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Columnfortably Numb

Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For November Reviewed By JR Moores
JR Moores , November 2nd, 2020 11:41

From gorgeous instrumentals to songs about sad trips and shitty beaches, here's the latest psych and noise-rock roundup from JR Moores

Homepage photo: The Flaming Lips

Right then. There are quite a few releases to get through in this edition of Columnfortably Numb so let's drop the customary pre-ambling digressions and crack the fuck on, as Emily Maitlis would say.

Normally at this stage of any given year there'd be a veritable barrage of releases hitting the digital doormat here at Moores Towers. It's even worse this time because the manufacturing plants where they wrap CDs in protective cellophane were forced to close for three months over the summer due to Covid-19, thus delaying literally everything.

In the interests of brevity then, this month's column is partly inspired by the loose beatnik prose of Byron Coley and his Size Matters column in The Wire. Hep flips kool kats!

White Hills - Splintered Metal Sky
(God Unknown)

Feels like White Hills have been away longer than usual. Too long, IMO. It was always going to be a tall order to top 2011's H-P1. Easy to relate. Peaked myself that same year with a Loutallica review for Drowned In Sound. Thankfully White Hills are up for the challenge. There's a real fierceness and immediacy here, an urgent grumpiness even, less suited to a psych rock column than a post punk roundup written by someone with a digit as part of their name and half a shaved head. Alternate history time! What if Public Image Ltd hadn't gone to pot in the mid-1980s? What if John-Johnny Rotting Lardons had moved to New York instead of LA and watched way too much Robocop in a right grotty apartment? He'd have ended up making a truly 'orrible racket with distinct similarities to the absolute crunch-fest that is Splintered Metal Sky. Oh yes, and the one-and-only Jim Jarmusch is on it somewhere too. Hell yeah, big hair!

KLÄMP - Hate You
(God Unknown)

Second album by this trio of experienced din-makers. Could be considered their debut, if you don't believe in cassettes. The artwork and general attitude's not dissimilar to Sex Swing (with whom KLÄMP share a bass whacker). The LP sounds huge and dirty and angry. It's like a rhino that was really looking forward to its end-of-week mud bath but then stepped on an upturned electrical plug that some idiot had left submerged at the bottom of the designated wallowing pit. Lurching, Buttholy riffs aplenty. A rhythm section that could bore through the side of a bank vault. Lots of grouchy growling throughout. The least relaxing space rock swirls you could imagine. There's a blast of free skronk saxophone every now and then to keep things spicy. It was recorded in March this year and pretty much sums up the mood of the entire world since then. We hate you, 2020. You big stinking plop of a year.

Carlton Melton - Where This Leads

Carlton Melton make music so marvellous it's little wonder they remain a cult concern. The great filthy unlistened wouldn't know true splendour if it attacked them in the street, tore off their Fred Perry polo tops and swapped them with Bardo Pond bandanas. How many albums have this trio made now? Must be approaching double figures. More so if you count items like the Live In Hebden Bridge tape. Buy 'em when you spot 'em, friends, cos every CM release has the potential to pin you to the chaise lounge and force you to visualise funny colours whether or not you've overdosed on any nutmeg. The latest rich effort begins in true punk rock fashion with an 18-minute shimmerthon worth the sticker price alone. Some of the more snippetty pieces are hushed and delicate. Other moments are a heck of a lot heavier. Distortion-worshipping tracks like 'Waylay' and 'Three Zero Two' could have been taken from a lost Earth album made at some point between Phase 3 and Pentastar. Calmer passages display an Eno-Budd-Lanois feel. Is that a tear in my eye? Surely the soothsaying Small Faces had this album in their crystal ball when they sang "It's all too beautiful" (not whatever the hell an Itchycoo Park is).

Gunn-Truscinski Duo - Soundkeeper
(Three Lobed)

As far as far-out instrumental twosomes go, you can't really beat Gunn-Truscinski Duo. Steve Gunn's righteous guitar playing manages to channel Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Bill Nace, Jack Rose, Frank Zappa and a bazillion other string-snapping legends all at the same time. Sometimes Gunn's a chef at Café Fahey, dishing out the dusty noodles. Other times it's a cup of pure skree scooped up from the bins round the back of The Branca Bistro. Often it's wavering deliciously between those extremes, alternating back and forth, or wafting further into the starry distance. John Truscinski rattles his kit like a man possessed. Both parties are in weird psychic unison with one another the whole darn time. In the tradition of Neil Young doing whatever feels right, this record has live cuts interspersed with studio work. Funkier moments like 'Valley Spiral' and the closing tribute to Eddie Hazel suggest there remains plenty more territory for this pair to explore together. The album rumbles on forever yet is over too quickly. Pretty sure this is their best opus yet. Purchase the backcat too, just to make sure. You could listen to them all an infinite number of times and still get something new out of each spin. What more could a vinyl addict ask for?

Richard Pinhas - Quentin Compson
(Bam Balam)

This year has brought with it many disasters but at least the space-rock/philoso-psych veteran Richard "Heldon" Pinhas is still going strong. Inspired by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Robert Fripp, this abstract guitar caresser doesn't so much trade in riffs and licks. It's more like he's weaving a massive slab of sonic fabric for the purpose of wrapping around the globe as a makeshift blanket or sling. Slathering everything in heady effects, Pinhas manages to celebrate the majesty of the electric guitar while making it sound like something far beyond a bit of wood with some strings attached. Sunn O))) drone monk Stephen O'Malley has been involved in this one so the mix is suitably big & dense. Unlike older Pinhas compositions, many of which took their titles from famous sci fi protagonists, this three-part suite is named after a character from William Faulkner's The Sound And The Fury who, if I remember correctly and unless I missed some crucial subtext, was not a cyborg mercenary or alien warlord. I don't know if that fact has any particular significance.

Flaming Lips - American Head
(Bella Union)

Who needs a new, lushly produced Flaming Lips album in the year 2020? I DO! My stubble is greying, the autumn is here and the world as we knew it is crumbling before our eyes. I already had a near meltdown when King's Mouth came out, such was its beguiling power. Hopefully American Head is the second part in a planned 'Noggin Trilogy'. Unlike King's Mouth which cloaked everything in mad fairytale fantasies, here Wayne Coyne is more upfront with his meditations on the exquisite tragedy of being mortal. There was a time when Flaming Lips' material gazed into the future with defiance, optimism and eyes the size of saucers. Their recent stuff has been far more melancholic and nostalgic. On American Head, the Oklahoman balloon kickers don't sound defeated or devoid of hope, just a little less confident in their positivity. Wayne Coyne looks back over his life and memories of growing up (at one point gazing even further back, to the extinction of the dinosaurs). He sings about missing his younger self. His mother and siblings crop up a lot. On 'Mother I've Taken LSD' acid is not a substance that unveils the marvellous beauty of the world to its imbiber. Nor does it make the person go loony. It doesn't unlock the meaning of life. Nobody gets transported to a kaleidoscopic alternate plane. Rather, the experience reveals the crushing "sadness in the world". It could be fatherhood, maturity, the wrong drugs, no drugs or the sorry state of the world that's getting Wayne down and making him soppier. American Head is McCartney-like, if you will, in terms of its psychedelic sentimentality. (NO BAD THING.) What it hasn't replicated, for the most part, is Sir Paul's innate cheerfulness.

Frankie & The Witch Fingers - Monsters Eating People Eating Monsters...
(Greenway/ The Reverberation Appreciation Society)

Well clearly this is one for fans of wackily named psych bands like Gizzard Lizard & The Lizardy Gibbet Blizzard, with whom Frankie and his itchy-witchy fingers share stylistic similarities. Get this, though. None of the band members are even called Frankie! KERR-A-ZEE DAYZ! Anyway if you've been lacking some King Gizzard in the five seconds they tend to leave between albums, "Frankie" & co. are worth checking out. The riffs are pretty hard but also fun, spiky and unpretentious. The rhythms have the manic, unpredictable energy of a sugared-up five-year-old after too much Soda Stream. Enthusiasts of fellow frantic, reverb-lovin', nasally artistes like Oh Sees and Ty Segall will be smitten with 'em too. The band are sounding denser, tighter, better recorded and more road-tested than before, all of which is welcome. It's hard to decide which is best: the punk-psych short songs that blast their ideas in your face and then get the hell out of there before anyone realises what the hell is going on, or the lengthier numbers than bulldoze you into submission with their prog-rock commotions and incomprehensible volume of seamlessly shifting sections. Dizzy wizzy!

Magik Markers - 2020
(Drag City)

Primal! That's what everybody used to say about Magik Markers, back when they specialised in mud-encrusted no wave CDrs. They're a teensy bit more sophisticated these days but still delightfully shaggy. Elisa Ambrogio rips it up good and proper on her battered axe while singing about star signs and shitty beaches. Pete Nolan bashes away at his drums, clearly still able to channel that old teenage delight in making a right bloody racket. Bassist John Shaw provides a lovely warm low end. There are occasional plinky plonky piano parts (I told you they'd got more sophisticated). Sometimes the trio sound dead meaty. Elsewhere there's a thinner and tinnier fragility. The ballads are dreamy while ensuring that the forbidden Twee Zone remains always a dot in the distance. The poppiest song has the roughest production. In each case it's entirely possible that everything is about to fall apart at any given moment, and in the most glorious way imaginable. Nothing at all has been overthunk. Basically if you took every Royal Trux song and mashed them all together, the resultant smug and scrappy mess wouldn't equal one twentieth of the ragged glory of 2020 by Magik Markers. Magik Markers were my Royal Trux. And they still are.

Hey Colossus - Dances/Curses
(Wrong Speed)


Dances/Curses won't be widely recognised as such because it doesn't have the marketing dollars behind it. Posters on the tube. Gratuitous appearance on Strictly. Alex Turner wearing an HC longsleeve at a David LaChapelle photoshoot. That kind of requisite brainwashing. Instead Hey Colossus bass-meister Joe Thompson is releasing this double-album on his own Wrong Speed Records. It's not even on Rocket, people!!! Is Joseph shooting himself in the foot or sticking to his principles? Perhaps he's sticking his principles to his foot, whatever that means. Look who turns up on Track 8. It's only Mark bloomin' Lanegan! That gravel-swiggin' legend doesn't growl his neck off for any old chancers does he? Usually won't settle for anything less than BEST BLOODY ROCK ALBUM OF THE WHOLE FLIPPING YEAR. Whether you're after a side-long kraut-stomp epic ('A Trembling Rose'), a bona fide croon-along banger ('Medal') or anything in between, then look no further than this. Oh... and the riffs! Did I mention the spiralling torrents of sheer riff wizardry? The riffs are to die for, people! Seriously, you can count the number of bands that kept getting better the longer they go on, on one hand. (And that hand's got a Fugazi tattoo on the wrist, lest we forget.) Add Hey Colossus to the list. Add 'em to your Christmas list. Someone hand these lads a trophy. BEST ROCK RECORD: 2020. NO FURTHER DISCUSSION.

("If you're going to describe anything as the best album of the year or one of the best songs of the year or anything of that nature," reads this website's style guide, "please discuss it with your commissioning editor first." BEST ROCK RECORD, 2020: DANCES/CURSES! DEAL WITH IT, DORAN!)

[You're fired... oh, hang on, you're right. British Rock Record Editor]

Thee Alcoholics - Thee Alcoholics
POHL - Freakspeed
(Wrong Speed)

Wrong Speed Records hasn't been set up solely for Hey Colossus purposes. No, siree. Mr Thompson has also been busy pressing wicked stuff by other artists and if fortune shines on it the label will soon be Somerset's answer to Dischord which is, if you ask me, exactly what this faltering nation needs right now. At the time of writing, Thee Alcoholics' line-up remains clouded in secrecy. Judging by the ten unruly slabs of sludge-punk mayhem on their debut cassette/download, it's a supergroup consisting of Shit & Shine's stinkiest roadie, a mallet-wielding maniac in an Amphetamine Reptile T-shirt, zombie Lemmy, at least three Terminal Cheesecake casualties and one of those angry giants from Fraggle Rock (but I wouldn't like to speculate and could be way off the mark).

POHL are a duo from Bristol. I've just placed one of their many proper evil riffs on the Columnfortably Numb chunk-o-meter and am happy to report that it scored higher than the previous record held by that hairy geezer from Big Business. A couple of tracks even suggest POHL could jump ship to the big leagues if they really wanted in order to pull off a Nevermind (or at least a Bleach) but I expect they've got more dignity than that. I'd plump for the POHL if you're a fan of TAD and Thee Alcoholics if you're more into Todd. Which reminds me, I must finish prepping my TED talk on tiddler toads that tend to suffer from TUD (tobacco use disorder). Ta-ta for now.

Next time: Beadily eyeing any untapped market, popular fashion brand Idles begin producing their own line of 'Idles Are Cack' T-shirts to profit even from those people who can't bear them. Ch-ching!