Thursday, February 19, 2009


At around the age of 18 until my early 20s, I used to be excruciatingly purist about music. Most everything would be summarily rejected as rubbish, save for a tiny handul of records that I deemed - in my insufferable arrogance - as all you needed for a 'real' collection, to the extent that, at one stage, this was whittled down to a mere three vinyls. The following LP on the legendary ESP label (also home to recordings by Albert Ayler, Charles Manson and family, and innumerable other wonderful weird gems) was one of that still highly valued triumvirate.

Cro-Magnon : Orgasm (1969)

Despite its tragically shoddy sleeve and label art, Cro-Magnon's Orgasm is,
in my opinion, quite simply the most important experimental (for want of a better term) record of all time.

In its day, it was mostly dismissed as an
oddball exercise in psychedelia - yet, in truth, it's about as far removed from disposable crap like 13th Floor Elevators, Love, and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd as it's possible to go. There are eight eclectic tracks that each boast more original new ideas than nearly all other bands achieve in a lifetime - and despite this wide diversity, they all work perfectly well as a whole, in their chosen sequence, and combine to provide an adventure that's unpredictable, exhilarating, startling, and at times unnervingly absurd.

Revisiting Orgasm in 2009, one is immediately struck by how many subsequent bands and genres echoed these ideas: Nurse With Wound, Faust, The Residents (who some allege were involved with the Cro-Magnon project, though it seems that Cro-Magnon's Austin Grasmere and Brian Elliot were in fact bubblegum pop songwriters), neofolk, drone, avant-garde, noise, guitar improv freakery, and more. And of course, my own music too: this album was unquestionably a huge inspiration, not only musically, but also in the sense of artistically opening a mind to a truly radical imperative.

It's difficult even to appreciate what Cro-Magnon were thinking at the time, or how they were inspired to make these mysterious sounds in the first place. Robert Ashley, perhaps? It's like it almost dropped out of the sky from another galaxy. And I can think of no greater compliment than that with regard to its uncompromising originality.

I just noticed this year's forthcoming Instal Festival's rather dodgy corporate-style branding and self-given 'Brave New Music' epithet, in addition to an uncomfortably self-conscious view of what avant-garde music represents along with its expected audience. If you're not familiar with Orgasm, then do make a point of finding it (there are vinyl and CD reissues out there); experience for yourself what open-minded and brave, and new and innovative, can genuinely represent. It's that good.



Wendell said...

Thank you, William. This album is fucking me up but good. I can't find any other words right now. "Crow of the Black Tree." Dear me.

David Cotner said...

As usual with all cultural conduits worth their salt, you inspired me to do a little digging.

Austin Grasmere of Cromagnon died July 24, 2008. He was 59.

Sadly, as usual, no one noticed.

Grandpa Scorpion said...

Thank you for championing this, William. I have noticed this this record before but never heard it. The name sticks out a bit on the ESP list.

Tantalizing description,I need to hear it ASAP.

Sypha said...

One of those albums I've been meaning to listen to for years now yet keep putting off. One of these days...

Adverse Effect said...

Hey William, we can finally agree on some music! But, seriously, yes, this album has been amongst my favourites for a considerable time now, and I even used to derive much pleasure from including 'Crow of the Back Tree' in my DJ sets here in Krakow a couple of years or so back.

It was later reissued, by the way, under the title 'Cave Rock', as the original appeared without an official title but, instead, was only SUPPOSED to have been called 'Orgasm' from the outset.

Amongst my Top Ten albums, for certain.

Don't agree with your remarks about Barrett-era Floyd, Love or Thirteenth Floor Elevators, though, but who cares...?!

I have a spare original CD of 'Cave Rock' for sale if anybody wants to put their PayPal account to use, by the way...

Wrongly Wired said...

I am so happy that I have just heard this album, thank you William.

It is perfect in every way.