Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Chrome—
Alien Soundtracks


Released 1977 on Siren
The Seth Man, June 2014ce
Chrome’s ‘Ultra Rock’ proclamation in a 1976 ad would continue to be just as accurate the following year when they unleashed their follow up album, “Alien Soundtracks”: a record that was extreme, excessive, exceptional and seemingly by a group not of their time, ahead of their time, and sounded like no one thing while that indefinable ‘thing’ happened all at once AND all over the place. Huge parts of it recorded during a highly productive fortnight in a house in Berkeley, California, “Alien Soundtracks” is a severe and vivid organisation of sound in both performance and its subsequent editing into klanging cohesion. The vision of vocalist/keyboardist/director of art damage Damon Edge was already as super-focused as a high noon magnifying glass on the ant of Rock Music. But add to that the more-than-able contributions of newly-joined guitarist Helios Creed (whose sweeping and incendiary swaths of over-processed riffing boiled down the soup of Chrome’s industrial/psychedelic/punk singularity and made it go even further off the boil) and the result is a record where everything spills over in waves of unhinged sonic hooks, collaged sound effects, off-the-wall frequencies and strident rhythms whipped into a freefall of sonic collisions that ooze battery acid, cause atypical electromagnetic interference and maintain a radioactive half life ten times the lifespan of popular music genres. In other words, “Alien Soundtracks” is where every aspect of Chrome is at its peak: at every speed and every facet as each barrage of electronic space debris, taped dialogue and collaged subterranean fears all get refracted through Damon Edge’s hypersensitive and distorted mental lenses that project outwards into a crazy quilt of half-caught meaning that, however disjointed the content (which pitches and tosses at every turn), a unity emerges that remains invigorating and consistent at every turn.

The door bursts open with the frenetic chromium cyclone rush that is “Chromosome Damage.” Here, Damon Edge’s sub-sub Jagger vocalismos (like some three-way composite of the vocalists from The Chocolate Watchband, The Emperors AND The Bananamen singing “I Want My Woman” simultaneously while frenetically strutting like a rooster on acid extending its jaw outwards in Cro-Magnon defiance) spit out over drumming like a half full cereal box shaken into a microphone processed with severest compression as trash can cymbals get a constant thrashing. Recorded crudely, rudely and with dire purpose, it’s on a speeding expressway to oblivion that pauses for nothing. Even though hurtling along in confident fury, Edge inserts a priceless and off-handed “Oh, yeah!” in the midst of it all. Yeah, he’s THAT caught up in the moment and even though he persists with outcries of “I wanna fly, wanna fly away!” he’s totally grounded to the earth by the un-windscreen-wipering scumming of the sonic screen with Helios Creed’s O.D.’ed and over-FX’ed guitar daubing until it prematurely fades out.

In the first of dozens of collages, an entirely different instrumental fades in with Moog ripples and phased stun-guitar laser beams appearing over barely audible dialogue snatched from some unknown sci-fi B-movie. It then cuts out for sickeningly over-phased, over-distorted and over-saturated guitar soloing to trample over a rhythm track spun backwards and including a purposeful skip with bass Moog footsteps. Going at it with only a handful of chords through a fistful of effects that froth and rage over the metallic, low-grade rhythm in near-constant smear, “Chromosome Damage” is a tumultuous example of Chrome running amok in the best possible way.

Revved-up and solid drumming and Edge’s crooning propels “The Monitors” forward as Helios’ guitar scrambles over the top with riffing wrung out tightly and (once again) laden with every effect box in Chrome’s possession. Then something so weird and palpable occurs with distorted intrusion that you can almost smell it, as if the few inches of reality directly in front of your face is being ripped open. It’s more than a distorted, crackly voice: it’s one of the Monitors, and his surveillance is so unwieldy it’s even cutting through the song itself, like the eyeballs pasted over the windows on the front cover.

You think it’s over when it halts, but suddenly, yet another snippet of dialogue emerges from swaths of gauzy Moog with the announcement: “In a moment, Pat Stevens, who hates buttermilk, is going to --” and in turn, THIS gets interrupted by a left turn and back into the trashily-recorded but immaculately played drums while Creed’s overloaded FX guitar runs and gurgles behind the whole mess. Further B-movie dialogue telegraphs over this runny chunk of stinky cheese until malevolent, metallic laughter -- ostensibly from one of the Monitors and therefore: signifying technological doom -- cuts in all-too knowingly and...Over and out. It is done.

“All Data Lost” opens with an introductory cycling through a catalogue of mysterious murmurs, fragmentary guitar riffing and echoed voices while churning e-guitar fragments scatter among sporadic drum fills. Extra crazy drum fills and guitar freakouts erupt until a massive echo ripples through everything and spreads out in a wide arc. Several sets of wordless vocals echo at varying speeds until one reverberates slowly as if stretched out for light years and beyond the far horizon and into a black hole until everything shimmers and breaks down into sub-atomic matter. Moog pulse waves and steady drumming fades in gently from a morass of low breathing and becalmed, echoed vocals while a second set of echoed vocals in the background cut in and out to great rhythmic effect over low Moog pulsations. A brief guitar solo spurs on the distance just in time for everything to slip off into silence seemingly forever.

Quick Buchla zips and washing machine-styled agitations electronically burble until one quick edit later, the instrumental “SS Cygni” kicks in with steady mid-tempo drumming over blood-blistering guitar riffing through tons of FX that soon splits off into multi-tracked clones playing slightly out of phase to concoct a wall of a dozen wayward guitar wailings from H. Creed. Soon, wordless asides and murmurs of “dancin’ in the shadows” sporadically dot this wayward garage punk version of “Opa-Loka” or some such other NEU!-driven moment off “Warrior On The Edge Of Time.”

“Nova Feedback” nudges in with a brief introduction of car horns, electronic debris, skittering and sped-up guitar and fuck knows what else set in high-relief echo. Of course, this cuts off and into a place where dub echoed drums get flanged to hell while non-FX’ed but nimble guitar lines carefully embroider the soaring electronics in slow and undulating sine-wave surfing threading the slow and steady bass line. (Five years later, Chrome would reprise the overall basis of this as the title track for their “Blood On The Sun” album, but it’s a far more loose and organic affair at play here.) Creed provides quiet and thoughtfully economical riffing until one stomp on the attached Heliotropic fuzz/disorto/phase pedals causes a shift into a raging storm barely held in by the trudging, lead-booted rhythm. It’s the same Joy Division weightlessness effortlessly displayed on “I Remember Nothing” but it’s pinned down with even greater duress by an Orionian gravity belt to render it like “Rastakrautpasta” being played on 16rpm on some pitiful, portable picnic player placed in a plastic space penumbra conundrum.

Side two switches gear with an extended, three-part discombobulation called “Pigmies In Zee Park.” This includes:
1.) A Buchla pattern nudging along quietly in curlicues until the curtain parts to expose a careening mass of nighttime electronic jungle rhythms percolating over layers of squeaking, blaring and feedbacking pistons plus howling crossfire guitars wailing over THAT. Suddenly, a gong resounds and all goes quiet. Then another gong crash. Watery guitar rhythms begins to undulate underneath, then halts. Then, thinking better of it, restarts.
2.) Fading in from the ether come Creed’s quavering, somnambulistic crooning “Wayyy...ting for you...in the paaaark...by the zoooooo...” all simultaneously soothing and disturbing -- not least of all because it edges into a nonplussing Buffy Sainte-Marie-styled staccato.
3.) Shifting into something like a weird jump blues played at 78rpm in a locked groove with squeaky toys for accenting, Helios Creed’s wailing guitar consecrates it all with waves of feedbacking, zigzagging riffing as Damon rhythmically scats in Jaggerist alien-speak. Ham fisted bass piano rhythm bounces in the background of horns (possibly synthesized ones) that erupt at the end and they blare shrill as hell. It stops. Then continues to eventual fade out with a series of incoming Buchla blasts.

“Slip It To The Android” is introduced with a backwards space radio transmission or maybe some Unknownistan SSR state radio broadcast from the fifties until a crazy cyborg dance-a-thon erupts featuring Gary Spain’s violin sawing crazily over jotted Buchla runs in a 21st Century hoedown to end all hoedowns as further distorted Buchla shrillness rides roughshod over it all. Discordant and joyous, the entire set of lyrics are the song title’s five words chanted over and over through a double strainer of compression and distortion while twin blaring signals among the Buchla runs are Gary Spain’s electric violin needling spasms and Creed’s shrieking guitar. At points they all hits the same pitch, only to immediately waver back out of sync until it all cuts out for a rapid, backwards voice that pulls the plug on it all and yanks it into abrupt silence.

The following track, “Pharoah Chromium,” has the same industrial-strength bump and grind as “Slip It To The Android” -- only at the opposite end of the tempo spectrum because “Pharoah Chromium” is a slug-paced trudge near-identical in pace and rhythm to Can’s “Soul Desert” as Gary Spain’s simple bass line lattices easily behind Helios Creed’s uneasily lurching guitar wailings. Weirdly, it’s the only section of the album that is a straight run-through without edits of any kind, but that’s soon rectified with the emergence of a whirring tape loop of some such mechanical malfunction or another and the brief hastiness of “ST37” begins. Sounding like a refugee from the twilight period straddling Chrome’s previous “The Visitation” album and “Alien Soundtracks,” the crazy, sped-up hillbilly front porch guitar on “ST37” may very well be the work of John Lambdin only because it bears little or no resemblance to Helios Creed’s other contributions here, while Gary Spain quickly barks out under-recorded vocals as if to fit the sentences of lyrics into a space and tempo better suited for quick expletives issued from a speeding car. Drum rhythms percolate wildly and unsuspecting cymbals are trashed, only to disappear and reappear at random.

“Magnetic Dwarf Reptile” concludes the album with the entry of searing, sustained e-guitar joined by UFO landing pulsations that remain as the base rhythm until interrupted by the umpteenth taped dialogue (“don’t do that!”) that upends everything into a crazy interlude of tinkering percussion and pitch-controlled guitar yawping. Then, slovenly drumming and corkscrew guitar riffing pile drives onward into a becalmed coda of electric guitar bridge plucking and hi-hat brushings...as if to signal that the now fed and fast asleep Monitors are finally satiated, never to awake again.

“Alien Soundtracks” is like a parallel universe that opens up when you play it that it seems to practically hang physically in between the speakers until that final second when it slips back into silence. In fact, it’s so complete an environmental statement and mental landscape that even when you deeply excavate information about it and immerse yourself within its once out-of-reach confines, the more ambiguous and out of reach it becomes. It’s as though immersion into Chrome’s world unlocks a view of pulsating, super-plastic reality where distressed, disembodied compounds are threaded together by fiery pulses with only the most essential elements appearing after several swift rounds of elimination.

In other words: You want ‘Ultra Rock’? Look no further.