Brown Acid: The Fifth Trip by Various ArtistsRelease date: October 31, 2017
Label: Riding Easy Records
Riding Easy Records Brown Acid compilation series are beginning to become a bit of an institution with each new release eagerly awaited by underground rock aficionados. The Brown Acid series is similar to Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets, although the songs tend to hail from the slightly later time of late sixties to mid-seventies, meaning there is more proto-metal in the mix, along with the psych and garage rock. Each volume has had a very high hit rate of hard-to-find gems, the one-offs, the missing links, the interesting and the eccentric. Part of the joy is discovering the back stories attached to these long-forgotten artists, but some are so obscure even Riding Easy seem to have very little ideas who these people were!
Brown Acid : The Fifth Trip starts strongly with ‘No Reason’ by Captain Foam. Quite possibly the loudest and greatest act ever to come out of Canton, Ohio, the good Captain was largely a one-man band, sometimes accompanied live on drums by The Doctor and here he conjures up one hell of a racket, it’s a melodic hard rocker similar to Tommy era-Who with great slashing power chords.
Equally fab is next up ‘Blowin Smoke’ by George Brigman who had one album out back in the early seventies called Jungle Rot, though this isn’t from that and I think was recorded later with the band Split. Brigman was considered an outsider at the time in Baltimore as he was heavily influenced by British blues rock bands like Cream, but to me this sounds like The Moving Sidewalks as ‘Blowin Smoke’ is a heavy groove seriously in love with Hendrix, just as Billy Gibbons boys were back in the day.
The earliest track here comes from Finch, ‘Nothing But The Sun’ being released way back in 1968, and boy it must have sounded out of time. It has a lo-fi grungy production in which you can hear everything from Love’s artful psych rock, punky underground cool in alignment with The Velvet Underground and you can even trace a line right thru to the awkward slacker rock of Pavement.
Another real treat is the heavy prog instrumental of ‘Clockwork’ by Quebec’s Cybernaut. ‘Clockwork’ was the only single released by the act who were better known as more traditional hard rock act Blind Ravage. What a shame they didn’t record more as ‘Clockwork’ is a gritty little treasure, lots of bonkers time signatures, heavy rhythms and swirling organ, like early Yes or King Crimson.
Fargo, from out of Dallas released ‘Abaddon’ as a single circa 1969. It’s the sort of ‘we’re all doomed’ heavy stoner anthem we’ve gotten used to over the past 40 years, but I’m not sure how well received a single with the chorus “I’m frying, my soul is dying” would have gone down with radio playlisters back then. It has a lovely wobbly paranoia about it, with Thirteenth Floor Elevators being an obvious comparison. Fantastic lead guitar lines and ramshackle drumming too.
Mammoth, also from the State of Texas may have the best song on here with their self-titled slice of taut garage rock. Lyrically it’s a bit of a puzzle but there’s no denying the urgent, needling guitar riff and wounded, bluesy vocal. It really should have been a hit!
The charmingly named Flasher are up next, and with a name like that, and a song as eccentric as ‘Icky Bicky’ it’s no wonder this remains an obscurity. It’s hard to know where to begin with it. It packs so much oddness into into two and half minute running time it doesn’t seem possible. Ok, first off ‘Icky Bicky’ is slang of sorts for ICBC (sung throughout the song) the agency in North America responsible for driving instruction. Flasher, using the medium of lubricious rhythm and funk, similar in style to blues rockers Juicy Lucy, bemoan the expense of motoring, from driving lessons to car insurance, whilst the vocalist puts in a performance that mixes the theatrical bent of Todd Rungren with the gruff comedic charm of early Alice Cooper. Once heard, you’ll never forget it, that’s for sure!
From here on in, perhaps inevitably, the quality dips. The last three track range from slightly disappointing to outright annoying. Lance gives us ‘Fireball’ the B side from their 1974 single ‘Marilyn’ and it’s a certainly not A side material as it is a poorly recorded, amateurish boogie number with almost offensively poor drumming.
Zebra take what could be seen as a safe option by covering The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’, which although over familiar, can at least be enjoyed if the performance is interesting or merely spirited. There’s nothing wrong with the musical interpretation, it has a nice Doorsy organ sound but the singer puts in a shamelessly hammy turn, adding extra vowels in the lyrics in a baffling attempt to make us take notice of him. Job done. After a few listens I skipped it whilst playing this album back to review it.
Last up is Thor, not the musclebound buffoon who bought us ‘Thunder on the Tundra’, but exactly who or what this Thor is is unknown. What I can tell you is that ‘Lick It’, which is nearly a Kiss song title, is very much still in the world or rock’n’roll buffoonery. Now, I know we are not all gathered here for profundity, but the lyrics mix a few very clumsy metaphors about lollies, ladies, and quite possibly LSD whilst they threaten to ‘lasso your love’. It’s just a bit doo daft. It does have a great guitar solo though and enough cowbell to keep Will Ferrell happy!
So there you have it, a great pick n mix of groovy oddities and raging underground lost treasures. I wonder what they will dig up next?!