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Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For July Reviewed By JR Moores
JR Moores , July 17th, 2019 08:39

JR Moores offers suggestions for selecting the next Prime Minister, writes about some psych and noise rock releases, and has a mild breakdown while listening to The Flaming Lips. Main portrait by George-Salisbury

Back in 2017 Steve Albini proposed the sensible policy that anybody who holds public office should be able to prove that they have taken psychedelic drugs at least once in their lifetime. The recent swarm of Conservative Party leadership contenders seemed to misread the memo. First Rory Stewart took the advice to extremes by admitting to smoking opium at an Iranian wedding. Perhaps the impressionable young Stewart had been listening to Albini's shortlived Rapeman project, specifically that song about the Chinese immigrant who smokes opium all night long and then masturbates furiously because he's legally prohibited from mixing with members of the opposite sex.

Given that Rory Stewart's real first name is Rod, you'd expect him to be more partial to the rectal absorption of cocaine just like his namesake. Speaking of coke, has Michael Gove confirmed which method he used to take the drug on those "several occasions"? Sorry if you're eating your breakfast while reading this because the last thing you'll need is the mental image of Roderick "Rory" Stewart polishing the fleshy cane or Michael Gove's puppetty fingers parting his own buttocks to expose the hungry grey anus as Sarah Vine kneels down to introduce the illegal suppository. You know what they say. Behind every great man...

For his own drugs confession, Alexander "Boris" Johnson took inspiration from Bill Clinton. Where Clinton had smoked cannabis but "didn't inhale", Johnson was given cocaine and then sneezed so none of it went up his nose. As proven though, both men are whopping liars. Incidentally, sneezing when offered cocaine may not be the only thing Johnson has in common with Woody Allen.

Really these politicians should have been taking psychedelics like LSD or magic mushrooms. In the run up to the leadership contest, the public should have demanded that all candidates enrol as guinea pigs in Imperial College's new Centre For Psychedelic Research. They have discovered that fMRI scans show a loosening of connections between the patient's brain networks, which then reintegrate in what the Imperial team suggests is part of the brain "resetting" itself on psilocybin. This could explain why such drugs compel some patients to rethink entrenched beliefs and break compulsive thought patterns and behaviours. A healthy dose of this stuff could feasibly rupture the Tory Party's compulsive habit of implementing the kind of destructive policies that'll get your government condemned by the United Nations.

On the other hand, patients have also reported that psilocybin works better than antidepressants in regards that it makes the user "supremely confident" and more willing to made bold decisions. Seeing as they're already happy to brush off the complaints of the UN just like the Supreme Leader of North Korea would do, the last thing these entitled Tory whoppers should be given is extra confidence.

Another concern is that something disastrous might happen as a result of the Conservative leadership drugs trials. What if Boris Johnson's brain ends up permanently frazzled like that of Syd Barrett and his fellow acid casualties? Would anybody be able to tell the difference?

Uzeda - Quocumque Jeceris Stabit
(Temporary Residence) 

Quocumque Jeceris Stabit was recorded - NOT PRODUCED - by Mr Steve Albini himself which is almost all you need to know if you're wondering whether you should purchase it. The Sicilian outfit formed way back in 1987 and vanished for a long time after promoting 1998's Different Section Wires. They re-emerged in 2006 with the Stella LP and now, 13 long years later, they're back for another fierce bout of maturely pummelling noise rock. If the grooving swing of The Jesus Lizard's rhythm section sends shivers down your hunched spine, if the minimalist hard rock of Shellac leaves you craving more because the trio only get round to releasing an LP every seven years or so in between lucrative poker tournaments, if you wish singers like Thalia Zedek would stick to the heavy stuff instead of dabbling in softer alt-country habits, if you think those young bands they have around nowadays simply don't have enough sheer CRUNCH, and if approximately half your record collection was released on the Touch & Go label, then Quocumque Jeceris Stabit could compete for your album of the year. "I always make mistakes," sings Giovanna Cacciola about halfway through the album in a moment of fragility. Not on this record you haven't!

Some Became Hollow Tubes - Keep It In The Ground

The Gizeh label can stake a strong claim at being Glossop's answer to Constellation Records. The latter imprint, which is based in Montreal, may not delve as far into metal territory as some of Gizeh's output (Nadja and Hundred Year Old Man, for example). Yet each label has a diverse catalogue without it coming over as erratic or random, and there is coherence to the experimental and often dark or anxious sounds of the artists on their rosters be they dabbling in post-rock, ambient electronics or jazzier escapades. It's rather fitting, then, that a member of Constellation darlings Godspeed You! Black Emperor should appear on Gizeh. That man is drummer Aidan Girt, heard in collaboration here with cult ambient drone-star Eric Quach (aka thisquietarmy). The duo's debut album as Some Became Hollow Tubes is something of a masterclass in drums/guitar/FX/synth improvisation. Girt's drumwork is fascinatingly eventful without it ever slipping into unnecessary ostentation. As the perfect accompaniment, Quach's shoegazing textures continuously shift in shape, expanding and deflating as required, impressive in appearance from a macro distance yet also finely detailed like the sonic equivalent of a puffer fish.  "It is unbelievable, really unbelievable," whispers David Attenborough from behind his binoculars.

Nebula - Holy Shit
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

Holy shit, indeed. Californian desert rockers Nebula are back with their first album for a decade and it could well be the best thing they've ever done. Incidentally, the album released last year by Fu Manchu (the outfit from which Nebula originally spawned) also rocked harder than a rhinoceros with cabin fever. It's heartening to see that such 90s stoner stars still have a fire burning in their bellies. If only the wider public could gaze past the diminishing returns of Queens Of The Stone Age and discover where the proper good stuff lies. Queens' 2017 effort Villains began with the words "I was born in the desert" which isn't a bad way to start an album even if that line was bathed in cheesy synths and backed by a bass tone that screamed Red Hot Chili Willies. It pales in comparison to what Nebula do here with their first few bars. "All praise be to Lucifer!" yells Eddie Glass. "The fallen angel sent to Earth!" May Beelzebub help you if you're not on board with Holy Shit from that delicious opening. Don't worry though, the trio haven't sprouted blood-red horns and transformed into an Electric Wizard tribute act. The emphasis remains on the phat fuzz and good-time grooves, Nebula having always been a lot more Blue Cheer than Black Sabbath. As ever with Nebula, they throw in a bit of stylistic experimentation with unexpected passages of surf guitar or Morricone vibes arising here and there. Mostly though they just concentrate on rockin' off your sticky beach sandals. As we all wish Renée Zellweger had put it to Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, you had me at "Lucifer".

Astral Social Club & Grumbling Fur Time Machine Orchestra - Plasma Splice Trifle

Here's a match made in heaven, specifically a very loud and colourful heaven as you'd experience via some kind of mega-trippy art house film that had been projected onto the blank wall of a heavily scented shared flat as opposed to the white clouds and token choral soundtrack offered by mainstream cinema's tedious depictions of the afterlife. It's a meeting of minds between prolific underground hero Neil Campbell (Astral Social Club) and Daniel O'Sullivan and Alexander Tucker of Grumbling Fur who are also underground heroes but whose work tends to be more open to pop influences, lovely folkish melodies, and guest appearances by that nice bloke from The Charlatans. The four long songs offered by this collaboration are perhaps more in line with the gleeful abstraction of Astral Social Club's usual work than the more concessional experimentation of Grumbling Fur's studio albums. Having said that, 'Ozone Antifreeze Intelligence' does float the idea of transforming into a piano ballad as written by an esteemed minimalist composer. Overall it's a busy cacophony for sure, yet one that is soothing as long as you don't get hung up on worrying about how exactly the peculiar noises were made, what particular instruments were being used, whether these were purchased from a music retailer on Denmark Street or handcrafted in a misty glade with assistance from the friendly forest sprites, and what drugs the collective had imbibed before pressing the button to record. Scratch that. Apparently Campbell doesn't take psychedelic drugs. Presumably he doesn't need to. I mean, if you just crank this stuff as loud as you can then soon enough you'll be staggering around the room marvelling at the beauty of your own outstretched palms, losing all sense of time and place, and making friends with a warlock called Benjamin who may or may not exist in our usual dimension.

Kaleidobolt - Bitter

The gap between psych rock and prog has narrowed in recent times, especially where the ambitious output of bands like Thee Oh Sees or King Gizzard & The Wizard is concerned. Clever-clogs time changes! Concept albums galore! Side-long songs about mythical creatures or an AI apocalypse! Artwork that can only be described as epic! More drum kits than is strictly necessary! A multi-coloured kitchen sink! It's as if Billy Bragg's skiffle revival never happened. All this is good news for fans of long and complicated compositions based around otherworldly imaginings and more worrying for those with an aversion to several consecutive verses about a fictional siege. For all their patent technical talent and song titles including 'I Am The Seer' and 'Hydra', Finland's Kaleidobolt manage to avoid drifting onto the wrong side of flamboyance. Partly this is down to the often breakneck pace at which the musicians appear to be racing one another towards the end of each song. Tempo changes notwithstanding, this technique implies the exciting notion that everything could fall apart at any moment. Plus, the guitar riffs are doused in the dense kind of fuzz you'll find lurking right at the back of the garage behind a few decades-old, cobweb-covered paint tins that it'd take a crowbar to unlid. Speaking of garages, there's also a bikerish Motörhead quality to Kaleidobolt's psych-prog stylings. They claim to be a trio but sound more like an entire boot-stomping army. Plus, there's a touch of Lemmy's throatiness in the way singer/guitarist Sampo Kääriäinen growls phrases such as "If you're searching for ecstasy..." He may have just found it.

The Flaming Lips - King's Mouth
(Bella Union)

Speaking of prog, Oklahoman bunting enthusiasts The Flaming Lips have returned from their latest vacation aboard Zaphod Beeblebrox's dimension-jumping interstellar spaceship. The Lips have long dabbled in the dark art of the concept album and here they take the idea a step further by employing a narrator. Why not just get Rick Wakeman in for a fourteen-hour keyboard solo and be done with it? Mick Jones of The Clash is the storyteller in question. It's actually a suitable appointment. The Flaming Lips went from punky beginnings to embracing psychedelia before indulging in certain proggy inclinations. Likewise, The Clash were arguably the original punk band with the proggiest ambitions, a tendency that culminated in the exhaustive triple album Sandinista!. Incidentally, despite his man-of-the-people reputation, Joe Strummer came from a similar background to prog royalty like Peter Gabriel and in his later years the ex-Clash leader rekindled his pre-punk enthusiasm for psychedelics and could be found stumbling around the Glastonbury fields as if there'd never been any psych-prog-punk schism in the first place.

Look beyond the overriding plotline (something about a giant baby and sacrificial regicide) and the bits where Jones pops up to recite his assigned lines (literally and figuratively phoned in, it seems). What you're left with is the prettiest and poppiest Flaming Lips outing since their unexpected breakthrough moment at the turn of the millennium. 'The Sparrow' resembles a trip hop remix of an acoustic rendition of something from Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. 'How Many Times' is like a previously unreleased home recording of Brian Wilson on which the frazzled Beach Boy made the inebriated decision to duet with a Fisherprice telephone. 'Feedaloodum Beetle Dot' peddles a kind of dystopian funk. Wayne Coyne's vocals are more imperfectly frail than ever before, suggesting that by the time the next Flaming Lips record appears he'll have become one with the breeze that creaks the oak tree's branches outside your bedroom window.

Wait a minute. Hold your horses. It's just dawned on me that King's Mouth ain't a fantastical sci-fi prog rock daydream after all. That whole arch concept notion was a distractive ruse on the part of Coyne. "It wasn't easy to find him giant baby toys / He loved outer space and he loved the sky / He would reach up to touch it, but it was too high." The giant baby? Coyne's writing about himself, right? The eternal child. The patron saint of birthday parties. And he's singing about all of us too. A giant baby, every adult, one and all. "You're the biggest baby / I don't know how and I don't know why..." And he's dealing with grief and mortality, isn't he? As he always has, really. "I could see my mother as she died / In my head and in my hands / In the dirt and in the land / And it made me understand / That life sometimes is sad." Do you realise that everyone you know someday will die? Coyne recently became a father for the first time so now the conflicted emotions of parenthood have infused all this dead king and giant baby talk. We can try to show our civility and sophistication by wearing clean underwear and putting on fancy blouses but we never really mature that far beyond the goo goo and gaa gaa of our earliest form. Then at some point we all become orphans, sooner or later. Don't we? The lucky ones, I suppose. In turn we shall abandon our own children, young or old, when our time comes to shuffle off this mortal coil. And they too shall begat their own eventual orphans. Ingonyama nengw' enamabala! There is more to see than can ever be seen. More to do than can ever be done. It's the circle of life. And it moves us all through despair and hope.

Have I ever told you that you have the most beautiful face?