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Artist: The Elastik Band

Album: The Elastik Band

Label: Digital Cellars

Review date: May. 25, 2007


Even within the obscurity-venerating world of 60s psych fans, the Elastik Band were deeply obscure until Rhino's four-disc expansion of Nuggets came out, featuring their second single, "Spazz." Their output consisted of three other singles, none of which got traction, and the strength of "Spazz" only held the interest of Atlantic/Atco briefly.

And even among the freakout-venerating world of 1967 rock, "Spazz" is freaky. It opens with an old man mumbling, jumbles tempos, sticks a blues breakdown in the middle, mixes Brian Jones leads with Dylanisms. It might be the only thing from that year that fits with Beefheart's Safe as Milk. (This compilation closes with a radio broadcast where the DJ pulls the song and apologizes.) The liner notes suggest that they were prevented from touring Europe "because it would be dangerous. People thought "Spazz" made fun of mentally retarded people and would throw rocks..." I'm not sure how much Europeans were fretting the arrival of the Elastik Band, but it never happened, and the brief notes here detail more frustrations and false starts.

This disc, assembled by the band's leader David Cortopassi, collects 20 other tracks. Some of the sessions have a full orchestra, slick pop recorded for full-length promises that came up short. All of it is safer than their moment of glory, but it's solid period work. "Pauper's Fugue" fits alongside the Switched on Bach phenomena retro acts often overlook the Baroque flourishes that made their way into hippy music, probably because it lead to classical-prog excess. But this track is as tight as it is ornate. "Fire & Desire" gets away with the hoariest of rhymes on the strengths of its Hammond organ runs and spooked flute. "Mrs. Pig" has a creaking whistle and a clattering mechanical beat and fey lyrics that suggest buried hostility it ends when someone burps and tells a child to shut up. It's the sort of toxic sugar that Belle and Sebastian are so good at dredging out of 60s pop.

It turns out the Elastik Band weren't garage cretins, or really much of a Nuggets-styled band. Most of this music is thick with California harmonies. Cortopassi is more of an Arthur Lee type, thwarted. He was skilled at incorporating all sorts of mod moods: old-tyme jug band and mini-skirt shakers and pillows of surrealism. The veneer of these songs is as dated as a Gunsmoke-themed steakhouse, but they're the work of an adept participant in the San Francisco underground, a guy with an unusual perspective. "Spazz, he's said, was intended as a cautionary tale, a reaction against the summer of tripping he didn't feel compelled to experience. It can not have been easy to dust off these memories, but it's big of him to share.

By Ben Donnelly

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