It's hard to classify a band whose musical limits reach beyond the normal circumscription of more conventional, orthodox music. The Holy Modal Rounders principally fall into this category because of their strange approach to their music. A very obscure band, the Holy Modal Rounders, obvious users of lysergic acid, fall into the borderline of irritating noise juxtaposed into western folk. Surely enough, the band's music is some of the most cryptic, arcane music to ever come out of the psychedelic movement of the mid-to-late sixties. Combining as much psychedelic ambient noise with traditional folk, the Holy Modal Rounders are, in addition to being seldom listenable, are one of the few groups of musicians where even drugs may not heighten your liking of their music. Being void of nearly all conventional songwriting rules, the band's 1967 release Indian War Whoop was an eccentric record that sprawled a half hour of idiosyncratic, dissonant music that can be defined as a mere cult act.
The Holy Modal Rounder's core songwriters, Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber were a duo that differed from the norm of Page and Plant or Barrett and Waters. Instead of grounding their music in a foundation of experiment, the two saw no limits to what they could record. Indian War Whoop is a miscellany of every note to ring from a fiddle, and every strange vocal harmony to ever grace the sixties psychedelic era. That's about where every proper songwriting rule ceases. Indian War Whoop is filled with strange (yet enticing) vocal harmonies that shriek, and about every second of ambience that the Mars Volta couldn't fit onto Frances the Mute. From samples of windchimes and the creaking of saloon doors, Indian War Whoop sheds the criticisms of mainstream cliches to provide a soundtrack to a counterculture of tripping and euphoric high. Drug use is condoned for first time listeners, as the apparent Django-inspired western theming can be immensely overbearing to the unexpecting ear. But if anything is not bad about this album, it is the roots that lay in traditional acoustic folk. While some songs wander off into another world, songs such as IWW Song and Sky Divers remain listenable, with subtle finger picking acoustic guitars, howling fiddle, and crooning vocal performances. Some beautiful vocal harmonies are exhibitied (Morning Glory- ironically, a hallucinogenic drug), reminiscent of the Zombie's Oddessy And Oracle. So not everything is unbearable on the album.
If you have never taken any psychoactive substance before, Indian War Whoop should be kept on your "Dear god, never touch this" list, and should be about the same for those of you who have, but never have had any experience with unorthodox, belligerent folk music that can drive just about anybody up a ***ing wall. But there is an unmistakable ingredient to the Holy Modal Rounder's music that seems appealing to folk lovers and trippers alike- And there is just enough of it to keep you grounded on earth- at least enough to make their music good.