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Columnfortably Numb: Your Psych Reviews For December
JR Moores , December 6th, 2018 13:02

JR Moores surveys the latest happenings in psychedelia from Acid Mothers Temple to… Elton John

Elton John has come unstuck in time. Elton John is perched on a piano stool. Still in fierce competition with Elizabeth II over who can flaunt the most downturned resting mouth, Elton has little doubt why the owner of John Lewis wants him to front the department store's Christmas ad campaign. Elton blinks in 2018, and travels in time to 2012. There's a break in play during the 46th Super Bowl. Despite this being the 21st century, Elton is dressed as a cruel and decadent Tudor king. A talent show contestant is belting out a rave rendition of an Aretha Franklin song. She impresses the court, earning herself a sip of the King's treasured Pepsi. For some reason, Flavor Flav makes a cameo.

Elton blinks in 2012, travels in time to 1997. He's performing a 70s tune with rewritten words in Westminster Abbey. It's less clear what he's endorsing this time round. Could be royalism, Tony Blair's premiership, a particularly upmarket firm of funeral directors, or a new range of celebrity candles. Elton blinks in 1997, travels in time to 1992. On this occasion the brown carbonated soft drink under approval is Diet Coke. The ghost of Louis Armstrong accompanies on trumpet. Humphrey Bogart watches approvingly from the auditorium. Both being deceased, neither party has had any choice in the matter of whether to appear in this particular marketing campaign. Undeterred by accusations of bad taste, Elton serenades the dead legends with lyrics emphasising attractive flavours and low calories.

Elton blinks in 1992, travels in time to 1986. He's thinner, younger, and singing about a glass and a half of milk while wearing a pair of novelty glasses that spell out the word 'Cadbury'. Elton wakes up back in the John Lewis commercial but this time he's a small child. He feels excited. He's unwrapping a Christmas present. It's a piano. His first. A bright future beckons.

Suddenly it's 2018 again and Elton, swollen and ravaged by the unforgiving hands of time, is tinkling the ivories, ruminating on the life he's lived, contemplating his own mortality, and remembering the masses of sugary chocolate bars and bottles of fizzy pop he's encouraged his followers to purchase over the decades.

Elton gazes down at those monochrome piano keys and silently asks himself a question.

"Would things have turned out very differently if Santa Claus had delivered a gayaki style sitar?"

So it goes.

Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore - Ghost Forests (Three Lobed)

In the past month, I've had two opportunities to indulge in my new favourite pastime: telling other people off for talking at gigs. Both recent incidents occurred right at the front of the crowd where conversation is particularly unacceptable; one at a Goat Girl concert, the other during a performance of Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore. Both acts happen to feature female musicians so is that a coincidence or symptom of the ongoing disrespect that audiences harbour for non-male bands? Each time, the incessant chitchat was nipped in the bud fairly painlessly with some stern sshing, a bit of a glare, and an authoritative finger to the lips (my own lips, that is, not the offenders’). At least on these two occasions nobody squared up to me and called me a fascist.

Baird and Lattimore were supporting every slacker's soft-rock hero Kurt Vile, so perhaps reverential silence couldn't be expected. It's still no excuse for a bloke with a Jeff Lynne face to strike up a conversation with his mate about the latest Top Gear presenters or whatever the urgent discussion entailed. Nor are Meg and Mary the loudest act in the world. Their music isn't psych rock per se but it's certainly trippy and odd and otherworldly. Once that ELO fan had shut his trap I was in sensory bliss.

The duo's first album together opens in a defiantly space-folk manner with 'Between Two Worlds'. Its vibe verges on something that cosmic rockers Carlton Melton might brew up as an extended intro for the purposes of building slowly into a proper post-Hawkwind blast out. Instead, Baird and Lattimore follow it with a collection of seemingly timeless songs on which Baird strums and picks at her guitar while singing like one of the disembodied spirits that might inhabit the spooky woodland of the album's title. Lattimore is a harp player extraordinaire, and the two musicians' strings are also overlapped with occasional blotches of feedback, gentle electronic musings, and experimental drones.

Though the results might sound relatively pretty, you can't just put this stuff on in the background. You've got to allow this record your undivided attention before being able to reap its full rewards. So I repeat, SSSSSSSHH!!! Quiet! Zip your gob. Put a sock in it. Simmer down and shut your pie hole. Meg 'n' Mary are doing their psych-folk-harp-drone thing and it is a marvel to behold.

Deep Hum - Hit Singles From The End Of The World (self-released via Bandcamp)

Following Deep Hum's two earlier EPs arrives Hit Singles From The End Of The World which was recorded back in 2016 but delayed for "silly reasons" (no further questions). The recording was influenced by "Eno's Another Green World, Fela Kuti, The Birthday Party, 16 bit JRPG soundtracks, Boards Of Canada, the hell that was late 2016, birds, mushroom clouds, deserted beaches, [and ] that bit in The Quiet Earth where the guy is walking around the empty city and it's real moody and stuff."

The band are Gareth Davies (sitar), Luke John (guitar), and Lloyd Markham (synths, beats, words) who are based in various separate Welsh locations. Despite Wales being the part of the world that gave us Super Furry Animals, Deep Hum find themselves adrift in a local music scene which remains largely dominated by cover bands and Celtic folk. The picture Deep Hum paint is that they are more or less out there on their own playing extended psychedelic jam music in small back-rooms where punters treat them like an amusing novelty act rather than a proper band with sincere intentions.

At its most accessible, Hit Singles From The End Of The World sounds like Fripp & Eno rolling down a hill with Lemon Jelly. (A pretty tall but not very steep hill, mind, because most of the tracks are long and ambling.) The more out-there moments might have been crowbarred out of the uncompromising brains of Ashtray Navigations. Come to think of it, with their synth-guitar-sitar jams, Deep Hum could well be Wales's answer to French electro-space-rock legend Richard Pinhas of Heldon and also solo fame. Both parties are sci-fi freaks, after all. Markham is a published author whose debut novel Bad Ideas\Chemicals (Parthian, 2017) is set in a dystopian near-future and features a heroine who believes she's an alien and goes by the name of Cassandra Fish. Viva la Vonnegut!

Workin’ Man Noise Unit - It’s Not Nothin’ (Riot Season)

It isn't a surprise that the UK's recent indie scene has been dominated by The New Rowdiness. People are angry, upset, despairing, and divided. Remember the olden days when you only used to see tents in forests, festivals, or fields? Now they line the shop doors of our city centres alongside all the sleeping bags, cardboard boxes, and other makeshift sheltering devices. People can't afford to rent (let alone buy) a place to live. Many are turning to Spice and other ghastly substances to escape the grimness of reality. The UN has condemned the government of the country with the world's fifth largest economy with inflicting disgraceful misery upon its own citizens. In response, the Conservatives got a bit upset with such "inappropriate language" and did nothin'.

No wonder, then, that music has got a bit rowdy. The New Rowdiness was pioneered by Fat White Family with their grimy subject matter and boisterous live sets, and the pub-rave bellows of Sleaford Mods. After them sprang Slaves, Shame, Cabbage, and Idles. If you're unfamiliar with the latter they're basically Sham 69 for people who can stride confidently into microbreweries with a Thomas Hardy paperback tucked neatly under their armpit. But anyway, the question is whether The New Rowdiness has also infected psych rock. The answer is probably not much. With one exception, that is.

Psych rock's answer to The New Rowdiness comes in the form of Workin' Man Noise Unit. They "mostly live in Reading" and rock so damn hard that had they been around a decade or three earlier they'd be an absolute shoe-in for their city's annual music festival. Of course, these days its bookers are more interested in Twenty Panicked Fall Out Pilots and facially inked mumble rappers. Instead, you'll find Workin' Man Noise Unit on bills with Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, ILL, Lower Slaughter, Luminous Bodies, and associated racket makers of that ilk. You know, where the juicy stuff lives and breeds.

The psych-rock elements come from the chunky distortion, 'orrible guitar scrapings, and screeching amplifier feedback; the rowdiness from the catchy yell-along songwriting and vocals so barked it suggests Workin' Man Noise Unit could secure a parallel career as England's leading Fugazi tribute band[1]. 'Rathaus' in particular has that signature Dischord bass swagger going on, while other tracks will surely raise the goosebumps of your average METZ fan. Bonus points for the final track's sample of Irish playwright John B. Keane discussing his love of the booze. Probably not the intention, and Ian MacKaye might not approve, but I'll drink to that. (Cork pops... column deadline's missed... wakes up lying in the tinned goods aisle of Aldi wondering how he got there...)

[1] Twitter suggestions for Fugazi tribute act band names include Whogazi?, Nugazi, Fauxgazi, Margarine Walker, In On The Pisstaker, and Flugazi (even sicker than the original).

Baby Grandmothers - Merkurius (Subliminal Sounds)

In this era of retromania with its over-abundance of anniversary reissues and ropey reformations, every now and then a group of old timers will re-emerge and succeed in blowing every other band out the water. Baby Grandmothers were originally active for a couple of years in the late 60s. They were house band at Stockholm's psychedelic hub Klubb Filips and alongside fellow Swedes Mecki Mark Men supported The Jimi Hendrix Experience on a Scandinavian tour of 1968. Wouldn't mind becoming unstuck in time and zipping back to have a gander at that lost legendary bill, to be honest. Instead, let's celebrate one great thing about the present, namely this new record. Merkurius is mostly instrumental apart from the odd bit of enraptured chanting and remains phat and playful throughout while running the psychedelic gamut from frantic and scuzzy ('Peloton'), through hazy astro prog ('ADHD'; 'Dojjan') and circus jazz ('Intervall'), to heavy minimalist sprawl ('Kraftverk'). There isn't a single dull moment across the album's seven tracks which is a lot more than can be said about many psych vets' slightly ropey comeback efforts. "Radical adults lick godhead style!" as Thurston Moore would say.

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. - Reverse Of Rebirth In Universe (Riot Season)

Continuing their mission to release all the albums all the time on all the labels, Acid Mothers Temple are back (again) on the Riot Season imprint. Past renditions of 'Dark Star Blues' have been about 20 minutes long and characterised by extended Hendrix-style wig-outs and black-hole effects that evoke disturbing images of theramins being violently abused by tattooed men in blood-red robes. The version performed by the band's latest line-up is far more laidback and dreamy, maintaining its beardy folk vibe even when Satoshima Nani's drums kick in, and is a snappy nine minutes in length. Some of Kawabata Makoto's signature gonzo axe work does erupt towards the end, as if Jackson Pollock has just burst into the gallery to hurl some colourful paint splatters over an otherwise impressionist scene of a lovely garden.

'Blue Velvet Blues' allows Makoto to indulge himself further in third-eye-opening distorted string licks, which he performs over the tortoise-speed rhythm. After about five minutes, Jyonson Tsu steals the centre spotlight with some sleepy vocal musings, steering the number to its eventual heavy-lidded end. Taking up the whole of Side Two is 'Black Summer Song' which boasts a impressive range of different speeds, sections, and all manner of fruity aural delights. In certain places it's a little murkier and creepier than the preceding tracks and also veers into the kind of "difficult" and jazzier territory that gets lapped up by King Crimson-lovin' listeners of Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone.

It can be hard to keep up with Acid Mothers' herculean release schedule when there are other bands towards which you're also supposed to devote some degree of time and attention. But when the quality is this high, who's complaining? Sorry, other bands, if you need me I'll be over by the turntable with the headphones firmly in place, gazing down at Reverse Of Rebirth In Universe's vibrant sleeve and silently asking myself a question.

"Are the illustrations of winged goats really supposed to be moving like that?"

Next time: No but seriously guys are the illustrations of winged goats really supposed to be moving like that?