A Squid Eating Dough in a Polyethylene Bag
Captain Beefheart - An Appreciation

Keith Boyd 5.11.07

That growling x-ray vision naked eyeball and exposed nerve-ending cackle is what got to me first. It was the voice of every coyote on Earth telling a dirty joke at once and hissing to itself in laughter. The Captain sounded authoritative. Listening to him bark his non sequiturs of visionary poesy you couldn't help but feel that despite how little you were picking up Captain Beefheart knew exactly what he was saying.

"A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast-n-bulbous, got me?"

I guess my first exposure to the insane world of The Magic Band was through my Uncle Sam's (yeah, I know!) record collection. I was a kid visiting him and my cousin where they lived out on Long Island in the early 80's. My Uncle Sam was a sort of post Hippie beatnik type who went to Woodstock and just really dug all sorts of music. So there I am thinking that I know everything about basically everything and I'm flipping through his albums thinking, "Neil Young, heard it. Rolling Stones, know it. The Byrds, un-hun."

That's when it hit me. This lurid salmon pink cover with this totally demented picture of a freakily dressed man holding a fish head over his face. The title was, "Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band-TROUT MASK REPLICA". All I could say was,

"What the fug is this?"

My Uncle laughed the laugh of the knowing and said that this was one of the greatest and worst records of all time. He said that it was totally out of step with just about every kind of music from the 60's but that upon repeated listens it would unlock like a secret puzzle and blow your mind. He said that people still don't know what some of the hand torturing chords and scales the guitar player used and that the lead guy, Captain Beefheart, was some kind of crazy poet/artist with one foot in the blues and the other on Mars. Well he put it on and I was drawn up short and stunned. It just didn't sound like anything I'd every heard before. It was brittle and squonking. It had no regular time that you could tap a foot along with. It seemed to be music bent on going in every direction at once and just when you'd figure out a passage through it the sound would either end abruptly or totally change gears. I had no words to really describe it at the time. It seemed noisy for sure. But noise didn't quite cover it. I felt that given the commitment you heard coming through this had to be intentional. It wasn't as if they were just playing whatever came to mind at every given second. It had an abrasive and herky-jerky to the rhythm that at once repulsed and enticed me. It sounded like secret music. Music for some long hidden occult ritual. Parts of it were vaguely bluesy. Other parts veered into doo-wop. But, it only seemed to do this as some sort of trick or with a huge tongue in cheek aspect. While I couldn't say that I loved it on first hearing, I can say I was utterly intrigued and wanted to know more. What I did love was that croaking, Tourette 's syndrome, apocalypse in a throat voice of Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart.

The Captain's voice was equal parts carnival barker and Shakespearian actor. It quaked as he sang these twisted songs, investing every syllable with aching fits of energy. At times the voice became a righteous bellow, like some wild animal out wounded on the moors. He'd almost loose control and simply give up with vocabulary and grunt. A high, holy grunt of horror and freedom and it would sound out with the mystical truth of the village idiot seeing his reflection in a mud puddle and also seeing the moon and diving into the mud puddle trying to find that other soul and not finding it at all but coming up covered in moonlight anyway. That voice was the whipping wind in Don Quixote's head as he charged full tilt at the windmills. It was the voice of John the Baptist as the knife severed his head and the last gasp of prophecy escaped his lips. Sure there were a few presidencies. Howling Wolf is perhaps the closest in terms of tonality. The Captain however, wasn't simply interested in retreading the old worn out story of the 60's blues revival. He seemed destined for other shores and that voice was the fog horn bleating out a path to light the way.

I've heard many a singular thing since then. I've heard mind stopping drones and time stopping noise. I've had my adrenal glands strip mined by punk rock and been shattered by the ebb and flow of dub but that first hit of Beefheart in the full sails ahead glory Trout Mask Replica stays with me to this day. In the ensuing years I tracked down all of the Beefheart albums. Some really hit the spot (Ice Cream for Crow, Safe as Milk) others are just damn weird (Lick My Decals Off Baby, Strictly Personal) but none carry the same cretin delight I found in Trout Mask. It's as if every musical impulse came together and apart on that damn record. There's also something I hear when listening to it to this very day. It's not something usually associated with Captain Beefheart but just due the fact that they were and did makes it shine through to me. That something is hope. Hope that there is a chance for all of us to stand up in our true and full colors under the sun and boldly play our own music.


    Lotus House Records MP3 Sampler
    High Mountain Tempel - Processional (An Invocation to Thee Angelic Sister)
    Raagnagrok - HJD
    Beggars - Will We Call It Love
    Maquiladora - Termez 1936
    Maquiladora - Song 26
    Buzz or Howl - Sendhe Mortu Chin Rigore
    Earthling Tempel - Celestial Inhabitants of the Sun
    Buzz or Howl - The Sins Of The Flower Are Visited On The Shunned
    Maquiladora - Light of the Rain
    High Mountain Tempel - The Ascended Master (Hang Gliding in Heaven)
    High Mountain Tempel - Fluctuat Nec Mergitur
    High Mountain Tempel - Tempel Walk
    Buzz or Howl - 05 Oct 05
    Buzz or Howl - Sun as the Destroyer of Dreams
    Live version at the Make Room SF 2005
    Maquiladora - In This Life
    Maquiladora - Simply to See You
    Maquiladora with Kawabata Makoto - Nampasen
    Maquiladora Maquiladora - Drunk and Lighting Fires (A Waltz)
    Maquiladora Maquiladora - Ritual of Hearts
    Maquiladora Maquiladora - Ankle
    Maquiladora - Mayday
    Loraine Loraine - Pasqually Old Pasqually

    Beggars - S/T
    by Pierro Scaruffi

    Maquiladora's Eric Nielsen and Bruce McKenzie joined forces with Skygreen Leopards' Glenn Donaldson to form Beggars, whose double-disc Beggars (Lotushouse, 2013) is a tour de force of ecstatic Eastern-influenced freak-folk. Mostly these pieces lean towards the traditional song format, although inevitably deformed by the musicians' pedigrees.

    The ghostly hyper-dilated drones of Ghost Coyote are imbued with quasi-Morricone western-movie guitar twang and even harmonica. The sweet lullaby and the trotting pace of Eureka My Love as well as the romantic honky-tonking Justine (with a refrain a bit reminiscent of Dylan's Blowing in the Wind) hark back to the heydays of country-rock. 2-3-74 Floating evokes the martial laments of the young Neil Young although diluted amid discordant guitar jamming and lulled by waves of funereal vocal harmonies. Berserker's Boogie is a lively and poppy almost-bluegrass tune. They even intone the singalong Queen Anne's Lace with drums, banjo and all.

    Thankfully, the spaced-out yodeling of Lullaby de Bourbon (memories of Aoxomoxoa-era Grateful Dead), the free-form quasi-jazz guitar and vocal interplay of Will We Call It Love, the seven-minute dreaming psalm Big Pink Sun and its sublimely disintegrating coda, remind us of what Maquiladora are best at. The 23-minute Midget Decapitates Clownis an ambitious concerto for suspense and agony. Far from being just a droning piece, it piles up sonic event after sonic event, producing the trancey effect out of a multitude of traumatic sounds. The chirping and tweeting that accumulates half-way into the piece decays into a nervous organic filigree and dies away in the most cryptic manner; one of the high points of Maquiladora's career.


    Beggars - S/T
    by Naysayer at KFJC

    Released from Lotus House Records, this is psych country/psych folk territory. Heavy on acoustic guitar with background mandolin, organ and lots of harmonies, these songs are about lost relationships, missed chances and old secrets. They sound like they should be sung around the fire pit outside an old shack in Topanga Canyon. Dusty, weedy, afternoon sunlight that blurs the vision. Turn it on, kick back and look directly into the sun. Track 5 of CD B is a 22 minute deep listening style excursion.

    Earthling Tempel - Pilgrimage To Thunderbolt Pagoda
    by Aquarius Records

    Not sure if this is part 4, or just the first in a new multi part epic, hardly matters, what does matter is, this is another glorious expansive collection of meditative psychedelic abstract dronefolk ambience. Every High Mountain Tempel disc we're reviewed thus far has gotten played to death here, and this one doesn't appear to be any different. Well, at least in that respect. In one distinct way it is very different, HMT are not going it alone this time. They've assembled a pretty impressive collection of sonic alchemists and musical conjurers to help with this ritual, Isis Aquarian from the Source Family, Charles Curtis from La Monte Young's Just Alap Raga Ensemble, and two crews from the UK we've never heard of, Earthling Society and Astarism, but even with all those cooks in the kitchen, HMT and friends have managed to weave another dark minimal masterpiece, all hushed barely there guitar shimmer, drifting whispered vocals, delicate crystalline melodies, dense swirls of piano, warm swells of tape hiss, mysterious voices and field recordings, whirring organ, bowed steel strings... so lovely.

    If the liner notes are to be believed, two of the tracks feature Earthling Society on their own, and those tracks do sound different, much less free and sprawling, a bit more structured, like seventies UK acid folk, swirling and melodic and quite lovely. The final two tracks find the two groups in full on collaborative mode, and the gears shift to something much more space rocky and Hawkwindy, all blissed out and heart-of-the-sun, until the final track which is a strummy, delicate, moody chill out closer, a sort of dour doom folk drift, that makes a perfect ending.

    Super nice packaging, silkscreened oversized 4 panel sleeve, white on black, with the cd-r affixed to the inside. And of course, SUPER LIMITED!

    High Mountain Tempel - The Glass Bead Game by Aquarius Records

    Part three in the ongoing series of limited cd-r explorations from mysterious drone combo High Mountain Tempel, and like the two before it, the band continue to delve into some murky sonic underworld, again presenting loooong songs, each separated by brief sonic interludes, this disc seems feature more actual vocals, the opening track features a processed voice, that sounds a bit like throat singing, or a Speak And Spell, intoning some arcane message, interwoven with long drawn out tones, and a thick ropy buzz, super dark and intense and atmospheric. Elsewhere sampled voices surface, there are bits of chanting here and there, all peppered throughout the disc. But even with the extra voices, the focus here is still on dark, lugubrious, extended dronescapes.

    The sound of High Mountain Tempel is probably closest to Expo '70, as their various permutations of dronemusic seem to have a definite krautrock vibe, that gives the sound a sort of spaced out quality, and a subtle propulsion, but unlike Expo '70, HMT seem to have a distinct Eastern influence, much of the music is meditative and subtly dramatic, a bit soundtracky, and some of it sounds like it could be Japanese. Especially the way field recordings are incorporated into the sounds. Giving everything a definite texture, some of it sounding like it was perhaps recorded live in some hilltop temple. Which we would imagine is the idea.

    Not sure what else to say actually. This is indeed fantastic, brooding and malefic, but also shimmery and dreamy, sonically it has much in common with the first two installments, so definitely check out those reviews to read more about their 'sound'.

    Needless to say, fans of the drone and folks into the current crop of cd-r soundscapers will for sure dig this, but like the other HMT discs, this is more than simple drone music, this is ritualistic alchemical soundwork, one can almost imagine stumbling across a group of cloaked figures huddled around a fire in a forest clearing, tossing various powders into the flames, causing the fire to change color and cast beastlike shadows on the branches above, and this is the sound filtering through the forest like a black moonlit fog...
    SUPER LIMITED of course, packaged beautifully in a foldover silkscreened sleeve, gold metallic on red on the outside, black on red on the inside.

    High Mountain Tempel - A Screaming Comes Across The Sky - The Faultline Scriptures
    by Aquarius Records

    Record number two from this mysterious drone-kraut styled duo. Their last disc was a huge hit around here, so we were pretty thrilled to get our hands on this one, a logical sonic extension of the first, delving deeper into some murky tripped out twilit soundworld.
    The disc opens with shimmering clouds of gongs and cymbals, whirring and sizzling, suspended over a deep distant rumble, a delicate intro to a record at once hypnotic and lovely, dark and dense.

    The record is arranged into three epic tracks, interspersed with short sonic interludes, ranging from field recordings of crickets, looped chants (Elizabeth Clare Prophet if we're not mistaken), spirituals and mysterious liturgical songs, whirring drones, and backwards percussion, but it's the long tracks where the duo get to spread out, let their dense soundscapes sprawl.

    The three long tracks sounds like movements of a greater whole, clocking in at 15 minutes, 11 minutes and nearly 17 minutes respectively, each rife with creepy delayed vocals, churning guitars and smeared chords, roiling muddy whirls, which often dissipate leaving streaks of fragmented melody and haunting slowed down voices. Buried amidst the drones and whirs, are lullaby-like melodies, skittery percussion, streaks of grinding distortion, hidden voices, more field recordings, thick swaths of cavernous rumbles, little bits of electronic glitch and lots and lots of low end buzz.

    Packaged in a fancy navy blue fold over sleeve, screenprinted in white ink, with a photocopied insert with liner notes and song credits.

    LIMITED TO 150 COPIES! Each one hand numbered.

 

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