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Singles

The Red Krayola

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Album Review

The very notion of the Red Krayola putting out "singles" is a little surreal, since singles are by most definitions the most commercial face of the record industry. After all, if anything was consistent about the Red Krayola throughout their career, it was their uncompromising underground uncommerciality. Yet the band actually put out a good number of singles in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and 21 tracks from those releases — some of them quite rare, and some them actually previously unissued — are collected on this compilation. While it wouldn't be accurate to categorize this as a best-of, in its own way it reflects the band's evolution as well as almost any anthology could (though it doesn't have anything from their earliest, psychedelic-oriented recordings in the late '60s), Mayo Thompson being the only constant throughout their ever-changing lineups. Strictly speaking, not all of this is the Red Krayola, as the CD begins with an unreleased 1970 solo Thompson non-LP B-side, and both sides of the very rare 1970 single by Saddlesore (which included both Thompson and another early Red Krayola member, Rick Barthelme). Those three tracks are rather fried Texas acid-country-folk, but by the time of the next Red Krayola 7" (the live, unreleased "Wives in Orbit"/"Yik Yak") in 1976, Thompson was already onto the sound that would largely characterize his next two decades or so of work: jerky-tempoed, irregularly structured, at times jarring indie rock with oblique, discursive lyrics. The most satisfying tracks, perhaps, are those from the 1979-1981 Rough Trade singles in which the band also included British punk-new wavers Gina Birch, Lora Logic, and Epic Soundtracks (and on a couple singles, Pere Ubu's Allen Ravenstine). This particularly brand of scratchy, at times even funky, new wave will certainly appeal to fans of the Raincoats (Birch's principal band), though it's less accessible to pop ears, a highlight being "Born in Flames," described in the notes as "the Social-Democrats' Song from the eponymous film by Lizzie Borden." The final eight cuts come from 1993-1999 singles, Thompson's deconstruct-and-reassemble-the-jigsaw-puzzle approach to rock music remaining in full force, though the jagged edges have slightly softened. Like everything here, these aren't for impatient listeners, but bear their fruits for those looking for intellectual avant-garde rock with some substance. The liner notes (sample excerpt: "the song title rather clings the existentialistic rejections of the Punk generation to the social norm, that was out of sight in that enthusive and nihilistic community for a short while") are about as obtuse and academic as you'll find on any rock compilation, though.

Biography

Formed: 1966 in Houston, TX

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the longest-lived underground rock groups (if not the longest-lived), the Red Krayola lasted through the birth pangs of psychedelia past the death throes of post-punk. The one constant in their ever-shifting lineup has been principal singer/songwriter/visionary Mayo Thompson, who has seemed as concerned with deconstructing the language of "rock" music as with actually expressing himself within it. That has made the Red Krayola's catalog challenging, often difficult...
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Singles, The Red Krayola
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