Columnfortably Numb: Psych Reviews For November
, November 24th, 2015 07:54
Cyrus cynic JR Moores pounds the patterned pavements in search of fresh psych (and noise rock) releases
Ivor Cutler used to sprinkle hundreds & thousands over dog shit. The poet, songwriter and humorist was also known to paint flowers and draw chalk cartoons on the pavement around piles of abandoned pooch poop, so exasperated had he become with the prevalence of fouling in his local area. This brightening of foo-foo faeces did not only help fellow pedestrians to avoid stepping in it; the legend goes that the neighbourhood's dog owners were so freaked out by Cutler's unusual form of anti-plop protest that they soon began cleaning up after their mutts.
On an entirely unrelated note, The Flaming Lips have been collaborating with Miley Cyrus. At the end of August, Miley "dropped" her 'Lips-aided album, Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz, and if I was a truly talented contrarian, like Rod Liddle, Julie Burchill or Angelica Pickles, I'd declare that record to be the year's finest psychedelic masterpiece and grin madly at the flood of comments calling for my immediate resignation. The truth is, you're right, Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz is insufferable. Penned by a person who's had VIP status since gestation, its lyrics have less to say than the little one from Penn & Teller. Granted, the opening track doesn't function solely as a platform for Cyrus to obstreperously declare that "Yeah, I smoke pot, yeah". It also boasts an understanding of important philosophical questions including why there is a sun, how birds fly and "why there is trees". That's deep, man. Deeper still, the album's title and a proportion of its lyrics are dedicated to the deaths of Cyrus's pet dog and blowfish, which appear to be the two most catastrophic and challenging episodes that have ever happened in this privileged star's life. Backed by The Flaming Lips' diluted Yoshimi jams, which they'd probably write down as "jamz", the crazee buggerz, there are 23 tracks in total and if you can make it all the way through those without skipping 'I'm So Drunk', 'Cyrus Skies' or 'Miley Tibetan Bowlzzz', then you're a braver human than I. Oh, and one track's got Ariel Pink on it, obviously. Obvs. Obvz. Z! (zzz)
Patently, the pampered pop stars are pilfering our pulsations, people. They've been doing it in plain sight and in 2015 the crime-wave hit new levels. Tame Impala's Kevin Parker pimped himself out for Mark Ronson's Glastonbury set. Bat For Lashes made a psych record under the unfortunate SEXWITCH moniker. Next thing, Zayn Malik is going to join Ashtray Navigations and Gideon Osborne will reveal he spent a lost weekend mashed off his toff titties with the Butthole Surfers. This September, the film and TV actress Rose McGowan even released a pretentious video for her song 'RM486' which (coincidentally, perhaps) replicated Grumbling Fur's sweet trick of reciting the words of Roy Batty's iconic Blade Runner speech over bubbling electro-psych. And you know which band once guested in an episode of McGowan's diet-Buffy wicca drama Charmed? The Flaming Lips, of courze. So it's all Wayne Coyne's fault. At the very least, it's the fault of Wayne Coyne's ongoing midlife crisis, which has been cringier to watch than Larry David Gilmour's postmodern prog-rock sitcom Reverb Your Enthusiasm. Even before Cyrus, Coyne had been hanging out with Ke$ha, the singer whose desire to express the condition of being young and at a party knows no bounds. Recently, Cyrus also announced her intention to perform a "naked show" with The Flaming Lips as a form of radical political protest against PMRC censorship. Only joking, that was Rage Against The Machine in 1992. This lot are doing it because they're a bunch of streaking plonkers.
But wait. Before we summon the sheriff of psych to castigate Coyne for his complicity, what if the shaggy songsmith is up to something else? What if The Flaming Lips are sacrificing their own integrity with a bigger, nobler purpose in mind? Perhaps The Flaming Lips are sprinkling their musical hundreds & thousands over Miley to illuminate further her sheer awfulness, alerting us to the danger, in the hope of having her permanently exiled by a giant metaphorical pooper scooper into the dog-waste bin of popular culture? Either way, we shouldn't get our tie-dyed knickers in too much of twist. As argued by Rob Chapman, the author of Psychedelia And Other Colours, every counter-culture is inevitably appropriated by the mainstream. There's no way of preventing it and it isn't worth losing sleep over, even if all the acts below will eventually feature on the soundtrack to The Fast & The Furious 17: Drag-Race At Joshua Tree, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Until then, sprinkle on you crazy diamondz.
Evil Blizzard - Everybody Come To Church
(Louder Than War)
If you're among the ex-subscribers of Paul Raymond's long-defunct niche jazz-mag Portly Topless Gents Wearing Halloween Costumes And Stroking Bass Guitars, then Evil Blizzard are the band for you, you utter pervert. They have five masked bassists and a masked drummer, one of whom flaunts a pig mask, so he might want to steer clear of any Piers Gaveston induction meetings if you know what I mean. "You dress like your Dad," the 'Blizzard scoff on the first track 'Are You Evil?' while looking themselves like the pound-shop Slipknot. Well, everybody knows you can find some tidy bargains down the Poundland and in this instance I'll happily consume the budget product over the extortionately inferior Waitrose version. Whereas Slipknot scream phrases like "I PUSH THE NEEDLE INTO MY EYE" over nu-metal rehashery while not actually inserting any sharp objects into their bloodshot peepers, Evil Blizzard yell, "You are stupid people", which is far more believable. They also have a song called 'Laughing Gas', which is about inhaling laughing gas, and begins thusly: "Breathe the laughing gas / HAHAHAHAHA / Will you make it last? / HAHAHAHAHA / It will make you high / HAHAHAHAHA / Higher than the sky / HAHAHAHAHA..." I'd like to see Corey Taylor pen something anywhere near as profound as that. Barely meddling with the blueprint that made their debut LP such a bizarre joy, again Evil Blizzard embellish layers of the chunkiest bass riffs with spacey Hawkwind swirls and rowdy Lydon-like sneers. Although reliance on their numerous basses may limit the sonic textures and many of their tunes adopt a similarly, lumberingly mid-paced tempo, tracks like the record's phat centrepiece 'Sacrifice' stand out as particularly powerful examples of the unruly mob's admirably uncompromising formula. Incidentally, this record was brought to you thanks to the outstanding production work of Richard McNamara from Embrace. And if you think that's surprising, you must be unfamiliar with his band's forgotten 'Bunker Song' from their experimental post-Britpop second record, Drawn From Memory.
Fuzz - II
(In The Red)
A veritable Svengali of modern psych, alongside making solo music and running his GOD? Records imprint, Ty Segall plays in a million side-projects, including Fuzz, in which he drums. Rolling along like some White Stripes-meets-Mudhoney supergroup, Fuzz remain firmly inside (the garage) as opposed to out there (in space). The vocals emanate from a permanently bunged-up face. The guitars are fuzzy, sure, if not the fuzziest you'll ever hear. The organ sound, when present, is pleasantly groovy. Clearly, there wasn't a single person present at the recording who was remotely bothered about how damp the drums sounded, not even Segall himself, which is to his credit. Aside from the closing 14-minute wigathon, the songs feel written, rather than impro-jammed, although written on the fly and certainly not sweated over. 'Pipe' is so Sabbath it might as well be gnawing on the neck of a plastic bat. It's pretty rudimentary stuff, containing the odd surprise, such as the incongruous string-section sample that appears on the penultimate number. We might view bands like Segall's as gateway groups to more challenging and fulfilling psych. After all, you can't learn to read simply by thumbing your way through War And Peace. You've got to build up to that level of depth and complexity by easing yourself in with some phonics-based elementary reading. Perhaps they should call themselves Fuzzbuzz.
Gun Outfit - Dream All Over
(Paradise Of Bachelors)
I don't know if Gun Outfit strictly class as psych rock but I'm loathe to define the term anyway and frankly this release is a whole barrel of lovely however you pigeonhole it. Arguably, it's more psych-Americana than psych-ROCK per se but who's complaining when Henry Barnes from Amps For Christ and Man Is The Bastard appears on the recording brandishing no fewer than three homemade sitars? If you consider the Jim O'Rourke years to be Wilco's greatest era, then a) you'd be right, and b) Dream All Over could be right up your dusty street. Imagine if Calexico were a looser shambles or, conversely, if MV & EE could peel themselves out of their hot-rocked beanbags for a half an hour to focus their pupils. Staggering somewhere between those two, the album's first track rattles along like Meat Puppets riding convoy with Neu!'s rhythm section. With its jangling intro, 'Legends Of My Own' initially threatens to rewrite Pavement's 'Box Elder' before it swerves off into the different direction of a laid-back alt-country lullaby about deserts, blankets and loneliness. Sharing vocals with Carrie Keith, Dylan Sharp has a drawl to die for, especially when he's burring out lines about "trying to buy some time to fuck around". This complements the former, who sounds breathier and relatively less gnarled. Keith is the Honey Owens to Sharp's Tom Greenwood, if you'll excuse the Jackie-O Motherfucker reference. Most of Dream All Over's cuts are under four minutes long but they feel lengthier, in a good way, twisting and writhing around, with the guitars, sitars and other bits and pieces of stringed wooden apparatus weaving in and out of one another like a rustic Sonic Youth with one ear to India, as East meets Wild West.
Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation - Horse Dance
Like Dream All Over, Horse Dance has a strong opener in 'Dunes'. The track's repetitive backing throbs make it virtually impossible to resist nodding along. What do you call it when you end up nodding along with the whole of your physical frame? A full body nod? That's what I was doing anyway. As with Gun Outfit, there's a Neu! thing going on here but this time it's executed in a far cleaner, less ragged and fuzz-free way. It's the kind of glistening psych you'd imagine that bloke from LCD Soundsystem streams through his 4G lapel button while designing luxury furniture or whatever he does these days. The music floats along like a Phil Manley or Jonas Munk solo release, albeit with a charismatic Swedish lass whispering over the top, Josefin sounding cool to the point of jaded disinterest. I realise I'm unintentionally making Horse Dance come across as an odious hipster elevator soundtrack, a maliciously gentrifying corruption of the nebulous Rocket label, but it's actually really neat because you can't just listen to hairy males stomping on distortion pedals all your life, mate. Historically, psych-rock has been a proper sausage fest and the likes of Josefin Öhrn (and Carrie Keith, see above) show there are viable alternatives to the vacuous psych of the Cyruses.
Capra Informis - Womb Of The Wild
I am reliably informed that Capra Informis is Latin for "shapeless goat", which is apt because this is a new project from one member of the Swedish world-music psych-fusion collective Goat, specifically their "unnamed djembe player". Oh, if only more groups had an unnamed djembe player. "Put your hands together for Bono, The Edge, Larry, Adam and their unnamed djembe player!" "Ariana Grande's new single features guest verses from Nicki Minaj and an unnamed djembe player." "This year's NME Godlike Genius Award goes to The Vaccines' unnamed djembe player!" You get the picture. Mind you, I don't even know what "djembe" means. Apparently it's some kind of hand-played goblet drum contraption made with, appropriately enough, goatskin. No wonder that goat's gone a bit shapeless, then. He's had his skin flayed off for percussive purposes, the poor kid. Maybe it's too early to judge from this slight EP but I may like its shapeless side-project more than the proper, solidly-formed Goat. The latter band can be excessively exuberant at times, whereas Womb Of The Wild stays slow, understated and om-like. The first song's a meditative chant with blurred edges. The title piece is more riff-based and nasty-sounding, with sinister hints of Dead Skeletons or the Tomahawk tracks where Mike Patton channels his Native American ancestry. The organ-licious final number, on the other hand, sounds like a missing scene from Phantom Of The Opera where Erik naffs off to a Moroccan hippy retreat for some much-needed holistic bongo therapy.
The Silence - Hark The Silence
Not to be confused with County Durham's pop-rockin' Paramore-wannabes of the same name, The Silence are the latest project from Masaki Batoh of Ghost, by which I mean the Japanese experimental free-psych band and not those cheesy Hammer Horror rockers, also called Ghost, who write songs like 'Mummy Dust' and 'Devil Church'. In contrast, Tokyo's Ghost had songs like 'Water Door Yellow Gate' and 'A Day Of The Stoned Sky In The Union Zoo', whereas The Silence plump for song titles such as 'Ancient Wind Part 1 & 2', 'Breath Figure' and 'Ancient Wind Part 3', which is much more like it. Calling themselves The Silence is ludicrous in itself. If they wanted to be that misleading, they might as well have called themselves The Nothing Happens At All Really. Or The Not Much To Hear Here. Or The George Ezras. Because, you know, they're basically the opposite. It's hard to think of many styles, sounds or types of instrument that haven't been hurled into the mix here as The Silence veer from fluty jazz fusion with fruity time signatures, through more minimalist dustbowl acoustics, to space-rock with saxophone additives. Somehow, this unexpectedly cohesive record never grows too awkwardly busy or jarringly schizophrenic. Its only misstep is the Roxy Music-lite reinterpretation of Damon & Naomi's 'Little Red Record Company', on which the saxophone becomes a little too sentimental, in the Pink Floyd vein.
Dodmen - Azimuth
You'd be forgiven for worrying that a pitch-black cassette issued by a label called Extreme Ultimate might sound like 19-year-old gun nut in a Burzum t-shirt grunting about totalitarian nunneries. Though nowhere near as barbaric as that, it's true that Dodmen toy with the darker side of psych. Unlike that dodgy Silence track I just mentioned, Dodmen have discarded most of the bloated corpse of Pink Floyd, feasting only on the darkest bile scraped from the depths of its ruptured gall bladder. 'The Old Straight' is a glacial-paced instrumental, somewhere between the actual dark side of the moon (as opposed to the Disney-fied Floyd portrayal) and the light side of the Sunn O))). Despite its heavy, near-funky bass and delicate Eddie Hazel guitar licks, 'Drawn Circle' also possesses a murky tone, thanks partly to the quietly dramatic addition of gothy, baritone vocals. 'Blood On Stone' is the jauntiest (and shortest) thing here, a bit like Eternal Tapestry jamming with Heavy Blanket over one of Michael Moorcock's Hawkwind poems. 'Alice' is not a cover of Sunn O)))'s track of the same name, although it is similarly inspired by the great Alice Coltrane, who has become the go-to muse for a great number of weirdo musicians of various genres in recent years. Dodmen's 'Alice' sounds like Ted Hughes' Iron Man (or Woman) lunging through a barren industrial wasteland, scattering earth and rusty shopping trolleys in its wake. Azimuth is mostly improvised. Dodmen are inspired by ley lines. Their cassette's cover is an Alfred Watkins photograph of his assistant, WM McKaig, lying on a sacrificial stone below "Giant's Cave". It's all enough to make Julian Cope himself start to salivate. The Archdrude drools.
Wolf Eyes - I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces
It turns out that Wolf Eyes are right bunch of hippies. Back in the day, they used to terrify listeners with their pure blasts of ear-splitting noise music. Their last album hinted towards a calmer direction but was still pretty chilling. Despite its anxious title, this new one is their mellowest yet, its atmosphere is warmer and trippier and, dare I say it, almost cuddly. The music creeps forth slowly and scuzzily, in no rush to get anywhere. Nate Young's vocals could almost pass for spoken word, if the vowels weren't so drawn out and the mic less distorted. This stylistic softening can be partly attributed to the presence of new-ish guitarist Jim Baljo, a bohemian-lookin' hairy fella who tenderly noodles his instrument throughout most of this LP, with the exception of the penultimate 'Enemy Ladder' on which he unleashes a sleazy, repetitive riff evoking Detroit City's fine garage rock traditions. Basically, this album sounds like The Stooges snakecharming John Carpenter in a moon gravity atmosphere. These are echoes of Wolf Eyes' (and Detroit's) earlier screams. If Wolf Eyes were at one point the noise scene's Sex Pistols, they've gradually evolved into its Public Image Ltd: ostensibly more accessible and palatable but with an ongoing fervour for experimentation and undying need to challenge listeners' expectations. Even if that means introducing woodwind. Other affiliates of yesterday's noise scene are doing similar things, such as Clay Rendering in which ex-Wolf Eyes member Mike Connelly and his wife Tara mix dream pop, black metal and ambience, exploiting dark, Cure-esque atmospheres and comatose tempos. The last Prurient album, too, although boasting several tracks of violent white-noise horror, even featured a truly shocking acoustic guitar. Are they regressing? Compromising? Selling out? By adding extra colours to their sonic palates and mining a broader range of emotions, while abandoning sheer adolescent aggression, they're creating music that, despite being vaguely more "normal" or "traditional", is arguably the most thrilling of their career(s). What's more, with this follow-up to 2013's No Answer: Lower Floors, Wolf Eyes commendably continue their quest to resurrect the use of the colon in album titles. They're also signed to Jack White's record label. Does he listen to Wolf Eyes at home in Nashville? What's going on? I don't care: I love it.
Six Organs Of Admittance - Hexadic II
Tom Carter - Long Time Underground
Finally, let's take it down a notch with two serener releases to act as the light, foamy pudding after the above eight-course menu of pork, horsemeat, plastic bat and goat-flesh. Earlier this year, Ben Chasny unveiled his new "Hexadic" method of musical composition, a chance-based system that uses a deck of playing cards to determine songwriting. The first Hexadic-based album from Chasny's Six Organs Of Admittance project was a ragged and electrified affair, galloping all over the field like an undomesticated Crazy Horse. It's unclear whether the cards told Chasny to do it, but this sequel is acoustic. Given the unconventional compositional techniques, it's not an entirely relaxing listen. Some of the Hexadically-dictated guitar notes collide somewhat awkwardly, especially to ears accustomed to the staid conventions of traditional Western pop music. So if you're a film executive looking for a theme tune to your upcoming Deer Hunter remake, you won't find it here. However, Chasny's ghostly vocals do temper the random jazziness of the guitar patterns and the results, if you'll let them, can feel oddly hypnotic as well as invigorating.
After a very serious health scare in 2012, Charalambides' Tom Carter is making music again so praise be to the psych-Gods and -Goddesses who decided it wasn't his time, not to mention the more manifest doctors and nurses who brought him back from the brink. Praise be, also, to our good friends at Three Lobed for releasing this double-vinyl gem. Apparently, Long Time Underground is Carter's first ever solo studio recording, which is surprising for a man with such an extensive Discogs entry but I suppose many of his previous releases were in partnership with players like Robert Horton and recorded live in strange basements. Because of its back-story, it's hard to be objective about this record. How can we avoid projecting onto it the idea that these pieces are instrumental expressions of the life-changing effects of Carter's near-fatal experience? How can we not bask in the life-affirming glory of the 22-minute opening track 'August Is All' as it flickeringly builds to its cathartic midpoint before fading back to a glowing ember? How can 'Prussian Book Of The Dead' not send shivers through your mortality bone and foster fuzzy feelings in your empathy gland? Long Time Underground was recorded by Carter using a single guitar, with no overdubs, an astonishing feat given the range of depths and textures on display, the likes of which your average Loren Connors-worshipping experimental guitar septet would struggle to recreate. Here's hoping he's still got a long time over ground.
Next time: is homebrew killing psych?