams, you know, stuff with debauched electric sex all up in it. Here’s Jungle Rot, a 1975 album by Baltimore shreducator George Brigman. (Like that? Shreducator? I just made that shit up.)
Brigman’s an outsider, and he compares favorably to other lonesome wanderers of first-wave psychedelia like Skip Spence. Unlike Spence (or Syd Barrett, to whom Spence is most often compared), however, Brigman never had a previously successful outing as a recording artist. (Also unlike those two, there is no documented history of mental illness or debilitating drug abuse, just the creation of music out-of-sync with its milieu.) There was no Moby Grape or Pink Floyd for Brigman before Jungle Rot. This was his debut, and it’s savage, debauched, and remarkably assured.
Briefly: the reason this album is considered a sort of lost artifact is twofold. First, Brigman recorded it and then more or less quit recording for decades after the untimely death of his bassist. Jungle Rot was released and then vanished. Second, the music on here really is pretty unique, especially in 1975. It takes proto-punk’s muscular snarl and applies that aesthetic to psych-blues.
The title track, which opens the album, absolutely kills, with Brigman throwing down some panning, spiky, metallic chord stabs for a bit before launching into a flat-out destructive (and fucking anthemic) riff. It sets the tone for the rest of Jungle Rot, which is essentially extremely well-executed bluesy psych jams. This isn’t one of those crate-digging disappointments that has one scorcher and two or three middling jams among a largely faceless bunch of trash. Every song on here kicks ass, with Brigman turning again and again to the deepest, druggiest strain of psychedelic revelry.
It also doesn’t hurt that Brigman is an absolutely blistering guitar player firmly in the acid rock mold. And though he’s fleet of finger, his technical prowess never gets in the way of the mood of Jungle Rot, which is always drunkenly aggressive in a way that threatens (but never quite devolves into) sloppiness.
Even when he takes a break from shredding with aplomb and slows down, as he does on the sweet-sounding ballad “Schoolgirl” (naturally about sex), Brigman’s m.o. of keeping the mood good and confused shines through. (Writing about this album really makes you run out of synonyms for “druggy” and its variants.)
I used to think Spacemen 3‘s brand of drug-addled, minimalist psych was, for all its simplicity, essentially unprecedented. Not so. George Brigman proves that there is nothing new under the sun. And while I’m inclined to doubt that Sonic Boom and Jason Pierce were aware of Jungle Rot before they released The Sound of Confusion, simply because it’s a pretty underground record (and this is before, y’know, the age of the internet, this time when everything is available to everyone again), there was at least a sonic precedent indirectly pointing toward that band’s strung-out riffage.