Planet of Ghosts is a band that formed in 1991 and after some local success the group parted ways until during the pandemic lockdown of 2020-2021 the four-piece started writing new songs and recording in ways and sharing contributions in a way that modern technology makes possible that was absolutely not an option in the early 90s. The result is a new self-titled album the lead track of which is “Flatlined.” Is the name of the song a reference to the prospects of the human race? With a lyric like “No more space and no more time” that’s entirely possible. The song, though, is a well crafted blend of psychedelic rock, folk, punk and lo-fi. Though the song is well written and has a hook or two what helps it stand out these days is where the recording leaves some of the rough edges that give a rock song character in place like when the feedback flies in the beginning and the middle of the song. It makes it feel like you’re seeing the live band rather than a mediated version of that band. Of course that was an intentional choice but it feels less calculated and more being true to themselves. One might describe the sound as jangle noise psych a little like early Hawkwind with a 90s emo flavor, like Sebadoh collaborating with Alice Donut but maybe not quite that surreal. On the album cover there’s a UFO abducting a tricycle and perhaps the child pictured below. Given the challenges and anxieties the band outlines in the song, who doesn’t not so secretly wish some advanced civilization would come to whisk you away to a better place or to enact benevolent regime change worldwide right now? Listen to “Flatlined” on YouTube and explore other tracks from the album on Spotify.
Joshua Trimmell has done a bit of musical time traveling on his new single “scifiFANTASY” under the moniker joswayah. The repeating ethereal guitar figure sets the pace and backdrop of haunted horns (sax, maybe a bassoon) processed to give them futuristic feel if you were standing in 1974 London hanging out with members of Roxy Music and Hawkwind and, of course, Michael Moorcock, discussing doing some kind of mellow “folk” record based on a more low key episode in one of the author’s “Eternal Champion” yarns. Of course they would have put reverse delays on parts of the recording so it’s even more tripped out than merely delays and other processing on organic instruments. In getting it done they would let the avant-psych jam go and then cut the tape before things got too out of hand. Safe to say Trimmell doesn’t have a time machine he’s telling us about but his weaving together so many sounds that seem specific to certain contexts across space and time makes the title of the song entirely appropriate. Take that trip below and follow joswayah at the link provided.
In the annals of weirdo, psychedelic, noisy rock Chrome (performing tonight, March 31 at Larimer Lounge) stands out as one of the true originals. Innovators of an art/acid damaged sound that fully blended synthesizers and rock music, Chrome is often considered one of the progenitors of industrial music. Butthole Surfers freely admit the influence, so did Stereolab. One has to assume Arab On Radar drew on Chrome’s proto-sampling, recontextualizing, deconstructionist impulses as well. When Chrome released its debut album The Visitation in 1976 it must have seemed as alien as its closest musical cousin in the early solo albums of Brian Eno. Ned Raggett Allmusic Guide described it as “Brian Eno meets Santana.” The latter probably because of the fluttery, bluesy leads that are the hallmark of part of the guitar sound on the record alongside the fuzzy, spidery melodies. The band might have continued to develop along that path if bassist Gary Spain hadn’t been playing violin in a band prior to The Visitation’s release with future Chrome guitarist Helios Creed, mentioning he was in a band called Chrome.
“I asked if I could hear it when it was done,” says Creed. “He gave me a copy and I liked the record, The Visitation, but I guess the record wasn’t selling at all and everybody quit. Then I auditioned and me and Damon [Edge] got along really well. It ended up just being me and him after a while. I played the bass on the first three records [after I was in Chrome]. When I heard that [first] record I [told them I] felt like they needed me and I was right.”
Creed had grown up in the 50s, 60s and 70s listening to, among other bands, Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, The Doors and Blue Cheer. “I went to go see Black Sabbath on acid and I sort of felt like I knew what I wanted to do, in a way,” says Creed. To Chrome, Creed brought another dimension to the band’s spirit of experimentation and a guitar sound that was as energetic as it was corrosive and both jagged and serpentine.
Starting with Alien Soundtracks, originally titled Ultra Soundtrack when it was a soundtrack project for what might be called an avant-garde strip show in San Francisco. But the music was considered too weird even for an endeavor like that in a city where strange art had long been embraced. From the opening track, “Chromosome Damage” to the last, “Magnetic Dwarf Reptile,” it is obvious that Chrome had absorbed obvious influences like Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Hendrix, Stooges and Hawkwind and allowed that to mutate and stew into something that sounded like what cyberpunk authors like William Gibson, John Shirley and Bruce Sterling were trying to capture when they took the spirit of J.G. Ballard’s visionary, dystopian science fiction and its influence on punk in brilliant new directions. Chrome albums have consistently seemed like science fiction novels and movies no one has yet written or made. “Yeah, we got sci-fi ideas and integrated it with the feel of the music,” says Creed. “Or a sterile, dehumanizing, robotic society. We had a lot of different kinds of inspirations. That movie Carrie? Alien, the first one. Blade Runner and A Clockwork Orange–the feel of those movies really inspired us.”
Although based in the Bay Area, Chrome didn’t exactly play live shows in a city where the avant-garde or any kind of strange, eccentric art seemed to find a home. The band had garnered critical acclaim abroad with Alien Soundtracks and its follow-up, 1979’s Half Machine Lip Moves but it wasn’t until 1981 that the group performed live for the first time.
“We didn’t play until Blood on the Moon came out,” says Creed. “That was our first show and we played in Italy at a music festival in Bologna. We played all new songs but they dug it. We played the whole Blood on the Moon album. There’s a live record of that show somewhere.”
The lineup with both Edge and Creed produced some of the most interesting and unusual music of the era including 1980’s more synth-infused Red Exposure, the aforementioned 1981 album Blood on the Moon and 1982’s 3rd From the Sun. With more electronic elements including drum machines, those records, dark and clearly taking cues from no one beyond the dictates of active and restless imaginations, Chrome’s sinister psychedelia was not destined to fit in with the fake positivism of the 1980s mainstream culture. Thank goodness. However, the Edge/Creed era of Chrome ended by the mid-80s and Edge moved to Paris with his wife and collaborator, Fabienne Shine. Edge released albums as Chrome into the 90s before he died of heart failure in 1995. Around that time he had reconnected with Creed with notions of doing Chrome together again.
After Chrome, Creed continued as a solo artist and collaborator with current synth and guitar player Tommy Grenas (from bands Farflung and Pressurehead) who connected Creed with former Hawkwind member Nik Turner with whom Creed and Grenas worked on a 1993 re-recording of Turner’s 1978 solo album Sphynx and the 1994 Nik Turner record Prophets of Time. Creed and Turner now have a band with Jay Tausig called Chromium Hawk Machine that put out an album called Annunaki in 2017 on Massimo Gasperini’s Black Widow Records imprint. “Massimo is into the whole Zecharia Sitchin theory about Nibiru so we made a record about it.”
Rumor had it that Grenas was able to get a hold of Edge’s original synth rig after the musician passed. Turns out the rumors were true.
“I met Damon before I met Helios,” reveals Grenas. “When Damon passed away I had the opportunity to buy his stuff when [his sister] Sharon put it up for sale and I bought it before anyone else did. I bought Damon’s [Moog] Liberation and the [Electro-Harmonix] Micro Synth and something else. I used it on the first tour but a lot of that stuff is too fragile to take on the road.”
Grenas used some of the older gear for the Chrome records that have come out since the turn of the century. Right now the band is touring in support of 2014’s Feel It Like a Scientist and 2017’s Techromancy. While the methods and means of making sound have changed, Chrome still seems off the frequency of mundane normalcy with songs about an ominous, dystopian future society.
“It seems like we’re on the brink of going right into that with machines and robots taking over,” says Creed. “So maybe they’ll just kill us, I guess. We’re going to be obsolete. ‘You must go to this room here and wait for destruction.’ We also have songs of hope.”
In spite of the overt sound of the band and the subject matter of the lyrics, Creed’s sharp and playful sense of humor is infused into the music as well and so is his willingness to explore the dark underbelly of American culture that is often simply dismissed as folklore. Although Creed grew up in Long Beach, California and lived in the San Francisco Bay area for much of his life, he did spend some years in the American Midwest where lurid stories of local figures and events are not in short supply.
“I was living in Manhattan, Kansas, twenty miles from Stull,” says Creed. “Supposedly it’s one of the gateways to Hell. That’s the scuttlebutt. Supposedly the Pope won’t fly over it when he comes to America. Every Halloween apparently the Goth people and witchy kind of people show up there thinking they’re talking to the dark ones. But really all it is is just a burned out church. [So the story goes,] a bunch of rednecks who hated blacks, and really everyone, put people in that church and burned it down and opened a vortex to hell. You know how the old west was. Where I was living in Kansas they used to cut the heads of slaves if they didn’t like them. All this stuff never gets written about but I know the history of Kansas is very dark. It ain’t no Wizard of Oz place, I’ll tell you that much.”
The presentation of the live show from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard matched the ambition that the group brought to bear in 2017. The latter refers to the band’s having released four noteworthy albums with a fifth which will supposedly drop before 2017 is over. Even if it’s not looking good at the time of this writing that that will happen, any band releasing four albums of worthwhile material that isn’t basically all the same is impressive enough.
The Denver show on October 4, 2017 at the Ogden Theatre happened before the November release of Polygondwanaland and the set list drew on the albums I’m In Your Mind Fuzz (2014), Nonagon Infinity (2016), Flying Microtonal Banana (2017) and Murder the Universe (2017). This suggesting the band hasn’t yet incorporated much of the material from Sketches of Brunswick East (2017) or the aforementioned Polygondwanaland as yet for the live show. Given the rich visuals and theatrical presentation of the music and all the logistics involved in producing and releasing that much music in a single year, King Gizzard has plenty of time to tour on its new albums and to make the kind of concerts that will make the experience of that music with creative integrity.
What we did get to see in Denver, though, was a show from a band whose music has been stamped with various genre designation from garage rock, to metal, to psychedelic rock to progressive rock. All fit. In that way, one has to compare King Gizzard with modern groups like The Black Angels and one of the progenitors of its sort of mélange of styles in Hawkwind. Those two bands draw easiest comparisons because like those, King Gizzard’s vibe is one of manifesting a culture and community and mindset that goes beyond the band. Hawkwind’s links to folk music and the tribal spirit thereof and aiming for something more cosmic and otherworldly in its songwriting is something one finds in King Gizzard’s songs that seem to be about other dimensions and utopian futures and parallel cultures. Who, after all, calls a song “Horology”? Flying Microtonal Banana overtly tapped into non-western music not just tonally but in terms of its compound rhythmic structure which both Hawkwind has long done and which The Black Angels weave into their own music so deftly it can be tricky to figure out how their sometimes simple melodies can be so hypnotic and mind-altering.
The band’s visuals traversed the various musical worlds that King Gizzard traversed throughout the show. The organic, the abstract, the meta-media sense of being on a TV screen writ large on the sort of big screen on which many of us saw films in school—creating a sense of a shared moment of mutual education borne of being put into a mindset outside of everyday life. Maybe that’s a stretch but that’s what psychedelic music, at its best, accomplishes, challenging your existing worldview by inviting you on a journey beyond your known boundaries of experience. In the case of King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, though, that journey was not jarring so much as welcoming enticing while not shorting you on heady moments of intense emotions along its iridescent grooves.