Thursday, February 24, 2005

The United States of America - S/T CD (Sundazed)

The USA was entirely unique in the late sixties music scene: a guitarless psychedelic rock band led by a cranky academic openly more interested in Ives, Cage and Terry Riley than the Rolling Stones and teenage girls, featuring symbolist lyrics about deadly blossoms and conformist death, given voice by a woman whose blend of ice and cream is among the most gorgeous ever recorded. At its best, the USA was astonishing--this best being the half-rotted, Baudelaire-inspired “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and the authentic acid-narrative “Coming Down.” It's not just that these two songs have the poppiest melodies and most effective uses of voice and electronic instrumentation, but that their themes--erotic disgust and psychic disintegration--are especially powerful. While there are many cool, weird effects throughout the album, it's just harder to be drawn in by wacky collaged song cycles about suburban infidelity. But don't let that discourage you from exploring the USA, whose sole album is expanded here with ten intriguing outtakes, among them several which suggest an alternate version of the band that longed for Top 40 acceptance. Add candid recollections from singer Dorothy Moskowitz and leader Joseph Byrd, and this is as three dimensional a portrait of the USA as we're likely to get.-Kim Cooper

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