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Parasites of the Western World - Parasites of the Western World

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Artist: Parasites of the Western World

Album: Parasites of the Western World

Label: De Stijl

Review date: Aug. 26, 2011

Back in 1978, punk was still — though just barely — an underground phenomenon in the U.S. The Talking Heads and Blondie were about as far out as mainstream listeners were likely to find themselves. Just look at Billboard’s Top 10: three Bee Gees songs and “You Light Up My Life” was No. 3. In other words, things were pretty grim for fans of gritty music. So what were a couple of guys in Portland, Oregon, to do? If you were Patrick Burke and Terry Censky, you’d apparently mix paranoiac science fiction with copious amounts of mind-altering substances and press “record.”

Listening now, 30 years on, it’s not surprising that some of Parasites of the Western World sounds dated. In fact, it’s probably inevitable. But try to imagine listening to this LP in 1978, and you can begin to appreciate its outsiderness. Taking some cues from early Floyd and Hawkwind, Burke and Censky tossed in a handful of cheap effects and some synthesizers, and threw it all in a blender to see what they got. The results bring to mind the twisted buzz of Chrome and F/i, and the anything-goes philosophy of Brainticket and Xhol Caravan. Yet don’t let those names mislead you — the freewheeling spirit of invention that took the Parasites to the outer limits produced both hits and misses.

Not unlike what Von Lmo later created, opener “Mo” splatters guitar distortion and incomprehensibly altered vocals over a mid-tempo rock beat, its warbly effects lending a weird and intriguing tension to the track. There’s more space psych on “Accessories” and “You Must Be Joe King” (at times eerily reminiscent of Helios Creed’s output), while elsewhere things get a bit more peculiar, with mixed results. The middle of the album is anchored by the two longest songs, the aforementioned “Accessories” and the very different “Funeral for a Mouse.” A long, slow piece dominated by organ-like synthesizer, the track’s title an indicator of its stately pomposity, but at almost eight minutes, it’s excessive. Other, shorter pieces include warped electric blues, as well as assemblages of electronic tones and strange vocal eruptions.

The Parasites recorded a unique document of the state of weirdness in 1978, but there’s no denying the LP’s self-indulgence. In the 30-plus years since it was recorded, a lot of artists have had the chance to let it all hang out, so through no fault of their own, these songs don’t (and couldn’t) sound as unique to today’s ears as they did back then. And while the album is generally pretty enjoyable, it couldn’t be said that there’s much cohesion or focus — whether or not it works for you will depend on whether you want to just let it all hang out or not.

By Mason Jones

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