[6 April 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
It’s not often one puts the words “Peru” and “psychedelic rock” together. However, during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, there was a band in Peru that sung English material and borrowed from the sounds of American and British psychedelic rock, such as Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Traffic and others. That band would be Traffic Sound, and their 1969 masterwork Virgin has been reissued on CD for a global audience. While Virgin is the group’s sophomore album, it is their first record of 100 percent original material: their debut, 1968’s A Bailar Go Go, was an all covers album featuring material from the Doors, Cream, Iron Butterfly and the Animals. In a sense, that makes Virgin the band’s first true album, and it is something to gush over. The opening title track, with its acoustic guitars and bongos delightfully trading off, is the kind of thing you can imagine Robert Pollard drooling over in his basement, and you can hear that it is a clear influence on the lighter, more whimsical fragmented tracks offered by classic-era Guided by Voices. “Virgin”, the song, is astounding, but it isn’t the only thing that Virgin, the album, has to offer.
There’s a nine-minute, three-part prog suite called “Yellow Sea Days” that is almost as equally remarkable, as well as a 35-second piece of backwards tape trickery that is ultimately loopy in “A Place In Time Call [sic] ‘You and Me’”—remember that English was probably not the band members’ first language. There’s also the pitch-perfect “Meshkalina”, both an ode to the Inca civilization and, well, drug use, that became something of an anthem in the group’s South American homeland. All in all, there is not one duff song to be found on Virgin, making it something of a lost, underground psych stroke of genius. Virgin is an unmitigated classic, especially more so when you learn that a fascist dictatorship was in power in Peru around the time of the making of this recording, and rock ‘n’ roll music was not exactly in vogue with the authorities. That music this good and powerful—overlooking the fact there is a song unfortunately titled “Jews Caboose” here—was made in the face of an authoritarian power is astonishing, and all the more reason to hear what psychedelica sounds like filtered through the Latin infused music of Traffic Sound. Virgin is simply an overlooked gem that fans of the era need to get their mitts on.