I know how silly that sounds. Honest I do. I just can’t come up with a better way to describe this record in one sentence given the tight deadline I’m dealing with on this torturous music blog. I’m not even sure if I’m reviewing this album or if it’s reviewing me. Since dropping a needle onto this record I’ve had a confused, hazy feeling. One thing is certain. This record is the fairly righteous rocking curiosity known as Bull Of The Woods by the 13th Floor Elevators, the darlings of late 1960s Austin, Texas. So smitten by the band were local authorities that they ran them off to San Francisco (how predictable!) and locked up their lead singer (Roky Erickson) in a mental institution.
This review attempts to settle once and for all an issue we’ve all been grappling with since puberty – is Bull Of The Woods a worthy final studio statement from the sweethearts of the south Texas psychedelic rodeo? The answer is yes. But you’d like some proof and I don’t blame you.
The record is unusual in the 13th Floor Elevators canon in that there’s much less electric jug from Tommy Hall, a lot less Roky Erickson (legal problems related to “exhaustion”), more horns and a lot more writing, guitar noodling and singing from Stacy Sutherland. On paper this should mean that Bull Of The Woods stinks. And while there is an aroma wafting out of the grooves cut into the lacquer, it’s not a bad one. Rather, it’s the smell of the sun-drenched, dew-covered grasslands of a south Texas pasture. Albeit a weird one.
Let’s start by laying it on the line my friends. This record isn’t as good as their shockingly awesome first record – The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators. And it’s not as strangely trippy as their second LP – Easter Everywhere. But it is a fine record.
The best songs are sung by Roky Erickson (four of them). Those include the opener – Livin’ On – a great single with really neat unpredictable drumming. Never Another has me cheering on the electric jug which rests comfortably high in the mix. Dr. Doom isn’t as gloomy as it sounds. Although who knows? I can’t figure out what it’s about but it sounds great and has some horns that come out of nowhere.
Sure, Roky’s a better singer but he was in jail! It’s a good thing the songs sung by Stacy Sutherland hold their own. Barnyard Blues sounds a little bit like Season Of The Witch by Donovan but more lo-fi, psych-like in its approach. Till Then sounds like something a less super-serious Jefferson Airplane might’ve cut if they weren’t so pompous and were more earthy. Rose And The Thorn is a romping, ghost-imbued rocker. Give a listen and you’ll understand what “ghost imbued” means. Down By The River (not the Neil Young song) is a great pulsing, oozing thing imploring you to get down to the river because that’s where it’s at, man. And at less than two minutes it states its case and then moves on to Scarlet And Gold, which is a thumping and chugging workout with a bass heavy groove. Street Song is a layered piercing guitar story about a guy wanting to go back to the country. It’s at odds with itself in a good way.
The final song on the album is May The Circle Remain Unbroken and it’s amazing. If you’ve ever heard anything like it before I want to meet you and your parents at a Denny’s of your choice to discuss it. This song defies time and invents a new dimension. It almost literally reaches in to your spleen and fools your body into thinking it’s a spaceship trying to peel out in pool of molten molasses. Which makes me hungry for pancakes.
In the final analysis I think I’ve proven that purchasing this record is probably a civic duty. Buy it and if you don’t like it I’ll get somebody to refund your money. Keep in mind, however, that not buying this record may prove to be un-American. Look what that got Alger Hiss!
For weirdos only: The red vinyl pressing being reviewed was pressed in Italy on the Get Back Lo-Cost label (ironically, it wasn’t that cheap). God bless the Italians! There’s an extended version of this album inside the Sign Of The 3 Eyed Men box set. This box set is now hideously rare but worth seeking out if you love this group like I do. The bonus tracks on the compact disc in the box set are: Livin’ On (single version), Scarlet And Gold (single version), May The Circle Remain Unbroken (single version), Livin’ On (alternate horn arrangement), and Bull Of The Woods Bay Area Radio Spot (Finally, right?).