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Columnfortably Numb: Your Psych Roundup For October
JR Moores , October 3rd, 2018 10:53

While seeking transitory mental liberation through the latest psych-rock releases, JR Moores struggles to keep his clothes on for Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs

Listening to Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, I am reminded of the much-loved 90s romcom As Good As It Gets. In one pivotal scene (spoiler alert!), Jack Nicholson's misanthropic and obsessive-compulsive character finally confesses to the object of his affection, played by Helen Hunt, that she makes him “want to be a better man”.

Many of my favourite musical obsessions make me want to be, if not a better person in the strictest sense, then a rather different one. A wilder person. A more impulsive and spontaneous person. A person unconstrained by the fickle rules and etiquette of society and the polite shackles of English awkwardness.

Sometimes I'd like to act a little less “let me get myself out of your way, sorry, sorry, sorry, no, I'm so sorry” and a lot more “Lemmy from Motörhead is my name, I am dressed as a demonic cowboy biker from World War Two, and I have just poured a bottle of bourbon over the head of the guitarist from Sepultura.”

More specifically, Newcastle’s Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs make me want to take all my clothes off, lift both fists in the air, and charge up and down the middle of the train carriage so that hi-vis officers of the British Transport Police are waiting to collect me at the next station. It'll be a bit like that tense opening scene to the BBC’s hot recent drama series Bodyguard, only without any genuine threat of terrorism and a greater degree of pitiful nudity. In that sweet moment before I am apprehended by Her Majesty's Finest, only then will I feel truly free (albeit temporarily).

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs have a new record out. I have been listening to it an awful lot and haven’t had much sleep of late. Passengers are advised to avoid Transpennine Express until further notice.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - King Of Cowards (Rocket)

At what point does a band that started out as a bit of a giggle stop being a bit of a giggle and start being the finest psychedelic-doom-metal-sludge-stoner-space-rock beat combo in the whole flipping nation?

On album number two, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs offer up double the number of songs than last time round (ie six rather than three) and the track lengths are shorter. The 6Music-baiting sellouts! No matter. If 'Cake Of Light' doesn't pummel as relentlessly as the two 15-minute smashers that bookended last year's Feed The Rats, then you can simply repeat-play the track on a constant loop until your brain caves in on itself. Job done.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs are the latest stage in the evolution of Black Sabbath, or at least whatever the hell it was that Black Sabbath unleashed way back when. I don't mean heavy metal of course. I mean something stranger and more shamanistic. Something that lurks in the shadows before leaping out from an alleyway and chloroforming your pretty face so that when you wake up your irises have changed colour and you can no longer countenance Glastonbury.

Other evolutionary phases of The Sabbathian Mode have included the mischievous work of Melvins, Earth, Electric Wizard, and Sleep. Here, the riff is used not as a pathway to the next showboating guitar solo or chorus about some frivolous matter. The riff is the great glass elevator to a higher plane of something or other. Yet at the same time, the riff is taken to such extremes that it becomes not merely some solemn spiritual experience but one that’s also very silly, outrageous, and highly amusing. And by golly are there some despicable riffs on King Of Cowards. Slow riffs. Fast riffs. Big riffs. Small riffs. Thick riffs. Thicker riffs. Riffs the size of your head. Riffs the size of Easter Island’s heads. Riffs the size of Max Headroom’s head projected onto the cliffs of Beachy Head. Over these, Matt Baty barks stuff about the seven deadly sins, the concept of guilt, mouths, knees, and possibly toes. He does this, presumably, without his top on while sweating profusely from every pore on his body. I bet he knows a thing or two about temporary freedom. I want his job.

Universal Eyes - Four Variations on 'Artificial Society' (Trip Metal/Lower Floor)

The hirsute guitarist Crazy Jim Baljo is no longer a member of Wolf Eyes. Since learning this fact I have been in desperate need of an emergency telephone hotline similar to the one I had to call back when Robbie quit Take That. After all, the Baljo era of 2013 to 2017 has been one of the most exciting and fulfilling periods of the whole Wolf Eyes escapade. It was during this phase, after declaring noise music dead, that Wolf Eyes shifted over to the spindly makeshift jazz territory they call “trip metal”. If Baljo’s departure may come as a blow, some solace can be found in this release. It's a collaboration between remaining Wolfies Nate Young and John Olson, and Universal Indians personnel Aaron Dilloway (also ex-Wolf Eyes) and Gretchen Gonzales-Davidson.

This one will be right up your street if you like your vinyl grooves to be chock full of creepy scratching, abstract horn parps, vaguely mellow static noise, random-seeming percussive rumblings, wheezes of both the organic and electronic variety, and what might conceivably be a malevolent tambourine trying to break into a conspiracy theorist’s underground arsenal to thieve a couple of rusty mantraps. The jams are so free of structure that the record speed is said “to be determined by the listener”, which makes me wonder what I’m supposed to do with the CD copy I’ve just received. The sticker on the front says to “File under: Michigan Progressive Underground Audio Sprawl”. So that's in between Sufjan Stevens and The Von Bondies, yeah?

Hypnodrone Ensemble - Plays Orchestral Favourites (Wolves And Vibrancy)

Beardy drone star Aidan Baker is best known for his work as leader of the underrated dreamsludge duo Nadja. Why do Sunn O))) attract all the attention and acclaim, by the way, when Nadja's sublime layers of drone and distortion have so much to offer? Is it because Nadja don’t dress in fancy robes? Or because they haven't been so proficient at networking with Dave Grohl, Julian Cope, and that bloke from The Walker Brothers whose name escapes me? Besides Nadja, Baker is a prolific monger of solo material, a serial collaborator, and member of countless side-projects including semi-improvisers Orchard and the ‘trancepunk’ trio Caudal.

For this incarnation of the Hypnodrone Ensemble, Baker is joined by Eric Quach (aka Thisquietarmy) and seven other performers who have apparently gazed down at their own shoes, and possibly each other’s shoes, to sometimes quietly and often loudly dramatic effect. There is a strange tension to this recording, as if the collective can’t quite decide whether to stick sternly to carving out neo-classical post-rock patterns or fly with sheer abandon way out into full-bore space-rock territory. This creates the persistent feeling of unresolved apprehension, providing little in the sense of tidy closure. The journey is an enjoyable one nevertheless, unless you happen to be in the midst of an anxiety-inducing Nespresso binge in which case the ambiguity and restraint can prove too much and might be better experienced after the caffeine wears off when you've calmed down a bit.

Qujaku - Qujaku (So I Buried)

Ashamedly, I had not heard of Qujaku until this August. It was my birthday, as it happens, and I noticed that this enigmatic Japanese outfit happened to be playing at a venue around the corner and were promoted as “combining the dreamy psych of My Bloody Valentine with the riffs of Black Sabbath”. Faced with that proposition, what else is a fresh-faced boy to do in order to best celebrate his landmark 21st?[1] Needless to say I wasn't disappointed by the band's noise-rock-tinted racket. As soon as the set finished, I bounded over to the merch stand on my agile young legs as hastily as a sprightly forest fawn to immediately purchase their album.[2]

The gatefold artwork is beautiful (not that it particularly interests me, for my generation is happy with a jpeg file for the Instagram cloud) and the music, when I can be bothered to run it through a decent stereo system instead of my tinny Skullcandy headphones, is exquisite. Like any self-respecting Japanese post-doom psych crew, Qujaku aren't afraid to begin their album with a monstrous 20-minute stomper. ‘Shoku No Hakumei’ has a suspense-building pseudo-symphonic intro before the low end explodes into a furious rumble and exuberant singer-guitarist Shuya Onuk has a sheer hoot while showing off his diabolic vocal range. The song’s eventual climax sees the drummer up his game, limbs a-flying, and everything gets more warped and hallucinogenic. Later, ‘Zyouk’ is all buzzsaw guitars, evil feedback, and grungy muttering, with cymbal splashes so loud you start to feel concerned for the drumkit’s wellbeing. ‘Ave’ is sparse, spookier, and slightly operatic. Other moments of controlled chaos make Swans look like quiet and introverted cross-stitch enthusiasts, and at least one passage resembles a Godspeed You! Black Emperor crescendo attempting to flee the tattooed clutches of the three scary blokes from Unsane.

[1] This column has been known to include certain inaccuracies. [2] My limbs were definitely not aching under the strain of having to stand up for the duration of one entire short gig.

Kikagaku Moyo - Masana Temples (Guruguru Brain)

If you like your Japanese psych a little lighter on its feet than Qujaku, then why not try Kikagaku Moyo? Come to think of it, are you looking for something to scratch your King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard itch because the lazy Aussie psych-prog slackers only release about two dozen albums per year? In that case, Masana Temples might be the record for you, especially if you were into the laidback Sketches Of Brunswick East album that the ’Gizzard recorded in collaboration with Mild High Club. Aside from the occasional bursts of fuzz which arise on its second track, Masana Temples holds off from rocking out until its penultimate number which speeds up and grows increasingly riffy as it unfolds.

Matters elsewhere are noticeably mellower, a situation which could be explained by the revelation that certain Kikagaku Moyo members have spent time residing in Amsterdam, a city famed for its serene canals and stoned cyclists. A dreamy number with blatant krautrock influences, ‘Fluffy Kosmische’ does exactly what it says on the tin. Other moments are more folk-oriented while some of the circular basslines and fairly clean guitar licks elsewhere have a soulful funkiness to them which suggests those famous Amsterdam cafes still have Funkadelic, Parliament and Chic selections available on their clouded jukeboxes. The album was recorded by Lisbon jazzmaster Bruno Pernadas who presumably helped bring much of this newfound smoothness to the fore. Nice.

Melting Hand - Faces Of Earth (Hominid Sounds)

Take a look at your watch. Can you tell what time it is? That's right, ladies and gentlefellas. It’s Supergroup O’Clock! What? No! Come back! We’re not talking Damon Albarn performing a pseudo-grime rap over Dave Grohl’s drum solo while Thom Yorke grinds his crotch against bassist Flea and Josh Homme struts up and down the Coachella stage like a derby-winning racehorse. We’re talking obscurer and infinitely greater supergroupery in this instance. Melting Hand draws together personnel from Terminal Cheesecake, Gum Takes Tooth, Blown Out, The Wharves, and Big Lad. The deeply funkin’ jazz-rock fusion influence is at its most apparent on their rendition of Joe Henderson’s ‘Earth’. It features guest vocals by Sinead Young from Lower Slaughter and does a mighty fine job of reinterpreting the original’s post-bop sax parps via the means of fuzzy space-rock guitar histrionics. Apart from slowing down briefly in the middle, ‘Terra’ is a more frantic beast, as if the performers are competing in a race to see who can reach the finish line first and win themselves a vintage Soft Machine T-shirt as worn by Billy Gibbons. ‘Dirt’ is, erm, dirtier. It’s built around some pretty doomy riffing and lasts over ten glorious minutes. Beat that, Them Crooked Atoms For Rocket Juice & The Queen.

Earthling Society - MO - The Demon (Riot Season)

When I resided there briefly in about 2005, Leeds didn't strike me as the most psychedelic location on the planet. Back then it was all indie disco nights at The Cockpit and Kaiser Chiefs album launches in the carpeted foyer of HMV. There's a chance I didn’t move in the right circles. Only later came Hookworms T-shirts, day trips to Hebden Bridge, and Wooden Shjips gigs at the Brudenell Social Club. There’s a chance I still don’t move in the right circles. Earthling Society were formed in Fleetwood but MO - The Demon was recorded at Leeds College Of Music where the band managed to wangle themselves some free studio time. If they’ve soaked up some of West Yorkshire’s neo-hippy vibes, Earthling Society also draw inspiration from further afield.

Side A is a tribute to the vintage Hong Kong horror flick The Boxer’s Omen. (Haven’t seen it myself but I've just watched the trailer on YouTube and read a short online plot synopsis and am happy to report it looks proper batshit.) MO - The Demon’s musical influences include Miles Davis’s electric funk period. His albums from that era are not the most highly regarded among diehard Miles-ites but according to Arch Drood Julian Cope they are actually the highpoint of the jazz superstar’s entire career because they share the same heavily shamanistic spirit as krautrock, Japanese improv-rock, and proto-metal. Earthling Society are also fans of Santana. Don’t know what Dr Cope has to say about that. Trippily mingling the two works rather well, it turns out. Besides, can anybody truly resist any track called ‘Super Holy Monk Defeats The Black Magic Muthafucker’?

Side B is different. Bomi Seo of Tirikilatops provides the spoken Korean vocal part for ‘Spring Snow’ which starts off as a synthy ambient piece before mutating into a seriously heavy psych-doom jam and then folding back in on itself. Final track ‘Jetavina Grove’, on the other hand, begins as a pseudo-raga piece like what George ‘The Quiet One’ Harrison would do. Then that number all goes a bit Hawkwind too, thank Brock.

Upper Wilds - Mars (Thrill Jockey)

What's the best concept album about Mars? I know what you're thinking. It’s The Mission, the celebrated sixteenth studio album by Chicago's Styx: “Study and train for a worst-case scenario day / When clear thought and reason get tossed out and lost in the fray / Now the red storm is closing in / We can do this, let it begin…” Sure, it’s powerful stuff all right. But take a few moments to consider Mars, the second album by Upper Wilds. The Brooklyn trio are comprised of Dan Friel (ex-Parts & Labor), Zach Lehroff (ex-Ex Models) and Jeff Ottenbacher (who used to be a member of the heroically named The New Lou Reeds).

If you’re one of those record collectors whose most treasured REM album is 1994's grungy Monster, then Upper Wilds could be the post-hardcore noise-pop group for you. Echoing last year’s debut Upper Wilds record, Mars is loaded with the high standard of poppy hooks and catchy choruses that Stipe & co could effortlessly dish out at their creative peak. Like Monster, there are no mandolins, cellos or oboes on the menu and every tune is plastered with adventurous, noisy and squealing guitar effects which veer violently from fuzz to static and back again. This maelstrom of noise occurs in such a manner that the listener might begin to wonder whether Friel and Lehroff are actually in control of their piles of effects pedals or simply fortunate that the combination of equipment they’ve managed to assemble has happened to spit out such righteous sounds throughout the recording process. I don’t mean to disregard the obvious talents of Upper Wilds. It’s just those pedals seem to have a mind, soul and agenda of their very own. Perhaps these inventions are in charge of Friel rather than the other way round, and he's basically the alt-rock equivalent of a gone-insane Spiderman baddie.

Next time: We reveal the full Mercury Music Prize judging panel for 2019, rumoured to include Jess Glynne, Kelly Jones, the man from Toploader, Steve Wright In The Afternoon, Emma Bunton, The Lighthouse Family, Nicky Wire's sentient vacuum cleaner attachment, and the mighty Sting.