The 13th Floor Elevators - The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The 13th Floor Elevators

The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators (1966)

International Artists

Considering the news that the legendary, infamous Texas band The 13th Floor Elevators are performing for the first time in 45 years, a review of their debut album seemed about right. The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators is a brilliant rock album, somewhere between the spooky menace of the Doors and the careening weirdness of Nuggets bands like the Barbarians and Green Fuz. It's made particularly distinctive by the genuinely wild, revelatory vocals of frontman Roky Erickson and the incredible "electric jug" playing of Tommy Hall; the wispy and ornithological sounds of Hall truly made the Elevators a bizarre myth to be reckoned with.

"You're Gonna Miss Me" is one of the best rock openers ever, a furious break-up song infused with spite and a descent into the darker recesses of the mind. Stacy Sutherland's playing here is a benchmark for any psychedelic guitar from Robbie Krieger to the MC5. But this was also a band that could be surprisingly beautiful and warm - the harmonies on "Splash 1" are, as with much of the band's music, inviting and distancing at the same time. More than many of their ilk the 13th Floor Elevators wanted to expand your mind ("Thru The Rhythm" might have slinky stop-start rhythms but also has genuinely philosophical lyrics) but could also rock the fuck out - "Monkey Island" is just ridiculous fun. This is a clean 35 minute album with a perfect balance of slow and fast songs - "Kingdom of Heaven" though is my favorite on the record, a creepy, moody slow burner climaxing with a perfect Roky Erickson scream of either passion or pure terror (or both at once).

The Elevators' legend has sometimes eclipsed their actual music - arrests for possession, LSD-drenched shows, and Roky Erickson's struggles with schizophrenia (and recent comeback) all come to mind as much as their best songs do when thinking of them. But that's why it's important to focus on the greatness of this proto-punk classic, whose DNA is in the Butthole Surfers, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Sonic Youth, and Ty Segall. Gorgeous, frightening, and immersive, a work swelling with nerve, ideas, and music that wants to take you to the limits of everything as you struggle helplessly then succumb.