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Columnfortably Numb: The Best Psych Rock Of 2022
JR Moores , December 14th, 2022 10:09

After detailing a few major changes that are happening at The Quietus, JR Moores champions his favourite psych rock records of the year

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, photo by Jason Galea

2022 featured more bombshells than Blitz Night at Hooters. Prime Minsters came and went (and then came again in the private company of their mistress/BDSM dungeon/Iron Lady shrine – delete as appropriate). The Atlanta rapper Graham Linehanye West became even more provocatively paranoid thanks to way too much time on the internet. It's easy to mock such outspoken crusaders. They are ahead of their time. Eventually this technology will make gibbering wrecks of us all.

Speaking of which, one of the year's seismic moments came when the world's richest and least cool man, Enol Mucks, with the help of his Saudi business partners, decided to buy arts website The Quietus. Needless to say, editorial adjustments were afoot. Sorry to break this to you but instead of exclusive songs by Matmos, Shit And Shine and Almost Decadent Breakfast, subscribers now have to pay $8 a week and all you'll get is a second-hand Grimes t-shirt and Tesla loyalty card.

Where the site used to carry advertisements for Warp reissues and BigFilthyBassdrop Festival, you'll now be exposed a greater quantity of promotions for Jordan Peterson's latest book, 120 Hearty Beef Recipes For Emasculated Colons, and an off-Broadway musical starring Laurence Fox as Lionel Shriver, aka the Boudica to wokeness' Roman Empire. (That last bit will have to be changed under our owner's new edit function. He baulks every time he sees the word "exposed" after a $250,000 pay-out to an employee who discovered to her horror that he is the Louis CK of attention-thirsty entrepreneurs.)

Predictably one of Muck's first moves was to reinstate ex-noise/industrial/drone columnist Adam Lehrer, otherwise known as Brooklyn's most conservative writer, who's a big fan of Donald Trump and Billy Corgan. Can you spot the pattern (besides that of the male baldness variety)?

Freedom of speech won't feed my children, as a Welshman once sang. Still, it is the most precious and important right known to man. Specifically to one spectacularly needy South African man who could strive harder to put food on people's plates but would rather fly around the Earth's atmosphere, harassing his flight attendants, while waving through the window to the equally lonely Richard Branson bobbing around in his own ego balloon. In space no one can hear you scream, "I'm a self-made man with inherited wealth whose companies have received billions of dollars from government loans, contracts, tax credits, and subsidies… Why am I such a laughing stock?!"

After declaring that "comedy is now legal on The Quietus" our new overlord then revealed that he can't take a joke by threatening to delete all of the site's parodic content. There go most of my intros, then. Including this one now. Sayonara! If you need any further psych-rock recommendations, you can find me on an alternative platform like Facebook or Instagram where everything is definitely completely okay. At the same time, I'll also still be posting on here, while banging on about those other platforms. It all seems very time consuming.

Now I've got that out of my system, in alphabetical order here are the ten best so-called "psych rock" releases of 2022, apart from the ones I haven't heard, forgot about, cruelly neglected, didn't let grow on me, or were covered in greater depth elsewhere on the site. Enol Mucks will soon eradicate such sloppiness. Only writers he deems "hardcore" will survive the purge. (I assume he means punk correspondent Noel Gardner.) It's onward and upwards from hereon! What's that? Who's he sacked now? What's up with the coding? TH))))))IIISSS$$$$ 1S FFFFF!!!NNNNE……

Aidan Baker – Tenebrist
(Cruel Nature)

Calculating how many solo works, Nadja albums and collaborations with other artists were released by Aidan Baker this year alone would be a bit like guessing the number of Smarties in a massive glass jar at the school fête. So let's just shine a light on one of many. To cite mathematics again, which I have never been good at, I don't know how many guitar tracks or effects pedals were involved in this recording. Judging from the layers of slow and distorted riffs, I'm going hazard an educated guess at quite a few. As Tenebrist unfolds, it gets less straightforwardly categorisable as drone metal by introducing jazzier, post-rocky elements. In case you're worried Baker is about to go all soft on us by joining Tortoise or whatever, towards the end it builds back again into something bloody heavy.

Ecstatic Vision – Elusive Mojo
(Heavy Psych Sounds)

Ecstatic Vision couldn't sound any more bad-assed if you took the sleeve of Michael Jackson's seventh solo album and stapled it to their backsides. Elusive Mojo quickly revs into full franticness with its title track and barely lets up from there. Can you imagine if Lemmy had joined early Monster Magnet and recruited the services of New York space-jazzers Sunwatchers who'd just finished a stint as the backing band for Fela Kuti? I realise a certain amount of dimension jumping is in order before those acts' timelines match up. There are other moments when it's like The Stooges covering Endless Boogie. Again, the other way round would make more sense, chronology wise. But who needs the TARDIS when Ecstatic Vision are around?

GNOD – Hexen Valley

When cultural historians of the future write their accounts of Britain in the age of austerity, Faragean nationalism, food banks, Covid, corruption, Rwandan deportation, Grenfell and Greggs, they will likely draw on the music that's backdropped this difficult time. They'll reference Sleaford Mods' barksome ire, the nihilistic debauchery of Fat White Family, the more popular yet no less disillusioned Sam Fender, and that Bristol band with the Victorian moustaches. Scholars would be advised, also, to look at GNOD whose often disenchanted but cathartic output has spanned space rock, abstract jazz noise, electro murmurings and face-melting noise rock. Hexen Valley proved as mighty as anything they've put out to date. The centrepiece is the infinitely satisfying 15-minute behemoth known as 'Spotlight'. As far as GNOD go, snappier cuts like 'Skies Are Red' and 'Still Running' are almost poppy. Or punky. Certainly not pop-punky, mind. The sparser 'Antidepressants' has a more melancholic air. The cover of Lou Reed's 'Waves Of Fear' works so well it's as if the much-missed curmudgeon had GNOD in mind when he wrote it.

Randy Holden – Population III

Julian Cope wrote that Randy Holden's Population II was "the most strung out, wrung out ambient hulk of metalwork to rise from the mystic portals that crossed the 1960s over into 1970." How do you follow that? Well, not for several decades it turns out. Its sequel was worth the wait. (The delay, incidentally, was extended because the sessions were completed ten years ago and Holden only decided to release them now.) Recorded as a power trio with Randy Pratt and Bobby Rondinelli, Population III is a bulky, swampy, stomping, bluesy, groovy, bass-heavy monster of a record. Who can begin to match what Cope would have to say about it? An oblivionic astro-journey into thee deepest and stickiest heart of thy blackholean netherwerlde? Right on!

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Omnium Gatherum

Had any other band created a double album as impressive as Omnium Gatherum, they'd have put it out, promoted it a bit, bathed in the glory of the plaudits, rested on their laurels, put their slippers on, and then thought about maybe following it up in about four years' time. It came out in April and, this being King Gizzard, they've already released several albums since. The only explanation is that there is more than one King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, an army of clones to share the load, like Michael Keaton in 1996's Multiplicity. Anyway, if you only buy one KG&TLW album from 2022 (and I'm not saying you should limit yourself to that minimum but times are hard) then make it this one. It opens with an 18-minute psych-prog epic about the depletion of the world's resources. Thereafter they skate through their own takes on thrash metal, soul, dreampop, R&B, various shades of rawk, and probably invent a few subgenres along the way.

Richard Pinhas / Merzbow – CODA
(Bam Balam)

Robert Fripp has long accepted he's got a lot to answer for. By the late 1970s he'd become as averse as any other person with eyes and ears to the ridiculous excesses of the British prog scene that King Crimson had helped birth. Thus, he fled to New York and hung out with Blondie. He has also spawned much of which he can be proud. While Heldon leader Richard Pinhas loved In The Court Of The Crimson King, it was Fripp's work with Brian Eno on 1973's (No Pussyfooting) that provided the greatest revelation. Similarly, one of Merzbow's earliest ambitions was to replicate and elongate only the harshest and most discordant moments of King Crimson and Jimi Hendrix; the latter being another of Pinhas' guitar heroes. Together, perhaps they are Fripp & Eno of abstract noise. This joint recording is less harsh than much of the solo output when Merzbow is left to his own devices. His roaring, untuned television tornadoes are tempered and complimented by Pinhas, an incredible guitarist whose style is inventive, soulful, spiralling and celestial, without ever slipping into the dreaded proggy tendency of self-indulgence.

Pink Mountaintops – Peacock Pools

Peacock Pools is packed with so many ideas the band should have renamed themselves "Everything But The Kitchen Sink Mountaintops". Is anybody after a weirdly sexy cover of Black Flag? Track one! 'Nervous Breakdown'! Check! How about a touching tribute to Nikki Sudden of Swell Maps cult-fame? Check! Streetlamp-lit Thin Lizzy hook-rock? CHECK! Jaunty Kinks-isms? Check! Starry-eyed Donovanian astral folk? A one-off thrash number? Disco-friendly krautrock meets squelching lo-fi G-funk, like Primal Scream might've made somewhere between Vanishing Point and Evil Heat (but, erm, didn't)? Check! Check! Double check! Basically, there's more to digest here than at Henry VIII's birthday buffet.

Rangers – Out In The Sticks
(Baked Whale)

This was a bit of a surprise to anyone who came to Joe Knight's latest cassette expecting more of Late Electrics' lo-fi slacker ditties. Instead, Out In The Sticks showcased Rangers in devil's horn mode. Knight recorded it during the pandemic while reminiscing about the hard rock, prog and heavy metal bands he'd adored as a teenager. You can imagine he might have recorded it while wearing a headband. Far from trading in pastiche, the resulting instrumentals felt delightfully idiosyncratic; full of hefty riffs, nifty solos, lush synth patterns, neck-jerking time changes and occasional lighter echoes of Rangers' prior output.

Solar Corona – Pace
(Lovers & Lollypops)

Not everything with "corona" in its name is bad for us. Sure, there's the moreish light beer, a chocolate brand, another hot chocolate brand, and the strain of viruses you might have read about in the news. This Portuguese quartet were named (pre-pandemic) after one of the layers of the sun which is apt because their take on heavy, instrumental space rock is so bright it could be blinding (were it, erm, a sight rather than sound). 'Thrust' opens with a Motörhead riff and then blasts off towards der Kosmos. 'AU' starts quietly but is soon livelier than knapsack full of grasshoppers (thanks in no small part to a seemingly multi-armed drummer). The star of 'Parker SP' is the boogieing bassline, which is embellished by the surrounding mesmeric effects. And that's just the tip of the flame-berg.

Weak Signal – WAR&WAR

NYC's answer to The Jesus & Mary Chain, Weak Signal make scuzzy and noisy indie-rock songs with melodies to die-and-go-to-heaven for. Imagine how it might've been if Sonic Youth had allotted some of their songwriting duties to Holland-Dozier-Holland. Or if the Velvet Underground had signed to Motown. Or something like that. The tunefulness is the perfect foil to the distorted chuggery of the music and it also helps to take some of the edge off the bleaker subject matter. Despite yourself, you'll soon be singing along in a surprisingly uplifted fashion to lyrics about death, poverty, cold weather, captivity, fractured relationships, lack of sunshine and the act of urinating into plastic bottles.

Electric Wizards: A Tapestry of Heavy Music, 1968 to the Present by JR Moores is now out in paperback so get it on your Christmas lists if you haven't read it already, you splendid people