Here is the fifth installment of “Alphabetized Into Obscurity – A Journey Into the Unknown.” It’s no challenge for us to find some awesome unknowns tucked throughout the store. So once more, we’ve picked five records in the hopes of finding a hidden treasure and to perhaps inspire you to journey into the unknown corners of your local record store, where you may find your own treasure. Again, if you happen to know any of these bands and feel disappointed that we were unfamiliar with them, I implore you once again to…get a life.
You put the prefix “Afro” in front of any style or genre of music, and I’m sure to give it a proper listen. Quindembo is a perfect example of why I follow this rule. In this case, the suffix is “Latin,” and that’s pretty much a best case scenario as far as I’m concerned. Where a lot of Afro-Latin music has been well assimilated into the latin culture, losing much of its African roots, Quindembo seems to share equal parts. The language is Spanish, the songs have a rich Cuban flavor, but the guitar playing has that percussive edge found in African guitar music and a lot of the chords and melodies resemble more African based styles, from Ethiopian Jazz to Batuque. There are guitar compositions that could have come right out of the deserts of Mali, yet the steady clave rhythms and patterned bongos keep it well planted in the latin world. This is a rich and rare find of authentic music, untouched by “western” producers or marketing. This is talent recognized for talent’s sake and not to capitalize on “exotica” or the open wallets of tourists. There is a true sense that this album took a real journey to reach our store.
Our more ardent Psych Rock customers might want to rake me over the coals for not being familiar with Salvation, but my job is to know enough about a lot of things and not everything about one thing…so, again, get a life. However, I’m kind of surprised that this San Francisco born band doesn’t get more attention, considering their proximity to so many other successful acts like The Doors and Big Brother and the Holding Company, both of which they shared a touring bill with. Perhaps, unlike these groups, the lack of a charismatic lead singer was enough to keep them just under the surface of success. Al Linde’s vocals are understated and relaxed, resembling a more fine tuned Bob Dylan, but the songs and performances on this album are as solid as anything I’ve heard come out of this region and era. In fact, I think they shine a little brighter with some masterful use of fuzz and distortion. The opening track hits you hard with a beautifully distorted RMI “rocksichord”, which resembles a farfisa, but seemingly has a little more body and growl. This energy remains throughout the album, with stellar performances and solos. I’ve heard a lot of obscure psych rock bands from the 60s, and it’s usually pretty clear why most of them didn’t go on to greater popularity, but I think Salvation might not have been given their proper due credit. Lucky for music’s sake, that doesn’t mean it has to be erased from existence. Popular styles of music often get narrowed down to the more well known performers as time goes on, but in the rubble, there are some valuable scraps for those who choose to keep digging.
This album harkens back to days of radio dramas, which Vincent Price cut his teeth on. His impressive resume is filled with epic dramas, thrillers, film noir with a wide array of “characters” most seeming to embody an heir of creepiness. Witchcraft / Magic has a surface of Disney-esque late night spooky stories for kids, with sounds of ominous winds, bubbling cauldrons and witchy voices, but the content is seemingly more geared towards adults. It opens and is peppered throughout with recordings of the three witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The stories have more PG13 elements than your usual pajama party listening. The content draws from more relatable, perhaps believable stories of witchcraft and magic, often equating it to religion, history and spirituality. There are references to Hitler’s belief in the occult, perhaps implying that darker forces than man were at work in his doings. This implication that witchcraft is very real and attainable is what makes this album so remarkable, standing apart from so many other “thrillers” of its time, or before. Perhaps the fact that this was released in 1969 should be more telling of its content. Society still had a relationship with radio and audible theater, but we were more exposed to the true horrors of the world through television, news reports of tumultuous times, and Vietnam footage. Had this come out in the days when families gathered around the radio, instead of the television, it wouldn’t be far fetched to think that Price would have been put on his own “witch trial.”
I picked out this one with maybe a little more reference than I usually have for these picks. I am familiar with a couple of bands on this compilation, but maybe not as familiar as I would like to be, after listening. These bands reside in the experimental “noise” scene of the early to mid 2000s that birthed some more popular bands like Animal Collective or Lightning Bolt. Unlike the more commercially successful groups, however, they never embraced the pop or rock elements, but (please excuse me if I get a little preachy here) credit should always be given to the artists who reject the norms of music and explore its boundaries. All too often, I’ve heard these kinds of bands brushed off as “not music” or “just noise.” I usually try to bite my tongue, but given my current platform, I’ll remind these people that much of their favorite artists looked to these kinds of groups for inspiration. Paul McCartney was heavily into the New York experimental scene of the 60s. Frank Zappa once cited the Shaggs as one of his favorite bands (if you don’t know the Shaggs, look it up). It’s their ability to find the structure in the unstructured that make it possible for them to elevate rock and pop music to new heights. I’ve never preached that all bands should reject structure and rules, but if no one did this, music would quickly lose its edge and may become a reduction of saccharine pop, void of all the elements that piss off the squares and give you the courage to be an individual. So if you’ve ever said “that’s not music,” maybe think about the origins of the music you listen to and consider that it was not created in a vacuum. End of rant. I would also like to include that this album is not that old, yet has been included as an album that was “Alphabetized Into Obscurity” to remind us that these discoveries shouldn’t be limited to older albums. We can find just as much new ideas and sounds from current bands as we can from those that have since passed on.
Attempting to write about this album, I’m reminded of a line from Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact: “They should have sent a poet.” The harp is on its own a very ethereal instrument, but we typically hear it in a context that is all too “on the nose,” with pentatonic arpeggios ringing out as if to signal the opening of the gates of heaven. We so rarely get to hear its true potential as a dynamic instrument, with darks and lights, tension and release. Gail Laughton works from his experience as a jazz harpist and composer to create compositions that, perhaps, could be more recognized as complex modern music, were they played on a more conventional instrument like a piano. However, given our expectations of what the harp sounds like, maybe our ears are more accepting of cacophonous, dissonant layers and chords.
If you were to come across this album in a record store, you might pass it off as some recreation of ancient harp “tunes.” You might not expect something so complex and engaging. Even the titles, such as “Japan 375 A.D.” or “Crete 1400 B.C.” can lead you to believe that we’re dealing with more of a history lesson than an album of artistic exploration, which, to be honest, would be enough to grab my attention. But with this example, we get to the meat of what is so wonderful about these explorations into the unknown. When we open ourselves to the strange and unknown, we find that there are levels beyond what our eyes can see.
All of these titles can be found at Stinkweeds…until they are snagged up by some brave soul.