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Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For April Reviewed By JR Moores
JR Moores , April 7th, 2020 06:46

JR Moores surveys the latest psych and noise rock releases (it's mostly noise rock this month, to be honest, on account of the sheer global bleakness)

Once the coronavirus broke out and its effects escalated rapidly, people were quick to point out the pandemic's peculiar similarities to the plot of a novel by Dean Koontz, author of The Crimson Ghostlies, Tumble Dryer Of Darkness and Crikey! Giant Mutant Rats Galore!

This focus has distracted attention from an abandoned Hawkwind project first conceived in the early 1980s, one that appears to predict current events even more accurately than Koontz. An important subchapter of the whole Hawkwind mythology, this thematic set of songs was shelved after drummer Ginger Baker was briefly welcomed back into the band's fold, only to smash up a bunch of the master tapes with a dusty broom because somebody had looked at one of his precious wing nuts with a raised eyebrow.

According to various specialist space rock message boards and an acid-experience discussion forum accessible only via the dark web, the content that Hawkwind had planned to include on this lost album was eerily prescient. From the rough demo tracks that were leaked onto TikTok, it has long been presumed that one political character described in some of the songs' lyrics was a thinly disguised portrayal of Ronald Reagan. In light of recent events, it seems that the actions of a later White House resident were in fact foreshadowed in the form of Hawkwind's fictional 'President Bozo HighVis Tantrum Tinygloves'.

The plot of the story draws to a close when mankind sends an interstellar emergency flare up into the atmosphere, appealing to any passing superior beings for help in putting an end to the plague. Earth's prayers are answered by an alien race known as the Curozoids who introduce a florescent liquid solution into the water supplies to rid the planet of its deadly and destructive infection. The population lap up this extraterrestrial antidote in their droves but soon begin to experience dizziness, disorientation and finally an agonising death as their organs begin to bleed out their cheeks. Yes, it turns out the alien race had assumed all along that the virus was Man. Bet you didn't see that one coming. In humanity's absence, the Earth becomes an idyllic and ecologically balanced utopia. Bloody hippies!

Human Impact - Human Impact

This month's column focuses mostly on noise rock rather than a whole lotta psychedelia. There are two reasons for this, the first being that there just happens to be quite a few exemplary noise rock recordings hitting the schedules right now. The second is that the ugly sound of noise rock feels like a more appropriate soundtrack to the apocalyptic situation that the world has stumbled into. What are you gonna do? Kick your neighbour's knees off in a fight over the last packet of figgy rolls in Morrisons while listening to the yacht-psych croonings of Kevin Parker's Taramasalata? No way, Jose! Times like these call for the more violent and anguished sound of Human Impact's debut album.

First of all, here's the bad news: (well, okay, not exactly the worst news you'll hear this week but still...) New York trio Unsane have split up. This is an event that will be viewed as a veritable tragedy by all those who enjoy steam rollin' noise rock anthems with loads of awesome blood splattered all over the record sleeves. At least they went out on a high with 2017's excellent Sterilize. Plus, your woes can be eased because singer and guitarist Chris Spencer is now fronting Human Impact whose material does not depart enormously from the style of his former band. His new darkly rollicking rhythm section is bassist Chris Pravdica and drummer Phil Puleo (who've both played in Swans) but it's the Godfleshy industrial tinkerings of Puleo's fellow Cop Shoot Cop graduate Jim Coleman that really makes Human Impact stand out from Spencer's previous project. Together, this formidable unit is at its best when the tracks are at their slowest and densest, really stretching out the misery and grinding their bleak worldview into your psyche.

Do you ever picture make-believe movies in your mind when listening to particularly potent records for the very first time? For some reason, this one conjures up a grimy science-fiction VHS from the glorious pre-CGI days, the plot being a Judge Dredd knock-off starring Henry Rollins with a bionic eye, his massive neck poking out of a PVC uniform as he wanders around the radioactive slums where, with sadistic glee, he authoritatively chops off the goo-leaking limbs of the ugly mutant population before the Earth is melted by a giant fireball.

E - Complications
(Silver Rocket)

Usually if a newish band released a third album that was this good, they'd be hailed throughout the land as the next Fugazi. Why doesn't this happen to E? Ageism! Pure and simple. Most media outlets would prefer to cover those hot and nimble teenaged bands they have around these days who take their tops off even though they haven't earned that right or wear fancy dress costumes as if auditioning for a Tim Burton musical in the starring role of the Victorian villain Johnny "let's drown her before we burn her" Depp. E are a three piece, or perhaps an E-piece, consisting of Thalia Zedek, Jason Sanford and Gavin McCarthy, all of whom contribute vocals and lyrics. It's rather rude of you to ask after their combined age so let's just say the total number of years is around the same as Britain's rule over Hong Kong. This fact doesn't stop the experienced trio from twitching with more pent-up energy than a caffeinated squirrel. Like the music of Shellac or the more enjoyable end of the math-rock spectrum, the individual instrumental sections and nonlinear song structures slot together in a puzzlingly satisfying way, coming across as extremely intelligent without it looking unnatural, arch or contrived. What's more, you really get the feeling that they mean it. Salutations, Complications!

 Bruxa Maria - The Maddening
(Hominid Sounds)

If the metal scene has anything to offer this month that can genuinely match the intense heaviness of Bruxa Maria's The Maddening, then it will come as a surprise. From the opening title track onwards, the London outfit's second album offers oomph after oomph after spine-jabbing oomph. Just by themselves, the hulking low-tuned riffs are enough to make that bloke from Helmet run away and hide behind the sofa. (We can still see you, Mr Hamilton! The top of your baseball cap is visible!) Like the recording mix of every great noise rock album, The Maddening's vocals are somewhat swamped under the foggy barrage of chaotic instrumentation so it isn't easy to make out exactly what Gill Dread is screaming so passionately about. Alongside the occasional spoken-word sample and with some of the album's proceeds going to the Windrush Justice Fund, you can tell Dread means business. Bruxa Maria earn extra points this time around for upping their song titling game as well, especially on the double-header 'Manual Labour Vs Office Dickheads' and 'Mr Hardcore Lives Next Door'.

The Noise Birds - The Dark Sea Hides A Bright Light
(Riot Season)

It's international supergroup time now with this collaboration that merges the talents of Tokyo's Suishou No Fune and San Francisco's Numinous Eye. The last time this combined quartet recorded together was back in 2007 (under the name Suishou No Fune & Numinous Eye rather than The Noise Birds if you want to try to track that one down) and they recently decided to hook up again for these sweeeeeet follow-up jamz. There are two ten minute(ish) tracks on the A-side with a big fat long one taking up the whole of the flip. What's nice about this freeform session is that it sounds somehow both scuzzy and lush with the noodling lead guitar lines soaring in, yes, a rather birdlike fashion over the lower-end murkier noise. It brings to mind the music of Bardo Pond (or perhaps more accurately their even more abstract side-projects such as Curanderos) and the classic Japanese psychedelic rock music that Julian Cope likes whack on the turntable when three days deep into his latest bout of personal acid testing (i.e. Les Rallizes Denudes, Keiji Haino and that lot). The sound is heavy and light at the same time, like some kind of crazy neon dumbbell rolling down a hill and then floating up into the clouds.

Trees Speak - Ohms
(Soul Jazz)

There's a short story by Roald Dahl in which a man invents a machine that enables him to hear sounds that have been previously inaudible to human beings' feeble ear drums. He then makes the upsetting discovery that plants actually scream with pain whenever they are trimmed or cut. If he'd tinkered a little further with the contraption and unless the man was in fact insane (Dahl is intentionally vague on that matter), perhaps he'd have discovered that... TREES SPEAK. If they did, what would they say? Would they also be able to listen? If trees could hear, what music might they enjoy? YewB40, obviously, and Faith No Sycamore. [Poplar Will Eat Itself, Arboreal Ed] Maybe our botanic brethren would also be into the semi-pastoral instrumental music of this band from Tucson, Arizona. "Krautrock meets no-wave" reads the tagline, although overall Ohms sits further in the former category, being pretty smooth and crisp and propulsive. Kosmische musik is the order of the day, with jazzy parts thrown in too alongside the odd Adrian Younge-ish loungey moment. Unlike many bands of their varietree, the song lengths are noticeably brief. Having said that, many of them flow seamlesstree into one another. How would trees rate this record if they could speak? They'd probably give it vine out of ten. (Sorry for the acorny jokes.)

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - Viscerals

 Let's face it, you don't need this column to tell you how swilltastic Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs' third long-player is. There'll be 1000-word write-ups elsewhere now the rest of the music press has cottoned on to the idea that this is no mere joke band with a sillybilly name, but the real deal playing an unusually warm-hearted and feel-good brand of doomy stoner psych. The basic headlines are these. Viscerals includes yet more - fairly subtle - musical progressions serving to expand the piggy palette further. For opener 'Reducer' the spotlight is on the cosmic lead guitar licks. 'New Body' grinds along antisocially like Swans or perhaps some kind of half-speed Jesus Lizard number. There's a weird almost dubsteppy intermission with some spoken-word vocals involving an extended gastronomic metaphor. There's maybe a thrash influence rearing its head elsewhere and some accessible growl-along choruses here and there. The crucial thing, however, is that the riffs are still heavier than Ray Winstone after a slap-up black pudding breakfast. Riffs, hey? They're important aren't they? WE WILL FIGHT OFF THIS VIRUS WITH RIFFS.*

*Not just riffs, obviously. Also social distancing, the incredible work of our amazing nurses and doctors, proper funding, empathy, science, hand washing and that kind of thing. I'm pretty sure the riffs help though.