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Album Review

Red Krayola's vibrancy — and continuing relevancy — can perhaps be traced not only to Mayo Thompson's own vision of engaging pop music head-on in recent years, but also to the band's ever-evolving cast. On Introduction (a curious title since RK has been kicking around in one form or another since 1967) Mayo Thompson teams with longtime members Stephen Prina and Tom Watson. John McEntire (who in this band is actually considered a longtime member) recorded and mixed the set, and bassist Noel Kupersmith and accordionist Charlie Abel fill out the group. Thompson and cohorts make a move toward pop — a sharp turn, in fact — that was only hinted in the beautiful piano parts on 2004's Japan in Paris in L.A. Actually, Introduction is the most accessible album Red Krayola has ever issued. It's song-oriented and sparse. After a spoken word intro, Thompson folds "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" into a darkly prophetic weave, a point of engagement with how far not only music but culture have not only broken the circle but shattered it. Abel's accordion is a fine companion to Thompson's odd yet unpretentious, subdued rant about dislocation and global warming. Here country music, ragtime, folk music, and rock all come together, to shift and turn along with the various terrains he reveals in his narrative, eventually returning to the standard as away of taking it out, of returning the circle, bruised and bloodied but unbroken. This is followed by a syncopated pop song called "Cruise Boat," which swings along a jazzy groove even as the philosophical treatise continues. "Note to Selves" has an intro worthy of Jimmy Webb or Van Dyke Parks in the late '60s, then opens onto a beautiful ballad. Even the instrumental interludes, such as "L.G.F.," are positively dreamy. On the surreal "A Tale of Two..." moves from blues to abstraction without losing the blues or its hummability! "Pay Ops" is reminiscent of Captain Beefheart, and if it were a tribute it would be pleasing to the great Van Vliet. The continuing tale of "Puff the Magic Dragon" is from the other side, with gorgeous, warm, distorted guitars, and a shuffling drum line make this tune a wonder. The more experimental tracks, such as "Greasy Street," never lose their pop focus. Thompson's engagement with pop here is not a trick; nor is it a gimmick. He's looking at it deeply and trying it on for size even as he follows his own less conciliatory muse. "Swerving," "It Will Be (Delivered)," and "Vexations" will delight most fans of Thompson's to see how well he understands the indie rock form as well. The only track on here that is truly "experimental" is "Elegy," and even here, those with a fairly open mind will be lulled, hypnotized, and seduced by its shape, and its warm — if a bit angular — beauty. Introduction is the sound of a "new" Red Krayola, one not heard before; one that reveals more about Thompson than perhaps anyone ever knew. This is one of those records that will leave listeners still scratching their heads and smiling (at the same time) after repeat listens for years to come.


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 listening. The saving grace...
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