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Columnfortably Numb: The Best Psych-Rock Of 2017
JR Moores , December 11th, 2017 08:34

Trying not to get too distracted by what’s on his tellybox, JR Moores rounds up his top ten psych records of the year

Deepest sympathies to all those psych musicians who thought 2017 was a suitable year to release their latest opus. Picture the scene. You spend weeks fiddling pedantically with different combinations of distortion pedal to achieve the optimum fuzz-to-wah ratio. You strive to claw the very best takes out of your slipshod band members by whipping them into an entranced frenzy using the most cruelly Beefheartian of tactics and hope the tape's rolling when they hit their fevered peak. You fork out for that bloke from Hair Police who's designed all the brightest and craziest album covers of recent times. You work your fingers to the goddamn bone touring the smelliest of venues promoting that niche record that nobody's heard as part of the ongoing struggle to reach a bigger audience and become the next Animal Collective. Backstage at Liverpool Psych Fest, you have to endure chatting to a monosyllabic beshaded Englishman who was big in the 90s and whose ego won't allow him to recognise he's no longer the bee's knees.

Commiserations. You slaved away ticking all those boxes only to be upstaged by that mad bastard coral reef from the BBC's Blue Planet II. Don't beat yourself up about it. Hawkwind's Space Ritual tour, the trippy vortex towards the end of Kubrick's 2001, and the complete bootleg recordings of The Grateful Dead all pale in comparison to that mad bastard coral reef from Blue Planet II. Did you see it? It included several new, never before filmed, actual colours.

I once knew a bloke who had experienced an acid trip so intense that he swore a portal had opened itself up before his very eyes, giving him an unrequested glimpse into Hell itself, the sights within so ghastly they would’ve made Hieronymus Bosch weep for his mother or Clive Barker wince a little and go, "Well, that's a bit much." I daren't watch that mad bastard coral reef from Blue Planet II on Full HD just in case something of an equally harrowing nature happens to my mind.

Personally, I could've lived without Hans Zimmer's musical score. It was overblown, manipulating our emotions with its soaring strings as if to say that every single shot of every snaggletoothed walrus was supposed to give us immediate goosebumps and have us all sobbing into our tea in flabbergasted awe at the marvels of evolution.

Better suited to soundtracking Blue Planet II's mad bastard coral reefs, glowing crabs, Garibaldi fish and cunning octopi would have been the following records - which also happen to be my favourites, THE 10 BEST psych-rock albums released this year. Blast these cuts out your wireless Sonos HIFI system, Sir David!

Best Psych Of 2017

10. Beaches - Second Of Spring (Chapter Music)

The Australian supergroup Beaches mastered a broad range of styles on their third album, from shoegaze through new wave to krautrock and beyond. Select any one of its 17 tracks and you'll find it to be of equally high quality compared to any of the LP's other tracks you might've otherwise selected. Or just listen to whole album all the way through like we did in the old days.

9. Crown Larks - Population (Already Dead/Satellite)

This one should appeal to fans of space rock, no wave, Liars, Sonic Youth, Chicagoan post-rock, Oneida, harsh jazz, Dirty Projectors, Clipd Beaks and ringing ears. It sure is a freaky concoction and the record’s calculated chaos has continued to raise eyebrows over here at Columnfortably Numb Towers.

8. Richard Pinhas - Reverse (Bureau B)

On which the legendary French wizard triumphed over adversity, conquering certain personal setbacks to create this majestic space-drone cycle in collaboration with Oren Ambarchi and featuring contributions from Merzbow among others. Reverse proved so potent that at the time of its release it had me reminiscing about doomsaying clairvoyants and going bananas in a public space . I haven't really come down since.

7. Wolf Eyes - Undertow(Lower Floor)

There are no wolves in the ocean so if this one appeared on the soundtrack to Blue Planet II, it would have to be used for a big old shark who's stalked around for decades with a crazed toothy grin on its face and a discarded harpoon sticking out of its neck. The Detroit noise merchants have grown mellower with age and experience but they're no less radical, exciting or boundary-pushing. They've basically eroded into world's spookiest and scuzziest beatnik jazz band. Gnarly! (As they might say in Michigan, possibly.)

6. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - Feed The Rats

Pigs might fly but can they roar? And can they roar for 15 minutes at a time without it getting remotely tedious? These seven can. They're not really seven pigs but a group of humans from the Northeast. If you like Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Hawkwind, Sleep and being trapped in a headlock by a man who's covered in sludge and wearing a Pumbaa mask, this'll be right up your street.

5. Circle - Terminal (Southern Lord)

Circle is the long-running Finnish act which defies explanation, clarification, categorisation or definition. With different lineups and their own made-up language, they've been knocking around since 1991 and this year's Terminal is a contender for their greatest album yet. At various points you could compare Terminal's energetically shape-shifting music to Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, the chants seeping through the walls of an extremely odd monastery, Can, The Stooges or Magma. But when it comes down to it, trying to describe Circle is like trying to make friends with the moon.

4. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Polygondwanaland (Heavenly)

With four Gizzard albums released so far this year and fifth one on its way, it's difficult to choose which of their psych-prog-folk-jazz recordings to place in this list (I've arbitrarily decided that each act is allowed only one entry). As I've already detailed elsewhere, the quality of each LP has been extraordinarily high. Sod it, I'll plump for the plentiful Polygondwanaland, though I suspect I might have only chosen that one on account of it being the most recent. Check them all out. Each one is super.

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

Co-founder of the Sublime Frequencies label, fanatical pro-smoker, part-time resident of Cairo, and ex-Sun City Girl Alan Bishop records under the alias Alvarius B. The material on With A Beaker On The Burner And An Otter In The Oven was available on one handy two-CD set or across three separate LPs. The songs were recorded mostly in Egypt with the assistance of The Invisible Hands and The Dwarfs Of East Agouza. Members of Seattle's Master Musicians Of Bukkake mucked in too. Bishop is the star of the show, however: lyrically wicked, vocally playful, sardonic, misanthropic, surprisingly tuneful and accessible, and generally at the top of his ruddy game. I’m hesitant to say that Bishop's is a joyous collection because the grimacing so-and-so would probably object to such soppy plaudits.

2. Bardo Pond - Under The Pines (Fire)

This year's Transformer 2 event in Manchester was a bit of a farce. By the time the event took place, it had been relocated from Victoria Warehouse to the Albert Hall and its long list of performers stripped down to just three acts: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Liars and Bardo Pond. Still a strong line-up, I suppose, but with the interminable Godspeed headlining, Liars and Bardo Pond were allotted 30-minute set times apiece. Into that half hour of sheer heaven, the cult Philadelphian geniuses managed to squeeze three tracks from Under The Pines, their latest in a long line of killer LPs. It's always a privilege to see them. I wish they could visit more often. I wish they had the clout to perform every track from their newest record with additional backcat highlights and then do six encores.

1. Flowers Must Die - Kompost

Writing about Kompost back in the springtime, I was tempted to say that if you only buy one psych-rock record this year then you should make it this. Have I revised my opinion? Don't think so. (Although again it needs to be stressed that you should be buying loads and loads of psych-rock records per annum, obviously. After all, those green splattered tri-coloured vinyls aren't going to purchase themselves. Oops, I just pluralised 'vinyl'. Call the psych police!) The power of this very rich record doesn't diminish with each occasion that it’s spun. New elements reveal themselves while familiar elements continue to thrill. Having just checked, it also has a running length that's slightly shorter than I thought and I always love a record that can make time itself go all squiffy. Seeing the Swedish collective perform at the close of Birmingham's Supersonic Festival in June was the icing on my kaleidoscopic cake. Flowers Must Not Die And Must Continue Rocking My Luminous Sandals Off Please.

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