The Red Krayola: The Red Krayola

The Red Krayola
Drag City

Should his day job as a professor at Pasadena's Art Center ever fall through, Mayo Thompson might want to consider a career in real estate; the mantra "location location location" is perfect for a man who has always been in the right place at the right time. Starting with an inept performance at a Houston area mall, Thompson surprisingly caught the attention of Kenny Rogers's brother Lelan, the International Artists label impresario who released the first 13th Floor Elevators album. Rogers signed Mayo's Red Crayola group (then in their copyright-protected-spelling days), allowing the world to hear one of the more harebrained slabs of the psychedelic era, 1967's Parable of Arable Land.

As the first version of Thompson's group dissolved, he relocated to London, arriving there right in the middle of the U.K. punk explosion and, after a few years in Berlin, where he recorded with legendary Krautrockers Cluster and producer Conny Plank, he wound up in Chicago to resuscitate the Krayola (the spelling changes as often as the lineup) with members from the post-rock elite like Gastr del Sol and Tortoise. All of these travels and zeitgeist moments have been culled for this collection of erratic singles spanning 1968 to 2002.

From day one, the Krayola's music has been a difficult listen, with fun topics like art theory overriding your standard single's lofty themes--you know, like chicks and kicks. "Old Tom Clark"/"Pig Ankle Strut" follows Mayo's endearingly oddball song cycle, 1970's Corky's Debt to his Father; it features loose tunes not unlike Dylan's Nashville Skyline and sounds as if Thompson is staging cowboy-matinee melodramas on his back porch. Afterward, Thompson anticipates the Minutemen's jerky Maoist jangles with "Wives in Orbit" before reforming the Crayola at the height of Brit agit-pop with what amounts to the Rough Trade All-Stars: a Raincoat, a Swell Map, an Ubu, and an Essential Logic add atonal jags and reggae-disco stumbles to Thompson's warbling discourses on everything from digital consumerism ("Micro-Chips and Fish") to language philosophy ("The Sword of God"). Regrettably, such dialectics piled on the post-punk jumble are too didactic to warrant repeat listenings, even at grad-school shindigs.

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