The Parasites of the Western World

by Tony Maygarden

Modern technology has brought the cost of high quality audio gear down to a level where just about anyone (assuming that they know what they're doing) can make a professional sounding recording in his/her basement or bedroom. This has led to a DIY (Do It Yourself) ethos that is now pervasive. Fully fleshed out recordings created entirely by one or two people, and released on private labels, are a dime a dozen these days. But way back in 1978, the complexity and cost of recording and releasing an album was far beyond the ways and means of most musicians -- but not The Parasites of the Western World!

The self-titled LP was almost entirely the creation of Terry Censky and Patrick Burke, with help on guitar from Mark Weatherford. All instruments, vocals, recording and mixing, songwriting (with one exception -- see below), cover photography and layout, and label graphics were all handled by Censky and Burke.


The front cover above may look primitive, but the album
contains a double-sided lyric sheet and
a poster (with more photos like the ones below).

The 1983 edition of The Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records states that The Parasites hailed from Portland Oregon, "spreading electronic weirdness throughout the land." There certainly is plenty of that, but the boys also work in a blues instrumental ("A Rare Case of the Blues"), a John Lennon-esque piano ballad ("God or Just a Slow Breeze"), a Beatles cover (the instrumental "Flying" from Magical Mystery Tour -- not a bad version*) and a couple of songs that are similar in style to the New Wave that was taking off at the time ("You Must Be Joe King").

It's definitely the "electronic weirdness" that sets this album apart, though. "MO" starts the album with heavily processed vocals and wind-tunnel guitars. "Electrokill" follows and is aptly titled. It sounds like they're playing with potentiometers and repetitive feedback from a reel-to-reel tape deck. "Funeral For a Mouse" starts with synth loonyness and moves into a nice funeral dirge with a fat synth melody line.

"Accessories" may be the LP's highlight. Heavy superfuzzy guitars accompany a bluesy beat, then descend into freeform madness. They shift into a slow rock riff, and at 6:30 into the song the vocals start! Disturbing lyrics and heavy processing keep it interesting, and the song ends with looped maniacal laughter.

Speaking of loops, the piano and synth instrumental "Siege of the Twilight Loon" starts with looped loon calls -- needless to say, not a technique that was common in 1978. "Alienending" ends the LP with flat out electronic craziness (Burke is listed as playing "Alien Effects," Censky as "More Alien Effects"). Processed echoing vocals, a heartbeat rhythm, a screaming guitar riff -- a little disturbing but cool.

The Parasites of the Western World is an album filled with wild ideas and experimentation, and definitely ahead of its time. The Parasites released a single, "Politico"/"Zytol Automation"**) and one other album in 1981, Substrata, and Patrick Burke released an LP in 1981, Silence and Timing.

* The Trouser Press Guide lists the Beatles' cover as "Blue Jay Way" -- which is wrong.
** Patrick Burke informed me via email that the "Politico"/"Zytol Automation" single was released after the LP, and was used as the opening track on side two of the band's second album, Substrata.

 

Terry Censky (left) and Patrick Burke.
They may look like geeks, but they are actually
The Parasites of the Western World
!

The POTWW is a pretty tough album to find on LP, but it
has been reissued by Censky and Burke.