PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Time: Before There Was

1968 debut of long-forgotten/never-known semi-experimental rock band finally sees light of day, works better as historical artifact than album.


Before There Was...

Label: Shadoks
US Release Date: 2005-11-22
UK Release Date: 2006-01-30
Amazon affiliate
Insound affiliate

Replace the Great Man theory of rock with a social history approach, and the narrative changes dramatically. Instead of Elvis, Jimi, Kurt and the Hall of Fame gang, we get an endless series of basements and garages inhabited by young people who went on to be teachers, steel workers, architects, anything but rock stars. We get Guided by Voices pressing 500 copies of albums for an audience one tenth that size in 1980s Ohio. We get Quietus and Hyperplastic, whose respective Slayer-inspired riffs and genius anthem "Smoldering Resentment" were heard by approximately no one outside LaCrescent, Minnesota (population 5,000), where I went to high school in the 1990s. And we get Time, a group of guys who graduated from college in Champaign-Urbana in 1967 and turned down Fulbright scholarships and grad school fellowships to move to Buffalo, New York and play in a rock band.

They never made it, of course. A move to the Big Apple, a name change to Think Dog!, and a few gigs later the band went kaput, as its members drifted into careers in academia, computer programming, and whatever else responsible adults do. The band left not so much as a lipstick trace on music history, releasing exactly nothing during its brief incarnation. It did, however, stare down severe snowstorms and drive into Toronto in early 1968 to record an album that has only just now been released, nearly four decades after the fact, by Shadoks, the veritable Indiana Jones of rock archeology, a label that digs not into Egyptian tombs but into mildewy garages and stacks of dusty old reels to bring us the music that time (and probably even members of Time) has forgotten.

As such, Before There Was... is a fascinating window into a specific time and place, the late '60s Buffalo underground (of which Time constituted exactly one half, according to member Lynn David Newton's copious liner notes). It is not, alas, particularly distinguished music. Opening track "A Song For You" may be the album's most interesting effort, lulling listeners into a pacific state for two and a half minutes before launching into a bizarre, recorder-driven experimental breakdown as lumpy as any gravy the Mothers of Invention had yet poured by that point, then finally returning to its dopey love sentiments at the end. This is followed-in album sequencing seemingly structured less by any musical flow than by when the acid kicked in-by "Kemp's Jig," a 45-second long Renaissance lute piece. Go figure.

Elsewhere, Time offers trippy hippie tales of "cornucopias full of mirrors" on "Introductory Lines", which ends with a spoken stream-of-consciousness rant about "becoming and approaching Being" that sounds lifted from a cursory perusal of whichever Alan Watts or Ram Dass book happened to be lying around the Time house that evening. The band has no real group dynamic, but instead feels like a hodgepodge collection of three very different musicians. Liner-note curator Newton plays bass and brings the experimental ambitions, setting e.e. cummings' "Lily Has a Rose" to a convoluted 18/16 time signature and adding electronic tape chaos to another song. Richard Stanley, a music professor at SUNY somehow roped into this amateur hour, carries the lute and adds some pleasant instrumentals, including the nifty bluegrass ditty "Ma's Pan". Finally, Tom McFaul contributes the beatnik poetry and actual rock, forgetting only the concept of melody in such shouted efforts as "At Shadow's Eye".

Every now and then Time stumble into memorable moments. "A Song for You" must have raised some eyebrows in conservative Buffalo, where Newton claims audiences wanted nothing more challenging than Young Rascals covers. "Green Fields" carries a gently persuasive melody, as does "Dover Beach", even despite McFaul's resolute refusal to sing instead of shout. Newton's notes are a hoot, more engaging than much of the album. He's somewhat pompous, discussing his own songs in great detail while giving brief, often dismissive comments to other members' songs (one McFaul composition was intended for two vocalists, but Time never played it live because Newton couldn't be bothered to memorize the lyrics), and his notion of masculinity is retrograde at best ("Guys don't like to fall asleep touching each other," he declares; "In fact, real men prefer not to sleep in the same room as another guy." He also confesses feeling uncomfortable with the cummings line "If I let him kiss me twice"). But somehow this adds to the antiquated charm; Newton's description of Time's utter lack of success is a compelling story, and Shadoks affords him admirable space to tell it.

Mostly, Before There Was... works better as historical document than as art, reminding us (Like Beth Bailey's wonderful monograph Sex in the Heartland, about the sexual revolution in Kansas) that the counterculture was not monopolized by the Sunset Strip, Haight-Ashbury, and the East Village but extended into nooks and crannies across the American landscape. Its songs give us a pretty good clue as to why Time never hit the big time, but they make for a good complement to the notes in delivering a vivid portrait of the small time that too often goes overlooked and forgotten.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.