Tanner Babcock

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Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

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Frank Zappa

Year Title Rating
1967 Safe as Milk 7/10
1968 Strictly Personal 7.5/10
1969 Trout Mask Replica 9/10
1970 Lick My Decals Off, Baby 7.5/10
1971 Mirror Man 7/10
1972 >>The Spotlight Kid .../...
1972 >>Clear Spot .../...
1974 >>Unconditionally Guaranteed .../...
1974 Bluejeans and Moonbeams 5/10
1975 Frank Zappa & Captain Beefheart - Bongo Fury 7/10
1978 >>Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) .../...
1980 >>Doc at the Radar Station .../...
1982 >>Ice Cream for Crow .../...

Review last updated: December 20, 2017


Trout Mask Replica

It baffles me, that the majority of the "serious" rock listening world has yet to truly appreciate the genius of Captain Beefheart. 95% of people who consider themselves well-listened and diverse in their tastes, have decided the most important rock album of all time, Trout Mask Replica is either: unlistenable gibberish, shallow 2-random-4-me pretentiousness, just plain ol garbage, a joke album, or otherwise. Professional idiot Needle Drop called the album trash, while aging rock journal Rolling Stone praised it, in 1969, right after it came out. I don't have to tell you what intellectual Piero Scaruffi thinks of this. This album comes from a plane of deep, concentrated, abstracted perception. It transcends your musical and spatial awareness, because it was created with a kind of disciplined artistic thinking. 5% truly (maybe 25% of the "serious" guys, if I'm optimistic) recognize the reinventing of traditional music and brutally authoritative creativity. Allow me to tell you a few things that most listeners don't know about this album:

On surface level listening, you'd think the Magic Band was a band that couldn't play their instruments, or was sound checking, or was on drugs (even though every idiot says that about everything). None of this was true. Every second of music on this record was meticulously composed and painstakingly rehearsed. The Magic Band rehearsed for over 12 hours a day, and were often physically and verbally abused by the Captain, for failing to meet his musical standards. Don Van Vilet composed each of these songs on the piano, orchestrating the different parts. The majority of the songs were brutally rehearsed, while others were recorded over the phone ("The Blimp", with instrumentals from The Mothers of Invention), recorded outside (the original field recordings), rushed in one take. Vilet even recorded his vocals for songs without a real reference to the Magic Band's playing, only quiet impressions. You see, everything you know about music and music theory - rhythm, key, time signature, narrative, flow, structure, instrumental palette - was completely annihilated, reinvented, integrated within the minds of the performers, and enforced. Captain Beefheart knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted to make an album that showed people who they were. You see, the Magic Band all lived together in a house, in rural California. They would rehearse for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Frank Zappa was in the control room.

Here are a couple "legends" about this album that may or may not be true. The one time the Magic Band used psychedelic drugs (because this album wasn't made under the influence of anything other than genius), the Captain was convinced a fungus growing in the basement were aliens from another planet. They never did it again. Here's the other one: John French, "Drumbo" (who is suspiciously uncredited on the album), was once commanded by the Captain to play a Strawberry. French, confused by this baffling nonsense of a sentence, tried to accommodate Vilet's brilliant insanity. But he failed to meet the Captain's standards and was pushed down a flight of stairs. Don't quote me on these, I don't remember where I heard them. If you look them up you'll find them.

It's at the point now, where I don't even think the people who don't share my opinion of this album, are stupid, or misinformed, or ignorant. I just feel sorry for them, and sorry for those who don't get out of this album what I get out of it. This album is pure creativity. It is the imaginative powerhouse that only exists in the mind of a child. But more than anything, this album is deeply and utterly immersive. You get lost in it, because it is very highly developed. If one were to think of a music composition as a simultaneous stream of "voices" and "melodies", this ensemble and their score, the sum of its parts, is the most stimulating kind of recorded music (ever, I think), because it is abstracted. It stretches across your ears and gives you sound images that spray your mind with impressions, in a way that no other musical composition ever has achieved.

One thing, even a listener with a refined palette would notice, is that this album is crazy diverse. No two songs are alike. No two songs are about the same things. "The Dust Blows Forward 'n' the Dust Blows Back" is a stream of consciousness, extemporaneous, improvised poem. I can tell it's improvised because of the flow of the rhymes and the momentum, and Vilet's tone of voice. Somehow this impulsive thought process is vivid without really being about anything. "Well" and "Orange Claw Hammer" I believe were made this way also. This album is also objectively self-referential, looking at itself in a mirror and deeply questioning itself. It is synesthetic, as its literary qualities are often sense-translated streams of the compositions. The lyrical themes include topics like gender dysphoria ("My Human Gets Me Blues"), the holocaust, desperate feral living.

Among the countless artists Beefheart influenced: The Residents, Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV, Frank Zappa, Nurse with Wound, Major Organ and the Adding Machine, Foetus, Faust, Sunn O))), Primus, Renaldo & The Loaf, perhaps even Autechre or Stereolab.