THE UNITED States of America were a short lived band from California in the late 1960’s. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the band worked without a guitar player, instead focussing on the avant-garde and experimental side of music. Despite only releasing one, self-titled album, the band’s influence can be felt rippling through time; from the Seventies, right up to the likes of Portishead.
Opening with the cacophonous ‘The American Metaphysical Circus’, the album dives straight in with whimsical sounds before vocalist Dorothy Moskowitz’s mouse like vocals emerge from the chaos like the calm after the storm. Even as an introduction to the album, you already get a sense of the psychedelic soul it possesses. This is presided over even more in the following track, ‘Hard Coming Love’, with Moskowitz’s vocals taking a sharper turn, with some instrumentation that echoes The Zombies or The Kinks.
But then TUSOA throw another curveball, with ‘Cloud Song’, another tender cut that strips back the instrumentation to the bare minimum. This song is the perfect way to exhibit Moskowitz’s vocal abilities and really put them under the microscope. But in the following song, ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, we have a celebration of instrumentation. Those trademark psychedelic keys made an appearance from Joseph Byrd, while some of the sound effects on here give the song the feeling of an old-school sci-fi opening theme.
When we get to ‘I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar’, TUSOA make a song that could have come off a later Velvet Underground album. It’s a very rockabilly, it’s very swingy, and quite, honestly, pretty cheesy. It’s not the best track on the album, but it’s harmless, perhaps representing the cheerier side of Sixties music. But in testament to how unpredictable and vast this album is, we have ‘Where Is Yesterday’. In a TOTAL departure from its predecessor, this song opens with choral like vocals, followed by the chiming of a bell and horror-movie like strings. The feeling is echoes in the lyrics: ‘All you see of yesterday is shadows in your mind/ Shadows on the pavement but no bodies do you find’. Wow.
‘Coming Down’ brings back the fast paced, fuzzed out distortion of traditional Sixties psychedelica, a relatively safe move considering some of the twists and turns of this album, but a decent song nevertheless. Not quite a patch on ‘Love Song For The Dead Che’, minimalist number that fits the name excellently, feeling more like a funeral march than a pop song, while ‘Stranded in Time’ feels like a more developed version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’.
Finally, we have the epic ‘The American Way of Love’, an song the hop, skips and jumps its way through, not only past themes found in this album, but just American music in Sixties full stop. Take the second section, entitled ‘California Good Time Music’, a pastiche of the Beach Boys before diving into some more crunchy synthetic organ sounds and sound bites from TUSOA that sound like they draw from The Beatles and Nico. Hell, it even sounds like it pulls from traditional film score music; truly this is a patchwork of Sixties sounds.
The United States of America is a hidden gem. While it may not be perfect, it deviates from the often similar sounds of the Sixties to create something wonderfully unique. Recommended for anyone who finds The Beatles a bit dry.
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