Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Human Expression - Optical Sound/Calm Me Down

The Human Expression
Optical Sound/Calm Me Down


Released 1967 on Accent
Reviewed by Dave Furgess, 15/03/2007ce


It's pretty close to impossible to explain in mere words the greatness of The Human Expression but I'll give it a whack. Most folks were introduced to this great Los Angeles group via their inclusion on garage/psych compilations such as Pebbles, Highs In The Mid 60's and Psychedelic Disaster Whirl, and of course I'm no different. Their records are beyond rare and when they do come up for sale, usually top $2,000 or more these days. I once bid $100 for one of their singles back in 1982 and didn't win the auction. So when it comes to the garage rock "holy grail" The Human Expression are near the top of the list.

The Human Expression were Los Angeles based and issued just 3 45's during their short lifetime (1966-1967.) It is quite possible they acted as support group to Love, The Doors and most probably The Seeds. The Human Expression's lead singer Jim Quarles had all Sky Saxon's moves down and then some. One could actually say he out Sky Saxoned Sky Saxon (if that makes any sense?)

The Human Expression's absolute peak was their psychedelic free for all "Love At Psychedelic Velocity" which I spoke about on this site a few years back. But their second 45 "Optical Sound" is every bit as potent. Musically the song is the polar opposite of "Velocity" where that track was a non-stop train ride to the sun, "Optical Sound" is a slow, brooding almost menacing number that seemed to describe a bad LSD trip. The guitars sound like they were tuned by Sonic Youth, giving the whole song a disoriented feel somewhere in the direction of My Bloody Valentine meets The Ventures. Actually there was another record by a group Chapter Four called "In My Life" (reviewed on this site recently) that had a very similar guitar sound.

"Calm Me Down" is more in The Seeds vein, this one starts kinda slow then just erupts in a frenzy with Jim Quarles again sounding like he got a hold of some bad LSD or Speed. The group just drive it home until the listener is just as disoriented as the band. High marks to guitarists Jim Foster and Martin Eshleman for their truly inventive playing.

The Human Expression issued one final 45 in 1967 that coupled "Sweet Child Of Nothingness" and "I Don't Need Nobody", while this 45 has it's merits, it's not quite up to the standard of the first 2 singles. There was a great compilation of all the group's material "Love At Psychedelic Velocity" (Collectables) issued in 1994, but I'm not sure if it is still available. Finding that would be the most cost effective way of hearing this incredible band. In the liner notes Jim Quarles actually claims the Human Expression were first offered the demo of the Steppenwolf mega-hit "Born To Be Wild" by Mars Bonfire but passed on it.

I always wondered what would have happened if groups like The Human Expression had the recording freedom afforded big name acts such as The Beatles and Rolling Stones. I guess we'll never know, besides the mystery surrounding these psychedelic unknowns makes their recordings that much more special.


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