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Columnfortably Numb: The Best Psych Of 2019 By JR Moores
JR Moores , December 11th, 2019 09:07

JR Moores dons his High Fidelity hat to round up the best psych and noise rock records of 2019

Like milestone birthdays and trips to the hall of mirrors, listicle season is a time for reflection. What exactly have been the major talking points of the past dozen months? Which artists and releases have impacted strongest on the wider culture? Is the second wave of the post-basilcore movement a watershed moment in the history of pop music or merely a passing fad? Will Kevin Parker grace his presence at our magazine's Christmas party if we are sycophantic enough to award The Slow Rush by Tame Impala our album of the year even though it doesn't officially drop until next February? Will 2020 finally be the year that we drop the word drop especially when referring to an album that's been buttressed by a big-budget six-month tactical pre-release promotional campaign? And another question, on a more serious note, never mind the god damn Mehcury Music Prize, why hasn't Richard Dawson been crowned King Of England yet?

Failing that, you can always attempt to distract your mind from the trauma of what a total poopshow the past three-hundred-and-sixty-something days have been - and what an even poopier poopshow the next year is likely to be - by spending a few minutes drawing up a list of records that have been a joy to experience and have provided some momentary respite from having to hear about Amanda Palmeh's latest indiscretion or stockpiling spaghetti hoops in the probable event of a hard-nobbed Brexit.

If there is one thing High Fidelity taught me, it's that men don't need the stiff upper lip of a Victorian Protestant in order to bury their emotions. Nor do they necessarily have to follow any of those popular corporate-sponsored sports teams to avoid engaging with any deeper feelings, anxieties and insecurities. All they need to do is draw up lists about which records are the best. I think that was the moral of Nick Hornby's story. EVERYTHING IS FINE. EVERYTHING IS FINE. LA LA LA LA. I CAN'T HEAR YOU. EVERYTHING IS FINE. I'VE GOT MY HEADPHONES CLASPED TO THE SIDE-HOLES OF MY AGEING NOGGIN AND I'M CRANKING NEBULA AT FULL BLAST. IT'S ALL GOING TO BE OKAY. LA LA LA LA. I'VE MADE A LIST, SEE? IT'S IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER. ROB FLEMING WOULD NOT APPROVE OF MY LACK OF AMBITION IN THAT RESPECT. HE'D HAVE ARRANGED IT IN EXISTENTIAL ORDER, THE CRACKPOT ANTIHERO. LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA...

HERE ARE THE BEST PSYCH-SLASH-NOISE-ROCK RECORDS OF 2019...

(The BEST?! My favourites. Favourites? The ones I have listened to the greatest number of times, approximately. That's not to diminish any of the musicians' fine achievements, of course. Keep up the good psych, you lot. Give each other a pat on the back and treat yourself by opening a fresh jar of hallucinogenic gherkins.)

Ecstatic Vision - For The Masses
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

Ecstatic Vision look a bit like one of those fancy-dress psych bands you get these days. The shades. The moustaches. The wide-brimmed hats. The brightly coloured short-sleeved shirts. What's more, if somebody put them on the jukebox and told you they were a rediscovered group originally active in the 1970s American - possibly Central American - hard-rock-psych scene, you probably wouldn't bat one of your half-shut and too-stoned eyelids. Ecstatic Vision also, and this is the important thing, totally kick the proverbial ass. Hawkwind and likewise reference points will certainly spring to mind. But bear in mind Hawkwind's (and their peers') recent activities and ask yourself whether the old guard could pull off the diverse and feverish musical tricks that are currently being nailed on the regular by Ecstatic Vision. Maybe they could in the olden days... but now?

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

It's easy to take The Flaming Lips for granted. After all, they've been around for donkey's decades with their concerts increasingly resembling the elaborate self-celebrations dreamt up by one of the precocious kiddies from MTV's My Super Sweet 16. But what other band has managed to retain the Lips' level of popularity while simultaneously dabbling in such outright weirdness and unbridled creativity without being banished back to the sidelines whence they came? Sure, you might dip in and out of their studio output with mixed responses and occasional indifference. (I still struggle, in particular, to make it to the end of the sonic barren land that was 2013's The Terror.) But then, soon enough, one of their albums will turn up, flatten your heart and replenish your soul while stimulating a near mental breakdown. It won't be the same album for everyone. Yet that's what King's Mouth did for this sentimental old coot.

Henge - Nothing Head
(God Unknown)

Not to be confused with another active unit named Henge who show up to gigs wearing cloaks and wielding sceptres and generally acting all giddy and probably smiling (yuck!), this Henge are a far more satisfyingly miserable prospect. Second album Nothing Head is dense, dirty, dingy, and other adjectives beginning with 'D'. The aforementioned rival Henge probably think they're the heirs to Parliament/Funkadelic with their whacky dress sense and space-alien aesthetics. If you want some real spine-tingling, goosebump-erecting Eddie Hazel-evoking geeeetar righteousness then check out 'The Sea' by this particular Henge. I should probably stop comparing the two Henges. It's not a competition. Though if it is, this lot are winning.

Hey Colossus - Four Bibles
(Alter)

Hey Colossus do not want to appear in a Best Psych Rock column. In his recently published book, bassist Joe Thompson expressed utter bemusement that Hey Colossus were ever booked to play psych-rock festivals, an occurrence he attributes to his band's relationship with Rocket Recordings. "We thought we were punk rock," Thompson's words gasp from the page. The other day, Hey Colossus guitarist Chris Summerlin added his own two cents by tweeting, simply, "Please no more psych bands. Please." Psych rock or not (and if you ask the horse's mouth, definitely not), Four Bibles is one of the finest Hey Colossus records to date. Most bands get lamer as they get older. Most bands sacrifice vitality as they begin to toy with greater accessibility. Not Hey Colossus. Oh no. They just keep getting better and better... somehow. Just don't call them psych rock.

Kaleidobolt - Bitter
(Svart)

You'd expect to see one of them trendy groups like Oh Sees, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, or Thee Ty OhSeegalls in a list such as this one. Did any of those acts, this year at least, release anything that could complete with Bitter by Kaleidobolt? Granted, Gizzard Wizard's dalliance with thrash, Infest The Rats' Nest, sure was fun but it is probably better suited to joining the Jack-swiggin' sleeveless miscreants that will populate tQ's Columnus Metallicus round-up. People who soak up everything by the hyper-prolific artists just mentioned probably don't even have the spare time to check out anything else, given that each of those acts release and re-release about fifty albums a fortnight. If you can, it's definitely worth sparing a moment to investigate Finland's Kaleidobolt who flaunt pace, progginess, warping space-rock effects, garage riffs, mad lead licks and fuzzy fuzzed-up fuzziness aplenty.

Nebula - Holy Shit
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

Over two decades after forming as a breakaway group from Fu Manchu, stoner rockin' veterans Nebula only went and released one of their very best records to date. Who'd have thunk it? There was only one title appropriate for this hard-rocking, finely written, spring-chicken-sounding resurrection: HOLY SHIT!!! As in, Holy Shit why is the internet so fixated on the feeble first Desert Sessions album in ages when Nebula are back and sounding so indispensable? Send your answers on a postcard addressed to Mr. J Homme, A Sweaty Recording Studio, Somewhere In The Desert Or So He Says, California, USA.

Terminal Cheesecake - Le Sacre Du Lièvre
(Box)

Any fan of TRUE PSYCH ROCK is bound to be excited by the prospect of a new Terminal Cheesecake record. Just like 2016's Dandelion Sauce Of The Ancients, this latest outing didn't disappoint. There were slow and hazy tracks, faster and phatter tracks, aggressive ones, cuddlier ones, intangible ones, others that may have had some kind of solid form or forethought behind them before selflessly melting into abstraction during the presumably inebriated recording process. And all of them seamlessly bundled together into one gloriously brain-squishing whole.

(Don't ask me how one defines 'true psych rock', by the way. Despite having a regular psych column for one respected music website and another in an old-skool print magazine, I claim to be no expert. One of the most psychedelic experiences of my life genuinely involved a poor night's sleep and a packet of extra strong mints. Blag it, young writers, and you'll do just fine. The measure for true psych rock? Simple. Is it as gnarly as Terminal Cheesecake? If the answer is yes, then it is the real deal.)

USA/Mexico - Matamoros
(Riot Season)

"Noise rock on the cusp of outright noise music, the amplifiers sound broken, the vocals suggest someone's got their leg caught in a mantrap while deep in the woods trying to poach fat brown hares, and the mixing desk squeals as if it is undergoing physical torture. It actually smells. It reeks. It stinks to high heaven of gas and vom and oil and off-meat and mouldy airbeds and burnt hair and fishermen's armpits and Satan's own laxatived bumbum." -JR Moores

(JR Moores is not above quoting himself and certainly no stranger to referring to himself in third person. It should be remembered, however, that "JR Moores" is also a fictional construct invented by somebody else, who is real, and happens to share the same surname and initials.)

Uzeda - Quocumque Jeceris Stabit
(Temporary Residence)

"Open thy wallets, all you bearded hoodie-wearers, Steve Albini recorded this one. If you need further evidence to help seal the deal, the Sicilian noise rockers' sound is not a million miles away from the minimalist hard rock stomp of the mighty Shellac. There's a woman singing, which you might not like at first, because you could be a sexist, given your interests. Just give her a chance, though, and you'll find Giovanna Cacciola makes those objectionable geezers from Idles, Shame, The Murder Capital, Working Men's Club, and all the other young LADS of the New Rowdiness Era look even more laughable than they already appear with their front-of-stage chin-jutting antics and Peaky Blinders hairdos. Ooh, that's edgy, taking fashion tips from a long-running primetime BBC drama. It'd be significantly braver to dress up as Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey. I fear I've gone off topic." -RM Jawes

Wet Tuna - Water Weird
(Three Lobed)

Cult hero Matt Valentine has become rather adept at producing music that is rich and dense yet charmingly lo-fi at the same time. Let's call it mid-fi. Has that been coined already? Matt-fi? Happy Valentinecore? Anyway, in Wet Tuna he is joined by Pat Gubler and on Water Weird the duo rope in other veterans from the scene once called New Weird America. (As these New Weird Americans grow older the term becomes increasingly oxymoronic but, just like Sonic Youth and its now-ex-members, a lack of fresh faces has not diminished their reputation as radical adults licking godhead style.) Here, the meandering wonk-folk vocal melodies and post-Grateful Dead string work for which Valentine is known find their foil in unexpected instrumental touches including nods to funk, disco, R&B, space rock, jazz fusion, and smooth synthcore. It's all done in a tasteful way, mind, that avoids jarring the listener out of their trancelike mental state.

Next year: more bands, more records, more columns, more words, more Moores

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