If any one band has been able to defend endless reissues, it’s The Residents through their claim of adherence to the Theory of Obscurity. By stating that something is worth release once forgotten (a trend starting overtly with Not Available and never officially abandoned), any old material can be remixed or repackaged with no harm to the fan base or the mythos of the band – and so their unreleased Warner Brothers album has seen a few incarnations and leaks, some overlapping into fan made compilations available through BitTorrent and SoulSeek in the old days. And now as a general ethos permeating their web-only release ERA B474 (“Era Before ’74” – geddit??), this Obscurity lends itself to this early material compilation. Naturally, it’s all mostly unreleased extranea detailing the band’s Pre-Residents (Pre-sidents for this release) days in anarchic glory, showing off a group of friends that would not be met in demented genius until the In An 8x8 Bedroom recordings by Steaming Coils. It’s also a release geared towards the hardcore devotees with enough to hook a person just coming in to the massive discography and confounding nature of the unknown musicians, making this LP a worthy contender for your valuable listening time.

Given the longevity and relentless release schedule that The Residents have employed, any release of theirs usually gets viewed as a fan-only affair. ERA would be that if it weren’t also a way to easily acquire early material that allows the casual listener to bypass three separate bootlegs and official releases with a distillation of their best elements and a slew of official versions of previously unofficial tracks. Inspired insanity rules over everything, from the cacophonous and proto-Caroliner take on ‘Maggie’s Farm’ to the instant classic ‘Ballad of Stuffed Trigger,’ a track that had been floating around variously as a pseudonym for an album length suite (as ‘…Stuffed Tiger’) and a potential demo reel-to-reel piece of apocrypha. Instead in this form as a Q Source for the Delta growl that would become one of the most vital vocal inflections of the group, the track seems more like Beefheart channeled through Swans than a circa 1971 jam. But therein lies part of the appeal of the output that this band has to date: a sense of absent historicity, a world where MIDI still sounds like it did in 1988 and modern classical never got to Berio but somehow leapfrogged it to Reich.

Captain Beefheart has always been touted as one of the biggest influences on the band, and with lyrical fever dreams like ‘Party of ‘71’ and damaged 12-bar schemes like ‘Blow Blusy Baloon’ this genealogical tree now has its completion; it shows the work of a band breaking free from the restraints of their favorite creators to become more than those parts. Even at their most unoriginal (a somewhat straightforward and hugely a la mode cover of ‘King Kong’) the desire and push to be more is present, this time courtesy of collaborator Snakefinger. His sped up guitar matches the free jazz drumming and insistent if not erroneous bass in its loose approach to the melody, but also takes up the entirety of the top end with a piercing timbre courtesy of its post-production manipulation. ‘D for Doorknob’ showcases the penchant for storytelling and self-mythologizing that all underground bands as serious as The Residents have tried to push while serving as a rudiment for the album Freak Show in its most primal form.

This is the sound of unbridled creativity and ennui converging into one being. What was once merely a set of “artistic atoms” for lack of a better term become art in these recordings, opening up the inquisitive mind to thoughts of what the hell went on during the making of these songs. Drugs? Mysticism? Occult devotion to a tentacled god? Chances are the Cryptic Corporation would deny and confirm all of the above at different times, then release a limited edition cloth bound CD of instrumental versions of ‘Hallowed Be Thy Ween’ in five different forms, or release only the vocal tracks to Tweedles. Of course, part of the joke is that at this point all listeners and even bandmates would forget all of these things, instantly making them all prime for release, and that dedication to the (possibly fictional) late N. Senada’s Theory would continue to thrive. Or it merely seemed like a good reason to release some cleaned up tapes that had been otherwise rotting in a chamber somewhere in San Francisco. Either way, this is sure to become a favorite in the eyes of Residents historians and a worthy volume in the grand scheme of things.