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The United States Of America - The United States Of America  CD (album) cover

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

The United States Of America

 

Proto-Prog

4.19 | 42 ratings

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VanVanVan
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Very cool stuff. Joe Byrd proves on this album that he can blend styles and bend genres with the best of them, combining psychedelic 60s rock with electronic sounds to create a borderline avant-garde style. Unlike a lot of other "experimental" 60s albums, however, "The United States of America" never sacrifices listenability in favor of experimentalism, and as a result it comes off as a wildly innovative, extremely well-put-together time capsule that, in retrospect, was wildly ahead of its time.

"The American Metaphysical Circus" starts off the album with some appropriately deranged circus music, which spirals off into a quite a cacophony before a markedly more sedate vocal melody enters. Interestingly, the track uses some distortion on the vocals and a variety of electronic sound effects in the background to really set itself from any other "pop" music that was being made in 1968. Despite this, however, the track isn't some weird, avant-garde experiment; in fact, it has an amazing melody and a great groove to it courtesy of the bassline. This collage of styles grows in intensity as the song progresses toward the climax, which manifests itself with some incredibly grand, distorted vocals from Dorothy Moskowitz. The track ends with a grand crash of noise and then more circus music. A fantastic, ahead- of-its-time, genre bender of a track.

"Hard Coming Love" is a bit more of a rocker, beginning with a fiery, distorted guitar solo that takes up close to a quarter of the track. More excellent vocals from Ms. Moskowitz which are this time set against backing music that sounds like Hawaiian traditional music run through a vocoder and mixed up with a funky bassline. The track is interspersed with sections of electronic effects, which break up the track nicely and differentiate it from just another bluesy rock track.

"Cloud Song," as you might expect from the title, is a more restrained affair, mixing more electronic effects with some minimal percussion and keyboards to create quite a unique atmosphere. Ms. Moskowitz proves that she is one of the great talents of the 60s, handling a serene, delicate, psychedelic track with just as much aplomb as she handled the previous rocker. With it's emphasis on electronics and complete lack of anything resembling typical rock instrumentation, "Cloud Song" sounds totally unlike any other music I've heard from this period.

"The Garden of Earthly Delights" has a more recognizable 60s feel to it, but with electronic textures and effects still making up the majority of the backing music here it's certainly still a unique track. Joe Byrd really shows a knack here for using sounds and electronics in a fully incorporated way that never feels forced or unnatural, despite the scarcity of this kind of sound in a lot of other music.

"I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar" sees Dorothy Moskowitz stepping back from lead vocal duty for the first time on the album, while someone else (presumably Joe Byrd) takes over. Musically the track has a very vintage, classic sound to it, despite the fact that there's still all kinds of sound effects flying around. Sporting some humorous but scathing lyrics as well, it's not hard to see The United States of America with a kind of proto- Zappa mentality. The track closes with some patriotic sounding horn music, which I suspect based on the subject matter of the track is used here rather ironically.

"Where Is Yesterday" follows, and begins in yet another vein, featuring more of those electronic effects this time with an almost chanting vocal style on top of them. Minimal and atmospheric instrumentation is the name of the game here, and it's used to great effect to maximize the impact of the vocals. I may sound like a broken record but I really have to emphasize how unique the textures used in this track are for the time that it was released. Astounding.

"Coming Down" returns to using Moskowitz' vocals as its centerpiece, backed by some really excellent bass and percussion work and, of course, those awesome electronic parts. Like "Hard Coming Love," the track mixes these electronics in with a more typical 60s sound to create a song that's both highly experimental and accessible. The song ends in a crash of distorted noise before transitioning into...

"Love Song for Dead Che," which drops the noisy effects for a moment in favor of a lush, gorgeous opening passage led by what sounds like an accordian. Dorothy Moskowitz channels a sultry, velvet-voiced lounge singer to great effect, and as a result of all of these elements "Love Song for Dead Che" comes out as a beautiful ballad that both hearkens back to the past while also pushing the boundaries of the standards of the time. An awesome change of pace and a beautiful song.

"Stranded in Time" uses some string textures combined with vocals to create a track that begins sounding a bit like the early Beatles or the Zombies. However, it differentiates itself by featuring a heavily arranged, noisy instrumental section before returning to its string-led motif, all in under 2 minutes.

"The American Way of Love" closes off the album, and it begins with a rather bluesy section which is interspersed with some more circus-souding music. This is followed by another great guitar solo, which gets some sound effects thrown over it as it transitions to the next section of the track, which is a poppy, uptempo, satirical take on "beach music." This section only lasts a little while before we get a rather dissonant, noisy section in which several themes from earlier in the album are reprised. I would say that this is really the only section of the album where the music sounds like it's trying too hard to be edgy-this noisy, reprise- collage goes on for almost 3 minutes, and while it's kind of fun to listen to it's a bit gratuitous after the near perfect arrangements that dominate the rest of the album.

Nonetheless, this self-titled release from the United States of America is a very, very good example of proto-prog music, combining influences from the pop music of the time with an incredibly wide range of other sounds to create what must be one of the most forward thinking albums ever made. At times its reach exceeds its grasp, but for the most part it's a wonderful, experimental journey that should hold a lot of appeal for any prog fan.

4/5

VanVanVan | 4/5 |

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