Album Reviews

The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds (él Records)

 

The psychedelic era produced some interesting music, but none is more interesting—and by interesting, I mean weird—than a one-off conceptual album titled The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds. On first listen, one hears a band that oddly blends easy listening sounds, heavy, fuzzed-out psychedelic guitars, loosely-tuned sitars and tablas, and a narrator who sounds like a cross between Jon Lovitz and Criswell as he reads abstract, obtuse poetry and prose. It’s so preposterously pretentious, and one almost feels a tinge of shame for laughing at the absurdity of it all.

But scratch the surface of this absurd little record—released by the innovative and hip Elektra Records in 1967—and you’ll discover a shocking surprise: the band that made it is most impressive, a selection of a-list session musicians who couldn’t make a bad record if they tried. The rhythm section consisted of the king and queen of the LA Scene, The Wrecking Crew’s Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye, the keyboard duties were handled by Mike Melvoin; Paul Beaver played Moog, whilst the innovative electronic wizard Mort Garson composed and orchestrated the Zodiac project. But it’s the over-the-top pontificating of Cyrus Faryar that really makes The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds such an amusing listen. As he reads poetry and prose—twelve tracks built around a psychedelic easy listening arrangement—resisting a giggle becomes increasingly difficult; it’s just so amazingly…bad.

Then again, perhaps that’s the point? Considering that session musicians during the Sixties often let off steam by participating in anonymous genre records—involving every possible subject from surfing and drag racing to holiday music ranging from Christmas to Hallowe’en—partially for fun, partially on the rare off chance of having a hit record. So it isn’t necessarily unrealistic to think that The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds was done for a lark, something for the hipsters and the hippies and the stoners to giggle to at parties and on the burgeoning college radio/FM radio scene. That said, the album does have an interesting role within the annals of electronic music, as this was one of the first recorded sonic experiments to utilize the Moog synthesizer. Furthermore, it would help to establish both Mort Garson and Paul Beaver (shortly to form the influential electronic music duo Beaver & Krause), and would be credited by The Moody Blues as inspiring their classic album, Days of Future Passed. So even though The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds might be a weird little record that’s (un)intentionally hilarious, it’s a surprisingly important one that serves as an amazing artifact from the heady experimental days of the Sixties.

 

The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds is available via él Records/Cherry Red

 

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