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Red Krayola - Introduction

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 16 / 4 / 2006

Red Krayola - Introduction
Label: Select Label
Format: CD


Experimental, but messy psychedella from influential Texan 60's act the Red Krayola, back after a long absence

Avant-psych rockers the Red Krayola have been lurking around the shadows of the American alt-indie scene for over four decades now, their one consistent factor being main man Mayo Thompson. Emerging from the fiery psychedelic cauldron of the mid 60’s Texas scene that also spawned the likes of the 13th Floor Elevators, with whom they were labelmates, the Red Krayola’s vision was if anything even more warped than Roky Erickson’s merry crew of space cadets. A celebration of literary weirdness that had few affinities with anything else around it, the only reference points at a guess would have been Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane’s most out-there symphonies, the intense mantras of Krautrock outfits such as Amon Dull II, or the proto-electronic synth-heavy experiments of the Silver Apples and the United States of America. They remain something of an enigma, their cult following cemented by the group’s often difficult, challenging output, yet their legend has grown since the classic 'The Parable of Arable Land' debut album, a proto freak-out cosmic rock album before it’s time that was a huge influence on much alt-indie both in the US and the UK. Jamming with the likes of John Fahey and the Elevator’s Erickson at the time, the band were set for big things, yet fell apart amid wrangling with their label. Their influence remains, though, and it could be argued that much contemporary drone rock on labels such as Kranky, as well as current freak out bands such as Sunburned Hand of the Man and Comets on Fire, owe a great deal to the Red Krayola, while Spacemen 3 covered their 'Transparent Radiation' track and Rough Trade coveted them. Yet Thompson’s outfit has always remained something of an unknown quantity. While the band was put on long hiatus in the 70’s, Thompson played in Pere Ubu before living in Europe and producing the likes of the Slits, The Fall and as the 80’s dawned Young Marble Giants (as well as Primal Scream’s Sonic Flower Groove”!) – legends in early the British post-punk explosion that have experienced recognition recently with the endless skinny tie brigade. It was only in the mid 90’s that he really reappeared with his outfit, releasing a self-titled album in 1994 and befriending much of the post-rock scene then coalescing in Chicago (Jim O’Rourke, Tortoise, David Pajo, Gastr Del Sol) – the town that gave birth to the Drag City label that this release is on. Aided and produced by Tortoise’s John MacEntire, Thompson’s latest effort, 'Introduction', begins with the title track, a blunt sound of clipped synth tones before a strange spoken-word monologue by Thompson on the nature of meaning in conversation follows. This obsession with “deconstructing” language and song has been behind much of the Red Krayola’s material, which has used an avant-garde bent to “subvert” much traditional music idioms, in much the same way that Freud praised the “unconscious” part of the human mind that comes to the fore during dreams, or with Derrida’s emphasising of a deconstructionist method, in which the periphery can sometimes be the most important. It’s a jarring start before the dark noirish blues of "Breakout' take over incorporating the traditional folk tune 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken', accentuated by accordion and a ragtime feel. 'Cruise Boat' has a jazzy feel that’s quietly understated in order to emphasise Thompson’s lyrics that touch on global radiation and clipped alliterative run throughs of ideas: “associations, amalgamations, agglomerations”. It’s like he’s trying to fit as much cerebral discourse as possible into a standard jazzy pop song. 'Note to Selves' could be one of the most accessible tracks Thompson has done for a while, a crooning piano-led ballad that nonetheless continues the philosophical treatise: “what you say affects the world”. 'A Tale of Two…' meanwhile sounds like something that could have crawled out of the Texan desert, a bluesy backing on which Thompson delivers a half spoken-half singing lyric about an unnamed acquaintence. The drawn-out, half performed ending only serves to add to the feeling that this album could have been produced and performed far better – even that it feels rushed. Exactly why a track is devoted to Puff The Magic Dragon is unclear too, and subsequent listens only make it harder to really grasp what Thompson’ methodology is. Despite some great moments – the tense warning of 'Greasy Street' - the sluggish, mid-tempo nature of much of the album (exacerbated by an angular, sparse production which disregards any use of effects) will leave many listeners finding it a head-scratching maze, a difficult puzzle to solve, while the guitar sounds repeatedly badly recorded, with the treble sparsely captured in the mix. Bizarrely, it’s on the instrumentals that things get interesting. 'L.G.F.' has Thompson adding some dreamy guitar interplay against ostensibly cheap Casio computer drum machine sounds that somehow manage to fit the tone, while 'Elegy' uses accordion, ukulele and harmonium to great effect, echoing Nico’s 'Marble Index' in its gothic, sober austerity. They capture the experimental tendencies of the album in a way that draws in the listener’s attention far more than the listless nature of some of the more straightforward tracks on here. A baffling piece of work, all in all, that only partially brings in rewards to the listener.

Track Listing:-
1 Introduction
2 Breakout
3 Cruise Boat
4 Note To Selves
5 L.G.F.
6 A Tale Of Two
7 Psy Ops
8 It Will Be (Delivered)
9 Puff
10 Greasy Street
11 Vexations
12 Elegy
13 When She Went Swimming
14 Swerving
15 Bling Bling

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