Cromagnon’s only album: a jumble of sounds, shouts, and one actual song
July 26, 2014 11:23 PM   Subscribe

Depending on one's point of view, Orgasm (later reissued as Cave Rock) is either a ridiculously self-indulgent artifact of the '60s counterculture or an underground gem that was way ahead of its time -- and it's probably a little bit of both. The basic idea behind Cromagnon, an obscure East Coast group led by vocalists Austin Grasmere and Brian Elliot, was psychedelic rock combined with the sticks and stones of prehistoric cavemen, as well as with traces of folk-rock; it's a bizarre concept, certainly, but at times, it works. You can hear the whole crazy album on YouTube, or stick with the most song-like track (featuring bagpipes, tribal beats and some sort of scream-singing), Caledonia, seen here with an unofficial video.

In the 1960s, Austin Grasmere and Brian Elliot were apparently successful multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriters who produced bubblegum pop, but they wanted to do something different, so they approached the ESP-Disk record label, whose motto, printed on every release, was "The artists alone decide what you will hear on their ESP-Disk".

They had a big concept, and ESP-Disk was behind it, and the result was Orgasm, a jumble of rackety percussion, chants, shouts, moans, giggles, whispers, drones, found sounds, bizarre rituals, ethno-freak-outs and one actual song, “Caledonia,” a sort of metal bagpipe reel, and the only album released by the weird collective known as Cromagnon. The story was that Grasmere and Elliot contacted a hippie commune to record with a group of musicians known only as the “Connecticut Tribe” that may or may not have included future members of The Residents and Negativland, which added a ton of mystique to the already bizarre album.

In 2002, the three surviving musicians involved with Cromagnon gave an interview with Connecticut radio station WXCI where they talked at length about the group, and the process of recording Orgasm/Cave Rock. Seven years later, someone shared a transcription of that interview on the ESP-Disk website, finally clearing up rumors and myths around the recording. There was no hippie tribe, and no future members of The Residents or Negativland were involved, but Brian was a fan of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, and there was really a bubblegum pop group, The Boss Blues (So, Go/Before The Dawn; Takin' Life Easy/Could It Be True) behind the proto-no wave/noise rock/industrial rock. The group also included a member from the Connecticut garage pop band, the Blue Beats (sample track: Extra Girl).

Sadly, Cromagnon never went on tour, so the world never saw the giant, pulsing womb get incinerated by flame throwers on stage. Though there won't be a Cromagnon reunion tour, other bands have paid attention to the album, and the Japanese psych-kraut / free jazz / electro-droning waves band Ghost covered "Caledonia" on their 2007 album, In Stormy Nights.
posted by filthy light thief (6 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

Am looking forward to perusing this post, thanks. (I love Crow of the Back Tree)
posted by balmore at 1:37 AM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

> that may or may not have included future members of The Residents and Negativland

Hm. At the time, Don Joyce was in his twenties, but I think the other main members of Negativland would have been grade schoolers at best.
posted by ardgedee at 5:02 AM on July 27, 2014

Caledonia is a pretty great tune. I wonder if any DJ's ever sample it? I can imagine it would be pretty mindblowing dropped into the middle of a late night dance set.
I couldn't get any further than track 4 though, while I was midway through checking Wikipedia to see if these guys were the reason Cro-Mags were called Cro-Mags.
posted by Flashman at 7:17 AM on July 27, 2014

ardgedee, according to Wikipedia, a couple other (occasional) members of Negativland are older than the main pair, who are indeed pretty young to have taken part in this album.

Flashman, it's far from exhaustive, but MixesDB doesn't turn up any hits, but I wouldn't be surprised if some weirder folks stuck this into no-wave, nooise or industrial mixes.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:50 AM on July 27, 2014

Man, I am flatly gobsmacked to find out that the Residents aren't associated with this. Caledonia sounds more like the Residents than most actual Residents albums do.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:05 PM on July 27, 2014

thanks, i love that record. happy to learn more.

that Ghost cover is pretty good, it almost sounds like a Der Blutharsch song, who i now wish had done there own version.

i'm relieved to learn Cromagnon never made another record as it could have turned out to be as bland as the second effort by that other acid-folk-freakout group Comus.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 7:48 PM on July 27, 2014

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