The Parasites of the Western World (1978)

“Being of sound / that’s only found / where the sky / meets the ground”

parasites_world_medium_image

This one hit my radar a few years ago when a friend made a requiem mix for an expired pet rodent (there’s more songs about mice than you think) which included the Parasites’ epic instrumental “Funeral for a Mouse.” In the purest DIY tradition these two guys (Patrick Burke and Terry Censky) twirled knobs, short-circuited their gear and occasionally hit keys and strings properly, producing everything from the aforementioned dirge to punk pop, and of course controlling every aspect of the album design and presentation. For me it was the discovery of the year, and the 2010 reissue is luckily not hard to find (rare is the obscure masterpiece that remains somehow affordable).

With it’s thumping beat, phasing guitars, processed vocals, chanted lyrics, handclaps and whacked-out synthesizer solo, “Mo” is the closest thing to a rave up as things are gonna get. I don’t know if they played out in their town of Portland OR at all (it’s all a bit Devo and I woulda guessed Ohio), but I imagine a club crowd might stomp along to “Mo” before quickly becoming hostile to the rest of the material. “Electrokill” is a mini-suite of unnerving electronic effects rumbling between speakers or, god forbid, headphones. The shaky clanging guitar of the Beatles’ “Flying” would seemingly be in their wheelhouse, though it’s absent from an otherwise straight cover—featuring tambourine and pleasant synth tones—that you could play for your mother. I’ve never understood what technically defines the blues, but the Parasites’ “Rare Case” almost fits the bill, and is only a short diversion in any case. “Funeral for a Mouse” sounds like a low-budget horror movie soundtrack from a decade when electronic film scores prevailed (and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a short film out there that uses it). After lamenting the furry little guy’s demise, the clouds open a bit as drums and guitar come in, bringing the promise of, if not quite rebirth, at the least the assurance of eternal peace.

The proggy instrumental section of  “Accessories” sounds like the ogre battle that the album’s scant lyrics about “keepers of dragons” and “emerald daggers” suggest these role-players might indulge in. I don’t really know if they were way into D&D, but one of them sings “I shake and roll my accessories.” The boys almost go acoustic in the folky “God or Just a Slow Breeze” (one of the greatest song titles ever) apart from a piercing synth solo. It’s a song of isolation and seemingly romantic longing, with the literally chilling image of the narrator “freezing in the attic.” Poetic inclinations aside, they’re not above puns either, as evidenced by “You Must Be Joe King.” It’s the closest thing to a direct rock song with discernible but still absurdist words, the Parasites making their allegiances known by dismissing the “cheap girls” and “noodle minds” dancing to the “Doobies’ beat,” preferring instead to use the procured accessories of a Ouija board and a guitar to communicate with “Lennon” (then very much alive). They sing “Joe-King” like “Co-caine” but welcomely follow it with an un-Clapton-like guitar solo. The intervening piano piece “Siege of the Twilight Loon” sounds like modern classical chamber music, even if the presumably untrained musicianship wouldn’t likely pass the conservatory mustard. The musique concrète “Alienending” is the only self-consciously off-putting track, characterized by channel-bouncing effects applied to grunts and shouts, but not a bad way at all to conclude an endlessly inventive and unpredictable album.

Burke was a veteran of 60s psychedelic bands (that played songs with titles like “Mushroom People”) and had a subsequent solo career, but apart from a second Parasites album Censky was never heard from again. I haven’t spent enough time with the more song-orientated follow-up Substrata, but the first is so singularly perfect, I would be happy to leave it at that. Equal parts heavy and heady, and never dwelling in the dark for long, what’s most remarkable is how fun the whole thing is—and Burke might be a softie at heart, as he couldn’t let that poor mouse’s tale go without a sequel called “The Resurrection (of a Small Rodent).”

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