Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1971-76)
- George Bell -- percussion
- John "Chris" Christensen -- vocals, drums, percussion
- D. Distorto (aka Doug Decker) -- bass, Buchla synthesizer,
- Jim Divisek -- synthesizer, keyboards
- Maureen O'Connor -- vocals, guitars, synthesizer, mellotron,
Van Young: -- clavinet
- Christensen/Schultz (John "Chris" Christensen)
- Maureen O'Connor (solo efforts)
- New Math (Doug Decker and Maureen O'Connor)
- Opus 1 (Doug Decker)
- The She's (Maureen O'Connor)
Rating: 3 stars ***
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Catalog ID: 874
Geez, this is one of those "what was I thinking" purchases. The story's actually pretty simple. I live in Northern Virginia and have always had a thing for the late John Fahey and material released on his Takoma label (Takoma happens to be the name of a nearby Maryland suburb). As a result, I bought this album with the expectation it was going to sound something like Fahey's work. Yeah, that was the expectation. The results were only a million light years away from my initial expectations.
I've poked around and there isn't a great deal of information to be found on these folks. They seem to be rather protective of their history (plus they're all but unknown outside of hardcore record collecting sources). Anyhow, drummer John "Chris" Christensen and bassist Doug Decker (aka D. Distorto) started out playing together in the band Opus 1. Inspired by Ed Kienholz’ then-scandalizing sculpture Back Seat Dodge, they enjoyed a bit of success with a 1966 proto-surf-punk single on Bob Kane's Mustang label:
- 1966's 'Back Seat '38 Dodge' b/w 'In My Mind' (Mustang catalog number 3017)
At that point they somehow ran across singer/guitarist Maureen O'Connor who had been the lead guitarist for the all-girl combo The She's (they'd also released a single:
- 11966's 'The Fool' b/w 'Ah Gee!! Maurie' (International Artists IA 104)
The three began working together; the partnership interrupted when Christensen was drafted. After finishing his three years of service, the three got back together in 1970. Their work eventually saw the formation of Laser Pace. With Decker working as a recording engineer at Wally Heider's studio, with help from friends, they trio recorded a series of demos that they unsuccessfully shopped around to various record labels. In 1971 Decker signed on with John Fahey's small Takoma label. Fahey had established the label back in the late '50s as an outlet for his own music, but by the early-'70s was actively signing other artists. Laser Pace became one of those acts.
Produced by Decker under the pseudonym D. Distorto, 1973's "Granfalloon" is certainly different. (I always wondered about the title. It seems to have been inspired by the Kurt Vonnegut novel Cat's Cradle where the term refers to a group of people who outwardly appear to share a purpose, but whose mutual association is really meaningless.) Featuring all original material (largely penned by O'Connor), this was one of those releases that's really hard to describe. The eight tracks showcased a recipe that included progressive, experimental, and space jam moves, but also dollops of funk, pop, and rock. On occasion songs like '' and '' somehow managed to mix all of those genres together. The diminutive O'Connor was clearly the album's focus. In addition to penning most of the material, she handled most vocals, played lead guitar (she was pretty damn impressive), keyboards (and un-credited bass). if you've ever seen a picture of O'Connor, you're left to wonder where that deep, guttural sound came from. The funny thing is that for an album full of unusual tempos, non-conventional song structures and melodies, and lots of bizarre sound effects, there was something completely captivating about this album. Mind you, I wouldn't want to hear '(Whoever) You Are (You)' everyday (in fact hearing the sound collage 'Scatter' once a decade would suffice), but the overall effect was quite impressive. And remember, they recorded much of this stuff in the early-'70s, well before folks like Eno and Robert Fripp had even begun to get experimental. Well worth checking out.
"Granfalloon" track listing:
1.) Closet Casualty (Maureen O'Connor) - 4:03
first time I played 'Closet Casualty' I can remember wondering if I'd accidentally
put on a blues album, or may a Geddy Lee solo album ... O'Connor
certainly had a unique voice and even though her performance on this one
came close to operatic, musically this was actually one of the album's more
conventional tunes. rating: ***
up with a combination of Decker's punchy
bass and Buchla Music Box synthesizer
(belching out what sounded like Atari
sound effects), 'Avatar' found
the band dipping their toes into funk - well funk as defined by a bunch of
mid-'70s Caucasian hippies. If you liked David Byrne and the
Talking Heads as filtered through King Crimson, this probably wouldn't
strike you as being too odd.
rating: **** stars
some of Decker's most tuneful bass,
'(Whoever) You Are (You)'
offered up another one of their more conventional tracks - kind of a breezy
semi-ballad. Probably the best track to see whether you can
handle O'Connell's unique voice. Personally, I love this
Powered by some amazing Distorto bass (he was all over the place on this track), since he co-wrote it with Distorto, I'm guessing Christensen handled the vocals on 'Sky Fall'. Musically this one started out straddling the line between ballad and mid-tempo progressive piece, but by the end had somehow morphed into a jazzy piece with some unexpectedly nice harmony vocals. rating: *** stars
two opened up with a bluesy ballad highlighting O'Connor's soaring, but
heavily treated voice (it sounded like she was singing through a paper
cup). The song was also notable for showcasing her unique lead guitar
moves - did I detect some Hendrix-styled wah-wah and other effects on this
one. Nifty song. rating:
... talk about an album that's got some schizophrenic
tendencies... 'Oh Yeah?' started out sounding like a Sly and the
Family Stone cast off. Amazing how funky these California hipster
could sound. The Sly vibe only lasted for about half of the song with
the latter segment finding them retreating to a weird mixture of synthesizer
bleeps and buzzes and some of O'Connor's more jazz-tinged lead guitar.
Simply fascinating. rating:
opened up sound like a Kate Bush number - O'Connor kind of moaning while the
rest of the band attempted to get their musical bearings
straight. The main problem with this one is that it took the
band forever to figure out where they were going, leaving the song with a
pretty melody, but feeling like a piece of incidental film
'Scatter' seems to attract a lot of attention from the band's fifty fans, but to me it's that album's most experimental and least enjoyable effort. Clocking in at over eight minutes, the opening segment was best described as a sound collage full of oddball percussion, synthesizer sound effects, and needless keyboard noodling. When Distorto's bass and O'Connor's squealing guitar kicked in, the song at least began to follow a recognizable molten rock melody, though it wasn't enough to get you the eight minutes back. rating: ** stars
Needless to say, given Takoma's limited promotional capabilities (as if a label known for folk music was going to know what to do with Laser Pace), the album did little commercially.
The band recorded some material for a planned second album (never released) and struggled on through 1976 at which point the called it quits.
Decker and O'Connor continued their personal and professional careers, recorded a couple cool new wavish singles under the name New Math:
1980's 'Whiplash' b/w 'Hometown Meltdown' (New Math catalog number )
- 1980's 'Die Trying' b/w 'Can't Get Off The Ground' (Archives catalog number 1301)
- 1981's 'Older Women' b/w 'The Restless' (Archive catalog number 1302)
There was also a 2008 reunion show in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The same year Decker reissued the album on CD. You can find copies through the band's website, or CDbaby: http://laserpaceband.com/home.html
A couple of band members are on the web:
Christensen has a FaceBook page at: https://www.facebook.com/john.c.christensen.7
O'Connor's website can be found at: http://www.mvoconnor.com/
By the way, Chas.
“Uriah” Bennett's cover art showing band members (?) being attacked by
an outer space laser ray was a hoot.
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