Review - The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda

Artist: Angus MacLise

Hand drummer, poet, calligrapher, visionary and the original drummer of the Velvet Underground: The late Angus MacLise, the most mythic footnote in the VU story, has long deserved to have his 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. MacLise 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, in 1965, on the grounds of art contra commerce.

Such a free spirit is evident from the opening and title track on "The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda," parenthetically subtitled "St. Mark's Epiphany." The CD title is taken from the mind-and-Mylar-bending '60s Ira Cohen film that originally featured MacLise's music. Cohen turns out to be the keeper of rare MacLise tapes, and this is the first release in a hopefully long-running archival series.

Heavy on drone and echo, this pagoda panic is littered with MacLise's out-of-control hand drumming. The psychedelic intensity ranges from metal-on-metal mayhem to placid flute-harmonium-guitar and ringing song bells. Into musical freedom? You've just hit transcendence.

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