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Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For June Reviewed By JR Moores
JR Moores , June 9th, 2020 10:11

JR Moores rounds-up the latest offerings from the world of psych rock. It's not his finest work, but we can't all be Shakespeare In Quarantine...

As soon as we were asked to stay at home and in absolutely no circumstances drive up to Durham, the broadsheets' glossy supplements were flooded with articles celebrating the numerous achievements that were made in times of plague by various cultural heroes throughout history. (This was while such painters and writers' wives were busy doing the crucial stuff like keeping everywhere clean and draining the puss from other family members' boils at serious risk to their own lives.)

Just in case your anxiety levels haven't already hit the roof, you can now feel terrible for failing to knuckle down and produce the kind of chef-d'œuvre that will resonate for centuries. You talentless plank.

Come on! Shakespeare wrote King Lear when he was quarantined! Is this information supposed to uplift us? I can barely muster the energy to spaff out a few measly psych-rock reviews without frantically googling whether Covid-19 is a laboratory-crafted excuse for Bill Gates, Ra's al Ghul and Dennis Rodman to inject us all with mind-controlling vaccination microchips (a plot the shadowy trio formulated when their initial plan of pigeon-borne chemtrails didn't succeed in sedating the global populace enough for Richard Branson's liking).

Shakespeare, it should be noted, also completed loads of other works when absolutely not under quarantine, such as several of his Henry-based plays, I'm assuming, and maybe that one about the bottom. Plenty of these were written when William was free to gaily go about his business, travelling all over the place in filthy horse-drawn coaches while accidentally gobbing spittle all over his fellow subjects' ruffs as an unintended consequence of enthusing about monumental alabaster.

The only reasonable conclusion that we can draw from all this activity is that, whether or not he was holed up in fear of infection, he was quite good at writing, that Shakespeare bloke. (I say "Shakespeare". Most of his works were actually completed by an uncredited basset hound that fed all of the greatest lines to The Bard via an elaborate translation system of miming, barking and pooping at Will.)

So anyway, if you were thinking that one positive thing that could come out of this mess is that the next series of Upstart Crow is going to be the illest thing Ben Elton's written since Act Two of We Will Rock You, then maybe consider lowering your expectations. Perhaps lower your head into a bathtub of molten tar while you're at it. It'll save the government from having to finish you off themselves.

Sex Swing - Type II
(Rocket)

Sex Swing have a dirty name. Their record sleeves, meanwhile, feature images of manky-looking blubbery things which are probably dead and no doubt give off a horrendous stench. It's all one big hoax, though, because their music is actually a soothing cross between the more uplifting end of Little Mix and the timeless yacht-rock anthems of Robbie Dupree.

Only joking. Who are we kidding? Sex Swing make the type of filthy fookin' racket that makes you want to take a wash afterwards. The water will dribble out of your mouldy showerhead, combining with the tears trickling from your bloodshot eyes, resulting in a veritable cocktail of shame. On album number two there's a palpable post punk vibe which brings to mind acts like Public Image Ltd, The Pop Group and The Birthday Party. Sex Swing's cacophony is often heavier and denser than that vintage bunch of scruffy experimentalists, mind. It's almost as if someone's rattled through the best chapters from Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up And Start Again, drank too much cider on a merry-go-round, gone to prison for pushing Lewis Capaldi down a steel stairwell, spent much of the incarceration listening to The Mirror by GNOD, had a breakdown, self-tattooed an upside-down crucifix on their bicep, emerged the other side with white hairs in their beard that now houses an extended family of lice, and decided to record an album documenting their mood. OUCH!

Tia Carrera - Tried And True
(Small Stone)

When the new album by Tia Carrera sauntered its way into my inbox, I thought to myself, "Oh great, it's that actress who gets Wayne from Wayne's World (a supposed metalhead!) feeling all frisky even though her band in the movie, Crucial Taunt, sound lamer than a Goo Goo Dolls appearance on Carpool Karaoke presented by that bloke who looks like a bequiffed thumb." Besides, I much preferred The Shitty Beatles. After taking a closer look at that spelling, I realised it's not actually Tia Carrere but Tia Carrera. It turns out the latter is the name of an instrumental psych-rock outfit from Austin, Texas. They've been active since around the turn of the millennium but have only just landed on my radar because, let's face it, I still don't know how to do this job properly.

Anyhow, the modus operandi of this hairy trio of mother-seducers is to lay down very phat and heavily improvised desert-rock instrumentals. Imagine if Hendrix himself had returned from the grave after deciding that vocals are not where it's at and teamed up to kick some arse with Fu Manchu who had recently acquired a drum kit that sounded damper and looser than a pair of unfastened swimming shorts. My only qualm is that the second track ends way too abruptly and should really have been allowed to wang on interminably like what Earthless would do at Roadbeard Fest. No matter, because if you buy the CD edition you'll be awarded with over 30 minutes of additional material thanks to the two mammoth bonus tracks. What's more, you won't be required to prise yourself from the sofa's crevice like one of those precious collectors of coloured vinyl who have to get up every thirty minutes or so to flip a side over. That's if they even bother to let a needle anywhere near their beloved collectible items. Losers! #CDsForever

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO Feat. Geoff Leigh - Chosen Star Child's Confession
(Riot Season)

The PPE is inadequate! The customers in Sainsbury's keep coughing all over the replenished supply of iceberg lettuces! Our politicians are moronic chancers! They're more concerned with harvesting social media clicks than keeping their constituents alive! Gary Barlow and Cliff Richard, two of the absolute worst individuals to have ever troubled the nation's airwaves, are performing duets all over Instagram! I haven't had a haircut in so long I've forgotten how uncomfortable it is to stare directly into your own face while a stranger bearing scissors interrogates you about sports teams! I'd welcome that level of intimate human contact right now! What's that?! People actually like Piers Morgan now?! What the hell is going on?!

In testing times like these, it's nice of the restlessly prolific Acid Mothers Temple to bless us with one of their more soothing LPs rather than offering up something at the heavier end of their repertoire when it sounds as if they're trying to summon into existence a colourful apocalypse. The second track here, 'Diamond Eyes Are Hurt', almost approaches poppy territory with its playful vocal melody, an uncharacteristic lightness of touch to the instrumentation and an overriding gentle-jazz feel. It does swerve into a faster, gnarlier and more chaotic section at around the eight-minute mark, for those of you who prefer things a little spicier. One of those compositions that Acid Mothers like to pull out the bag and remould into fresh shapes at regular intervals, 'Cometary Orbital Drive' makes its latest appearance too. Fitting the general mood of the album, it's presented in a relatively fluffy and non-frantic form; a welcome addition to the 'Cometary' canon. Less coherent with the general atmosphere elsewhere and providing a bonus bit of ugliness at the end, 'Infected J Also Live Beast Catastrophe' is a right old skronking cacophony, although it does show some generosity on account of its relative brevity.

Makoto Kawabata + Richard Pinhas + Manongo Mujica + Juan Luis Pereira + Hiroshi Higashi - Alturas
(Buh)

The illustrious leader of Acid Mothers Temple, Makoto Kawabata, also appears on this collaborative release, again in a relatively sedate mood. That may come as some surprise, given the company he keeps on this recording. For this international meeting of musical meditators, Makoto is joined by his Acid Mothers colleague Hiroshi Higashi, the French abstract guitar whizz Richard Pinhas (of Heldon) and the Peruvian players Manongo Mujica and Juan Luis Pereira. The quintet threaten to let rip and rock out at certain times but, on the whole, they restrain themselves from doing anything so distastefully structured. Instead, it's as if they're trying to use their assortment of musical equipment, effects units and amplifiers to replicate the more random yet undeniably tranquil sounds of the rainforest. Indeed, the various instruments (and it's not always clear who or what is making which specific sounds) almost seem to be breaking into birdsong at several points. The later movements of 'Super Andina' grow more fearsome, however, perhaps suggesting that President Bolsonaro has rolled up with that signature pair of evil eyebrows frozen upon his greasy forehead, a bunch of chainsaw-wielding henchmen in tow, in order to devastate paradise for the sake of the economy, stupid.

Mong Tong 夢東 - Mystery 秘神
(Guruguru Brain)

It's not always easy making music with your sibling(s). Just look at the intense bickering that went on in Oasis, UB40, The Kinks, The Beach Boys and Hanson. Brothers Hom Yu and Jiun Chi of Mong Tong 夢東 must get along all right because they've already performed together in the bands Prairie WWWW and Dope Purple. The Taiwanese duo's interests include occult-inspired art, supernaturalism as depicted during the 1980s, other vintage superstitious imagery, Chinese synth-pop, video game soundtracks, psychedelia, doom metal, sound collage and library music. Needless to say, Mystery 秘神 is quite the melting pot of ideas. It's a rich and rewarding one at that, vaguely evoking Portland's Grails collaborating with Sweden's Goat on a neo-noir film score via RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan's swordfight samples. You can just picture Ryan Gosling's emotionless face, bathed in neon, as the barely-dimensional character he's portraying strolls calmly towards certain catastrophe, but not before the director can squeeze in a few ballet-like fist fights and a car chase with a corrupt detective. Maybe the bent copper turns out to be the Gosling character's brother! Separated at birth by an unstable Momma played by Tilda Swinton in flashback! The fraternal rivalry will give the storyline an easily sellable Cain-and-Abel angle. Get Nicolas Winding Refn, Denis Villeneuve or Dexter Fletcher on a Zoom call, pronto! Throw together a draft script! Draw up the contracts! This pitch has got "green light" written all over it. While you're at it, tell 'em we don't need Cliff or Clint. Mong Tong are already on the case with the soundtrack. Here, kid, have a cigar.

Jason Simon - A Venerable Wreck
(BYM)

Jason Simon's solo work acts as a neat complement to his heavier outings with the power trio Dead Meadow. His main unit explores various desert-rock-psychedelic-stoner avenues with an emphasis on the riffs, the low-end, and the head-foggying range of pedal-derived effects. Along with side-projects like Old Testament, Simon's solo material has its roots in country and folk. It's clearly created by the same person as Dead Meadow, operating a similar vein in terms of the songwriting traits and exhibiting that slurry nasal drawl that helps put Simon's listeners at ease. The solo stuff is gentler and more mellow though; Dead Meadow as refashioned for greater suitability to Sunday morning hangovers; the kind of thing Neil Young does when he's on his own as opposed to when he's struggling to keep hold of the reins of that Crazy Horse.

Various pals are on hand to help with the accompaniment but this record is driven by Simon's sleepy vision. With their dusty feel and subtle cosmic reverb, certain songs on his latest album would work well played over the end credits to a Deadwood revamp, set a century on from the original series, with one of Al Swearengen's ancestors leading a dubious hippy cult. Others are stripped back further for full folky impact. The title track is the biggest surprise. It's a dubby instrumental home-jam reminiscent of Sun Araw's wonky offerings at the turn of the 2010s. More of that wouldn't go amiss. It's all pleasant stuff, though. Is it Sunday yet? Who's even keeping track anymore?

Brigid Dawson And The Mother's Network - Ballet Of Apes
(Castle Face)

Brigid Dawson is best known as a member of Oh Sees, The Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees, Ye Oh-y Whoa-y Wee Seas, OCS or whatever they've been calling themselves for the last five minutes or so. Her presence on that band's studio recordings has taken a backseat since their album sleeves became increasingly decorated with dragons and orcs (i.e. they went full prog) and she no longer seems to appear with them onstage. Even so, it can hardly be denied that her contributions were absolutely vital to the success of the project's earlier releases. Back then, Dawson's nifty ability to come up with timelessly beautiful melodies made the group stand out from rival freaky-folky-garage-rocky types. The strength, control and instant poignancy of her classy vocals, let's face it, always outstripped those of the more whinily inclined John Dwyer.

The Mother's Network is a blanket term for a ragtag crew of collaborative buddies who recorded different pieces with Dawson at different times, in different countries and on different coasts of the USA. There's a fairly broad spectrum of material, then, albeit a cohesive one, starting with tracks that resemble Phil Spector demo material; the lack of wall-of-sound production values only serving to intensify the spotlight on Dawson's soulful, wounded croon. Elsewhere, there's an old-fashioned folk number and some atmospheric jazz epics aided by those cool daddios from New York's Sunwatchers. The sparsely rendered 'Carletta's In Hats Again', meanwhile, is as magical as Roberta Flack's take on 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' or a lullaby remembered from early childhood. The first time ever I heard this track, I listened to it eight times in a row while softly weeping. 'Carletta's In Hats Again'? Pardon my ignorance but I don't even know what that means. And yet this strange and unfamiliar phrase now already has a special and deeply personal resonance for me. There might be a lesson in there somewhere about the power of music as a communicative emotional force. Or perhaps it's just been too long since I hugged my dearest friends and family. One thing's for sure, it's a good job I stockpiled those boxes of Kleenex Balsam Tissues.

Next time: We investigate why Matty Healy from The 1975 has both his eyebrows raised in every single photoshoot. Did the wind change or are there more sinister forces at play?

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