The Red Crayola – Malefactor, Ade Glass GLALP 035 (1989)
Malefactor, Ade is a bit of an odd album even in the catalog of a band that was strange from the very beginning. On the one hand, parts of this bear resemblances to the “performance art” music of Laurie Anderson, the open-minded ambitions of the so-called “Rock in Opposition” bands, and there are still remnants of the funky no-wave punk that The Red Crayola had pursued (often in collaboration with the art collective Art & Language) over the prior decade, now more minimalist in delivery. But on the other hand, this is music that is built up from surprisingly non-musical elements. Often these songs are just a bunch of bloops, bleeps and banging, with sing-speak vocals on top, a single guitar and some drums or cheap synthesizer keyboards that point towards melody, or the semblance of melody. The lyrics draw on non-sequitur humor. This points towards an effort to place the musical and the non-musical on equal footing — a nod towards a universalist political philosophy. These sorts of elements also point toward the music made by the re-formed group (back under the spelling Red Krayola) in the United States in the mid-1990s, which was more surrealist and linked to the “post-rock” scene. There are some “jazzier” instrumental bits too. So, this should be viewed as a transitional album. This is one more for the converted than newcomers, but it is a solid little album and one that is much better than its reputation suggests.
The Red Krayola – Introduction Drag City DC309 (2006)
There might be no other rock and roll band that has continued for so long, gone through so many reinventions and still managed to turn out good or great albums. Entering the band’s fourth decade (!), The Red Krayola offer up the humorously titled Introduction. It’s filled with a lot more straightforward pop/rock than you might expect. But it’s all well-crafted, well-written, and well-executed.
The Red Krayola – God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It International Artists IA LP 7 (1968)
Of all the inventive rock music of the tail end of the 1960s, God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It has the distinction of being one that still sounds revolutionary almost 50 years later. The songs (some can barely be called “songs” as such) mock contemporary rock and pop trends. Sometimes typical 1960s vocal pop choruses are presented, but a cappella (“Music,” “Sherlock Holmes”). The drums occasionally react to the other instruments rather than provide a propulsive, syncopated beat (“Say Hello to Jamie Jones”). Other songs are self-consciously disorganized, with the musicians playing at different tempos, completely out of sync (“Save the House,” “Sheriff Jack,” “The Jewels of the Madonna”). “Listen to This” consists of the spoken announcement, “Listen to this,” followed by a staccato plunking of a single key on the piano, totaling all of eight seconds. The shameless insolence of Diogenes does come to mind. There are some vaguely catchy, if abstract and angular, riffs and melodies here and there (“Dairarymaid’s Lament,” “Leejol,” “Dirth of Tilth,” “Tina’s Gone to Have a Baby”). They end up being yet another unpredictable facet of the album, confounding expectations that can’t even categorically deny “conventional” rock. None of the varied, strange devices dominates the album. While that factor might explain while opinions are mixed, and why this has never really been assimilated into mainstream rock aside from a few punk and post-rock outfits, it also suggests why the movement of the late 1960s counterculture as a whole failed, because stuff like this never caught on. People tended to cling to the stuff that was more salable, collapsing the movement back into those discrete aspects that fit best within the pre-existing paradigm. But God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It didn’t fit that paradigm. It still is a remarkably fresh and inventive album. While the power centers of society may have pushed back against the 1960s counterculture, trying to prove that consumerism and nuclear families are the only viable options, The Red Krayola left behind artifacts like this, a surviving rebuttal that couldn’t quite be absorbed and co-opted. Texan acts like labelmates The 13th Floor Elevators, but also the likes of Jandek and Ornette Coleman, seemed to have a way of not just taking chances, but trying to casually either make the Earth move or take leave of it entirely. They reframed the concept of what a safe and secure life meant, placing within a collaborative dialog the possibility of chance, variation, and individuality. But few were as irreverently funny as The Red Krayola.