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Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For November Reviewed By JR Moores
JR Moores , November 12th, 2019 09:58

JR Moores nestles down into hibernation with a kegful of mulled wine and a whole lotta psych 33s. Stargazer Lilies portrait by Aimee Herring

All you fleece-loving contrarians who are currently sporting a pumpkin-shaped boner because the nights are drawing in and the temperature is growing colder and all the leaves are falling down and dying just like your Great Auntie Mabel, please spare a thought for those of us who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and don't like that kind of thing being rubbed in our faces by you anti-summer plonkers.


I mean, if I have to watch the GIF of that blasted Nebraskan weatherman doing a jaunty dance with a carved gourd on his head, if I have to glance one more time at that chirpy meme-ing nincompoop, I am going to enact the kind of massacre promised - yet never delivered - by the name of Billy Corgan's band. (By which I don't mean Zwan, for that would result in less of an furious rampage than more of a bemused shrug.)


Don't get me wrong, I am happy for you, I really am, if you feel a semi-sexual frisson as a result of reduced daylight hours, the arrival of frost so sharp it'll snap your digits in two, the miserable prospect of rising thermostat bills, the onset of Vitamin D deficiency, and the thought of elderly relatives dying. All I ask is that, at the very least, please provide us SAD sufferers with a trigger warning before posting such Tim Burton-lite celebrations of faux gothery on your social media timelines.

It's not like as soon as the clocks go forward again and the weight of wintery depression is lifted once more from my bescarved shoulders, I suddenly feel the need to bombard your timelines with images of Wall's Soleros and the giggling sun baby from Teletubbies. Well, okay, maybe I do.


Sorry for flying off the handle like that. I should learn to appreciate the colder months of the British calendar while I still can, before we're all fried to a crisp by global warming once Greta Thunberg is imprisoned by the forces of short-term selfishness for crimes in favour of humanity. Besides, I have found a way to make it through the agony of autumn and winter. All I have to do is shine a 1000-watt torch into by own eyeballs for 26 hours a day while listening to psychedelic rock music. That, and drinking excessive amounts of mulled wine at such pace the hot liquid scorches my oesophagus on the way down.


The discography of the Manic Street Preachers has included the lyrics "I want to die, die in the summertime" and "We love the winter, it brings us closer together". I have always felt the exact opposite and as I grow older I realise the most radical thing that band ever did was to recommend the benefits of a regular vacuuming regime.

We do talk about Love! Arthur Lee liked to get drunk! And mulled wine is all I've left! As Greta says that this is the end! A design for psych! A design for psych! A design for psych! A design for 
(All medical conditions have been narcissistically self-diagnosed.)

Holy Serpent - Endless
(RidingEasy)

Underground guru, Somerset postman and extremely tall bass player Joe Thompson (Hey Colossus, Henry Blacker, Pamona Publishing, The Royal Mail) had a minor rant on Twitter a few months back about doom/ psych bands who continue to use images of nuddy ladies for their artwork and posters. "The time is up for that horseshit, surely?" asked Thompson. No prizes for guessing which specific band had attracted Joe's ire but here's a clue for you. It begins with an "El" and ends in "ectric Wizard". Not out to right any wrongs in that respect are Holy Serpent whose third album displays a back shot of two naked figures stood, as Chris De Burgh would have put it, cheek-to-cheek. Ironically, the press release champions the album as being "seemingly bottomless in its relentless heft". Truth be told, some of my favourite albums have arses on the cover, from that Velvet Underground live one to Viva Hate by Morrissey. Besides if you can look past the pert flesh bumpers, Holy Serpent's material is so strong that any of the first three or four tracks could have served perfectly well as the all-important, attention-grabbing opening number. The riff-centric stoner poundage is as heavy as you like, the vocals float airily at the upper end, and the psychedelic digressions and animated guitar solos are a necessary bonus, never superfluous self-indulgences. There's a hazier and looser feel to the final two tracks. The near-eight-minute 'For No One' is not an epic desert-rock reimagining of The Beatles' song although, in some weird way, it kind of could be. 'Marijuana Trench' begins by resembling an acoustic solo ditty by the dude from Dead Meadow but can't resist exploding into very phat space-rock territory that verges on hard prog. The album concept, meanwhile, has an oceanic obsession that would impress Herman Melville, JMW Turner, Virginia Woolf, and the post-metal band ISIS circa 2002. Holy Serpent should've stuck a whale on the cover, for Neptune's sake! Or a mermaid. Or a kraken. Or a (holy) sea serpent! Or a classy portrait of the Roman goddess Salacia with her bottom out.

Richard Pinhas & Tatsuya Yoshida - Ascension
(Magaibutsu)

My father recently observed that, when you get to his age, every time you buy a fresh jar of Marmite you wonder whether this will be the one that sees you out to the very end. Before his retirement, Dad was a secondary school language teacher, specialising in German and French. This brings me, in a roundabout way, to Richard Pinhas who as both solo artist and leader of Heldon has been a key figure of the French experimental music scene. Pinhas is 68 years old and has recently returned from what was billed as his 'LAST TOUR' of Japan, a country where Pinhas' music seems to have found particular resonance. While over there, Pinhas hooked up with disciples like Merzbow, Makoto Kawabata, and his old mucker the drummer extraordinaire Tatsuya Yoshida. Perhaps 'LAST TOUR' meant 'most recent' rather than 'final' but if Pinhas is having to contemplate his own inevitable shuffling off this mortal coil, those who have kept up with his terrific live performances and studio recordings will know that Pinhas' music remains as vibrant and lively as ever. Yoshida accompanies him on these new jams by providing the kind of drumming that makes you jolt up in your seat and wonder how the hell can he play with such authority, power and playfulness. Pinhas plays perfect foil, firing out insane blasts of effects-laden space-jazz-psych-prog guitar that sound less like they're coming out of a mere human being's amplifier unit than being beamed down by some generous extraterrestrials hoping to enlighten our misguided species like those big jellyfish thingies from Denis Villeneuve's Arrival. Metaphorically speaking (as the French are not known for their potted yeast extract enthusiasm), here's hoping Richard Pinhas has plenty more Marmite jars left to go.

Lush Worker - Uplift
(self-release)

From his base up in the mighty North East, guitar maverick Mike Vest continues to churn out so much fine material through such a variety of incarnations that you wonder when he has time to pause for a cup of tea. In just the last few months he's been active with Bong, 11Paranoias, Melting Hand, Oblivion Reptilian, probably a hundred other simultaneous projects we've yet to keep a handle on, and has also been carving out solo material under the Lush Worker alias. May 2019 saw the release of Hb1c MkII, two epic tracks of relatively tranquil drone work. Now here we have the plumper and slightly more energetic sound of Uplift on which Vest adds bass and drum parts to his dense guitar meditations. It's billed as 'slow burn guitar' which is presumably meant in a figurative sense, although Vest has been known to actually set instruments alight. Fans of Vest's instrumental power trio Blown Out will certainly dig it, though it remains a little more pensive than that trio at their most hyperactive, and you can imagine Uplift will also appeal to those looking to fill the void left in their audio libraries since Skullflower went to pot. There seems to be something particularly potent about the final track, 'Frozen Egypt'. However, it may just be that at that point my caffeine kick started to wear off, I accidentally nudged the volume dial up a notch, and my blurry eyes started seeing funny colours. If you'd like to hear Vest at fuller pelt where he sounds like Jimi Hendrix kicking the shit out of Acid Mothers Temple while the blokes from Earthless watch on helplessly, then check out Fried On Rock by Oblivion Reptilian which crept out earlier in the year.

Garcia Peoples - One Step Behind
(Beyond Beyond Is Beyond)

When a band called Garcia Peoples release a record called One Step Behind you don't know whether they're going to sound like The Grateful Dead ('cos of Jerry Garcia), Madness (of 'One Step Beyond' fame), or an unholy combination of the two. The answer is neither, really, although given that the title track lasts for over half an hour it's likely this bunch are more smitten with the San Fran noodle merchants than the observational ska-pop of Suggs and co. Mind you, the opus in question does feature a prominent saxophone on its intro so maybe there is a sneaking admiration for Lee Thompson after all. The instrument is played by guest veteran Bob Malach who is Tom from the band's father. At first Malach's soulful sax parps are accompanied by pleasant minimalist guitar cycles after which the track gradually evolves through various phases including moments of Byrds-ish tunefulness, Doors-y organ jammery and choogling lead guitar workouts with smatterings of the more blissed-out end of krautrock. The penultimate pseudo-heavy movement refrains from going full King Crimson which is a bit of a shame but the last three minutes or so make up for it with a propulsive bass line that reintroduces Malach's saxophone. So furiously expressive is it at this point, it is as if Malach has convinced himself he's playing not with his son but with Sun Ra. The second track starts off as a gentle piano ballad, like something Richard Manuel would write for The Band. That too spirals off into astral territory while still retaining its overriding sense of melancholy.

KLÄMP - KLÄMP
(Box)

Joining Blue Öyster Cult, Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, Spın̈al Tap and Cöldpläy in the tradition of rebelliously unnecessary umlaut usage are KLÄMP who also bring full capitals to the party to really give the impression they're shouting at you. Incidentally, that's also what they do when you place the needle on the record. It's hard to tell quite what they're yelling about what with the muffled vocals and substantial lashings of distortion. I think I made out the word "crrrrrlrgggggghhhnaaaaaaffgrrrrrrrurgh" at one point but don't quote me on that. As the blurb explains, this rowdy bunch are less than impressed by "the terrible decisions of the political class" and who can blame them? Rather put this 'orrible noise on the stereo than have to sit through Idles Live At Le Bataclan though, hey? Among the highlights is 'Dog' because the riff feels seedier than being perved on by the dirty old fellas from Nick Cave's Grinderman and the vocals suggest Liam Gallagher's congested nose has detached from its owner's face having grown sick of being regularly bombarded with chang and sodded off to find some struggling musicians with Jesus Lizard posters plastered over the peeling paint on their rented walls. It's the type of belligerent and dirty recording that'd sell a shit load more copies if it was distributed by Sub Pop and had the word METZ on its cover but because it doesn't - and because it's better than that - it'll just be me banging on about it on this platform like some mad bloke who's been probed, delightfully, by higher beings but god damn it why won't anyone believe me? Extra points too for the song title 'Bongo Dave' because it's the finest song of the year with Dave in its title since 'Whopper Dave' which was the easily best thing about Royal Trux's recent 'comeback' record.

Psychic Lemon - Freak Mammal
(Drone Rock)

'SPACE ROCK POWER' reads one self-description from this Cambridge-based trio. It's hard to argue with that. Hawkwind, Acid Mothers, Causa Sui and Carlton Melton vibes are what you're going to get from this lot and why on Earth would you want to resist? Their third studio album was created after a period of bereavement and, for one band member, homelessness. These experiences appear to have added some much-needed urgency and additional weight to the band's sound. (Or, personal factors put to one side, it could be that Psychic Lemon are simply improving together as a unit.) The effects are layered on so heavily it's like being subsumed under a colourful blanket. The tracks develop slowly but not without purpose. There are certain Middle Eastern guitar patterns that rise to the surface every now and then. (The Middle East of Cambridge being, erm, The Grafton Centre branch of Debenhams?) While the guitarists churn out the thick and swelling fuzz riffs and whatnot, the poor drummer works particularly hard, as if channelling the spirit of the recently departed Ginger Baker, albeit without the mean spirited nature and obsession with the importation of polo horses (I presume).

The Stargazer Lilies - Occabot
(Rad Cult)

On their fourth album as The Stargazer Lilies, romantic and creative couple John Cep and Kim Field  have been mentored by Tobacco from Black Moth Super Rainbow. Mr Tobacco has helped add an extra layer or five in terms of the density of the duo's sound. He also seems to have injected a general aural wonkiness comparable to that of BMSR (if not quite as crisp, trebly or, let's face it, sugary). One suspects fans of The Jesus & Mary Chain might dig the results, such is the team's knack for taking melodies to rival those of Holland-Dozier-Holland and plastering over them with all manner of apocalyptic sonic splatters, My Bloody Valentine whammy abuse, the feeling that the magnetic tape is slipping out of position and beginning to catch fire, and guitars that just don't want to sound like guitars. There's a Flaming Lips link in that the weird cover art has been created by the highly talented Robert Beatty who also designed the sleeve to the Lips' 2017 album Oczy Mlody. This seems an appropriate connection given that, although we know it was actually helmed by Mr Tobacco, Occabot sounds rather like it was produced in Steven Drozd's mayday bunker surrounded by tinned soup supplies and opium in case of emergency.

Next time: the twelve most groundbreaking plectrum-pinching techniques of 2019

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