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Columnfortably Numb: November Pre-Xmas Gift Guide PsychSpecial
JR Moores , November 13th, 2017 09:04

Taking a break from copywriting for the Betterware catalogue, JR Moores recommends suitable gifts for your psych-rocking loved ones.

Let’s face it, Santa Claus is a frazzled old hippy. Wearing a garishly bright outfit and sporting Jerry Garcia’s beard, he rates handcrafted wooden tops over newfangled computer consoles. He claims to see levitating, beacon-snouted reindeer and little dancing pixie fellows wherever he turns. And he’s into all that polygamous free-love tomfoolery as documented in the traumatising lyrics to 'I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus'. He even owes his entire existence to Siberian hallucinogenic mushrooms. You can’t get much more psychedelic than that.

As such, there's no relying on Saint Nicky for all your Christmas needs. Like a true hippy, the jolly sod only works for one night a year and even that tends to be focused solely on distributing presents to children (who have done nothing to deserve them) in exchange for glasses of milk and extramarital smooches. That leaves you, dear reader, with the quandary of what to buy the significant adults in your life such as your parents, siblings and that tie-dye-wearing slacker cousin who still insists on wearing smelly home-sewn sandals. Nevertheless, giving is always better than receiving so please see the present suggestions below which I have helpfully deemed suitable for the psych-rock fan you know and love or can at least tolerate.

(Of course if you're anywhere near as organised as I am, you'll have already purchased every requisite Christmas present back at the beginning of August and can smugly spend the ensuing weeks with your feet up watching Jack Black seduce Kate Winslet in ITV2's continuous reruns of 2006's The Holiday while the less prepared flock into the town centre in order to shove each other into passing traffic, curse at shop assistants and queue to have their photograph taken in front of the chuffing Coca-Cola truck.)

Happy Something!

Watter - History Of The Future
(Temporary Residence)

Praise be to Louisville, Kentucky, for no other place on Earth has given us all of the following: Slint, Will Oldham, Rodan, The For Carnation, Papa M, Hunter S Thompson and Muhammad Ali. Watter is what you might call a local Louisville superdupergroup, with its core members being Zak Riles (Grails), Britt Walford (Slint) and Tyler Trotter (Phantom Family Halo). Their recordings are also peppered with guest appearances from eminent names such as Tortoise's Bundy K Brown and Rachel Grimes of Rachel's fame. File it under post-rock if you must but the reference points throughout History Of The Future have little in common with The Explosions That Will Destroy You Black Emperor In The Sky. It's more like a collaborative soundtrack written by John Carpenter, Goblin, Tangerine Dream and RZA for a film in which the plucky underdog anti-hero is trailing a baddie cowboy robot he saw pictured on a flickering electronic “Wanted” poster. In fact, I'm pretty certain that if Watter's cyber-spaghetti grooves had been used for the score to Jonathan Nolan’s po-faced and self-important reboot of Westworld then I might have made it further than Episode 4 before the Now TV trial pass expired.

For fans of: Grails; Barn Owl; watching dystopian 80s sci-fi thrillers with a belly full of ‘special stew’.

Upper Wilds - Guitar Module 2017
(Thrill Jockey)

Dan Friel should be hailed as a modern-day maverick in the same league as David Lynch. By labelling him Lynchian, I do not mean that Friel is obsessed with sinister synthesizer motifs, unresolved subplots, wistful dreampop or writing down his nightmares as ‘scripts’. What Friel does, a little like Lynch, is to dabble in arch wonky weirdness while simultaneously making a direct appeal (however successful or otherwise) to mass popularity. What's more, Friel manages to pull the whole thing off in a way that'll leave any right-minded person gasping for breath. If most musicians attempted to balance those two extremes, it'd take them a lifetime to get their track anywhere near half decent and the result would still sound like some shoddy Black Dice demo. Not the case for this ex-Parts & Labor eccentric whose latest project, as its title indicates, returns emphasis to the guitar following a series of electronic solo albums.

Guitar Module 2017 is full of pop songs. Or pop-punk songs. Or post-punk pop songs. They're catchy little numbers like REM, Hüsker Dü or The Replacements could bash out in their prime. If you wanted, you could easily transfer these compositions to the acoustic guitar then perform them near a crackling campfire and encourage a troop of marshmallow-spearing cub scouts to sing along. Friel takes his succinct pop ditties and then smashes them round with all manner of audio madness. Writhing in the busy resultant racket are noises you might expect to find on a record by Boredoms, John Weise or Melt-Banana. But here they're all tied to the niftiest of tunes. Genius, that is. Genius.

For fans of: Robert Pollard; Dan Deacon; tumbling down a ravine while locked inside Michael Stipe's private Yakult fridge.

Causa Sui - Vibraciones Doradas
(El Paraiso)

Vibraciones Doradas is being marketed as an EP or a mini-album, although by my calculations it has the same number of tracks and only a slightly shorter running time than Causa Sui's last LP proper, 2016's Return To Sky. Granted, Vibraciones Doradas is considerably more succinct than the triple-vinyl live record they put out earlier this year. Be it boxset or extended play, you kinda know what you're gonna get with any given Causa Sui release: spaced-out instrumental jamz built around desert-rock riffs of the phattest degree featuring occasional passages of mellower fluidity.

While you might have some idea of what to expect, Causa Sui will never deliver substandard goods. Lurking within all the stoner fuzz and Bonham beats this time round are synthier sections and the odd nod to ambient krautrock; these influences may have passed via osmosis from the band members' various jazzy solo projects. The album finishes on a much crunchier note with the title track, on which Causa Sui take a wide, slow, moonwalking leap into outright doom territory.

For fans of: Eternal Tapestry; Kyuss minus the vocal tracks; that bit in The Simpsons when Homer eats the Guatemalan Insanity Pepper and befriends a talking coyote.

Gunn-Truscinski Duo - Bay Head
(Three Lobed)

As always, we probably have Sonic Youth to thank. During their tenure as major-label art-rock imperialists they always took the time to continue releasing obscure freenoise solo and side projects with far more limited appeal than the hit video to ‘Dirty Boots’. It's warming to see today's psych-folksters carrying the baton with aplomb. Take Ryley Walker, who's followed-up his popularly acclaimed Golden Songs That Have Been Sung with a second instalment of guitar duets with Bill MacKay. Same goes for Steve Gunn. He may have made a splash with his ‘song-based’ recordings and signed to Matador but that hasn't stopped him from hooking up for the third time with drummer John Truscinski for a collection of abstract instrumentals on the Three Lobed label. They range from wiry American Primitive acoustic patterns to wilder, skronked-out moods (sometimes in the course of a single track) with Truscinski's big sweet beats acting as the perfect foil to Gunn's riffs, licks, strums and finger-picking trickery.

Who better to compose Bay Head's linernotes, then, than Kim Gordon? She writes that Gunn's playing “leads you along a contemplative path that describes an inner monologue that is more expressive than if there were words”, adding that the duo's timeless-yet-not-nostalgic music is the perfect accompaniment for sipping coffee and procrastinating. It is not our place to contradict Kim Gordon.

For fans of: Jack Rose; Tom Carter; pretending to be as cool as Kim Gordon.

Saicobab - Sab Se Purani Bab
(Thrill Jockey)

By my calculations there hasn't been a proper Boredoms album released in yonks. Instead, the Japanese experimentalists have chosen to concentrate on grander live events, which might involve big glowing noise orbs, a huge seven-necked guitar and more drummers than a drum convention. Luckily for those of us who don't get out much, Yoshimi Yokota (currently known as YoshimiO) still feels the urge to get material down on tape including albums by her OOIOO project and this debut offering from Saicobab. Apparently the quartet formed back in 2001, so even this one has taken blooming ages. It’s worth the wait. Sab Se Purani Bab is inspired by the similarities between Indian and Japanese traditions and uses sitar, double bass and tambourine played in odd-numbered rhythms to accompany YoshimiO's exuberantly spontaneous vocals. Compared to Boredoms’ bulging orchestras that might sound decidedly minimalist but the results are equally grand and far-out.

For fans of: Boredoms; OOIOO; moaning about the conservative choice of world music act on Jools Holland every week.

Perhaps - V
(Riot Season)

An acquaintance of mine once witnessed Stephen Malkmus browsing through the stock of a record shop in Newcastle. I'm told the Pavement/Jicks man would tentatively lift selected LPs out of the display crates and hold them in front of his face for a few seconds (or maybe even a few minutes) as if he had the power to preview the sounds contained therein by sucking them telepathically from the silent jacket directly into his brain.

Any connoisseur of psych can see that it’s going to be worth dropping the needle on V from its cover alone. It carries an illustration of an outstretched palm with a big old eyeball where the stigmata might be (except that as we all know crucifixion nails were banged into the wrists and not the palms because palms wouldn't hold the weight of a condemned adult). Basically, V looks like something The Residents might put out so it's obviously going to be cool.

Thus, instead of placing it on the turntable I decided to run an experiment and hold the LP in front of my face for 37 minutes while wearing a plaid shirt and a post-grunge cravat. What did I experience? A seriously deep trip during which I heard a multi-member ensemble crafting a gradually unwinding and slightly prog-tinged tapestry of killer kosmische grooves in real time, complete with globular synth tones and a right freaky sax sound. By Jove, it actually works. Thanks Malkmus!

For fans of: Can; Hawkwind instrumentals; the mindreading of inanimate objects.

Alvarius B - With A Beaker On The Burner And An Otter In The Oven
(Abduction)

Despite being a supremely talented guitarist-singer-songwriter, Alan Bishop has never had the problem of attracting more fans than he could tolerate. Both in Sun City Girls and with subsequent endeavours, Bishop's work has flaunted an uncompromising mixture of impressive musicality, cross-genre pollination, semi-ironic pastiches, off-colour humour, frequent absurdism and a sneering irrelevance towards all and sundry. He's a bit like Frank Zappa if Frank Zappa wasn’t adored by millions.

Bishop also possesses a lyrical dexterity rarely found outside the best and most surreal of rap verses. Take this as an example of a line you're unlikely to find on the next Blossoms LP: “Watch out for four-eyed DJs who don't smoke and never pee / And my academic vocabulary exclusivity.”

With three LPs’ worth of material compiled onto a double CD, this set offers more to digest than a fat trucker's pile of breakfast pancakes. For me the highlights so far have included 'Smokin' To Live' (a defiantly pro-tobacco anthem which would certainly have had Bill Hicks circa 1990 punching the air in foggy-lunged agreement) as well as the blemished prettiness of a chorusless track called 'The Reason'.

Most of the songs are based around Bishop's acoustic guitar; many of them embellished by collaborators from The Invisible Hands, The Dwarfs Of East Agouza and Master Musicians Of Bukkake. The rockiness is cranked up a touch on the tracks from the third LP which Bishop describes as the most “fucked-up” of the trio (and arguably the best). Even before that, the quality is remarkably high and noticeably accessible with Bishop wearing his pop-sensibility hat across most of the 35 tracks.

It's also worth reading Bishop's blurb to each LP to gain valuable insights such as “if you're not a moron, I don't mind if you buy this record. I made more copies than I have fans so I need to expand on the audience a bit but I don't want fucking idiots buying my albums.” So if you are purchasing this one as a Christmas present, please make sure the intended recipient is not a fucking moron.

For fans of: Sun City Girls; The Mothers Of Invention; not quitting nicotine.

Hawkwind - At The Roundhouse
(Cherry Red)

Hawkwind Roundhouse 2017

Good morning folks! Here is a little teaser from our Roundhouse show this year.. Enjoy!

Posted by Hawkwind on Saturday, September 2, 2017

Show me psych-rock fan and I'll show you a person who can never own too many Hawkwind live recordings. Hawkwind's one hit, ‘Silver Machine’, was recorded at London's Roundhouse and 45 years later the band's current incarnation returned to that venue for a concert captured on this 2CD/DVD package. Interesting though it is to hear the rocketeers’ tracks performed in softer fashion, the first three numbers are a little too MTV Unplugged for my tastes, but it picks up as soon as the 12-minute rendition of 'Born To Go' kicks in with its lunar riffs and special effects.

The setlist combines tracks from Hawkwind's recent studio albums with older classics and climaxes with a guest appearance from Motörhead guitarist Phil ‘Wizzo’ Campbell paying tribute to the much-missed Lemmy Kilmister.

I haven't watched the DVD yet but I hear it’s a one-camera shot taken from the middle of the sound desk. No complaints there as most Hawkwind fans have other methods at their disposal to enhance visual stimulation if required. A lot of people have assumed that ‘Silver Machine’ is about a rocket ship that can travel through time and space. As you're probably already aware, it was actually inspired by lyricist Rob Calvert's childhood bicycle. A pushbike can also make for an excellent Christmas present by the way. You're most welcome.

Next time: why recruiting Charlotte Marionneau to play the scissors for The High Flying Birds is the best decision Noel Gallagher has ever made

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