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THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

The United States Of America

 

Proto-Prog

4.19 | 42 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Joseph Byrd who is the brains behind THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA came to New York City armed with his B.A. and M.A. all ready to study with John Cage.This was 1960 and New York was filled with artists of all kinds seeking to not only learn but to entertain and be entertained in this hub of artistic activity.There was every sort of artistic activity imaginable going on here. Joseph had earned his M.A. at Stanford where he had come under the influence of a group of avant-garde composers from Berkeley such as Terry Riley and Steve Reich. "The first New York concert of my new music was at a large Canal Street loft of a painter, a mysterious beautiful Japanese girl named Yoko Ono." Joseph eventually moved to L.A. in 1963 as he was offered a teaching assistantship at UCLA. His girlfriend Dorothy, the future THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA vocalist went with him. He says "If I was a tiny fish in the pond of avant-garde New York, I was a pioneer of experimental music in L.A.. My first year at UCLA I co-founded the New Music Workshop with Don Ellis. Don was already a brilliant Jazz trumpet player, but at UCLA he studied Indian music, as did Dorothy and I". "In 1965, with funding from UCLA Associated Students, we did an elaborate set of concerts and events called "Steamed Spring Vegetable Pie".The final concert of that series closed with LaMonte's piece in which a giant weather balloon is filled on stage (using a vacuum cleaner).This takes about half an hour, and I was concerned that I would lose my unsophisticated audience, so I put together a Blues band to play during it. Our singer was my friend Linda Rondstadt, who had just moved to Santa Monica, and was living with her Folk trio in a six block area that includied THE DOORS, Frank Zappa, and Dorothy and I". Joseph realized from this performance that Rock was an access to a larger audience and so the idea of forming a band came out of this.

"Things moved fast : I introduced Gordon to the ring modulator-to fatten the violin sound to a Hendrix fuzz, Rand bought an Ampeg fretless bass, and we set about electrifying the drums.The aural concept I had in mind was an edgy minimalist one, without the guitar clutter I was hearing in many Rock bands of the late 60's. I composed about a dozen songs, Dorothy co-wrote the lyrics. I wrote out parts for everyone,and we rehearsed for a month, made a demo, and sent it off to Columbia Records". "Everything we did on the album we had performed live, via the addition of two tape decks on stage. We travelled with a bunch of gear, including a calliope, a 3' x 4' neon American flag (which had been alternately flashing red and white stripes), and a full size plaster nun. We may have been the first to use fog machines; the low lying fog and flashing flag created as striking enviroment." Producer David Rubinson and Joseph mixed the tapes in New York City and Joseph was overwelmed with the final results. It sounded brilliant and as he left the studio at 4 am with freshly fallen snow on the streets he relates that this may have been the best high he's ever experienced.

I don't usually go into such background info but this "one off" deseves it because it was unique back in 1968, one of a kind really.That mix of Psych / Pop and Electronics is different that's for sure. Dorothy has a clear and excellent voice. It's experimental yet at times poppy. Psychedelic and spacey yet at other times structured in the traditional manner. It's an influencial recording full of ideas.

"The American Metaphysical Circus" opens with a circus melody before vocals arrive a minute in with a spacey backdrop. When she stops singing before 4 1/2 minutes it turns experimental to end it. A psychedelic gem right there. "Hard Coming Love" kicks in right away with some aggressive modulated violin (sounds like guitar). It stops and the vocals begin to lead 1 1/2 minutes in. A calm follows then it kicks back in. Contrasts continue. It's spacey and experimental late. "Cloud Song" is a dreamy psychedelic track with drifting vocals and vocal melodies. Some sparse violin and spacey winds as well. Amazing tune.

"The Garden Of Earthly Delights" is spacey to start then the vocals come in with a beat and bass. It kicks in before a minute. Spacey synths come and go. Another great track. "I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar" has these humerous lyrics and male vocals with lots of violin too. "Where Is Yesterday" has these manipulated vocals to start then this haunting soundscape takes over. Drums and a fuller sound before 2 1/2 minutes. Nice. It's haunting again late to end it. "Coming Down" has this raw sounding manipulated violin that sounds like guitar as the vocals come in and lead. It turns spacey late and blends into "Love Song For The Dead Che" as violin joins in then vocals. A mellow tune.

"Stranded In Time" opens with the violin slicing away as vocals join in.Very BEATLES-like here. "The American Way Of Love" has some attitude and the violin rips it up 1 1/2 minutes in as the bass and drums pound.It turns very spacey then changes again before 2 1/2 minutes with vocals. It turns heavy then psychedelic. It sounds like a psychedelic parade 5 minutes in. A freaky ending to this one too.

What an interesting listen this is.You can tell it's from the 60's yet it has that twist with the electronics and those experimental sounds. A solid 4 stars !

Mellotron Storm | 4/5 |

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