The United States of America
The United States of America


4.5
superb

Review

by username345 USER (52 Reviews)
December 21st, 2008 | 19 replies


Release Date: 1968 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Very experimental psychedelia, one of the first bands to mix electronic and psychedelic music... 'And the price is right The cost of one admission is your mind'

The United States of America’s 1968 self-titled album was one of the first bands to mix electronic music with psychedelic pop. Released around the same time as Silver Apples’ more electronic orientated self-titled debut which created a sound similar to 70’s krautrock and even 90’s dance music, and a year before White Noise’s An Electric Storm which is arguably even more extreme and ahead-of-it‘s-time, The United States of America stands as one of the most influential and experimental albums of the 1960’s.

Created by John Cage and World music inspired avant-garde musicians, including an African drum specialist and a classical bassist, The USA was created with very little knowledge of rock music, but instead of hindering them this adds to the experimental nature of the music that has made it age so well over the years. While Silver Apples created a tense robotic sound, The USA used their early electronic influences to create much smoother and natural sounding melodies, mixing this unique style with influences like Country Joe and the Fish, Jefferson Airplane and proto-metal band Blue Cheer, this especially giving many of the songs a harder rock sound.

Instead of having a guitar, The United States of America used an electric violin plugged into a ring modulator to give it a Hendrix-style fuzz. The drums and vocals too were distorted and electrified, with electronic sounds were created using three variable wave shape generators as early Moog synthesisers cost over $20,000 at the time. Musically, at first the band may sound little different from other quirky psychedelic groups of the time like early Pink Floyd, but there is a lot more going on that soon becomes apparent. The psychedelic melodies are usually densely layered and seem to spin off in different directions, with electronic sounds flowing through the album, seemingly appearing at random points. While some of these effects can sound cheesy and dated now, it dies not really harm the music that much and is easily ignorable, in fact adding somewhat to the album’s trippy feel and weirdness that makes it so enjoyable to listen to.

All of this chaos is grounded by Dorothy Moskowitz’s beautiful vocals. While she denies that she was influenced by Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, there is definitely a noticeable resemblance, though Moskowitz sings in a clear tone without as much vibrato. The singing is almost always melodic, following catchy vocal lines, but at certain points such as the end of ‘The American Metaphysical Circus’ it becomes so distorted it becomes almost impossible to understand what she is singing.

As well as the harder rock songs like ‘Hard Coming Love’ and ‘Coming Down’, which feature energetic bouncy bass-lines, heavy drumming and frantic violin playing, there are mellower calm songs, ‘Cloud Song’ and ‘Love Song for the Dead Ché’. While these songs really highlight Moskowitz’s amazing vocals, they sound slightly more dated than the others, lacking the incredible energy and focusing more on sparser melodies. They still work quite well though, creating a relaxing mood and adding another dimension to the band’s music. The best moments on the album are usually the more energetic songs though, which often manage to be just as haunting, such as in ‘The American Metaphysical Circus’ where eerie electronic effects swirl around Moskowitz’s distorted vocals.

The lyrics, written mainly by band leader Joe Byrd are another strong point. A Communist at the time, his lyrics are poetic but also very critical of the US government. Usually these criticisms are subtle, with the only real weakness being the Frank Zappa-esque (though he claims he hated Zappa, and Zappa hated him) track ‘I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar’, sung by Boyd, which is far more obvious in it‘s satire. The lyrics on the whole are very negative though. Byrd claimed that they were ‘puncturing the balloons of the Summer of Love’. Despite this anti-hippie sentiment though, there are some very psychedelic lyrics here.

Unfortunately, like many experimental psychedelic albums, The United States of America was unfairly ignored on release, getting very little promotion from executives who hated the band name, didn’t understand the music and considered the band’s politics to be treasonous. However, due to the quality of the music, it has since gone on to become a cult classic and a very influential album.



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user ratings (55)
Chart.
4.2
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
username345
December 21st 2008


594 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Well Mendigo will care at least.

Some songs:

The American Metaphysical Circus
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=tSTwM7bnFvI

Hard Coming Love
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=RCzHfzqUvsAThis Message Edited On 12.21.08

fireaboveicebelow
December 21st 2008


6837 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Those circus organ breaks near the end of the album always make me burst out laughing, great review

robin
Emeritus
December 21st 2008


4257 Comments


i've been meaning to check this out for ages, nice work

FriendofTheDevil70
December 21st 2008


384 Comments


Great review, I just downloaded this and am loving it.

Meatplow
December 24th 2008


5524 Comments


Great review, i've read about this on and off and you've spurred me to actually listen to it.

I'll give this more time, definitely, I love how layered it is.

Mendigo
December 27th 2008


2299 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

haha, yeah I care
I had a review here, but let it be deleted a year ago, as I planned to rewrite it, I just didn't come around to. but now I don't really have to anymore :D
only thing I disagree with is that I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife for You is actually one of my favorites. I see what people are hinting at when saying it is too "Zappaesque", but I like the in-your-face style of the song. and the closer should probably be mentioned as well, the way it mixes snapshots of every of the album's songs into one strange sound collage is quite fascinating, especially when you think about what kind of shitty technologies they had to use at the time.
and two interviews, one with Joe Byrd and one with Dorothy Moskowitz if someone's interested:
http://www.cloudsandclocks.net/interviews/Byrd_interview.html
http://www.terrascope.co.uk/MyBackPages/United%20States%20of%20America.pdf
oh, one last thing: if someone really likes this he should get the remastered version with the bonus tracks, there are a number of fascinating demos on it, as well as their only single.

username345
January 2nd 2009


594 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, I've read those interviews, interesting stuff (that's where I got the bit about him not liking Zappa from I think actually).

Mendigo, you really should check out White Noise if you haven't.

withintention
January 2nd 2009


297 Comments


I fucking hate their name

JizzInMyPants
January 2nd 2009


2376 Comments


white noise is not even that good of a movie

username345
January 2nd 2009


594 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

White Noise the band I'm talking about. And yeah, the name sucks.

http://www.sputnikmusic.com/bands.php?bandid=852This Message Edited On 01.02.09

Mendigo
January 7th 2009


2299 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I've put it on my wishlist.

Mendigo
January 7th 2009


2299 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

oh, btw, I'm thinking about decreasing the rating to 4.5 - I think I probably overrated it a bit as it was such an obscure album and everything ;) it's still one of my all-time favs, though, and has some of the most mezmerizing songs of the 60s. ah, I need to take some time to closely listen to it again for a few times and then decide.

RoshanC
April 10th 2009


219 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is fukcing brilliant. cant stop listening

where is yesterday and coming down kick so much arseThis Message Edited On 04.10.09

KILL
December 22nd 2011


72068 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

rules

Digging: Steve Hackett - Out of the Tunnel's Mouth

SgtPepper
Staff Reviewer
May 6th 2012


4452 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

"Garden of Earthly Delights" just oozes LSD.

JamieTwort
Contributing Reviewer
November 10th 2012


21365 Comments


YOU WILL FIND THEM IN HER EYES, IN HER EYES

IN HERRR EEEYESS

Eclecticist
November 10th 2012


3863 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This looks really interesting! I'm finding a download now.

ChopSuey
February 18th 2013


2392 Comments


cant believe this is a band

TronaldDump
September 24th 2013


492 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

can't believe no one jams this



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