The Human Expression

Love at Psychedelic Velocity

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The Human Expression were a band from suburban Los Angeles whose music lurked somewhere in between garage rock and psychedelia. They're celebrated by garage rock fans for their second single, 1967's "Optical Sound" b/w "Calm Me Down" -- the loopy A-side was a celebration of inner space that appeared on the Nuggets box set, but the flip was a tough, sneering rocker, and the Human Expression clearly knew how to work both sides of the formula. The group also had something like a brush with fame when Scott Seely, owner of Accent Records, introduced them to a songwriter who had a pair of tunes he believed had potential; the writer was Mars Bonfire, and while the Human Expression ended up recording "Sweet Child of Nothingness," they turned down his other song, "Born to Be Wild," and Steppenwolf made the proto-biker anthem a hit a year later. During their 1965 to 1968 lifetime, the Human Expression released three singles, and Love at Psychedelic Velocity combines the six sides they cut for Accent as well as some unreleased tunes, demos, and early recordings by Jim Quarles, the group's lead singer. Judging from what's here, the Human Expression were certainly better than the average band on the California rock scene at the time; Quarles and guitarist Jim Foster were imaginative songwriters with a clever, slightly bent approach, and Foster's guitar style was an interesting mixture of traditional folk-rock jangle, tough fuzzy leads, and a willingness to play with reverb tanks and pickup switches to come up with unusual sounds. But Love at Psychedelic Velocity also tries to make an album out of a band that didn't have an album's worth of recordings; "Calm Me Down" is a great tune, but not so great that this album needs three versions of it, and the demo of "Every Night" doesn't reveal much except that the group's early recordings were done in a really crummy-sounding studio. And while Quarles' pre-Human Expression tapes are interesting, they also capture a teenage kid working out ideas that he'd handle with greater skill later on. For garage/psych fanatics who wonder if there's more where "Optical Sound" comes from, Love at Psychedelic Velocity offers up all there is, but even though the bits and pieces are worth hearing, this never plays like any sort of proper album, and an EP of the singles might have been more satisfying.

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