There’s a lot of music I listen to almost exclusively in a particular season. In the same way one could listen to Christmas music year-round, it seems me Big Star’s oeuvre, the Replacements’ albums up through Pleased to Meet Me and R.E.M.’s Document are best appreciated in the autumn. In that same regard, I listen to a lot of T. Rex and Beach Boys as my summer soundtrack.
But the album that is essential summer listening for me is Easter Everywhere by The 13th Floor Elevators. For the uninitiated, here is some information about this group that may provide some insight into the nature of their music. They were based out of Texas in the late 60’s and did more drugs than you’ve had hot dinners. Heck, even their name references marijuana, as “M” is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet. In a nutshell: lysergic, psychedelic garage rock from one of the more interesting states of the union. Oh, and they have an electric jug player, and I have no idea how that works.
I was a slow convert to this group, with my initial exposure being through one of those tribute albums that were all the rage in the first half of the 90’s. Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye was fascinating just from the bizarre assortment of artists paying homage: Primal Screen, The Judybats, Julian Cope, Poi Dog Pondering and R.E.M. Unlike many such collections of the time, nobody here half-asses it. Probably the biggest surprise is The Jesus and Mary Chain and ZZ Top on the same anthology and each doing their own interpretation of the same song.
But, on that compilation, it is the Butthole Surfers who are the truest to the spirit of the Elevators. The music of both groups is fascinating while feeling a bit dangerous. You can tell these guys walked the talk.
This is evident from the first track of Easter Everywhere, “Slip Inside this House”. Sprawling across eight minutes and change, this song is epic in scope while being so catchy that I always fight the urge to replay it once it finishes. Also, the lyrics of this track make a weird kind of sense while it plays, only to lose their meaning when reading them: “Bedoin tribes ascending/from the egg into the flower/alpha information sending/state within the heaven shower”. Aside from my conclusion that “House” channels religious (and, likely, drug-enhanced) ecstasy, I can’t honestly tell you what it is “about”. Experiencing this song is more than just the sum of words and music. If anything, there is also a curious thread of numerology running through it: “Four and twenty birds of Maya”, “Seven stars receive your visit/seven seals remain divine/seven churches filled with spirit”. I may not feel I fully comprehend the message, but I always find this track an interesting thing to scrutinize like a puzzle.
The next number, “Slide Machine”, is lighter in tone if not as baffling in sentiment. “Way down south where they use the slide machine/where the gods of old are known but seldom seen”. I have no idea what the slide machine is, but I find it interesting to speculate upon. God(s) only knows how many listens later, but the meaning continues to elude me. One could say it slides past my reach.
“She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)” and “Nobody to Love” are up next—two productions so inherently catchy as to seem like hit singles from a parallel universe. These are followed by what may be the best cover I have heard of Dylan’s “(It’s All Over Now) Baby Blue”. Band leader Roky Erickson sings this with a despair lacking in every other version, even the original.
But, ahhhhh, the next track: “Earthquake”. I’m not sure a more appropriately titled song exists. This ode to the gravitational pull of carnal attraction feels like a tectonic shift occurs in the less than five minutes this lasts. It starts inconspicuously—just a low rumble of instruments. But it builds up over the course of the first verse to two glorious bursts of feedback. The first is the appetizer, while the second is a like a blinding glare of sunlight. I think the only parallel in the history of recorded music is in the Velvet’s “I Heard Her Call My Name” following each occurence of “And then my mind split open…” Similarly, a verse here is “All around the ground is breaking/we’re safe in the love we’re making/it won’t fly apart/from the beat of our heart/like the ground/and the sound/of the earthquake.”
The appropriately named “Dust” brings us down hard afterwards. This fragile song is yet another where the title says exactly what it will sound like. This is a song of naked yearning, the kind many other bands might have found embarrassing. That would be a shame, since this is so direct and honest.
Then we’re back to religious imagery with “(I’ve Got) Levitation”. This tracks rocks hard, about as much as “Earthquake”.
But then it’s time to break your heart again, and “I Had to Tell You” goes for the jugular. I fear the person who isn’t devastated by Roky’s strained voice as he sings this chorus: “If you fear I’ll lose my spirit/like some drunkard wasting wine/don’t you even think about it/I’m feeling fine”.
Concluding the album proper is “Postures (Leave Your Body Behind)”. It is a suitable end for this song cycle, though the style is different than anything that preceded it. The best I can describe it is mid-tempo sixties soul as performed by white Texans.
Curiously, the album eventually had another track appended to the running order, following up “Postures” with the mediocre blues of “Fire in My Bones”. I’m glad this track exists, but I don’t consider it to be part of Easter Everywhere.
While some fans would recommend you start familiarizing yourself with the group through their singles or their debut album, sophomore effort Easter Everywhere is where everything came together, if only for a brief instance. It is a front-to-back gem, perfect for welcoming a caravan of three-eyed angels through the heaven shower of midsummer.