49 years ago, something surreal was unearthing through the psychedelic movement, but mixed in political views and electronic music with an avant-garde twist. That band was The United States of America. Formed in 1967 by Joseph Byrd, a Stanford University graduate, and was one of John Cage’s student, and a part of the surreal Dadaism movement, Fluxus. What Byrd wanted to do was to capture the styles and mix of music and electro music that was bold and musical.
Originally released on the CBS label in the UK and on Columbia in the States on March 6, 1968, this was completely off the wall, in your face, dystopian lyrics, musique-concrete, Dixieland jazz, and avant-electronic rock at its peak. It was ahead of its when it came out. It was very diverse than what bands like The Byrds, The Doors, and Cream were doing. It was more of the essence between Silver Apples, Delia Derbyshire, Electric Prunes, and The Velvet Underground.
The opener, The American Metaphysical Circus, starts off with a calliope fanfare, ragtime piano, horn sections, and militant drums going through this insane nightmare before Dorothy Moskowitz’s vocals come in through someone’s brain about dealing the dark side of what America has become. And the lyrics, is the nightmare we are living in the past, present, and today in the 21st century through an experimental nightmare as Dorothy’s voice becomes a dalek-sque scenario.
Hard Coming Love sees the band delving into a proto-punk garage rock attitude with Forbes punching bass, Marron’s violin screeching like a fuzztone guitar before the Derbyshire-sque White Noise vibe in a psychedelia shrieking rocker. The Garden of Earthly Delights I would consider early beginnings of Space Rock about the dangers of what is not you expected to go into this area of the dangerous fruits and hallucinated voyages of what is in this person’s eyes that holds a mystery to them.
Where Is Yesterday is a mournful ominous composition with monk-chanting Latin concept to the Lamb of God, it describes what was once a peaceful land, turned into a hellish world and the question of the song is simple of what happened to the place that was once heavenly sent turned into a wasteland. Love Song for the Dead Che which is about the controversial figure of the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara.
This was a risky composition dedicated to the leader. It has a romantic, uplifting, and warmth vibration as Dorothy’s vocals through the reverb and the violin and string section as well as mournful organ and percussion while the 6-minute finale mixed with psych folk rock and musique-concrete of the three-part suite of The American Way of Love is in political satire.
Metaphor for an Older Man is a resemblance to Donovan’s Season of the Witch mixed in with an out-of-the-blue calliope and shrieking violin work that you can imagine the band East of Eden taking inspiration. It then moves into an electronic drone and alarming synths a-la Edgard Varese style before delving into a wah-wah humoristic twist of the West Coast sound of California Good-Time Music and delving in Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out-era of haywire effects of everything coming in a cycle on Love Is All.
There are ten bonus tracks which was originally issued on the Sundazed reissue and on the Esoteric Recordings label three years ago that the band recorded between September and December of 1967 and during the summer of 1968. You have more of the garage avant-rock for No Love to Give along with the first version for a Psych-Pierre Henry-Ragtime effect on I Won’t Leave my Wooden Wife for You, Sugar featuring Dorothy on vocals.
Tailor Man has this David Axelrod effect as the folk-acoustic driving blues in the highway on Do You Follow Me gives The United States of America a chance to take a break away from the electronic sound. The 16-page booklet contains liner notes done by Sid Smith including archive interviews by Byrd about the making of the album including the original lyrics, pictures, and the 45-RPM single release of the A and B-Side that they released on the CBS label.
When the album was released, it didn’t do well. There was also tension between Byrd and the rest of the band members as the band broke up. Joseph would later do a solo album from support by John McLure’s support as he recorded and released The American Metaphysical Circus with and extended group from the West Coast considered as Byrd called them, The Field Hippies in 1969.
Listening to The United States of America’s sole self-titled debut released in 1968, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not an easy album to listen to, but very challenging. It was the same thing for me with Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and Magma’s Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh. It’s one of the albums that grows on you. It’s weird, surreal, and political, but worth delving into the darker side of what America has become.