Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cromagnon: Cave Rock Both Retro and Ahead of Its Time

1969. The rather obscure band Cromagnon completes their first (and only?) album. It comes out on ESP Disk. The world does not change discernibly. So you were expecting that? No. June 2009. ESP re-releases the album. The world does not change discernibly. By now nobody is expecting that.

The world turns on its axis today, like every day. “Cave Rock” won’t change that. However it is one of those supremely weirdsville sorts of records from ESP that helped define what underground music was all about, could be, and still is. Most of the album is a kind of collage-like freakout of grunts, groans, chants, sound effects and other oddities. It’s quite amusing and could only have been made in 1969.

On the other hand, there’s one cut, “Caledonia,” that is just incredible. I first heard it on a second wave ESP sampler and my yodeling friends and I were stunned. It’s that sort of a number. Bagpipes, throbbing guitars, pounding drums in a primitive mode and hoarse whisper-shout vocals. It is not to be missed. It manages simultaneously to be retro-psych, completely ahead of its time, and timeless. The vocal anticipates the sort of thrash and death metal croakings that gave a personality to some of the underground rock offerings of the ‘80s through to today.

That was so interesting about the ‘60s underground music scene. It wasn’t rigidly divided into genre camps and it was totally unpredictable. It often created innovations that influenced and partly determined the musics to come. Though excesses could occur, it was a much needed counterweight to the pop-pap hegemony that filled the airwaves most of the time. Listen to “Caledonia” and you’ll appreciate how it was, and could still be. Maybe it IS.

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