Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

New Gods - Aardvark Thru Zymurgy

New Gods
Aardvark Thru Zymurgy

AOTM #74, July 2006ce
Released 1977 on World Theatre
Side One
  1. Origin (7.22)
  2. Visions of My World (2.26)
  3. Strange Forces (3.01)
  4. Core (2.34)
  5. Phosphorescent Is The Chamber (6.39)
Side Two
  1. Within The Zodiac Zone (4.32)
  2. Last Day As A Whole Person (2.27)
  3. A Dozen Eggs (4.28)
  4. Brain And Spinal Column (8.02)

Note: The American Midwest finally caught on to the Summer of Love just as London and New York was spawning the 1977 Punk Thing. Like Eastern Europe, Germany and Japan, many American Midwesterners of ‘77 were still looking back to those heady days of ’67 with a glazed nostalgia, a romantic memory of a time they probably hadn’t given a hoot for whilst it was actually a-happening thang. Some forward-thinking backwards-looking rock’n’rollers attempted to create the spirit of that rebellious time by copying the old music wholesale, such as Canada’s Simply Saucer (The Barrett Floyd), Cleveland’s The Mirrors (Velvet Underground) and Boston’s The Modern Lovers (Velvets again), each one driven on by a sole excellent songwriter at their helm, who saved its band’s ass from becoming mere pastiche by the power of their individual personalities and sheer songwriting talent. Others such as The Electric Eels and Styrenes aped the abandon of the ’67 spirit by coming on with an entirely new sound, a sound hooky both in its riffage and melodies, but so sonically divorced from the then-accepted musical currency that they too would need another 20 years to be understood. Somewhere in between all of this were groups like Cleveland’s Rockets From The Tomb, who copped from both ends. From their recent past, Rocket borrowed the sounds of The Stooges, Kiss, Montrose, MC5; from the future they copped lo-fi recording techniques and still-taboo subject matter, then burned their cultural candle down from the past and future simultaneously. This ‘Somewhere-in-between’ has long been the subject of Head Heritage Album of the Month reviews - during the past 6 years, the Electric Eels, Mirrors, Simply Saucer, Rocket From The Tomb all having had the light shone upon them at one time or another. But I’ve not yet investigated the flipside of that coin, that is, the USA’s equivalents of bands like Japan’s Yonin Bayashi, Prague’s Plastic People of The Universe, mid-70s bands whose aesthetic dwelled in an imaginary universe in which The Velvet Underground, The Doors, The Mothers Of Invention, Morton Subotnick and Karlheinz Stockhausen had all got themselves booked for the same festival and all accidentally performed simultaneously. Like that German Velvet Underground compilation I showed you in KRAUTROCKSAMPLER with a fake Roger Dean sleeve, the mixing of the metaphor was not considered inappropriate. Which is where New Gods come in…

Shaman Doorkeeper of the Ever-shifting Goalposts

Shaman 77

Shaman 77

… because New Gods sounded like they’d shoe-horned every post-67 heavy rock’n’roll art statement into their band just through their sheer desire to celebrate it all. From ABSOLUTELY FREE-period Mothers to ELECTRIC STORM IN HELL-period White Noise via The Zodiac’s COSMIC SOUNDS, the United States of America LP, a dozen music concrete LPs and the whole of the early ‘70s, everything was grist to New Gods’ mill. Analogue synthesizers swirled and farted, totally fogging up the vocals and undermining the perpetually descending/ascending Inna-Gadda-Da-Sunshine-Of-Your-21st-Century-Schizoid-Lord-Of-This-World-ness of their NIB. New Gods’ music was like Hinduism, constantly threatened by wave upon wave of successful new invaders, each leaving their cultural mark, irrigating and edifying but ultimately becoming subsumed into the general polytheistic whole. And so, with its dizzying arsenal of cultural references and perpetually shifting undertow, New Gods’ LP FROM AARDVARK TO ZYMURGY is a truly psychedelic masterpiece. Never mind what instrument is making which sound, on this New Gods LP, we don’t even know where one track ends and another begins. Mind manifesting? I should koko! Not that they’d even started out as New Gods, of course - that would be too convenient. On stage, they were The Eyes - a Pennsylvania quartet with a blond 17-year-old guitarist called Tim Rimer, bass player Keefe Marabito and Marc Cosco on drums. But The Eyes had a visionary at the helm, and a shameless super-confident visionary at that. This guy was a TS Eliot of his time, a cultural kleptomaniac who sucked up all the good juice from everything he ever read, heard, inhaled, touched or tasted; and distilled it all into saleable potions for limited distribution in his area. He was shamanic and brilliant and beautiful – really fucking gorgeous actually - and (like Mizutani of Rallizes Denudes) he knew one day that the world would catch on to his errant muse. New Gods’ visionary leader was called Todd Clark, and he sung exactly like Ray Collins of The Mothers being Jim Morrison – a drunken portentous baritone with twenty bazillion lyrics bombarding the listener into submission. I would guess that people often told Todd Clark he sounded like Morrison, and I would suspect that he would not have gived a damn. I mean, Clark also sounded like Arthur Brown quite a bit, but – as TS Eliot himself said in his essay ‘The Metaphysical Poets’ – we nowadays have a tendency to judge artists only by the unique elements they bring to the table, not (as the Druids believed) by the traditions they have chosen to follow. Patti Smith was the first major example of a rock’n’roller who celebrated their influences rather than hid them or denied them. Unlike good old Plant’n’Page, who stole equally from white folkies to make up for ripping off their black brothers, Patti wore her art on her sleeve, in her poems, on her record covers… The traditions she had chosen to follow? Well, the Japanese would have said Patti was taking The Way Of Keef, The Way Of Rimbaud, The Way of Lou, and ultimately creating The Way Of Patti. Similarly, Todd Clark was another confident motherfucker who didn’t care, taking The Way of Jimbo, The Way of Bob Moog, The Way of Zappa and melding it all into The Way Of Clark. And a pretty fair way it was, or so it would appear to me. So when The Eyes came to make their studio LP after months of getting tight from shows across the Midwest, Todd Clark got into Greedy Motherfucker mode and invited his organist mate Chris Lagoe to the sessions to cop some of that Manzarek he had always so cherished, then invited pianist Dennis Kovach for some more Ray-type tinkling; plus Todd himself went overboard with the electronics and had a theremin and a big Moog set up for the sessions. Todd Clark had seen Mickey Dolenz play a big Moog on The Monkees when he was a teenager, and its bubble bubble toilet trouble had created the kind of rage in him that nothing else could.

So here are The Eyes all ready to record, but the Visionary has major other plans and other (my least fave word in current usage, but what the hell… here goes) issues. Sure, Todd loves The Zodiac’s COSMIC SOUNDS but all that astrology is a crock. Didn’t Jimbo himself call it ‘a bunch of bullshit’ on ABSOLUTELY LIVE? Well, with regard to Todd’s ethnic heritage, he’s part paleface’n’part (what we then termed) Red Indian, brothers’n’sisters. So Todd has a big fucking problem with what he calls the ‘spurious predictions of Eurocentric astrology [holding people] in pseudo-scientific bondage’. So, unknown to The Eyes, he’s gonna record his anti ‘Catholic Dominated Tyranny’ rant/poem ‘Within The Zodiac Zone’, as well as settling a few other scores with Whitey along the way. Well, The Eyes get in the studio and don’t know what’s hit them. Guitarist Tim Rimer’s all bent out of shape because here’s this guest organist getting all the fucking solos, and when he’s not, the sound is so manipulated by Our Visionary Overlord that Todd’s Moog and Theremin squooshes are oblitering all the band’s carefully laid plans from the rehearsal room. But you know what? It’s fucking working so well, they cannot complain. Fuck the summer of love, this is genius because its psychedelia is true and real and totally disorientating. Man, do you even know what song we’re playing? No, keep strumming, brother, Todd knows what’s going on.

The seven minutes of ‘Origin’ which opens the LP is a lo-fi stop-start uber clatter of punks playing ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’, as Todd Clark stumbles in with the worst mike technique since Lou ‘Neatly Pumped Air’ Reed piped up as John Cale’s backing singer for ‘Lady Godiva’s Operation’. I’ve no idea what Todd’s singing but it sure as hell sounds important. Kind of like Cyrus Faryar’s ‘Nine times the colour red explodes like heated blood’ on the opening to COSMIC SOUNDS, but here we have the original lyricist singing his own words, so that’s a million times better for all those requiring authenticity. The song soon takes off into that instrumental freekbeat shitstorm in the middle of The Mothers’ ‘Brown Shoes Don’t Make It’, but here electronics have replaced those old fart woodwinds. Next up, ‘Visions Of My World’ is two-and-a-half minutes of Morrisonisms, but that’s acceptable (I guess) as Big Jim was at least an Honorary Redman dontcha thunk? ‘Strange Forces’ is an organ salute to the tenth anniversary of the Summer of Love, and comes over just like ‘Indian Summer’ meets any of STRANGE DAYS, especially when the bass to ‘Unhappy Girl’ kicks in, and you gots to wonder how the guitarist ain’t just mashing the head of the guest organist. ‘Core’ is dominated by treated piano and rhythm changes that obliterate the entire backing track AND the vocals. Side One concludes with the amazing ‘Phosphorescent Is The Chamber’, almost seven minutes of gonzo underworld travel, including a drums’n’Theremin solo that could be 10 minutes longer and still be too short. Hold on, hold on… the first side is done already? I’m not sure I remember any of it. Let’s flip it back to the beginning again and try to gain a foothold on this crumbling sandbank of sound. But no, seven plays later you still end up just as dazed and confused.

No one but Todd Clark would set up his mikestand in the graveyard for a photo-sesh

Side two opens with the sub-Sabbath of ‘Within The Zodiac Zone’, the aforementioned anti-horoscope ditty supported by a chick singer who – because she can’t keep up the nursery rhyme rhythm – renders its remedial playground rope-jumping just as mysterious as the ‘difficult stuff’. Todd gets very Zappa on this, kind of like The Seeds doing ‘Who Are The Brain Police?’ but scuzzy and lo-fi and FX’d to the max. Besides being possessed of a fucking brilliant title, ‘Last Day As A Whole Person’ is formed from poetry concrete and backwards Moog rhythm track, to create dread and confusion where before there was only confusion. You can see the young Todd watching Mickey Dolenz on that fateful Monkees episode, not knowing what circus boy was unleashing upon his melted plastic brain. Theremin opens the doom of ‘A Dozen Eggs’ (what a fucking great title, AGAIN!) and we’re right in the middle of side two of The Zodiac’s COSMIC SOUNDS as done by one of those bands on PEBBLES VOLUME 3. Of course, those schmucks could never have strung together such class comments as ‘this Catholic dominated tyranny’, but – as ever – the Clark poetry is again undermined/rendered more mysterious by the sheer weight of electronica bombarding the speakers. But the greatest piece of the LP has to be the last eight minutes of the epic ‘Brain & Spinal Column’, a poem based on a nightmare Todd’s wife once had, in which Todd adopts a kind of Screaming Jay Hawkins voice over Hendrix guitar riffage as played by EARTHQUAKE-period Uli John Roth, or maybe the first Bebop Deluxe AXE VICTIM LP. Now c’mon kiddies, who else writes lyrics so simultaneously crazy and edifying? (No, you gotta discount me) No fucker – even The Doors – coulda melded proto-metal riffage with such erudite barbarianism. Man, I reckon if Glenn Danzig could dispense with some of the bogus Billy Idol/Ian Astbury galumphing and get on a Todd Clark trip, we’d probably see some seriously listenable shit for a change. “What divides truth from illusion? It’s your brain and spinal column. What leaves senses in confusion? It’s your brain and spinal column”. It’s a beautiful way to conclude such a dramatic piece of prolapsing 12” mind death. All we can hope for, nay demand, is that some 180 gram vinyl company like those Shadoks fetishists contact Todd Clark and re-do it just as originally released, because the man more than deserves it.

What else then?

In conclusion, brothers’n’sisters, I have another Todd Clark LP in the racks, from about 8 years later. However, by 1984’s INTO THE VISION LP, Todd had eschewed the Morrison fixation, gained about 30 pounds (not heavy, just less stick thin than previously), and mutated into a keyboard whiz. It’s totally different music – electronic still, but employing that rototech 8-bit bullshit ‘80s technology that seems charming to you younger folks but the sound of which most my age would shudder at. However, INTO THE VISION still features some great loud guitar courtesy of ex-Rocket From The Tomb’s Cheetah Chrome, and Todd cops a few William Burroughs samples for his wonderful electro-poem title track. Moreover, there’s another (utterly different) version of ‘Brain & Spinal Column’ featuring Pere Ubu’s Allen Ravenstine on EMS synthesizer, and a superb track entitled ‘Death Hovers’, which Todd nowadays describes as ‘my satirical attempt at writing metaphysical pornography in the purposefully ultraverbose high-bro style of an outrageous poet such as Walk Whitman’. C’mon! Seems to me like we might have a contender here for the Head Heritage’s honorary Vachel Lindsay Gnostic Poetry Award. And with regard to the dodgy ‘80s sound of INTO THE VISION, I myself override the problem by playing the record on a mono Dansette-type cheapo cheapo affair through a Simms-Watts 4x12(see photo), thus restoring maximum garage to what would otherwise be lost to the world of Nick Ker-SHAW!!!

Play your copy of INTO THE VISION through a Simms-Watts 4x12 for maximum thoroughness

But Todd has had one of the most erratic and difficult to catalogue careers in rock’n’roll, his LPs appearing under many different names - The Eyes, Todd Clark Group, Todd Tamanend Clark, New Gods – and it was only when a new compilation of his work entitled NOVA PSYCHEDELIA was released that I realised I’d known some of his stuff already. Nowadays, Todd’s shamanic musings are catalogued better than ever. Many have complained that the 2-CD NOVA PSYCHEDELIA set (excellently released by thorough motherfuckers Anopheles) should have been edited, but I ain’t one of them. Edited? Whose gonna be the editor? Whose got the power to stand up and dismiss such mighty revelations? The LORD his-self? Nah, brothers’n’sisters, when you gotta mighty mouth such as The Clark roaming the planet, you need the TOTALLY UNEXPERGATED WORKS with which to live. And though it all maybe sounds initially like uber drool to those seeking instant karma, those blessed others on a timeless quest for the Sonic Grail will – from the moment the needle drops on our man’s works – recognise that they Need Need Need every bleep, fart, cough, bubble and exhalation from the Moog and mighty gob of Todd Tamanend Clark.

Album Discography

STARS (1975)

Single Discography

‘Flame Over Africa’ b/w ‘Two Thousand Light Years From Home’ (1975)
‘Secret Sinema’ b/w ‘Nightlife Of The New Gods’ (1980)
‘Flame Over Philadelphia’ b/w ‘Oceans Of She’ (1985)