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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Aorta - s/t

Name: Aorta
Album: s/t
Year: 1969
Style: Psych, Jazzy Rock
Similar Bands: Jefferson Airplane, Bonzo Dog Band, Blood Sweat & Tears, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Kinks
"One Word" Review: Swirling Cinematic Jazz
Based Out Of: Chicago
Label: Columbia, Dunwich Productions
 Aorta - Cover & Back
Aorta - Record, Gatefold Image & Lyrics
Aorta (1969)
  1. Main Vein 2:17
  2. Heart Attack 2:30
  3. What's In My Mind's Eye 2:47
  4. Magic Bed 2:37
  5. Main Vein II 1:25
  6. Sleep Tight 4:38
  7. Catalyptic 3:32/
  8. Main Vein III 0:42
  9. Sprinkle Road to Cork St 3:06
  10. Ode to Missy Mxyzosptlk 3:08
  11. Strange 4:18
  12. A Thousand Thoughts 3:48
  13. Thoughts & Feelings / Main Vein IV 4:07
Album Rating (1-10): 8.5

Members & Other Bands: 
Jim Nyeholt - Orchestra Arrangements, Bass (Rotary Connection, Exceptions, Coven, Minnie Riperton)
Ron Coro - Album Design
Billy Herman - Drums (The New Colony Six, Dick Campbell, Exceptions, Johnny Cuomo, Iridescence)
Jerry De Clercq - Recording Engineer
Glen Kolotkin - Remix Engineer, Special Effects
Bobby Jones - Guitars, Vox (Bobby Jones & New Life / Super Choir, Jesse Davis, Joe Cocker, Bonnie Bramlett, Barry Goldberg)
Jim Donlinger - Keys, Vox, Producer (Rotary Connection, James Vincent, Electric Concept Orch, Lovecraft, Exceptions, Coven, Minnie Riperton )
Shabolt-Todd - Photography
Bill Traut - Special Effects, Producer
Bryce Robertson - Production Asst, Recording Engineer
Skeet Bushor - Production Asst
David Kalmbach - Recording Engineer
Barney Beck - Special Effects

Unknown-ness: I've never heard of this band, but I like the completeness and utter embrace of the band name, artwork, and songs. Its quite the concept album from 1969, so I can only imagine it is some sort of proto-Prog Rock. The songs are not too long, so it can't be too jammy, which is great.

Album Review: Aorta was a locally popular Chicago band, part of a psychedelic, rock scene in Chicago that also has an early version of Chicago as part of its relative bands. One member of an early stage of Aorta was Peter Cetera of Chicago. This incarnation of the band does not contain any original members of the preceding band Kal David and the Exceptions that evolved into Aorta. The album has been described as a mix of Psych, Soul, Jazz, Folk and Rock. There was only one follow up before the band members set out in different directions, coming back for a reunion once in a while.

“Main Vein” begins the concept album with two overlapping heartbeats, and then a mountainside chorus signing main vein washes over the sonic spectrum. Then a slow jam, sort of early Bee Gees-like begins, and the chorus of singers all give their own version of the title in lyric form repeats with electric guitars wailing lightly in the background. It is the wall of vocals continually washing over the surface like a tide that really gives the song its texture.
“Heart Attack” is a nice psychedelic song, with a toy keyboard melody in the beginning, and an emotional guitar played in echo of the vocal melody with its own twists and turns. The instrumental increases the psych vibe with the style of organ chosen, and the jazzy bass and marching drum beats. But it is the organ that is given spot light in the instrumental. The electric guitar plays its one note on repeat.
“What's In My Mind's Eye” features classical strings in the beginning. It straddles the line of disco and psych. The shuffling tempo mixed nicely with the warped warbly vocals. The melody in the verse reminds me of the Kinks. There are a bunch of melodic sections strung together, not always cohesively, to create a complex song. The reverb and back skipping effect bubbles away into a pure bubble sound to end the song.
“Magic Bed” is a straight forward folky pop melody with layered harmonic vocals and a Strawberry Alarm Clock style. It too is mystical and psychedelic thanks to the echoing vocals and keyboards. There is a breakdown in the middle of the song creating the image of a vaudevillian pier with barkers and games to be played. The song breaks character every once in a while to give a little familiar melody a chance to work its way in.
“Main Vein II” is a spiraling dream sequence reprise of the opening track. The song then thrashes as the dream becomes a stressful nightmare, with orchestral, back skipping arrangements coming and going, and the song finishes out with a sullen dark tone.
“Sleep Tight” brings a carousel’s light and magic (and slight psych tone) to wake up from the previous track. The melody has a crooner’s tempo to it, and it is in the chorus where the sound grows from psychedelic music to prog. After two minutes, the song breaks down, changing direction, as it slows down for a slow-motion psych bath of vibrating notes and gothic chamber keys. It is the gothic tomb vibe that carries the song out to the end.
“Catalyptic” begins with the same gothic tone, with a slightly adjusted melody. Drums and a slow swooping bass line are added, and the song oscillates from side to side until the drums kick in and the song takes on a full blown garage psychedelic sound. When the vocals are not sung in chorus, they have layers of distortion enveloping them. Here too, almost in a show tune sense, the time signatures change rapidly, as the distinct sections of the songs take their turns, like it was written for a musical. The chorus of vocals offers a Shhhh, and the song reboots, with a more creepy organ and haunting effects and bassline added. The tempo pulses, speeding up until a gong ends the side.

“Main Vein III” takes the album’s theme song to a medieval route, with a wind up musical box sound, and whispy, folky melody. Static overcomes the track in a cold wind, and the song abruptly gives way.
“Sprinkle Road to Cork St” and is introduced with more medieval wood winds, then opens up with a Kinks-like melody. After about a minute, the melody is abandoned for a break, then a slowly rising string section brings us back to the melody. The song goes for a pause again, and a vast cinematic orchestra revs up for a few seconds before it winds down mechanically. A whisper of wind blows through to end the track.
“Ode to Missy Mxyzosptlk” was the B-Side to Strange. It is a psychedelic lounge song. It has a nice upward melody and a grand Tom Jones-like hook in the chorus. Halfway through the song, the melody calms down for a few seconds, as if to recharge the battery before the wailing electric guitars take over, bridging us back into the chorus. The song ends with a machine gun drum section.
“Strange” was a single, written by a band member that had just left: Dan Hoagland.  This song transitions from the previous song with a similar machine gun tempo, but a squelching, blurping synth sound. Then the song marches on with a nice blend of electric psych guitar, general power pop melody, and jazzy break beats. The bare bones of this song are generic enough for the times (and would be outstanding if written today), but the production flourishes give it a weird edge, and perhaps the breakdown, and eccentricities did not make it as smooth of a song that appealed to the masses. Out the other end of the instrumental comes the evolving, catchy chorus. The song ends, but sci-fi sound effect whoop up and carry the track seamlessly to the next.
“A Thousand Thoughts” continues the effects from the first song, but they lighten up the mood, with a orchestral version of a Beach Boys style-song. Bells and strings waft sparsely over the song that slowly finds its ground and gently picks up the pace as it grooves forward. The vocals grow gruffer, and move further from the front as the music grows to take over. The song returns to the Beach Boys style melody sung in cinematic lounge style. The song ends with a phone ringing and a baby crying, which transitions to the next track without pause.
“Thoughts & Feelings / Main Vein IV” has a tinkling on the organ keys at the beginning while the phone and baby both fade out and are forgotten. The first lyrics directly reference these two things, and the bold psychedelic call and response song combines all the elements that have come before: bold harmonized vocals, and the electric guitar wailing, and bits of psychedelic production and progressive piano and chord changes. The vocals choose an odd emotional path, when they hold the word “down” for an extended segment, as if the vocals have fallen down. This is followed up by a layering of prog guitars that transitions to the final rendition of a psychedelic Main Vein, and perhaps the best version of the four on the album.

Stand Out Track: Ode to Missy Mxyzosptlk

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