Psychedelia and psychedelic art and music is defined as either being inspired by the psychedelic experience or attempting to recreate it. Psychedelia is so much more than LSD, mushrooms, or hash, however. Visionary states can be caused by sleep deprivation, amphetamine abuse, paranoia, mental illness, brainwashing, and general unwholesome living. Where’s the psych rock for psychotic breakdowns?
Legendary acid-damaged San Francisco art weirdos Chrome set out to re-image psychedelia from the ground up, replacing the “hippy flower power” version of psychedelia with the scary, funny kind of vision-inducing sounds, as long-standing Chrome member Helios Creed told reporters upon returning from a long dormancy with their well-received album Feel It Like A Scientist.
Serving up a dank, paranoid, dangerous psychedelic music for the ’70s, Chrome manage to encapsulate the soul of San Francisco through a scanner darkly, honoring its idealistic 60s roots while simultaneously presaging the coming tech boom of Silicon Valley and the nightmare of economic inequality that would come in its wake.
Somehow, the acid-fried epiphanies of The Grateful Dead and The Quicksilver Messenger Service; the American musique concrete/synthesis think tank of the San Francisco Tape Music Center; and the proto-industrial/synthpunk meltdown of The Screamers can all be heard on Alien Soundtracks – Chrome’s first great statement, that would set them as lynch pins of the emerging post-punk movement.
Chrome obey post-punk’s dictate to “rip it up and start again,” in light of Punk Rock‘s Year Zero. Chrome’s motivation is far more pure and personal than many of their British contemporaries, however. They seem to be trying to recreate the hellish psychscapes of contemporary sci-fi like Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs, instead of some form of art school reactionary rebellion. Tape machines, homemade synths, and an arsenal of then-cutting-edge guitar FX make their clattering, percussive claptrap shine as though viewed through an oil-slicked rain puddle, or a nice marbled steak that’s starting to turn.
The main thing that makes Chrome stand out from the battalions of mack-wearing miserablists, that makes Alien Soundtracks stand out as a bonafide Post-Punk Classic, is these guys could actually play. Helios Creed – Chrome’s long-standing axe-slinger, joining the misfits here for the first time – had been playing and studying music for years before meeting kindred spirit Damon Edge. Creed was reeling from a revelatory gig seeing Black Sabbath high on acid in 1970. His goal, playing with Chrome, was to recreate the sound of Sabbath while high on strong blotter. They’re not far off the mark with Alien Soundtracks, with Creed’s guitar trundling along with a Tony Iommi-worthy sludginess that sounds like a Sherman tank, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and glowing with sickly bioluminescence.
They’re not far off the mark with Alien Soundtracks, with Creed’s guitar trundling along with a Tony Iommi-worthy sludginess that sounds like a Sherman tank, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and glowing with sickly bioluminescence.
Ironically enough, Chrome are some of the most futuristic-sounding of the first wave of post-punk, despite their love and appreciation of Classic Rock. Helios Creed is one of post-punk’s great guitar heroes, capable of totally shredding, which is what makes it noteworthy when he doesn’t. Ironically, also, Alien Soundtracks may be one of the great kosmische records of all time, despite not coming from Germany (stay tuned for why we won’t call it k-rock). Chrome were huge Faust fans (another band not fan of the k-descriptor) and Alien Soundtracks is one of the great, weird, clattering, experimental rock albums of the era, standing up next to The Faust Tapes and early Amon Düül, especially on tracks like “Pharaoh Chromium.”
Alien Soundtracks comes across as one long document, with songs bleeding into one another like a delirious procession of days. That being said, there are genuine songs on this document – the gelatinous boogie of “Chromosome Damage”; the glam-like “The Monitors”; the proggy folk of “Slip It To The Android,” sounding like The Incredible String Band jamming with The Daleks. These are shot through with moments of ominous ambiance, especially “All Data Lost,” “Nova Feedback,” and “Magnetic Dwarf Reptile.”
If post-war German psychedelic music is the sound of easelessly integrating with the future, of becoming androids and cyborgs, then Chrome is its sickly subconscious, an id over-run with information overload, Tetsuo: The Iron Man instead of the mercurial T-100 of Terminator 2.
It’s also a true treasure of a head record, perfect for altered states and bad dreams. It’s a soundtrack for dark dreamers and tech-magicians. It also connects the dots from acid rock to post-punk to industrial music, an unholy trinity of dark psychedelia if ever there was one. But don’t worry, Alien Soundtracks is as sublime as it is silly, as exciting as it is terrifying. As Helios Creed puts it, “Chrome slips into the dark side, ’cause I like to think Chrome exposes you to heaven and hell simultaneously. Because they coexist.”
Buy Chrome – Alien Soundtracks on vinyl from Cleopatra Records!
Operating out of Portland, Or., J makes electronic music and DJs as dessicant, hosting a weekly radio show on Freeform Portland, Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness. He also plays in the band Meta Pinnacle with his partner, the visual artist/illustrator Lily H. Valentine, with whom he co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective/production company.