This Is Your Rock on Drugs


Caspar Brötzmann is a good name to drop if you want to hump someone from the Knitting Factory crowd. Besides the primal eroticism associated with umlauts (Dick Chënney, baby!), and the fact that the Brötzmanns are German, which lends a certain black leather cachet to the family, the name has long been associated with brainy boldness in music. Caspar’s pop, Peter, is a renowned avant-garde saxophonist best known for his Nipples record, and little Brötzmann is a guitarist best known for his Hendrix-meets-Sonic Youth workouts with the trio Massaker (those Krauts sure love their k‘s).

Caspar’s latest instrumental solo outing, Mute Massaker, packs six songs in 60 minutes. And true to the math, each track unfolds endlessly, like a mini “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” exhausting tonal guitar capabilities from sludgy low notes to airy swaths of feedback. In the press release culled from a grueling interview in which he revealed startling insights like “I am the key to everything that I do. Whether I go for a walk in the zoo with my girlfriend, fly to America, or talk to a journalist—that’s always me,” Caspar said that, for the most part, each of his tunes was thought out and composed. But it sounds more like he just hit “record” with nothing but a hard-on and head full of acid.

According to Ted Nugent (always a safe bet for defining cultural phenomena), psychedelia happens somewhere “beyond the seas of thought, beyond the realm of what, across the stream of hopes and dreams where things are really not.” (And he swears his only chemical inspiration is ginger beer!) Psychedelia happens when you somehow shut off the “perceive conventionally” switch in your mind and fuck with your sense of reality: Trilobites crawl on your walls. Your buddy’s face begins to look scaly and reptilian. Paranoia sets in that your girlfriend is having an affair with Rutherford B. Hayes. Good stuff like that.

Now, making music in this spirit can be magical. Ever hear the Butthole Surfers’ Locust Abortion Technician? (Or Phyllis Dildo’s Hair Up My Ass, I Am?) In most people’s basic understanding of rock and pop music, the chorus is when you sing along and embarrass everyone in a 10-foot radius, the guitar solo is what gets the guitarist laid, and vocals are usually something like “Yo, yo, I rock the mic like a bitch in heat.” Psychedelic music is refreshing because it plops the familiar into an extremely unfamiliar setting. That’s why critics get erect over every fart out of Radiohead’s pretentious butt. (It’s pretty late in the game to start another discourse on Kid A, but it’s the best thing those latter-day Smiths have done, probably because Thom Yorke, the vocal equivalent of Days of Our Lives, doesn’t sing much.)

So big fuckin’ deal: I defined a ’60s term 35 years late. The point here, though, is—to quote Al Gore and Bachman-Turner Overdrive—”You ain’t seen nothing yet.” If you thought Kid A was majestically expansive, wonderfully melancholy, and strangely fresh, think again. Radiohead didn’t save psychedelia, and the music didn’t stop when Syd Barrett moved in with Mum or when Jimi kissed the sky (or guy, depending on your religion). Suicide already proved a quarter century ago that you can’t play rock without a guitar. And despite all those Cousin It look-alikes shooting their shorts over Randy Holden solo records, there’s a lot more you can do with a guitar and a blotter of acid than play 20-minute blues solos.

Caspar Brötzmann’s approach to guitar is much like fringe jazzer Sonny Sharrock’s. Asthma sidelined the late Sharrock from his initial calling, saxophone, so he turned to the guitar and approached it with a sax mentality. His runs were fluid and lyrical and didn’t draw from box patterns, the scalar comfort zones most rock and blues guitarists stick to. Caspar’s playing echoes that feeling, though at its most melodic it’s even brasher and more irreverent. A close comparison might be Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner.” Caspar’s main tricks are slurring his notes, strangling feedback from his amp, and depressing his whammy bar to approximate air raids. But he doesn’t cop stock note choices or musical motifs: Only “Rain” has discernible riffs, little droplets from Hendrix’s ballad vocabulary. Textures and melodies float in free time, and when the mood swells, a rhythm section kicks in and helps take things up a notch—the role of the drummer and bassist is chiefly for dynamics.

Four songs in 60 minutes (take that, Brötzmann!), Midnight in the Twilight Factory by San Franciscan Mason Jones would be even more of a joykill to put on at a party on Saturday night. (“Hey, play ‘In a Warm Place’! I love hearing the same note ringing for 13 minutes!”) Ah, but come Sunday morning—when you’re convinced aliens entered your body via the Cheetos—the disc will have a stabilizing effect, the psychedelic equivalent of Quietly Chamomile. Sheets of sound mirroring titles like “Tone Clouds” and “Twilight Fall,” the thin minimalist beauty here works like an infinite extension of the first few seconds of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” The guitarist sculpts his tones into such delicate sustain that they sound like gusts of wind—the perfect soundtrack for a bad trip comedown.

For the less sophisticated, those who still think music should be about songs—that’s so 1968!—I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is good luck fucking a Knitting Factory type. The good news is that Oslo, Norway’s Euroboys—led by guitarist Euroboy, formerly of daddy-pervs Turbonegro— have a sharper sense of band and song. The tunes on the quintet’s A Long Day’s Flight ‘Till Tomorrow are as close to pop as atmospheric, mostly instrumental psychedelia can get, and each track is orchestrated for a rock band. The arrangements are lush and golden, filigreed with “oral effects” (must be a holdover from the Turbonegro days), Farfisa organ, congas, bongos, vibraphone, a bunch of glockenspiel-like instruments I didn’t know existed and can’t pronounce, and horns. A soundtrack designed for late nights walking on the moon. A liftoff feeling, antigravity groove music. In “Down the Road of Golden Dust,” the funk doesn’t worry about being “on the one,” the guitars are liquid and the drum and bass interplay slippery, and the beat sweeps you off your feet. The opener, “Deliverance,” is equally subtle. The song unfolds gently, and getting into it is like getting used to warm water; you dip your feet in, and before you know it, you’re up to your neck. A road-worn harmonica melody becomes a trusty friend. The bass and drums stick to hypnotic riffing. You transcend all your notions of indulgence and pretentiousness. Somehow, as the spittle oozes down your chin, eight minutes of elegant monotony doesn’t seem all that bad.