Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Red Krayola - 1967 - The Parable Of Arable Land

The Red Krayola
The Parable Of Arable Land

01. Free Form Freak-Out   
02. Hurricane Fighter Plane   
03. Free Form Freak-Out   
04. Transparent Radiation   
05. Free Form Freak-Out   
06. War Sucks   
07. Free Form Freak-Out   
08. Free Form Freak-Out   
09. Pink Stainless Tail   
10. Free Form Freak-Out   
11. Parable Of Arable Land   
12. Free Form Freak-Out   
13. Former Reflections Enduring Doubt

Rick Barthelme – drums
Steve Cunningham: – bass guitar
Mayo Thompson – guitar, vocals

Additional personnel
Roky Erickson – organ ("Hurricane Fighter Plane"), harmonica ("Transparent Radiation")

Red Krayola (formerly The Red Crayola) was a psychedelic experimental rock band from Houston, Texas, formed by art students at the University of St. Thomas (Texas) in 1966. The band was led by singer/guitarist and visual artist Mayo Thompson, along with drummer Frederick Barthelme (brother of novelist Donald Barthelme) and Steve Cunningham. Their work prefigured punk, post-punk, indie rock and the no wave scene in 1980s New York City.

They made noise rock, psychedelia and occasionally folk/country songs and instrumentals in a DIY fashion, an approach that presaged the lo-fi aesthetic of many 1990s US indie rock groups. Reviewing the band has produced conflicted results - in an extremely positive review from Pitchfork Media, critic Alex Lindhardt wrote "It's a band that has no idea how to play its instruments. In fact, they don't even know what instruments are, or if the guitarist has the ability to remain conscious long enough to play whatever it is a 'note' might be."[1] He added, "This is a band that was paid ten dollars to stop a performance in Berkeley. If Berkeley's not having it, you know you're in for rough sledding."

Thompson has continued using the name, in its legally required permutation The Red Krayola, for his musical projects since.

In 1966 the band signed to International Artists, home label to fellow psych-rockers The 13th Floor Elevators that was run by Lelan Rogers (brother of country musician Kenny Rogers). In 1967 the label released the psychedelic album, Parable of Arable Land, featuring six songs by the original three members interwoven with a cacophony generated by approximately 50 anonymous followers known as The Familiar Ugly who appear on a number of noise tracks called Free-Form Freak-Outs. 13th Floor Elevators frontman Roky Erickson also makes guest appearances on "Hurricane Fighter Plane" (playing organ) and "Transparent Radiation" (on harmonica). The album's title track was a tape loop of electronic sounds with musical improvisations layered on top of it, a sound that foreshadowed the Red Krayola's second recording.

The album Coconut Hotel was recorded in 1967 but rejected by International Artists for its lack of commercial potential because of its complete departure from the full-sounding guitar/bass/drums/vocals rock sound of the Red Krayola's first album. Coconut Hotel featured such self-described tracks as "Organ Buildup", "Free Guitar" and a series of atonal "One-Second Pieces" for piano, trumpet and percussion. The album did not see release until 1995. During this period, the band performed a concert in Berkeley, California where they attached a contact microphone to a sheet of aluminium foil that was set under a block of melting ice; this performance is captured on Live 1967. The Red Krayola also performed with guitarist John Fahey and recorded an entire studio album of music in collaboration with him, but label head Lelan Rogers demanded possession of the tapes and recorded documentation of those sessions has been missing ever since.

The band's second album to see release (and the first to be released with the new "Krayola" spelling) was 1968's God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It. God Bless presented a middle ground between Parable of Arable Land and Coconut Hotel, having veered away from the cacophonous psychedelic approach of their first album, but performing short, minimalist songs on electric guitar, bass and drums (interspersed with occasional a cappella harmonies and piano interludes) to achieve some surprisingly melodic results and even more surprisingly off-kilter lyrics. Hints of the as yet unheard music on Coconut Hotel also revealed themselves (the track "Listen To This" is a one-second piece with spoken introduction, and "Free Piece" sounds like an outtake from Coconut Hotel). The album was not as well received as the band's first release and the Red Krayola's original lineup disbanded.

In 1969, Thompson recorded a solo album called Corky's Debt to His Father for a small label called Texas Revolution. The album, which has come to be regarded by many as the unheralded jewel of the Krayola catalogue, is devoid of Thompson's usual avant-garde indulgences, and consists instead of ten lyrically dense but warm-hearted pop songs, in various styles - Dylan-inspired blues-rock, Tex-Mex pop-rock with psychedelic touches, and early country rock not dissimilar to the contemporary work of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Thompson was backed by studio musicians on the album and none of his usual Krayola (or 13th Floor Elevators) cohorts appear.

What I love about Parable is that it's NOT 'avant-garde for the sake of being avant-garde'.  Parable of Arable Land BALANCED it well: 6 avant-garde songs, 6 pop songs. 

I like free improv and AMM and Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna and all that stuff.  So I admit a personal bias.  However:

1) I find it funny how Parable is lumped in with 'psychedelic rock.'  It's funny because it's true, and yet none of their other albums wax psychedelic in the least.  Also, Mayo Thomson is one of very few people to be active -- musically -- in both post-punk (he played with Pere Ubu) and psychedelia.  I've never met the man personally, but I'd wager that Mayo's neither a hippie nor a punk.  I think he's an art critic. 

2) This album was recorded in mono.  I can't verify this 'cos I'm not a collector (though I do recreational perusal of popsike), but I'm pretty sure the mono version has never officially been reissued on vinyl, CD, cassette, or any other format.  Why is this important?  Because the stereo version is FAKE stereo, only this is the ONE case where I don't mean FAKE pejoratively.  All that crazy delay you're hearing, and all the phasing, is intentional/artistic/mandatory-for-legal-reasons-or-whatever.  It's come to be associated with psychedelic music, sure, but I think Mayo was cavalier, if not disinterested, about the mastering process.

All things considered, Mayo Thomson is an odd bird who led a great group of 3 musicians (himself included) for one album.  Coconut Hotel is not that album.

God Bless... is far more normal than Coconut Hotel.  I haven't even rated it and I probably won't.  It's minimalist, it's proto-post-punk - so it (e.g., "Dairymaid's Lament") sounds sparse, fast, catchy, and 'econo' like the Minutemen, but it literally came BEFORE the Minutemen, hence the two counter-referential prefixes.

Coconut Hotel is so unmusical ('avant-garde sui generis' if and only if 'unmusical'?) that it makes God Bless... sound normal.  Of course, history and context ALSO make God Bless... sound normal.

But this album is the ONE album where Mayo, Steve, and Frederick (and about 50 other 'ugly' people) pulled it off.  A true oddity, indeed.



  2. track 7 is missing in the file.