By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
For an extremist who played so hard he never really thought about outcomes or consequences, MacLise makes remarkably agreeable music. If the minimalists were dissatisfied with Western art music, for MacLise it was rock's possibilities that were limited. He found the savage playing of the Who's Keith Moon too tame, and preferred hand drum improvisation to a kit. His drums and drones caterwaul into new atmospheres, but they might just remind you of an ecstatic organ excerpt, taped at the services of an obscure protestant offshoot of the Christian church.
Consisting of recordings made between 1968 and 1972, Thunderbolt Pagoda is the brighter, and better, of the two MacLise records. Its high point is the 40 minutes of "St. Marks Epiphany," a live recording used in the underground film from which the album takes its name. MacLise's drumming sounds like polyrhythms played by kernels in a popcorn popper. Or like rain, both rhythmic and arhythmic. It's more hypnotic than you'd expect from an unrepentant urbanite, yet too grimy for someone with the Eastern aspirations of a simple hippie. "Heavenly Blue Pt. 4 & 5" and "Humming in the Night Skull"drowsy excursions led by flutes and wind-chime-like bellsshow off MacLise's taste for a lighter kind of fantasy.
Although chronicling music made the same years as Thunderbolt Pagoda (with the exception of a short '67 performance from San Francisco), the playing on Oklahoma City is not quite as proficient, and the sound seems soured. At times MacLise pushes too hard and the music degrades into teeth-grinding, speedfreak cacophony, especially on this album's central piece, "Dreamweapon Benefit for the Oklahoma City Police Dept. Pt. 1 & Pt. 2," recorded at a fundraiser to pay off his bail debt from an Oklahoma pot bust.
The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda
But while MacLise's music is rife with rushed decisions, unlike in Young's music, there are no dead ends. And the former is undertaken with limitless curiosity and a kind of reckless love of the moment. MacLise's songs seem extrapolated from sounds heard while attuned to a world revealed only to the stoned. "Shortwave India" is that unseen ether punctuated by a busted radio; "Cembalum" is a spaghetti western featuring geisha girls; "Another Druid's Nest" is a nasty trip; "Epiphany" is, yeah, just that. Though MacLise was more aimless than most of the minimalists, hung up as they were on treatises and theories, he was still a serious musicianbut all the while his heart was laughing, laughing, laughing. He's dead, so he has nothing to say about his legacy. But he has left a hint as to why he never got caught up in the debates and obsessions which have so mired his contemporaries: "No pallid rites here, no insipid music." No argument.