Traversing time and space, our esteemed columnist ventures out on some further adventures in audio. This month, Silver Apples and Pinhdar…
Fifty years ago, I’d started frequenting London’s imported album emporiums and, among the shrink-wrapped marvels manifested ‘Contact’, the second Silver Apples album. It did not disappoint, honing and elaborating on the other-worldly primitivism of 1968’s self-titled debut to forge an American electronic landmark.
‘Contact’ was the New York underground’s anarchic answer to the easier-to-swallow Moog trailblazing perpetrated by Beaver and Krause. Weirder, more alien-sounding and mysterious, its striking cover depicted two long-haired freaks giggling in the cockpit of a Pan Am airliner surrounded by drug paraphernalia. On the back, the pair played banjos in air-crash wreckage, a move that led to Silver Apples crash-landing themselves.
Back then, few knew much about Silver Apples, the duo destined to become recognised in future decades as the first to take the DIY approach to electronic music, presaging krautrock, hip hop, techno and influencing the nascent Suicide.
Their sound revolved around psychedelic ectoplasm wrangled from a mound of old oscillators by Simeon Coxe, who exhaled disembodied vocals over octopus-like drummer Danny Taylor’s pulsing rumble.
Although ‘Contact’ is now an acknowledged electronic landmark, Simeon greeted my enthusiasm over 40 years later with a disbelieving, “I find it hard to get my head around that. To me, we were just limping along doing the best we could with our limitations in terms of equipment and the abilities we had. I never thought of us as being ground-breaking. It was almost like a one-man band with a drummer.”
After their debut album for Kapp Records reached Number 193, Silver Apples recorded ‘Contact’ while touring the US.
“I feel ‘Contact’ is our best work from that period,” said Simeon. “We were on the road and most of the stuff that we were doing would be worked up during soundchecks. When we went cross country to Decca, Kapp’s parent company, we’d go in their LA recording studio and put stuff together using their four-track board, then carry the tapes back to New York where we could embellish the songs; so it had more of a cohesive feel to it. It’s more like what we were doing live.
“Kapp were desperate to have something more commercial from us but we never gave it to them. ‘Contact’ was an extension of the first, all electronic and drums and me doing vocals. By then, we were into a rawer, less polished sound. This was because our contemporaries were adding violins and choirs to what used to be rock! We were pissed, so we went the other way. We talked about getting a sound like if the wires were sending razor blades into the speakers and mincing them.”
The album’s stall was set out on first single ‘You And I’; lo-fi drone and moody organ topped with lovelorn vocal. This heart-struck desolation and uncertainty continued on oddly-poignant ‘I Have Known Love’ and ‘Confusion’, injecting rare human elements into futuristic sound (this column’s theme). ‘Ruby’ revisited Simeon’s bluegrass roots with raucous banjo and old-timey vocals, dunked in space-funk. ‘You’re Not Foolin’ Me’ is quintessential Apples anarcho-romping, Taylor’s subtly-propulsive beats lashed with demented wah-wah fly-mo effects, rammed through a fairground mirror in a car crash. The distended circuit snakes glowering on ‘A Pox On You’ could be the most irritated a machine has sounded on record. The music’s wired edge reflects Kapp Records collapsing around them. Final track ‘Fantasies’ wasn’t even finished.
“It makes me squirm,” he cringes.
That cover poleaxed Silver Apples’s first phase. Simeon was struck by the yell of “Contact!” when an aeroplane’s propeller was hand-cranked into life, connecting it to communicating with people. Kapp’s advertising agency’s Pan Am connections allowed the pair to be photographed inside multiple aircraft after incoming flights to JFK airport were directed to face the sunset on the cover.
Catching the rays, Simeon and Danny cockpit-hopped, snickering at drug paraphernalia they’d brought “for a giggle”. Their manager found a shot of a fatal Swedish air crash and superimposed the pair in the wreckage.
“The photo message of the album became, ‘These two freaks managed to pilot a passenger jet with all their dope and ended up crashing it, surviving intact but killing the passengers and couldn’t care less. It wasn’t until after the album was already out that some Pan Am executive decided this was not good publicity and got in the legal department. They can’t take a joke.”
Hysteria followed, with LP withdrawn, lawsuits, US Marshals confiscating equipment and stores never receiving the album. So ended Silver Apples’ initial flight, but they would be back.
This month’s pick of albums in my pile carries a twist, and continues the emotions-in-electronic theme. One of my Helen’s last driving expeditions was to see her old friend Cecilia Miradoli and family, here visiting from Milan. They’d owned Lily – mother of my amazing canine lifeline, Jack. Cecilia mentioned her new musical project called Pinhdar. Now an album’s arrived and it’s actually great, seducing with its arresting blend of ethereal electronics charged with her emotion-wrought vocals.
Over Max Tarenzi’s shimmering, sweeping guitars, billowing keyboards and circuit gnashing, Cecilia rips songs like ‘Breaking’, ‘Overloved’ and the unsettling ‘Amy’ from deep in her soul, with an intensity and crucial vulnerability rarely encountered in electronic duos. ‘The Cosmic Tune’ manages to straddle that often difficult bridge between past musical forms and personalised future vision, even evoking Kate Bush, as widescreen melodies like ‘Speak In A Corner’ lodge in the brain.
First single is ‘Toy’, a tour de force about love and obsession in today’s cold world where, according to Cecilia, “competition and lack of empathy are stronger than our willingness to understand others”. It’s accompanied by a stunning video inspired by Yoko Ono’s once-shocking 1965 ‘Cut-Piece’.
Check out Pinhdar on Facebook, Spotify, Apple Music, etc.