The press release for this reissue claims that, since Holy Music was put to tape August 1966, it’s “one of the earliest specifically psychedelic albums ever recorded.” I beg to differ. Though the album features a pre-Red Krayola Steve Cunningham and otherworldly Tibetan Buddhist John Newbern, their only major label vanity project doesn’t really fall under my definition of psychedelic. Psychedelia comes from the Greek meaning “mind-manifest” and typically pertains to heightened and altered states of awareness. In music, this typically represents the effort of translating and expressing a piece of the psychedelic experience. What you have with this fossil may just be the first non-psychedelic acid record.
What brings me to this conclusion is the fact that, save for a few random minutes of hymnal chants, swishing water field recordings, and some kind of harpsichord and strings, each ten-odd-minute jam consists of intermittent mouth harp and intermittent acoustic guitar strumming. Aside from the few bars of Eastern mantra, every sound is intermittent at best, making the overall experience more disjointed and boring than any acid trip I’ve ever taken. Since Owsley cooked up his first batch of white lightning acid in March of ‘65 and this album was recorded the following year, the connection is obvious. Acid was legal at the time, after all, so it got around quickly and thoroughly. With that fact in hand, this is exactly the kind of album you would expect two hippies on pure ‘60s LSD to make if they had access to recording equipment, a small handful of random instruments, and nowhere better to be. I don’t know if you could really call that psychedelic in its execution, as it is simultaneously, aggravatingly random and drearily monotonous. Granted, it may trip people out if you pop this on during a road trip, but it’s sure not going to be from over-stimulation. Whatever vibrations those two guys were experiencing did not get picked up by the recording gear.
I’m sure Newbern had good intentions then and even to this day (he’s still making music), but outside of pre-converted Buddhists looking for some mildly distracting meditation sounds, Holy Music isn’t going to open the minds of people. Since this Fallout issue is its first ever appearance on CD, I’d imagine it hasn’t done much so far. For my money, you gotta stick with the 13th Floor Elevators. Their debut, The Psychedelic Sounds Of was recorded just two months later and is a hundred times more fulfilling. Furthermore, The Holy Modal Rounders released their self-titled debut with the track “Hesitation Blues,” which features the term “psychedelic” in 1964, so there really isn’t anything remarkable about this album. Well, except the obvious question: how the hell did Holy Music ever get released in the first place?