The United States of America – Self Titled (’68)

 

“And the price is right, the cost of one admission is your mind”

The United States of America were signed to Columbia Records before putting out material, or even playing a live show. Soon afterwords, they released this self titled psychedelic LP, their only album. They split mere months after its release.

What is truly surprising about this album, is the electronic sounds (not to be confused with electronic music). As Joe Byrd, (vocals/effects) once said,

“The only available functioning keyable synthesizers were Robert Moog’s, at +$20,000. We were left with whatever functioning sounds I could squeeze from three variable wave shape generators, modulating one another.”

If that doesn’t grab your attention, I’m not sure what will. This 1968 LP is, thanks to the band’s lack of funds, a staple of electronic innovation.

Framed by two songs of the same title, “The American Metaphysical Circus”, the album is given interesting bookends, sort of like the lead in to The Resident’s God In Three Persons (and nearly as thematically twisted!). There is mention of torturing children, if one should refuse to give up their soul as admission into some sort of carnival. The song is initially sedate, yet as it progresses the vocals become distorted by modulators, becoming unintelligible. There is also a noticeable political bend to the album. Joe Byrd was drawn to communism, and Love Song For The Dead Che reflects these political intentions.

The United States of America is cluttered with musical references, specifically to the band’s overall infatuation with old-time American music. There is a calliope, a ragtime piano, various marching bands, and even a dixieland-esque intro to “I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife for You, Sugar.” (Although what struck me as truly wonderful/strange was the choral intro to “Where Is Yesterday.”

In any case, the album is a staple of late 60s experimental psychedelic music. Yet on repeated listen, the comical nature grows tiring, and the almost art-rock extravagance begins to grate a bit. Needless to say, it’s a worthwhile listen, if only to acknowledge the immense difficulty they must have had creating the electronic sounds with only basic tools such as a ring modulator. The following download link is the 2004 reissue, which I find superior to the original, as it includes a good 10 unreleased tracks.

The United States of America – Self Titled

 

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