Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators [2 CD]

by: The 13th Floor Elevators

Did the 13th Floor Elevators invent psychedelic rock? Aficionados will be debating that point for decades, but if Roky Erickson and his fellow travelers into inner space weren't there first, they were certainly close to the front of the line, and there are few albums from the early stages of the psych movement that sound as distinctively trippy -- and remain as pleasing -- as the group's groundbreaking debut, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. In 1966, psychedelia hadn't been around long enough for its clichés to be set in stone, and Psychedelic Sounds thankfully avoids most of them; while the sensuous twists of the melodies and the charming psychobabble of the lyrics make it sound like these folks were indulging in something stronger than Pearl Beer, at this point the Elevators sounded like a smarter than average folk-rock band with a truly uncommon level of intensity. Roky Erickson's vocals are strong and compelling throughout, whether he's wailing like some lysergic James Brown or murmuring quietly, and Stacy Sutherland's guitar leads -- long on melodic invention without a lot of pointless heroics -- are a real treat to hear. And nobody played electric jug quite like Tommy Hall -- actually, nobody played it at all besides him, but his oddball noises gave the band a truly unique sonic texture. If you want to argue that psychedelia was as much a frame of mind as a musical style, it's instructive to compare the recording of "You're Gonna Miss Me" by Erickson's earlier band, the Spades, to the version on this album -- the difference is more attitudinal than anything else, but it's enough to make all the difference in the world. (The division is even clearer between the Spades' "We Sell Soul" and the rewrite on Psychedelic Sounds, "Don't Fall Down"). The 13th Floor Elevators were trailblazers in the psychedelic rock scene, and in time they'd pay a heavy price for exploring the outer edges of musical and psychological possibility, but along the way they left behind a few fine albums, and The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators remains a potent delight. [While most CD releases of the 13th Floor Elevators' debut have sounded flat and murky, this two-disc set from the U.K. Charly label presents this classic album in its best fidelity to date. Disc one is devoted to the album's original mono mix, which actually sounds crisper and better detailed than the stereo version on disc two, though the newly remastered stereo disc is a significant improvement over its previous releases, and it's been re-sequenced to reflect Tommy Hall's preferred running order. These are the same remastered versions that appear on the box set Sign of the Three Eyed Men, but for this release Charly has added as a bonus rough mixes of five tunes that offer a glimpse as to how the album might have sounded before the final overdubs and effects were added. Add a beautifully designed package and strong liner notes, and this adds up to the definitive release of one of the defining albums of the psychedelic era.] ~ Mark Deming

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