Reptilian Psych From the Center of the Earth

Over the past few years, we here at The Little Black Egg have been sucked ever further downward into the vortex that is psychedelic music. It feels as though we’ve digested thousands of hours of psych at this point, if not aeons of psych, but it's still only at the tip of the iceberg.

As a young man, I was surprised to discover that psych music could be a howling pit of lysergic paranoia and general rock and roll awesomeness. I didn’t know that. See, I’d been led astray by boring crap like post-Syd Pink Floyd. That shit is boring, right? It is indeed. It’s very, very, boring. If you don’t do the research, you’d never know that, at the same time Pink Floyd was beginning on their odyssey of pandering to boring people the world around, Roky Erickson was emanating schizo LSD R&B out of his third eye. Do you know how much reading I had to do to divine that fact? Goddammit, in the United States of America, it shouldn’t be so hard to find the real shit. I don’t care if repeated listens will hunch your spine, destroy your chromosomes, and cause pink tentacles to grow outta your face.

However: at the end of the day, this is an cruel world where charlatans and Salieris abound, full of hard luck stories and Van Goghs cutting of their ears and all that, and some things remain unjustly hidden from the audience that would revere them.

There are many stories of heroism in the annals of record collecting, and I’m afraid that my discovery of the rarely-seen Cold Sun record is not one of them. No, I just stumbled across it, really. I think I acquired it because it was a psych record, from Texas, and the name of the band was Cold Sun (but also known as Dark Shadows), and it had never been released commercially at the time of its recording, which was 1970. It’s been released since, in small batches, thanks to Rockadelic.

Cold Sun had a lot of things going for them. They were from Austin, TX in the 1960s, and hung out with Roky Erickson and the Elevators. They had an electric autoharp, which sounds sort of like three 12-string Rickenbackers being played at once with a velvet pick. My first couple times through this album, I couldn’t figure out what the shit was making that noise.

Billy Miller, singer and authoharpist, would later be in Roky's band.

Cold Sun clearly took a lot of hallucinogenic drugs, which went well with the fact that they had a real thing for reptiles. Whoever wrote the lyrics really liked snakes and lizards and other scaly things, and sang about them in songs. For instance, check out this snatch of verse from their song “Ra-Ma,” which (I guess) is largely concerned with the goings on of the past, present, and future, and a tortoise:

The tortoise before you
Saw da Gama
As he landed . . .
We can make a life in a temple of stone
It took an age or two to get home
Now see the tree and how it has grown
It was a seed in my hand when the tortoise was born

Ha ha ha, word! Ra-Ma is over eleven minutes long, by the way. It starts of with all sorts of (actually very pretty) autoharp craziness before growing into a tower of mystical verbiage.

(On the mystical verbiage front, the good people at Lysergia have an excellent article on Cold Sun, where it is revealed the album was made to be the exact length of a Johnny Winter album, because a certain member of the band had a real thing for numerology, and as a result songs like Ra-Ma had to be made longer.)

It’s hard to describe the Cold Sun sound—maybe if you could imagine the 13th Floor Elevators, and then make that image very, very blurry, and at times aimless, and add a weird, dreamy autoharp . . . that’s sort of it. Or, maybe more accurately, it sounds like humanoid-reptilian beings living inside of a hollow earth picked up on radio transmissions from Texas in 1966, and attempted to pay tribute to them in their own band. As biology would have it, their reptilian ears and brains couldn’t quite process how rock and roll worked, so they came up with their best approximation of it via their evil reptile music. Also, they’ve never seen the sun. Or maybe the sun is cold in there. I don't know.

Some of the melodies are a little same-y, but that's all right. Each song is still an amazing psych revelation. “See What You Cause” has, out of the blue, a screaming 10 second-long guitar solo right near the end of the song that sounds like Helios Creed briefly materialized in the middle of the recording studio before blinking out of existence once again. “South Texas” is a nitemare seasick creepy-crawler that ends, weirdly, with a snatch of blissful, come-hither cooing. “For Ever” states the fact that how your future lies is written on your hand, then ends with a horrible guitar squall of white noise, followed by a cleanly played little guitar and harp flourish, which stabilizes the proceedings for the album closer, “Fall.” I say album closer, but there is no definitive track listing. There are other tracks, too, and you can put them in any order you like.

This album is rare, and it’s weird, and it has a cool link to Roky, but that’s not why I’m writing about it. No sir, I’m writing about it because it’s the kind of music that I didn’t know I needed to hear until I heard it. Then I thought, I’ve been waiting to hear something like this forever and ever. How did I ever get along without it? It sounds like its been around since ancient times, like the coelacanth. Yeah, it's like coelacanth of psych. People thought it was long dead, but it’s still around, and it’s eating things.