Producer: Austin Grasmere, Brian Elliot
Cover art: Howard Bernstein
ORGASM/CAVE ROCK is the holy grail of lost freakout classics, a violently original work from 1969 that was so far ahead of its time, it was ancient. Like the mysterious monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey released the year before, it’s an artefact that transcends time, having a strange effect on all who come into contact with it.
In some ways, Orgasm is very much of its era, drawing on musical elements familiar to sixties rock: the folky fireside guitar strumming in “Crow of the Black Tree,” the Beach Boys harmonies that kick off “Fantasy,” the Hendrix-worshipping guitar that plays throughout “First World of Bronze”. Its communal approach to composition and its ostensibly sexy title also give it some of the atmosphere of a hippie love-in. But free love isn’t represented as the utopian dream of your average nostalgic baby boomer. On “Ritual Feast of the Libido”, Salvador Salgado grunts and shrieks like a man on the threshold of ecstasy and pain, while an increasingly intense grinding sound – actually a garden hose spraying a microphone – reaches its gushing climax. “Organic Sundown” is just as unnerving, clattering percussion accompanied by chants of ‘sleep’, sinister whispers, snatches of dialogue and other moist, throaty sounds made by an unknown number of Connecticut Tribe members both male and female. The effect is claustrophobic, and after someone mercifully yells ‘stop’, you can still hear the far-off sound of someone next door to the studio beating on a wall or a pipe.
Orgasm feels like the inevitable cold shower after 1967’s Summer of Love, as if late-seventies industrial music had arrived early to spoil all the groovy sixties vibes with its noise and nihilism. Cromagnon sink their contemporary references and any lingering hippie idealism under a primordial sludge of effects and production, pointing the way to an imagined musical future with uncompromising experimentation. “Fantasy,” for instance, splices together sounds of cuckoo clocks, sirens, radio broadcasts, and a guitar part sampled from a live recording of their old band, the Boss Blues. “Toth, Scribe I” was created simply by slowing opening track “Caledonia” down to a doom-laden crawl. Even when the second side of the album was mastered at the wrong speed for its eighties reissue as Cave Rock, adding an Alvin and the Chipmunks meets the Manson Family vibe to half its songs, the album still retained its sense of disturbing otherness. And yet, such a blunder also highlights the absurd humour that had always been present in songs with titles like “Ritual Feast of the Libido”, and in moments like when the band chants the word ‘freedom’ until it turns into ‘free-dumb’.
Sounding as post-apocalyptic as it does prehistoric, Orgasm casts Cromagnon as future-primitives making music from the detritus of a crumbled modern civilisation. That impression is best conveyed by “Caledonia”, a song on which much of Cromagnon’s and Orgsasm‘s reputations rest. Perhaps the only thing on the album you could accurately call a song, Orgasm’s opening track cycles through shortwave radio channels and incidental 1920s orchestral music before settling on the serene sounds of a Jew’s harp and the chirping of crickets. That is until the ominous drone of bagpipes and cavernous, multi-tracked drums shatter the Arcadian tranquillity. Brian Elliot, in his sole lead vocal performance, chants in a rasping whisper like a barbarian from the distant past or future who has come to desecrate the ever-living present. The feral clang and stomp of “Caledonia” is Cromagnon’s towering achievement, a ferociously singular and genuinely catchy tune that has stood the test of time. In 2006, Pitchfork ranked it #163 in their 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s, calling it ‘a stately funeral march for a whole army of whispering maniacs’, and Japanese psychedelic group Ghost covered it in 2007.
Even today, Orgasm/Cave Rock is the sound of rock ‘n’ roll being smashed to bits like the skulls of a rival tribe under the blows of a swinging femur bone. But this is the violence of creation as much as it is of destruction. Cromagnon’s ferocity uncovered the bedrock of everything from neofolk and industrial to no wave and black metal, fashioning a bizarre monument to musical freedom that sounds like both the beginning and end of music itself.
- “Caledonia” – 4:21
- “Ritual Feast of the Libido” – 3:26
- “Organic Sundown” – 7:10
- “Fantasy” – 7:19
- “Crow of the Black Tree” – 9:40
- “Genitalia” – 2:45
- “Toth, Scribe I” – 10:38
- “First World of Bronze” – 2:47
Listen on Spotify
Note that this is Cave Rock, the version of Orgasm reissed on ZYX in the eighties, with the second side mastered at the wrong speed.
Also check out…
- The Godz – Contact High wit da Godz (1966)
- Faust – Faust So Far (1972)
- The Residents – Meet the Residents (1974)
- Nurse with Wound – Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella (1979)