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Brainticket: Cottonwoodhill (1971)

Most psychedelic bands one thinks of (particularly California bands of the 1960s) tend to record music under the influence of a really pleasant LSD trip, or at least it sounds like that. So the music ends up with a lot of “flowers and beads” type of lyrics. Flash forward to 1971, and a band full of musicians from various countries that roamed the European countryside calling themselves Brainticket recorded an album that year called Cottonwoodhill that is the complete and total opposite to what Bay Area psychedelic bands were doing in the 1960s, and that’s recording under a really bad LSD trip.

Brainticket wasn’t known for a steady lineup, but as always, organist/flutist Joël Vandroogenbroeck is there. The band this time around featured a rather disturbing vocalist named Dawn Muir (from judging on her accent, I presume she’s English born), guitarist Ron Bryer, bassist Werni Frohlich, drummer Cosimo Lampis, Hellmuth Kolbe on electronic sound generators, and Wolfgang Paap on tabla. The album actually starts off more or less sounding like typical early ’70s Hammond organ-driven prog rock, although they pretty much stick to a groove. These two songs are “Black Sand” and “Places of Light”. The latter features some really nice spoken poetry from Dawn Muir, and is my favorite of the two “conventional songs” on this album.

After listening to those two songs, you’re thinking, those are pretty decent prog rock songs, but you’ll be wondering why people regard this as a very disturbing album. Oh yeah! It’s this next song called “Brainticket”. It’s basically a two parter that consumes the rest of the album. It starts off with a repeated fuzz organ riff, and you’re going to learn after the next few minutes that this organ riff never changes. But what makes this real interesting is you get totally hammered with all sorts of relentless electronic effects, screaming, the sounds of jackhammers, the sounds of everyday life (including the sound of someone brushing their teeth, gargling, and spitting), and to top that all off, you get treated with Dawn Muir having a really bad psychedelic orgasm from time to time (think of what Irene Papas did on Aphrodite’s Child’s 666 on that Infinity Symbol cut, except she isn’t repeating “I was, I am, I am to come, I was” over and over).

This album sure is not a very pleasant listen. It’s not meant to be. In fact, the album even included a couple of warnings: “Only listen once a day to this record. Your brain might be destroyed” and “After listening to this record your friends won’t know you anymore”. Due to either these warnings, or perhaps the content of the album, or both, the album was banned in several countries (presumably in countries under right-wing dictatorships at that time, like Spain, Portugal, and Greece, and communist countries as well, if anyone smuggled this album through the Iron Curtain, that is). The album is so disturbing it freaked out the band so bad that the whole band left (leaving Jöel Vandroogenbroeck to start fresh, and get new musicians to continue on as Brainticket).

Most of band members went on to form Toad with a guy named Benjamin Jäger (later of the excellent Swiss prog rock band Island who released an album called Pictures in 1977 – I have that album reviewed on this site as well). After the experience of Cottonwoodhill, it’s little wonder Brainticket’s next album, Psychonaut (1972) would be a much more pleasant and tame album (it was more acoustic, melodic, and basically the sound of a pleasant LSD trip). Certainly, Cottonwoodhill is definately not for everyone, this is the type of album that might give your grandfather a heart attack. But if you’re looking for something that’s “way out there”, you can’t go wrong with this album.
– Joël Vandroogenbroeck: organ, flute
– Ron Bryer: guitar
– Werni Frohlich: bass guitar
– Cosimo Lampis: drums
– Wolfgang Paap: tabla
– Dawn Muir: voice
– Hellmuth Kolbe: potentiometers, generators and sound effects

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