This is one of those records that was pretty damn radical in 1969 but, 40 years later, sounds extremely dated, in part because some of the techniques used have either been replaced by better techniques or have been better incorporated into popular music. What is it? It’s electronic music – utilizing electronic instruments, electronic effects on the tapes, and tape editing – plus vocals which appear intended to make the music more accessible.(Something, say, less common in the electronic music that was emerging in Germany around the same time.)
The songs/compositions are often pretty radical but are sometimes disguised in how radical they are by the vocals, which give the listener something to latch on to. Some of the compositions sound like more radical – i.e. less obviously connected to a musical tradition – United States of America. And it’s clear the people responsible have been listening to the most extreme music by the Mothers, the Beatles, USA and other bands that delved into electronic instruments, effects and studio editing (and samples!). Occasionally they sound like a less rhythmic, less charismatic Silver Apples (i.e. without the prominent drums and without someone as compelling as Simeon).
The arrangements are bat shit crazy and sometimes move beyond electronic instruments. (There are drums, a jews harp, and guitar and keyboards at times.)
The best moments are among the very best of the most radical “pop” music being made at the time. But there are things that have really dated poorly: the moaning on “My Game of Loving”, for example, is the kind of thing that only someone recording in the ’60s, or Prince, would think sounds good. “Firebird” feels like it is, at times, from another era, and not in the sense that it feels futuristic. The drums on “Black Mass” feel like something that could only seem compelling in the late ’60s or through the early and mid ’70s.
Still, this is relatively accessible for music this radical. And though I hear echoes of other, better (or at least more trail-blazing bands), there is still a lot here worth your time. Also worth your time is the balancing act they walk on side 1 between pop and the avant garde.