13th Floor Elevators - The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators - Review
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critics' view

The tragic irony behind Roger Kynard "Roky" Erickson's vaunted legacy as the father of psychedelic rock is that the very things that make him so important to so many fans and that keep him prominent in so many listeners' memories also ensured him a hard life spent in sanitariums and studios. Granted, for many that hard life is an integral part of his cachet: Arrested in 1969 and charged with possession, Erickson pleaded insanity rather than face jail time, and was committed to Rusk State Hospital. As legend has it, his mind was so devastated by the shock therapies and medications that he spent the rest of his life battling serious mental illness that left him easy prey for unscrupulous record promoters (who had him sign away his royalties for numerous reissues) and sabotaged almost every attempt at a comeback.

There are, of course, scores of 1960s cautionary tales, but the music Erickson helped to make and the lifestyle he promoted with the 13th Floor Elevators explicitly advocated drug use as mind expansion, as true spiritual freedom— a bunk idea he shared with Jim Morrison, although even at his most obtuse, Erickson never descended to the empty-headed blathering and lounge-act crooning that were the hallmarks of the celebrated Lizard King. Erickson's psychedelia was not passive aural wallpapers— all pretty shapes and colors to listen to while tripping— but an active force of social, musical, and psychological change. Aside from the infamous album starter "You're Gonna Miss Me", which Erickson wrote for his previous band the Spades before rerecording with the 13th Floor Elevators, The Psychedelic Sounds is awash in narcotic philosophy. And in case you miss it, Tommy Hall explains it all in his original liner notes.

However, what makes The Psychedelic Sounds powerful 40 years later isn't its questionable philosophy but, as the title makes clear, its psychedelic sound. The 13th Floor Elevators were a remarkable band: Erickson's wild-man vocals create an atmosphere where unfettered mayhem reigns. Stacy Sutherland's piercing guitar puts a dark mood on "Roller Coaster" and "Reverberation (Doubt)", while drummer John Ike Walton ties it all together. It's a dynamic that's even more pronounced on the eight live tracks on this UK reissue, which were recorded in San Francisco following the album's release. Their covers of Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love", the Beatles' "The Word", and even their take on that '60s live staple "Gloria", are anything but placid drugs trips or by-the-numbers re-creation; instead, the songs get the full psychedelic treatment as the Elevators play them like they're handling snakes.

As with any historical legacy, however, Erickson's reputation as the father of psychedelia is largely oversimplified. He was a late addition to the 13th Floor Elevators, which was the brainchild of Tommy Hall. Hall's acid poetry informs every song on The Psychedelic Sounds (aside from "You're Gonna Miss Me", Erickson's lone contribution). And, perhaps most important, it was Hall who plugged in his jug and provided the psychedelic sound that evokes the chemical weightlessness of a trip. It's the wiggedly-wiggedly of a dream sequence, the sound of your hands melting or of a dimensional door squeaking open. That the 13th Floor Elevators could translate that concept into an aural sensation is perhaps the root of their reputation and would have been impossible without Hall.

Stephen M. Deusner
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Pitchfork is an American online magazine launched in 1995 by Ryan Schreiber, based in Chicago, Illinois, and owned by Condé Nast. Being developed during Schreiber's tenure in a record store at the time, the magazine developed a reputation for its extensive focus on independent music, but has since expanded to a variety of coverage on both indie and popular music. The site generally concentrates on new music, but Pitchfork journalists have also reviewed reissues and box sets. Since 2016, it has published retrospective reviews of classic or otherwise important albums every Sunday. The site has also published "best-of" lists – such as the best albums of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and the best songs of the 1960s – as well as annual features detailing the best albums and tracks of each year since 1999 (and a retrospective Best Albums of 1998 list in 2018).
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