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Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For April Reviewed By JR Moores
JR Moores , April 25th, 2022 08:52

JR Moores momentarily prises himself away from web-based lexicon challenges to bring a fresh batch of psych. Home page photograph: 50ft Wave

This spring I have become curiously hooked on Psychle, a popular internet vocabulary game recently acquired for a red-eye-watering sum by The High Times media conglomerate.

The rules of Psychle are deceptively simple. First you ingest a whole bag of fungi that you bought in a pub carpark from a man in an Ozric Tentacles T-shirt. Then you log-on to the Psychle website and fill in the blanks to find a word, between five and 21 letters long, often with a hyphen in it, that once appeared somewhere in the pages of Julian Cope's Copendium: An Expedition Into The Rock 'N' Roll Underwerld. It's a bit like hangman, without the nagging reminder of England's historical enthusiasm for capital punishment which our incredibly civilised Home Secretary would be keen to reintroduce in a heartbeat. Not that she has a heart to beat. Her post-mortem will find little besides coal, dust, pocket lint, spider's legs, damp moss and feldgrau-coloured pus.

The aim is to complete the word game within 666 guesses or, on a bad day, before the fiendish leprechaun who is lurking behind the curtain begins to suck your soul directly into his wide flaming sclerae.

"I always play 'crypto-intellectual' first," the experienced Psychle players will inform you, "because it's got all of the vowels in it," as if no else has thought of that. There are bonus points available if you can remember what record Cope was writing about when he used the word of the day. Hmm, "über-liqueur"? Rings a bell. Ah, yes. It must be from that bit about Runnin Thru My Bones by Tight Bros From Way Back When:

"As if the most werewolfian Rhythm & Bonk tendencies of AC/DC and The Em-Cee Fünf had been neglected on the hob and ultra-reduced into an aural über-liqueur, then guzzled by an orthodox Hell's Angel who'd mistaken it for his pint of snakebite and spewed it onto the pavement like a noisilicious Pollock."

The popularity of Psychle and the imitative games that have sprung up since its success (Cheesel, Worldle, Porndle, Beadle's Aboutle) raises questions about the value of such activities. Building one's knowledge and vocabulary, and keeping the mind active in other such ways, can be a very healthy and productive thing indeed. "My father still reads the dictionary every day. He says your life depends on your power to master words", as Arthur Scargill once put it in sleevenotes for the Manic Street Preachers.

On the other hand, it could be argued that these frivolities are yet another opium for the people, like religion, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, sausage dogs and jarred harissa. How can you countenance the thought of guessing a group of mystery letters when food banks are rife? Downing Street is inhabited by amoral lawbreakers and you're happy to sit there prodding your little keyboard for kicks! The wealthy won't pay their fair share of tax because they despise their fellow man but, hey, line up the mental pacifiers because I'm not gonna think about it!

Then again, almost every pastime that has ever been invented can be accused of derailing the revolution and stalling progress. Hope, strength and resilience can be kindled in all sorts of strange places and pursuits. It's even there in the hearts and minds of some of the nation's leading footballers, of all places, not to mention the current line-up of Jedward. Be careful, insatiable leeches of the elite, because your beady eyes can't be everywhere, at all times. We are here. We are learning, always. We are building something. And there is nothing you can do to stop it. (Besides driving most of humanity to extinction, that is, before we get to have our day. Happy Spring, everyone.)

Ecstatic Vision – Elusive Mojo
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

Put me in a silken dressing gown, thrust a spatula between my fingers and call me Nigella. It's recipe time! (Again.) Step One. Take equal portions of Motörhead, MC5, Monster Magnet, another band beginning with 'M' of your own choice as long as it's not Maroon 5 or fucking Mansun. Step Two. Fold in New York's Sunwatchers and a handful of spices from those Brown Acid compilations, followed by Endless Boogie, Eternal Tapestry, and Turkey's Baba Zula. Step Three. Whack those ingredients into a massive, crusty blender. Mix into a thick paste that still has plenty of chewable chunks in it, like a hearty Mediterranean stew. Step Four. Add two drops of actual brown acid, then a pinch or two of methamphetamine. Finally, neck that gloopy formula in one go. And what have you got? One hell of an impending comedown! But let's not worry about that until a few hours later. Live for the moment, instead. Elusive Mojo is Ecstatic Vision's fourth album and if this year sees a livelier wodge of space-psych-world-music-hard-rock-hootage that was recorded in Philadelphia but is clearly smitten with Detroit, then I'm the queen of puddings.

Stöner – Totally…
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

Desert rock supertrio Brant Bjork, Nick Oliveri and Ryan Güt are unashamedly dumb. There's that on-the-tin band name, of course. The title of their first album together was Stoners Rule. Totally… is its sequel. Totally… what? Totally stoned, no doubt. For the front cover, they've simply opted for a photograph of a pepperoni pizza. It's as if their fanbase weren't already suffering from a crippling case of the munchies. The first track, 'Party March', is in the spirit of Andrew WK, without the self-help angle or messiah clothing. Less heavy handed. More hedonihilistic. They sing about beer and weed… obviously. Ace Frehley gets namechecked at one point. A few of the songs evoke hazardously inebriated road trips, Fear And Loathing-style. Photograph what you eat. Write about what you know. Similarities can be drawn to Kyuss but Stöner are no carbon copy of Bjork and Oliveri's former group. There's something weirdly skeletal, spacious and crisp about the production, which suggests producer Yosef Sanborn may be more of an AC/DC lover than a Sabbath fiend. Next time, expect more songs about testicles. It's all good fun.

GNOD – Hexen Valley

There's not much to add here beyond Alex Deller's longer review of GNOD's latest transmission from the bracken-loaded gorges of New Weird Britain. Suffice to say, Hexen Valley is one of the highlights of an already exceptional discography. In light of its following track, the unstable shopping trolley that is 'Bad Apple', as caustic as it may be, practically acts as a snappy intro. The album really gets pumping on 'Spotlight', a 15-minute monster which was unfairly overlooked in this year's niche Grammy category of Best Use Of A Relentless Bassline Since 'Blindness' By The Fall. Had this gurgling ogre of a tune been the only track included on the LP, it would be worth the £23.99 all by itself. Generous hooligans that they are, GNOD also offer the comparatively punkish 'Skies Are Red' and 'Still Runnin', the slower burning 'Antidepressants', and perhaps their most tuneful moment yet in the form of a phat-as-you-like cover of Lou Reed's 'Waves Of Fear'. In light of his confrontationally heavy Lulu, the departed contrarian would surely be proud.

50 Foot Wave – Black Pearl

Mention the name Kristin Hersh and most people will think of Throwing Muses. Since 2003 she has also fronted 50 Foot Wave, a power trio with Bernard Georges (also of Throwing Muses) and Rob Ahlers. They're a hulkier affair than the better-known outfit, as evidenced by Black Pearl's lapel-grabbing opener 'Staring Into The Sun'. Hersh's densely distorted guitar tone and the lurchingly deliberate tempos are in the vein of Big Sexy Noise or The Birthday Party. Her husking vocals, meanwhile, are low enough in the mix so as not to dominate, meaning that certain lyrics only become clearer with repeat listens. Even then, lines such as "hog child born wild in a surreal tinfield" and "the tears I shed for you weren't all clean" remain intriguingly open to interpretation. Drummer Ahlers is the group's not-so-secret weapon, hammering each song so deeply into the ears that any remaining ambiguity is largely obliterated.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Omnium Gatherum

Their twelve-thousandth album in total, April's King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard release is so long that, as my deadline hits, I still haven't finished listening to it. And I pressed play sometime last Tuesday! Only joking. I might not be the most conscientious psych writer this side of Shindig! but I'm not THAT unprofessional. I'm not a certain hack from a 1980s music weekly. Omnium Gatherum is the Australian band's first double-album, surprisingly, and its opener is as bold as Beauchamp's brass gonads. Frantic, dense, catchy and propulsive, it sees the Gizzard bending time to their will as the track's 18 minutes fly by in what feels like six. That's something of a relief, seeing as there are still fifteen more songs to go. To summarise the virtually unsummarisable, this band of kitchen sinkers offer their own take on any genre that pops into their heads, including thrash metal, soul, dreampop, R&B, various shades of rock and more. The idea to include two Beastie Boys-ish hip hop numbers certainly risks cringe, but even they work well. It's a lot to take in and the proficiency at which they manage to pull everything off is almost annoying. But that comes from jealousy, mainly. Lesser bands must hear this stuff and want to throw in the towel for good.

Weak Signal – WAR&WAR

WAR&WAR is named after a novel by the Hungarian postmodernist László Krasznahorkai. I haven't read it myself but based on this record and an endorsement from The New Yorker which described it as "one of the most profoundly unsettling experiences I have had as a reader", I've just ordered a copy from my Amazon alternative of choice. Following hot on the heels of last year's Bianca, Weak Signal's latest collection is unsettling in an extremely tuneful way. It is by no means a happy record. There are songs about poverty, mental and physical illness, loss, humiliation, annihilation and alienation. Luckily, the Jesus And Mary Chain-like melodies are fully gorgeous, with Mike Bones' hollow baritone enriched by Sasha Vine's lighter backing vocals. Whether in a faster or slower tempo, the songs chug along fuzzily, with a possible exception in the janglier palette-cleanser 'Spooky Feeling'. Oh, wait. Halfway through that one, the pervasive fuzz-chug kicks in too. When tackling 'It's Not Enough' by Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers, the original's casual aloofness is jettisoned in favour of a more menacing vibe. Elsewhere, the verses of 'Don't Think About It' recall Eels at their bleakest and heaviest. 'Yr Deal' suggests Crazy Horse have kicked out Neil Young and replaced him with Kim Deal and a sleepy Stephin Merritt. The title track sounds like the middle part of a live Sonic Youth song when the big hand hits abstract-feedback o'clock. The final number, 'Who The Hell Are U?', is even fuzzier and chuggier than all that came before. Like the work of László Krasznahorkai (I expect), it's a mesmerizingly morose journey, yet a scenic one too. Just don't whack it on the turntable when you're feeling at your most fragile.

Wet Tuna - Warping All By Yourself
(Three Lobed)

Wet Tuna used to be a duo made up of Matt Valentine (Tower Recordings, MV&EE, etc.) and Pat "PG Six" Gubler, who were also prone to roping in the assistance of likeminded jammers from the no-longer-particularly-new field of New Weird America. Gubler, however, "kind of bailed on this one", as Valentine rather sheepishly explained in April's issue of The Wire. Left to his own devices, with help from a few contributors again, Valentine continues his journey down the wormhole of homegrown disco-dubby psych-funk. Sounding somehow both as smooth as ice and charmingly lo-fi at the same time, it's a bit like a children's TV take on early Sun Araw. Some listeners will find the material, and its languid approach to vocal melody, difficult to latch on to; similar, maybe, to chasing after steam. Even they will struggle to resist joining Valentine in feeling kinda good when they hear 'Kinda Feelin' Good'. It floats along like Scratch Perry steering The Flaming Lips towards George Clinton's outdoor sauna. A nice warm bath of a record.

Heldon – Antelast
(Bam Balam)

Septuagenarian Frenchman Richard Pinhas insists that he is winding down his activities, while also churning out new material, collaborative ventures and archive repressings at a rate that suggests otherwise. The latest (and final?) incarnation of Heldon, a project first founded in 1974, includes relative young pups Arthur Narcy and Florian Tatard. Heldon's 1970s recordings were influenced by Frippertronics and drew comparisons to Krautrock, although the only German group Pinhas knew at the time were the not-very-Heldon-like Kraftwerk. Heldon's combination of wild guitar licks, cosmic effects, synthesiser hums and vigorous drumwork was distinctly rendered back then and, despite all the pretenders who have spliced so-called "electronic" and "organic" instrumentation in the interim, it remains so to this day. Antelast was recorded in December 2019. It was performed live, as you can tell from the "crikey, they appear to be performing right here in my own living room" mix of its five movements. There's a nice earthy tone to Tatard's bass whacks. Narcy brings to the kit the same kind of prog-jazz-skronk enthusiasm that was heard on Pinhas' 2017 record Reverse. Their leader churns all manner of expressive, space-age, post-Hendrix string-business out of his axe. The electronic backing birdsong seems to have a mind of its own. It all gels and lunges together incredibly well. If the cool-as- concombres musicians weren't gasping for breath by the end of this performance, their audience most certainly were.

JR Moores' Electric Wizards: A Tapestry Of Heavy Music, 1968 To The Present is published by Reaktion Books. Unlike lesser tomes on HEAVY, its pages mention Heldon a fair few times