I gave my attentive ears to Cave Rock today for the first time. The record was originally released in 1969 and has been repeatedly reissued, also under the name of Orgasm. It is even featured in the world-famous Nurse With Wound list (apparently, everything contained therein represents some sort of must for easily influenced collectors). The “music”, performed by Austin Grasmere, Brian Elliot and the so-called Connecticut Tribe, is not totally horrific per se: absolute mayhem and disregard for any rule and scheme, warped tapes, bagpipes, radio, bizarre electronics, two-chord steel-stringed strumming, heavily distorted electric guitars, huge percussive slabs. However, nothing so exceptionally ahead of the future as the hype would have it.
The real troubles arise when Cromagnon open their mouths, which is more or less always: it’s there that the whole thing melts down in a huge splodge of incoherent mental diarrhoea. What many critics love to categorize as “freaking out” is in point of fact utter stupidity: awfully exasperating gargling and yelping, drunken/drugged choirs, strained laughter and - the lowest point – a piece called “Ritual Fest Of The Libido”: namely, the sonic equivalent of a retard screaming in agony while strapped to a mattress on fire. Initially this is quite unsettling, but already at the second listen it has become merely pathetic, exactly as the large part of the “vocal work”. There’s a not-so-subtle difference between freedom and uselessness, and the majority of this stuff goes well beyond the limit of art to land in the area where “dada” borders with “doomed to failure”. I picked these extracts from a 2009 write-up (originally published on Dusted):
“…Most of the bands that Cromagnon recalls – Faust, Throbbing Gristle, Nurse with Wound, etc. – didn’t exist in 1969. (…) The critical reaction always seems to be the same: how could anything this weird, this prefigurative of industrial out-rock and experimental psyche have possibly been produced in 1969?”
An answer might be “probably because Cromagnon (and Faust, and…) had listened to Frank Zappa’s Freak Out, Absolutely Free and We’re Only In It For The Money” (1966 and 1967). The problem is that they lacked Zappa’s intelligence, acute sense of satire and – of course – technical grounds. The history of “alternative” music didn’t start with Throbbing Gristle or NWW, you see. Give me “Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet”, “Help I’m A Rock” or “The Chrome-Plated Megaphone Of Destiny” over this article for psychologically mired individuals any time. “Industrial out-rock”? “Dadaist psychedelic folk”? To quote Zappa again, this disc is just “a puddle of piddle that used to be little” but has somehow grown to be a cult item. Hours and funds utterly wasted, then like now.
(P.S. There is a new ESP roundup review on Temporary Fault, comprising much better releases than this one).