Sunday, March 10, 2013
The Spoils of War - The Spoils of War (1969)
The Spoils of War was an Experimental Psychedelic Rock group which remained completely under the radar throughout the 60s and 70s. Though the advent of the internet has allowed us to learn a lot more about previously unheard of bands like The Spoils of Wars, we still know very little about them. What we do know is that the band was headed by a man names James Cuomo who, as it seems, was a bit of a control freak, in the sense that he was in charge of nearly all parts of the album, he wrote all of the songs, wrote the lyrics for most, and performed a lot of different instruments on a lot of the tracks, he was also the producer. We also know that the group released at least two albums, The Spoils of War and The Spoils of War II. Other than that details on the group are very murky. One thing that is more obvious is how ahead of its time the album is.
The album starts out with a song called "Walk In, Walk Out" which is actually broken up into two parts. The first called "Intro - Musique Concrete By J. Cuomo," and the second part simply being called "Walk In, Walk Out." The intro is pretty interesting sounding, albeit I'm not an expert in Musique Concrete. The second part transitions perfectly in from the intro, and is a relatively typical Pysch Rock song, with a lot of Prog influences. The thing to note about this song though is the interesting sounds going on in the background. Very unusual synth-ey sounds for an album recorded in 1969. Also I love hearing the Sax, or really any wind instruments, on Psych tracks. They never seem all that common. On the second track "First Love Last Love" the singing is haunting. The quality on the album is quite low-fi. sounds like it was recorded in someone's bedroom or something. The guitar comes suddenly blaring on the right for a little bit creating a nice sound. At the end there's this really high pitched humming sound going on in the background, you might not catch it at first, then the guitar cuts out and it just is reduced to this piercing droning and some strange tapping sound, with a lot of other noises thrown in. Quite strange for a Psych album, it goes on for about three minutes, transitioning into the next track, "E-Thing." It's eventually overtaken by the glorious instrumentals, but it never quite vanishes. And this track too ends up turning into another noise session about half way through. The instruments and the shrill noise keep battling for dominance towards the climax of the song. And the noise appears to win, growing deafeningly loud relative to everything else, drowning it all out. It's almost quite eerie at some points. It creates a really interesting sound that is unlike most if not all other Psych bands at this time. It might not be for everyone though. You'd need to probably be a fan of Noise or Drone or even Onkyo to have an appreciation for this. After about ten minutes the droning noise finally subsides and we are greeted by a much different track, "You're the Girl." It's a much folkier sounding song. The calmer, folkier parts of this album have a really fuzzy sound, especially the vocals. Like I said, the album is lo-fi, but really that just contributes to the atmosphere in my opinion. The songs a simple, happy love song. Nothing quite remarkable, but certainly nothing wrong. "Now Is Made in America" brings us back to the weird, noisy psych, while still retaining the slower, more folk-esque bits.
Cuomo pays a lot of attention to detail with the production of the album, giving us far-out sounds unheard of in most music around the time. It's actually pretty reminiscent of the Krautrock scene going on in Germany at the same time, but it still retains elements of American Psych and Folk, and some Anglo-Prog elements thrown in. "Rit Yellow of the Sun" is a return to the more distorted and harder Psych Rock sound. It actually sounds like early Pink Floyd quite a bit. It ends up breaking down into a noisey Psychedelic freakout and transitions to another session of James messing around and creating various noises. Then it just abruptly cuts to the next song "Crimson Uniform / Jena's Score," this track is a lot quieter, and by a lot I mean almost silent. Then out of nowhere it surprises you with a cacophony of instruments which eventually settles to a more soothing song with some really nice and mesmerizing female vocals. The 8th track "Record Rejects / After The Party / Lonesome Is A Truer Word / End," is certainly a mouthful. It starts with some, rather mediocre singing, and then after a few seconds it gets pretty noises and transitions to some betters singing over more frantic music. Which then changes over to spoken poetry over the same frantic instruments. Then there's just a session of noise, starting with instruments being played backwards, which is always a fascinating sound to me, then it changes to some odd, extremely muffled, sounds with a few rather harsh noises breaking through. I'm really glad to have discovered this album.
It's really interesting to discover some aspects of Noise and Drone music incorporated in a Psych album from 1969. It's way ahead of it's time. The track ends with some creepy vocals over this droning Viola, then we hear the next song, "What Happens Now / Now Is Made In America / Henry T. Joseph," which, like a lot of the other songs so far, starts off like a typical Psych Rock song. But it eventually fades out into, for some strange reason, one of the earlier tracks, "Now Is Made in America." I'm not sure if it's a complete carbon copy of the earlier song or if they're just expanding on it, it's kind of confusing but I won't really complain that much because "Now Is Made in America" was a pretty good track. The last part of this song begins with a grizzly, sorta silly voice saying "This song is about Henry T. Joseph." The song itself has much more enthralling and lively singing. They're very fuzzy and scratchy sounding because of the recording quality and it sound very neat and the song ends with a chant of "The phone just kept ringing" leading us out. "Void Of Mystery / Greyness Moves In Quietly" is the next track. With a lot more of a Prog Rock feel to it and eventually just cools down to a very slow track, very sparse and very calming. For a moment cutting to much more bombastic and noisy Psych for a moment, then going back to a bit more active of a track, with some sax thrown in this time, a few layers of it in fact this time. It creates a very nice texture. A lot of the noises on the album has a very nice textures. In part due to the clever production and in part due to the low recording quality. The track goes from that to some noisy guitars and eventually just unintelligible noises really quickly, but it's all pretty subtle at the same time strangely enough. It closes with a bit of wankery from Cuomo, it can get a bit annoying but it's still welcome. "Susan Never Smiles" is a cheery sounding Prog track but the lyrics themselves are pretty dark. This song has a nice Prog sound and the lyricism is very clever and pretty dang melancholy. "Ring Magic Telephone Ring" is a bit of a playful joking track. A bit cheesy, but I think the track was meant to be a bit of a parody. Either way though I think it's definitely the weakest track on the album. "Victoria Falls" is a much different track to close the album. Just a guitar and a man, probably Cuomo, singing. It's a very short and simple track, and there's certainly a lot of beauty in it. A very lovely way to end an album
In the end, The Spoils of War were a very interesting Psychedelic Rock band that I believe were completely passed by. Fan's of the genre should definitley check this out. The incorporation of Noise and Drone elements in an album from 1969 puts the album way ahead of it's time. I hope one day there can be more light shed on this band and we can find more works from Cuomo. Through a small amount of research I found that James Cuomo was also involved with French Psych Folk band Mormos and a few other Progressive or Psych Rock bands in France like Mahjun. Other than that the man remains an enigma.
But the day will start
Whether you wake up or not