Under the underground

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Sometimes it really pays to read the footnotes. Hand drummer, poet, calligrapher, visionary and the original drummer of the Velvet Underground: Angus MacLise, the most mythic footnote in the VU story, has long deserved to have his own story told and heard. It was MacLise, after all, who had the deepest roots in the avant-garde film and sound scene that spawned the VU. Lurid Lou Reed biographer Victor Bockris sez that MacLise is the guy who turned Lou on to speed, and, alas, Angus was the first Velvet to die – in 1979, in Katmandu. He was also the first Velvet to quit – on the eve of their first pro gig, 1965, on the grounds of art contra commerce.

Such a free spirit is evident from the first song, which is the title track and sound track to the mind-and-Mylar-bending Ira Cohen film of the same name. For 40 minutes, five sonic psychonauts, the legendary Joyous Lake (including MacLise’s wife Hetty on organ and tanpura), ascend to heights of mystic group-trance. Heavy on drone and echo, this pagoda panic is littered nonstop with MacLise’s out-of-control hand drumming.

Should you survive this howling, ecstatic blast, a couple of relatively shorter ones await. These reveal MacLise in a variety of other freeform settings, with various other musicians. The psychedelic intensity ranges from the metal-on-metal mayhem of "Blastitude" to the more serene "Humming in the Night Skull," a placid flute-harmonium-guitar drone punctuated by MacLise’s ringing song bells.

If you’re into musical freedom that doesn’t like to be told when to start and when to stop, you’ve just hit transcendence. This release, the first in what will hopefully be a long-running archival series, begins to make up for lost histories.

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