Columnfortably Numb: July In Psych/Noise Rock By JR Moores
, June 27th, 2016 08:25
JR Moores finds comfort in an international selection of psych-rock releases before the UK fully isolates itself and then outlaws all music that isn't made by decent, ordinary, real, hardworking people like Olly Murs
There's a Barclaycard advert on the tellybox at the moment in which Britain's foremost voiceover artist and sometime panel show contestant David Mitchell asserts in his gently authoritative tone that "we" (i.e. the British) "invented the queue, for heaven's sake". Well sorry Barclaycard but j'aimerais préciser que c'est de la connerie totale, as they might say across the Channel. We Britons may have taken to it like an orderly line of mallards to an alluringly-sized body of H2O but the queue is actually a French invention. The clue is in the word "queue", which couldn't be less English if it was painted tricolour and doused in delicious garlic butter. This obviously isn't the worst national myth that's raised its ugly Little Englander head during the incredibly sinister period of the EU referendum debate but it's one of many irritating inaccuracies. And it's all the more irritating now Britain has succumbed to the inner Alan Partridge of its collective consciousness and elected to cut itself off from our European siblings in a bigoted blaze of anti-Other bullshit bravado.
Naturally, my own principal concern is the effect that Brexit will have on psych rock. Many of the busiest vinyl pressing plants are in central and eastern Europe so all those beautiful psych LPs you like to order will be much costlier to import and you won't be able to afford them anyway because the pound is now worthless and psychedelic music itself all sounds a bit liberal, alien and subversive so our future Prime Minister Nigel Farage will no doubt ban it like a certain notorious 20th-century leader did with Schoenberg's music and jazz. Before that happens, copyright and travel laws will make it harder for noisy British bands to reach the EU market and vice versa. The rhythm section of the London-based psych outfit Desert Mountain Tribe are at threat of being deported swiftly back to their Cologne homeland. If the singer from Travis is forced to return from his own current base in Berlin, that in itself will make our country significantly less psychedelic. At the risk of sounding like AA Gill, I'm not convinced that closer economic ties with communist China will do an awful lot for advancing the cause of psychedelia (1). What about relations with the US? Well, maybe. They can be pretty handy with a fuzzbox. But let's not forget the importance that European innovations have had on the development of psych. If it wasn't for continental influences such as krautrock (or to call it by its less offensive native name, kosmische musik), British psychedelia would almost certainly have remained a hell of a lot more 'Arnold Layne'-ly quaint than it is today. Psychedelia is a European project, as well as local one, an international one and in many cases a flipping glorious Martian one. Isolating ourselves just isn't hip, man. Turn on, tune in, don't drop out of the EU for heaven’s sake.
(1) There is in fact a Chinese psych-rock underground and like literally everybody else I don't really know what I'm talking about.
H.U.M. - Trinity Way
Let's begin in suitably cosmopolitan style with a pan-European project which goes by the name of H.U.M. Its members are Gnod associate Mark Wagner, the Italian-born Olmo Uiutna and France's Héloïse Zamzam. Trinity Way's opening track is all ominous drones, spacey swirling sounds, random percussive chimes and spoken-word lyrics evoking Michael Moorcock's Hawkwind guest spots. The word "love" is chanted several times which is a pleasant enough sentiment but the creepy music suggests that this hippy fiesta is on the verge of inverting to its Manson-esque flipside of abuse, indoctrination and violence. You can imagine the vocal track was recorded while wearing blood-red robes embroidered with patterns of goats. The following number is sung in French which makes the vibe extra suave/ sophisticated/ sexy/ Satrean/ sinister/ shiraz-sozzled (delete according to your own prejudices). It's actually a reworking of Françoise Hardy's 'Comment Te Dire Adieu' that's been rendered completely unrecognisable from the Austin Powers-friendly pop ditty original and twisted into something significantly more unearthly. 'Welcome To The Sea', meanwhile, is part-Stooges, part-Coil and part bad-trip poetry slamdown and elsewhere there's a whole lotta chanted avant-garde occult-ritual drone work, including a climactic composition which sounds like a transistor radio trying to hypnotise some bagpipes into suffocating Current 93's David Tibet as he sleeps soundly on his bed of nails.
Mythic Sunship - Ouroboros
What have they been putting in Denmark's water? At the rate the Danes are going, there'll soon be little feasible use for California. Causa Sui have been churning out record after record of exuberantly sun-drenched psych jams alongside their various solo projects that range from jazzy one-man "drums versus synths" experiments to lengthy modular kosmische pieces. The label they run, El Paraiso, also puts out tastily-packaged LPs by like-minded acts including this new one from Copenhagen quartet Mythic Sunship. Their name is an amalgamation of works by John Coltrane and Sun Ra but this ain't no saxophonic free-jazz bebop trip. It's a three-part, 50-minute instrumental jamathon packed with dual desert-rock fuzz riffs, wobblingly thick Sabbathian basslines and lughole-pounding drumbeats. Its appropriately-titled final track 'Leviathan' is a 22-minute melting pot of screeching amplifier feedback, tight-skinned tribal beats, deep-as-the-ocean bass tremors and blissed-out doom-tinged freestyle axe madness. By the time the needle lifted, I'd sweated all the way through my stench-ridden Lester Bangs-style vest even though it was a grey, cloudy and pretty chilly day and I'd pre-emptively coated my pits in aromatic antiperspirant.
Blaak Heat - Shifting Mirrors
What have they been putting in France's water? And what have they been putting LA's water for that matter? According to my tin-hatted cousin, the NWO has been feeding fluoride into the water supply across the globe as part of its totalitarian system of mass mind control. This begs the question, how crazy would bands like Blaak Heat sound if they weren't having their brains sedated by conspiratorial fluoridation? Blaak Heat were formed in Paris by Spindrift alumnus Thomas Bellier, presumably in the desert quarter of that city, and are now based in Los Angeles, presumably its most Middle Eastern district. They're essentially a trio who sound more like a small multinational town in the way they mix stoner-rock riffs with busier Turkish and Arabic folk patterns to create a massive Fu Manchu-meets-Sleep-meets-Secret Chiefs 3 sound complete with fruity time signatures and impressive blasts of lead virtuosity for all you shoulder-haired prog fans out there. Shifting Mirrors has been produced by Matt Hyde of Deftones, Slayer and Monster Magnet work so the sound is suitably huge and if anybody else has recorded a heavier version of the Afghan folk song 'Mola Mamad Djan' then I have yet to hear it.
RMFTM - Subversive II: Splendor Of The Wicked
RMFTM are "a Dutch art collective who approach music as avant-garde exploration", this being the second in a proposed trilogy of records on which they seek to "explore, deconstruct and subvert their creative process and themselves". That might sound disconcertingly over-intellectualised but, hey, their initials do stand for Radar Men From The Moon so maybe they're a lot of fun after all, like painting a window and some shiny buttons on a cardboard box, climbing inside its brown walls and pretending you're one of Earth's greatest living astronauts for the rest of the afternoon. At first, Subversive II is reminiscent of White Hills' brand of far-out space-rock, though there's other interesting stuff going on here, such as its post-punk Föllakzoid-ian basslines, the clanging industrial beats and spiky, repetitive no-wave guitar lines of the title track and various synthy bleeping noises throughout. RMFTM say they're inspired by acid house and Detroit techno as well as the likes of Amon Düül II and Can and, although they remain essentially too rock-based to be troubling the editors of Vice's dance-orientated Thump channel or receiving an invitation to teach a Red Bull-sponsored masterclass on Jeff Mills' white labels anytime soon, these influences have brought some unusual sounds and structures to the table and perhaps the Radar Men could do with drawing them out a little further next time round (though gladly they do become more pronounced as the album unfolds). For the time being, Subversive II proves powerful enough to convince me I'm Tim Peake until my potato waffles at teatime.
CCR Headcleaner - Tear Down The Wall
(In The Red)
When Richard Branson finally masters the art of time travel and gets his long-awaited Virgin Tardis project off the ground, one of the first bands I'll go back to see perform in their pomp because I missed them the first time round will be The Butthole Surfers, whose live shows and more general unhinged antics have become the stuff of legend, from terrorising Lollapalooza audiences to getting told off by Barry Hogan from ATP. Far too many bands these days wish to emulate the spirit of Bon Iver over the essence of Buttholes, yet there are healthy murmurings of a decent bad-acid noise-rock revival. Judging by the technical requests of their rider, Destruction Unit's current European tour promises to be quite the deafening spectacle and there's also hope to be found in this feral record by San Fran's CCR Headcleaner. So blotter-fried is this LP that it even ends with a mushy-minded ballad about having taken the brown acid that resembles Pod-era Ween trying to crawl their way out of a giant imaginary mucus-coated jam jar. Leading to that befuddled conclusion are a host of rockier numbers on which every instrument is deformedly distorted, the playing is looser than Boris Johnson's morals and the vocals slur wide-eyed and wildly about holes in the roof, rats in the kitchen, the inability to be destroyed, not being able to tell if it's day or night, and how "I'd die unheard before I compromised my work." Come the end of the year, Tear Down The Wall will definitely be among my favourite psych/noise rock releases of 2016 as long as repeated listens haven't turned my mind into a glowing mulch of snail goo by then.
Big Business - Command Your Weather
(Gold Metal/Joyful Noise)
Often when I'm watching some lame-ass garage-rock two-piece support band, I think to myself, "There's a reason why the best bands of all time have always had a minimum of three members" (no, The White Stripes do not count). Then I remember that there are quite a few brilliant noise-rock duos out there and I cease feeling so smug about my pithy observation. Having employed an additional guitar player on their last few recordings, Big Business have now regressed back to their original bass-plus-drums two-man line-up and have somehow managed to strip back without losing an iota of their dense meatiness.
Command Your Weather begins with a mellow intro piece called 'Last Legs' (and hopefully Big Business aren't on theirs) before the pair erupt into their signature fuzzy phat riffs, rolling drumbeats and anthemic, bearlike bellowing. They remind me of two barbarian kings who've teamed up to smash the skulls of a thousand orcs using maces so hefty that no real-life metrosexual man would be able to lift. To celebrate afterwards, they'd indulge in a banquet during which each member would consume a whole pig in a bun before spending the rest of the night and most of the early morning on some sort of debauched ravishing spree. Or something. They're heavy and hairy, all right? But they can also whistle. And they show a glimmer of their softer and more vulnerable side on the surprisingly tender 'Send Help'.
Jenks Miller & Rose Cross NC - Blues From WHAT
Let's wind things down for the last couple of releases with two rootsier affairs, if for no other reason than to provoke someone in the comments section to complain that none of these so-called "psychedelic" releases has succeeded in expanding their cranium to the point at which a vision of The Spaghetti Monster instructed them to invent a brand new colour by mixing a rainbow's core with yeti blood.
North Carolina's Jenks Miller plays in the alt-country band Mount Moriah and helms the more experimental project Horseback (think what Ry Cooder might sound like signed to Southern Lord). Rose Cross NC is the moniker Miller uses for his touring band although apparently this record is essentially a solo album with a little help from Elysse Miller's fingers on the keyboards. The first track melds the warm hum of a church organ, background crackling, the tooting of a recorder and guitars which do truly shimmer (in the Charalambides sense, not the U2 sense). It's a bit like early Jackie-O Motherfucker doing an improvisational rewrite of Neil Young's Dead Man soundtrack. Drums kick in as the opening piece segues into the title track, a noodly affair on which Miller plays spidery variations on a low-key blues riff, adding Southern Gothic lyrics in his smoky voice amidst retro organ moans and a rattling tambourine. This in turn segues into a Calexico-meets-Sonic Youth geetar jam with organ drones and minimalist drum beats stirring up the bleak atmosphere of that nicotine-stained Cormac McCarthy novel you picked up in a charity shop. The whole of Side Two is taken up by the drawn-out 'Scrying In Water', a raga-like meditation which is so laidback that even its feedback sounds stoned. Twinkly percussion tinkles away low in the mix alongside a soft bass sound with sharper drums and vocals turning up every now and then to prevent you from drifting off completely but the overall effect of this closing piece is more relaxing than a Bob Harris-narrated Radio 4 documentary about scented candles. Mmm, nice.
Steve Gunn - Eyes On The Lines
Like Jenks Miller, Steve Gunn has had experimental recordings released by the Three Lobed label but he's recently made the critically-acclaimed transition to what some might call "song-based material". Coupled with Gunn's earthy vocals, this move to a more conventional sound has made his music appear less obviously psychedelic than his early esoteric instrumentals. However, if you listen carefully you'll find that with the assistance of no fewer than eight backing musicians including cult pianist Hans Chew and Gunn's long-time collaborator John Truscinski, there are all kinds of subtly weird and wonderful shapes being pulled off here that you might not notice at first because they aren't all up your face like a squawking psych-rock jack-in-the-box. The album's concept is about environment and landscape, one's surroundings and the act of going outside and getting lost (an increasingly difficult thing to do when everybody has their own satellite navigation application uploaded to the tiny computer they carry around in their jeans and misleadingly refer to as their "phone"). Mind you, you don't necessarily have to leave the house to get lost, as I'm sure you already know. As our present-day Picasso and painter of purple plantation David Hockney once said, "in your head you can go anywhere, even the very edge of the universe". Eyes On The Lines' urban-Fairport-freak-folk textures transported me to all sorts of exotic places and planets and I never even left my sofa. I'd call that psychedelic.
Next time: we ask Iain Duncan Smith to select his 13 least-favourite releases from Vienna’s Editions Mego label