Long Strange Trips

Hazy recollections of the mind-bendingest psychedelic rock bands.

Kinski Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Road 9 p.m. Thursday, August 18; $8, 216-383-1124
Kinski: This band will leave you drooling in an open-eyed trance.
Kinski: This band will leave you drooling in an open-eyed trance.
Psychedelic noise-rock bands expand the limits of perception, and not only for the pharmacologically enhanced. These groups turn repetition -- a source of endlessly annoying pop choruses -- almost into a meditation. Much as initially unfunny jokes can derive humor from being prolonged (a gambit used in Austin Powers), psychedelic noise-rock patterns can metamorphose from ponderous and weird to timeless and transcendent.

Take Seattle's Kinski, which hits the Beachland Ballroom on Thursday. "Hot Stenographer," the opening track on the band's recently released Alpine Static, evolves from a scrambled chord progression to a space-truckin' groove to a droning pattern that could leave listeners tranced-out and drooling. The group covers the entire rock spectrum, from stutter-step dual-guitar riffs to bursts of feedback to papier-mâché melodies.

Brooklyn's Oneida, a like-minded avant-garde rock troupe now touring with Kinski, has put forth the claim that the songs on its latest record originated as melodies from the world's largest music box. The story proved to be apocryphal, but it's easy to imagine The Wedding's otherworldly strains wafting from a behemoth plywood contraption cranked by a divine hand. Anthem of the Moon, Oneida's 2001 album, remains its most impressive, with garage-punk organ blasts bringing a warped-carnival feel to the band's tripped-out sludge.

Kinski and Oneida share common ground with such bold-faced luminaries as Pink Floyd and Velvet Underground, but the past four decades have also produced revelatory acts that never garnered much mainstream recognition. Turn on, tune in, and take a hit from these hitless wonders.

Band: Hawkwind
What's the Buzz?: Reviewers often liken Hawkwind to modern stoner-metal acts such as Dead Meadow, without adding the essential clarification "featuring Lemmy from Motörhead." In addition to generating the genre's best-ever song title ("Psychedelic Warlords [Disappear in Smoke]") and providing the first forum for Lemmy's aggressively asthmatic death-wheeze, Hawkwind staged epic duels between distorted guitar and an unusually assertive mellotron.
Gateway Trip: Hall of the Mountain Grill, 1974
Bummer: The group's decades-long discography, complicated by an ever-revolving lineup, makes for confusing navigation. For example, Lemmy appears on the standout live album The 1999 Party, but not on 1999's sub-par, synthesizer-heavy Xenon Codex.

Band: Bevis Frond
What's the Buzz?: British multi-instrumentalist Nick Saloman might be the psychedelic noise movement's most important one-man band. Working with such collaborators as Hawkwind's Adrian Shaw, Saloman buttresses his kaleidoscopic guitar tones with screeching saxophones, strings, and a rumbling rhythm section. He's also a sharp lyricist, with a caustic streak that brings to mind countryman Elvis Costello.
Gateway Trip: New River Head, 1991
Bummer: None to speak of. Despite releasing almost an album per year during his 21-year run, including 2005's London Stone, Saloman hasn't faltered. The only possible downside to digesting this discography is that it might prompt friends to revive its tragically unfunny Beavis-and-Butt-head impersonations.

Band: Simply Saucer
What's the Buzz?: Simply Saucer dissolved in the late '70s, leaving behind only word-of-mouth testimonials and slightly damaged ears. Fan Bruce Mowat tracked down enough material for a posthumous release, and the salvaged scraps suggest that this Canadian group might have had more commercial potential than its peers. Edgar Breau's pop sensibilities and terse vocals kept his savage guitar solos from spiraling into the stratosphere.
Gateway Trip: Cyborgs Revisited, 1989
Bummer: Mowat exhumed everything from aborted studio sessions to rehearsals, meaning there's no material left to mine.

Band: Electric Prunes
What's the Buzz?: Like the Doors, the Electric Prunes formed in Los Angeles in 1965 and veered between enchanting psychedelic nuggets and off-putting pretentious tripe. The group's best work combines psychedelic rock, proto-punk energy, and polyphonic vocals.
Gateway Trip: I Had Too Much to Dream, 1967
Bummer: Composer David Axelrod guided the group through Mass in F Minor, which is a psych-rock take on a Catholic mass. Opening track "Kyrie Eleison" appeared in Easy Rider, but this project splintered the group, with Axelrod dismissing several members and installing replacements.

Band: Comets on Fire
What's the Buzz?: Comets on Fire uses a relatively simple approach, with few auxiliary instruments outside the guitar-drums-bass triumvirate. Still, its songs swell and squeal until they're almost unrecognizable, as if they came from interstellar implements.
Gateway Trip: Blue Cathedral, 2004
Bummer: Ethan Miller's screams occasionally shatter the spell, especially on the live tracks appended to the remastered version of the group's self-titled full-length debut.

Band: Cosmic Jokers
What's the Buzz?: A psychedelic supergroup that included members of Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream, Cosmic Jokers avoided the bloated bombast of future amalgams such as Asia, perhaps because its players had no idea they composed an actual band. Label head Rolf Ulrich Kaiser dosed the Jokers, recorded the resulting jam sessions, and covertly released five albums from the sessions without their consent. Several Jokers have disowned the dishonestly distributed albums, but these guitar-and-mellotron-rich recordings contain some of the most mind-melting 20-minute tracks of the era.
Gateway Trip: Cosmic Jokers, 1974
Bummer: Kaiser's chicanery led to lawsuits over royalties and the disbanding of his Kosmische Musik label in 1976.

Band: SubArachnoid Space
What's the Buzz?: This San Francisco-based quartet exclusively plays instrumentals, with rattlesnake percussion and dual guitars that sound like demonic claws scraping against a bedroom window. The group's name is a nod to Arachnoid, a tense French progressive act from the late '70s.
Gateway Trip: Almost Invisible, 1997
Bummer: In this case, the "bummer" warning is literal: These songs are as ominous and intense as horror-movie scores, so hallucinogens might conjure frightful apparitions.

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