A different Empire

The many sounds of upstate
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  December 2, 2008


Upstate of mind: Mercury Rev dig out of Buffalo. By Daniel Brockman.
I grew up in central New York, and I can confirm that anyone who grows up in upstate who wants to do something interesting or awesome usually winds up doing it somewhere else — New York City being the obvious default. Mercury Rev, in largely remaining an upstate band, have put themselves in with an odd assortment of like-minded travelers and musical visionaries who have called the Empire State home. Here's a few of their psych forebears, contemporaries, and protûgûs.

TONY CONRAD | A pivotal figure in the late-'60s avant-garde, Conrad (who has for several decades headed Media Studies at SUNY-Buffalo) introduced the concept of "eternal music," experimenting with amplification, duration, and pitch. He's probably best known as a member of the Dream Syndicate (not to be confused with the Steve Wynn band, and also known as the Theater of Eternal Music), a late-'60s collective that included La Monte Young and John Cale. Conrad has continued to be a mainstay in the international world of experimental music and film.

TEO MACERO | Beginning his association with Miles Davis on 1959's beyond-classic Kind of Blue, this Glens Falls native and composer went on to produce the experimental "jazz-rock" albums that followed, from 1969's In A Silent Way to Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson. Working with long takes of collective improv, Macero wielded a heavy hand in the editing process, fashioning the endless jams into stunning through-composed final tracks. His influence on modern producers, from Brian Eno to Mercury Rev's own Dave Fridmann, is enormous.

THE DARELYCKS | This short-lived group from Fairport, a suburb of Rochester, accidentally came up with the perfect soundtrack for a bummer: 1966's "Bad Trip." Breaking up soon after to go to college and war, they at least left this killer 45, whose sputtering jangle and moan keeps getting interrupted by a sireny guitar that sounds like Godzilla dragging a police car along the pavement.

BRASS BUTTONS | Hailing from Rochester, the Brass Buttons rode a friendship with Rascals guitarist Gene Cornish into a record deal that spawned at least one early-psych classic. A pastiche of Rubber Soul, droning and pulsing guitar bounce, and then-fashionable "evil woman" lyrical tropes, "Hell Will Take Care of Her" could be a Spinal-Tap-from-the-'60s outtake.

THE WALLMEN | Legendary in Syracuse for bringing insane and inane Butthole Surfers–esque mayhem to an otherwise placid and hair-metally '80s upstate scene, the Wallmen released a torrent of cassettes until they caught the attention of Mercury Rev–er Dave Fridmann, who produced a number of their mind-bending platters, starting with 1994's Bar-None release Not Too Long Time Sound.

MGMT | Although they formed at Wesleyan University and blew up as a Brooklyn band, this currently hip pop-psych duo have two important upstate connections: Ben Goldwasser is from Westport, a far-north town near Plattsburgh and not much else, and their current album, Oracular Spectacular, was given much of its magical shimmer by producer Dave Fridmann at his Buffalo studio. You can take the kid out of upstate but you can't take the upstate out of the kid!

Related: Upstate of mind, Lil Mama, The Faint, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Wesleyan University, Dave Fridmann, Jack Johnson,  More more >
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