First Impressions: Mind Gardens (40th Anniversary Edition) by the Salvation Army

Yesterday afternoon, I tripped through spacetime like a kite tumbling across the clouds, agog at the sights and sounds found at such lofty elevations. Colors flashed, drums bashed, hurdy-gurdy rhythms pushed, pulled and prodded, and a fuzzed-up guitar scorched the earth below with random, lightning-like strikes. Then, when the Salvation Army’s four-track Mind Gardens EP came to an end, I was left to ponder what it all meant.

On July 10th, 1981, the band—which consisted of Ricky Start on bass and vocals, Troy Howell on drums and Johnny Blazing on guitar—entered Piper Studio in Carson, Cal., to record a four-song demo, using the cash they’d received as high-school graduation gifts to foot the bill. Two of those songs, “Mind Gardens” and “Happen Happened,” would be released as the group’s first 45 by year’s end (on the Minutemen’s New Alliance label) and resulted in them getting signed by Frontier Records. 

L.A. Weekly reviewer Bruce D. Rhodewalt said the A-side sounded “like early Black Sabbath with a little Mick Ronson guitar thrown in.”

Although the three sought to be a part of the region’s burgeoning punk scene, the songs themselves sounded less punk (and less Sabbath) and more akin to the psychedelic-tinged garage rock of the 1960s. That sonic disparity led Johnny, who had a hardcore spirit, to quit; Start and Howell then recruited another guitarist, Greg Gutierrez. They were all just 18. Ricky Start would soon revert to using his given name, Michael Quercio; Danny Benair took over the drums from Howell; and the band rechristened itself the Three O’Clock after the other Salvation Army threatened legal action.

I’m sure I’m mixing up some things in that timeline. Doesn’t matter. What’s important is this: The four songs represent the start of the Paisley Underground, which was a collection of like-minded acts that embraced the past while furthering the future. They sidestepped nostalgic pastiche by integrating the old with the new, in other words. The Bangles, Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade and Three O’Clock were a part of the scene, as were the Long Ryders, Green on Red and others. Most never made it beyond the club scene.

Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest that what’s past is prologue, which is true, but there’s also this: the present is prologue, too, we just don’t know to what. The 40th anniversary “Mind Gardens” EP circumvents spacetime in that sense, with the original single (“Mind Gardens” and “Happen Happened”) sounding as fresh and potent as it did in 1981, while the two new-old songs (“For Hours” and “Fight Songs”) come across much the same.

About the only negative that can be said of the EP has nothing to do with the songs or garage-rock production. As is often the case with vinyl releases, the two 45s come with a download card…but said downloads are crappy MP3s, not FLAC files. (Seriously, Yep Roc, up your game!) C’est la vie, I suppose. That aside, whether you’re of a certain vintage or just have a hankering for the undervalued bands and music of yore, head over to Bandcamp or the Yep Roc store and order it. It’s well worth many spins.

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