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Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For June Reviewed By JR Moores
JR Moores , June 22nd, 2021 08:19

JR Moores peruses the latest psych rock releases, following some advice for when gigs return (if ever). Homepage image of Monster Magnet courtesy of Jeremy Saffer

Do you have any self-imposed rules or habits when attending gigs? I don't mean during "the new normehl." Staying several metres distant from anyone in a Van Morrison baseball cap. Bringing your own hazmat suit. That kind of thing. No, I'm talking about behaviours from back in the day. "Don't wear a T-shirt bearing the name of the act you're going to see," for example. It's too uncool and we don't want the egos of the musicians onstage to expand exponentially. It keeps them on their toes, when confronted by a sea of tops plastered with the logos of rival and potentially superior groups. Well, that's the theory. The risk is they'll spend more time worrying about their merchandise lines than their actual music, like those needy contestants whose Apprentice team-name is Idles.

Exceptions can be made for hand-embroidered Boognish onesies when seeing Ween, and Iron Maiden in general. In the latter case, the event is beyond a mere concert and more like one of those evangelical religious meetings held at the O2, during which no expression of devotion can be too extravagant. Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden? There's no point trying to be cool there. You just wanna be part of the family. Andrew WK is best watched while dressed in the signature all-white outfit with blood down the front. I'd wear a Jeffrey Lewis T-shirt at one of his gigs. He always has an air of fragility, and probably appreciates the affirmation.

"Snakebite for metal gigs in Brummie bars. Lager top at End Of The Road." Anything like that? A brief survey on Twitter unearthed a few nuggets, including @bolanicdingro's advice to "load up on salt" so you can drink to excess without needing the loo. "Two tins of anchovies an hour before the gig does the job." Maybe check with your GP first. As mortality plunged him into his thirties, @jokers_tailor found that wearing softer footwear helped dissuade him from wading into any moshpits he had no business to be in. @tacetmusic makes sure to moan about the cost of a can of Red Stripe for around 30 minutes, while @bartlebooth45 replied with the single word "wetwipes".

Here's one of mine, for those times in life when you're lucky enough to have a little disposable income. If the merch table happens to carry any release from the drummer's separate side-project (it could be their main project, of course), then SNAP IT UP! You. Will. Not. Regret. This.

The first time I truly appreciated the value of this ritual was after seeing noughties experimental indie-pop darlings AU in a small basement. They performed as a duo on that tour, with songwriter Luke Wyland accompanied by the extraordinary drummer Dana Valatka. The latter was pleasantly surprised when I impulsively purchased the Memelust 7-inch by another of his groups, City Of Churches. I felt similar delight when I arrived home and discovered it was an intense blast of sinus-clearing grindcore with about 50 songs tightly packed into its limited number of grooves.

More recently, I purchased a brightly coloured Kohoutek CD when their drummer, Scott Verrastro, was standing in for Jason Kourkounis on a Bardo Pond tour. The reciprocal delight happened again. He'd made a sale, and a new fan. I now owned a copy of Expansive Headache, originally released in 2007. Its opening passages are murkily atonal, as if to repel any impatient hipsters, but stick with it for the richer free-psych jams including the marvellously titled 'You Owe Yourself A Good Bath'. I'm telling you. When gigs get going properly again, and they will, do yourself a favour and investigate the drummers' wares.

Kohoutek – Jurad
(Cardinal Fuzz/Feeding Tube)

Kohoutek haven't released loads of stuff on vinyl. That's no surprise because they're one of those bands that suit the storage capacities of the compact disc. Press play. Light up a jazz cigarette. Cease all motion for the next 80 minutes. It's an early afternoon well spent. Side 1 of Jurad contains 'Tidal Disruption', which has an ominous feel at first, what with all the deathly chimes and background drone-hummery. It gradually washes into territory that is far more mentally soothing, proving very tidal indeed. First on Side 2 is the seven-minutes-short 'Cosmic Grease'. It's a funkier affair with just the right level of crunchy distortion applied to the Hendrixian licks. 'Double Star' is lighter and longer again, appearing to join some of the dots between the late-60s Swedish Prog scene, Anatolian psych, the twinklier end of post rock, and Sonic Youth in the early 2000s. The only drawback to this excellent record is the enforced fade-outs and, in the case of that second track, an abrupt mid-jam cut-off. But that's often the problem with this impractical non-CD format, ain't it.

Monster Magnet – A Better Dystopia

If COVID-19 has brought little joy to the world, we do have lockdown to thank for Monster Magnet's top-notch new one. When the band had to cease touring for the foreseeable, and hadn't yet penned any fresh songs to record, the solution was not to self-release an hour of ambient synth noodling like everybody and his dog. Instead, Monster Magnet opted for an album of cover versions. And this be no ordinary covers album. The biggest names tackled are Hawkwind and The Pretty Things. Elsewhere, Dave Wyndorf and his fellow denimed devils delve deeper into the dusty crates to dig out the deep cuts. 'It's Trash' by The Cave Men, for example, whose entire discography consisted of one 7-inch released in 1966. They also take on J.D. Blackfoot's first B-side. Other names include Poobah, Josephus and Dust. It all hangs together extremely well. You know, like a PROPER album. There's a scuzziness that harks back to Monster Magnet's earliest releases. Joe Tait's artwork is a pulpy delight. Plus, it's fun to spot the lines that can be drawn between these formative faves and Wyndorf's own back-catalogue. (In retrospect, The Macabre could be owed a co-writing credit for 1998's epic 'Bummer'.) One newer song comes in the form of 'Motorcycle (Straight To Hell)', originally released in 2015 by Midlands garage throwbacks Table Scraps: an aural engine-rev so delightfully dumb it's readymade to soundtrack a Ghost Rider origin montage. Let's hope the momentum continues for Monster Magnet's next set of self-penned biker blasters.

STÖNER – Stoners Rule
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

One of the lyrics on this trio's debut album reads thus: "We've found our sound". Presumably this crucial process of discovery took the same scant amount of time as it did to cook up their band name: STÖNER. Talk about doing what it says on the tin. And then staring at the tin for a full four seconds before concluding, "Hey, we could turn this tin into a makeshift bong, dude." Beardy Kyuss bruvvers Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri formed this new project with drummer Ryan Gut, who usually plays in Bjork's eponymous band anyway. Needless to say, lack of effort does not automatically result in a parallel dearth of quality. Just ask Paul McCartney who, I'm told, came up with the famous 'Yesterday' anecdote in his sleep. The sound that's been found by these aging weedheads lies at the more chest-rattling end of the hard rock barometer. The none-more-deep basslines are almost absurdly dominant in the mix. (Well, would you ask Mr Oliveri if he minded being turned down a notch?) Bjork hasn't lost his knack for tying catchy vocal melodies to phat-tastic riffs. The lyrics remain fairly basic: hot chicks, cool kids, heavy blues, old shoes, free rides, doin' time… Nobody is searching for the next Cole Porter in a band named STÖNER. Oliveri spits out an obligatory punk song, his muse this time being Evel Knievel. If you like the sound of all that manly nonsense, also check out STÖNER's contribution to the Live In The Mojave Desert series on which they perform the same seven LP tracks in a slightly different order, surrounded by cacti.

Part Chimp – Drool
(Wrong Speed)

Everybody's favourite prehistoric monster, Godzilla, emerges from the Pacific Ocean. The ancient creature has been disturbed by the testing of underwater hydrogen bombs and is angrier than your dad whenever he stepped on a wayward block of LEGO. Depth charges are deployed to blow the scaly fucker back beneath the sea. This fails spectacularly, further raising the hackles of this lizardy bastard. Tanks, fighter jets, machine guns and fat-ass cannons get involved. Old 'Zilla swots off the military bombardment, roars its toothy head off, and trashes a load of skyscrapers in retaliation. A rabid King Kong pounds around the corner, receives a quick kick to the hairy balls courtesy of the Japanese dinosaur, and falls on his side, crushing an entire suburb. Maimed on the wing by an industrial flamethrower, Mothra collapses out of the sky, leaving a crater in the concrete the size of an airport carpark. An earthquake sets off an avalanche while a nearby volcano erupts. On account of those inadequately tiny arms, Godzilla is unable to cover its ears to block out the whole painful racket and decides to stomp everyone and everything into total oblivion. The whole blooming palaver is about a tenth as noisy as Part Chimp's fifth studio album.

Birds Of Maya – Valdez
(Drag City)

The fuzz is as dense as hearty winter soup. The songs feel like they've been thrown together by a dishevelled group of squatters active in the Michigan scene during the Nixon presidency. (In reality, this trio formed in Philadelphia around the time of Bush Jr's re-election.) It's a bit like they've borrowed their pedal boards from fellow Philly psych-wizards Bardo Pond and then tried to record a sequel to Fun House or Kick Out The Jams. The rhythmic trudge and drawled words of 'Busted Room' are what might have happened if Dylan had REALLY gone electric, by employing Crazy Horse instead of The Band. Sort it out, Robert! The instrumental 'Recessinater' sounds a little undercooked on first listen (alternative title: 'Meandernator'), but more purposeful numbers like 'Front Street' and 'Please Come In' do the compensating. Apparently, Birds of Maya (Jason Killinger/ Ben Leaphart/ Mike Polizze) recorded this set back in 2014, so their new album is already seven years old. Why release it now? Why the devil not?

Six Organs Of Admittance – The Veiled Sea
(Three Lobed)

If you were to prematurely assess The Veiled Sea from its first track, you'd think Ben Chasny had listeners lined up for a decidedly "difficult" ride. The 2.5 minutes of 'Local Clocks' consists of a random bunch of rattling noises and background semi-ambient sonic fur. As far as openers go, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' it ain't. The album hardly goes AOR radio thereafter, although it does get a lot less John Weise. On Track Two, Chasny cranks the amps with some hefty solo electric guitar work. Halfway between Hendrix and Gilmour, his expressive fret-play lies on a bed of new age-y synthesisers which makes for an interesting contrast. Likewise, Chasny continues to shred away on 'All That They Left You', this time complimented by a kind of homemade dark disco backing. When he starts singing, it's like Trans Am covering Depeche Mode while sheltering in a Cold War bunker with John Carpenter's Snake. 'Old Dawn', meanwhile, could be lifted from a Brian Eno album, such is the manner it glistens throughout. The skronkiest axe meditations appear on the following track. They're introduced after a falsetto vocal passage that suggests Sparks' Russell Mael is reciting a prayer in his dressing gown. Chansy concludes the scenic journey with a playful cover of the already-playful 'J'ai Mal Aux Dents' by Faust. On this, he is assisted by the internationally renowned French architect Eric Lapierre. Obviously.

Richard Pinhas & Duncan Pinhas – Sources
(Bam Balam)

There are few noteworthy parent/offspring collaborations in the annals of rock & roll. Regrettably, the first one that springs to mind is Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne's reality TV capitalisation piece 'Changes', a song originally inspired by Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward's separation from his wife. In his autobiography, Ozzy complains none of his old bandmates telephoned to congratulate him when the duet spent a week at No.1. Silence can speak volumes. Let's focus on the positives, like Frank and Moon Unit Zappa's 'Valley Girl' or that Nas single where his dad steals the show. A little more excentrique than those examples is the new joint recording between papa Richard Pinhas and the younger Duncan. Pinhas Senior churns out the spacey, effects-heavy guitar pattens in the way that only he can. Pinhas Junior provides additional guitar, also overseeing the synth work and field recordings. Tel père tel fils. Arthur Narcy applies frantic drums to a couple of tracks, including the clattering opener. 'Echappées Belles' is calmer. It shows Pinhas continuing to ruminate on the lessons learnt from the Fripp & Eno duo that so moved him almost half a century ago when he founded Heldon. 'Aiguille Rouge' is a gnarlier and moodier thrum, travelling from static to ecstatic as Richard's fingers loosen up. Thanks to its splish-sploshing soundscapes, 'Onde Aux Rivages Trop Méconnus' feels more oceanic than galactic, though perhaps it's inspired by the seas of Mars. It'll bring to mind epic scenes from Frank Herbert's Dune series, of which RP has long been a fan. The songs on his 1978 solo album Chronolyse all had Dune-related titles (although these were applied after they'd been recorded, so it wasn't exactly a concept piece). Narcy returns for Track 5, hammering away like a percussionist possessed. Similar in spirit to 'Aiguille Rouge', the final track winds things down over eight engulfing minutes. Pinhas Senior turned 70 this year, he has a remarkable body of work behind him, and doesn't seem to be slowing down. Besides, ce que chante la corneille, chante le corneillon.

Next time: Cannibal Carpool Karaoke with the mostly naked No-Neck Blues Band