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Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For January Reviewed By JR Moores
JR Moores , January 23rd, 2024 10:54

Before casting his ears over 2024's first few psych and noise rock releases, JR Moores throws himself into the deep end of music making

Island Apes, photo by Lucy Ling

If there was one television programme I enjoyed most over the festive period then it had to be the 90-minute Death In Paradise Christmas special. Coming close second was the one-off edition of MasterChef in which the poncy food critics themselves had to serve fish pies to John Torode and Ross Kemp.

That got me thinking. Reviewing the latest psych rock releases is an easy gig. (Well, not that easy. Those overwrought metaphors, needless digressions, endless adverbs and largely irrelevant introductory paragraphs don't write themselves.) But how would I fare if somebody asked me to create my own album of trippy psychedelia? Would it cut the proverbial Dijon? Or go down less well than Roger Ebert's attempts at screenwriting? Could such a process provide me with fresh insight when haughtily judging other people's records on a bi-monthly basis? What would the experts make of my own recorded efforts?

Hastily I dusted off my Fender Esquire, borrowed from a friend a stompbox or seven, pinched some samples from an internet site, scribbled down a few lyrical ideas based on a Philip K. Dick novel I'd just started reading, dug a four-track device out of the skip down the road and set to work on my own 47-minute audio epic. Without revealing who was behind this masterpiece, I sent it to some of the most respected experts outside of this column.

Imagine my delight when many of them got back to me almost immediately. "Not the worst attempt to mimic established genre conventions," offered Crayson Gurrin of the Pitchfork website. "I'm kinda guessin' this off-kilter, lo-fi morsel has been concocted by a fan of Rangers," screamed Kryton Bowery in The Wire magazine's unpopular new font.

"I am well vibing off of the bit where the donking tune gets all late-90s, like," spittooned a jowelling Jamie Oliver. "It's got the guitar and then it's got those laaaaarrvelly meaty drum parts to go with it," crowed Gregg Wallace, essentially listing the instruments as they appeared directly in front of him. "There's the bass too," announced the ex-veg peddler. "And then the singing. Well, that is almost acting as a voice on top of the rest of the musicianship. I'll tell you what, if that was presented to me at the third night of a Cafe OTO residency, I'd – ha ha ha – be asking for another encore!"

There you have it. The project was a triumph. Five stars across the board, apart from some sniffier feedback from The Scotsman's Kate Copstick who I forgot to mention earlier. This venture had given me such greater appreciation of creativity that I was giddily tearful enough to refer to the short process as "my journey".

No longer would I be concerned by accusations of harbouring failed or frustrated musical aspirations because I had generated better reviews for my music than Cliff Richard has ever received for any of his books as featured on the shelves of The Works.

Then I returned to the business of writing about music. My true calling. And something Charli XCX wouldn't be able to manage with twenty redrafts, T. S. Eliot as her editor and a freshly un-shrink-wrapped thesaurus.

Bloody Head – Perpetual Eden
(Wrong Speed)

I've always been a fan of any distortion effect that makes the humble electric guitar sound like a massive hulking jet engine. Off the top of my head, examples include 'More Light' by J Mascis + The Fog, 'Again' by Bardo Pond and 'I Wish' from Graham Coxon's debut solo album. It's an approach the latter has regrettably never used to drown out Blur. I mention this because, to their credit, Bloody Head do it a lot. You'd not want to be a whimsical psych pop act playing on a festival stage across the field from this lot. Put it that way. You wouldn't be able to hear yourself Ariel Pink. Where the Venn diagram meets between hardcore punk, sludge metal, noise rock and The Stooges' simian primality, that's where Bloody Head sit. Or perhaps leap around. Shouting. From behind the bars of their cerebral and societal cage. Perpetual Eden is urgent, raw, bleak, brutal and exciting. I bet this is what [redacted name of popular band I keep poking fun at] think they sound like.

Bolts Of Melody – Film Noir
(Outer Battery)

Film Noir is being released simultaneously with the reissue of Swervedriver's 99th Dream, which is of less interest because it first appeared in 1998 after the shoegazers' trajectory had turned south. Another of Adam Franklin's projects, Bolts Of Melody take their name from one of his solo albums. As implied by its title, Film Noir was conceived as an instrumental record. A range of different people's voices did end up appearing on it, albeit infrequently and without grabbing the spotlight. The grooves and moods remain the most important aspects, then. 'Harpsiglass' recalls the post-rock-gone-lounge style of Grails' recent output. Other moments shine like long-lost nuggets from the annals of krautrock. There are occasional echoes, too, of Mogwai's more keyboard-oriented ditties. As an added bonus, J Mascis donates a guitar solo to one piece, which is always a welcome interference.

Charlie Butler – Wild Fictions
(Cruel Nature)

Charlie Butler has played in a bunch of bands including instrumental space-metallers Mothertrucker, who once came up with the unbeatable song title 'Reef Do All The Work, The Beatles Get All The Credit'. His latest solo offering leans more into the tradition of Spacemen 3 and Sonic Boom, or perhaps even the less jarring end of Astral Social Club. Floating on top of the foggy drone of the first song is a fairly jaunty melody, plausibly performed using a child's keyboard. This sense of playfulness and lightness of touch continues into the next piece, 'Loose Duke', which has the feel of indietronic post-rock. (Múm? Fridge? The Notwist?...) The second half of the cassette has a slightly more melancholic or even ominous edge which might be expected from the titles 'Dark Fractions' and 'Devil House'. There's nothing warm about the latter's fuzziness, for instance. It's more like when one of those pesky demons from another dimension tries to ooze its way out of the static on your television screen. To risk using that old cliché again, it is quite the journey.

Island Apes – Island Apes
(God Unknown)

Stop trying to enjoy all those feeble Foo Fighters albums out of sympathy. He'll never write another 'Everlong' and there's a different former member of Nirvana who deserves your attention. Well, sort of. Remember those clips from when the 'Love Buzz' stars toured in the UK and they'd have someone onstage with them doing freestyle interpretive dance like he'd just escaped the clutches of a Manson-like commune? That was Tony Hodgkinson who plays in Island Apes with ex-members of Fudge Tunnel and Force Fed. Appropriately enough, there is an identifiable grungy undercurrent to their material. Raw-sounding riffs that would have fitted onto Bleach. A straightforwardly catchy chorus yelped over the top. They're rather more cosmic than the Seattle lot though, with trippy space-rock tornadoes aplenty and an almost noise-punk penchant for disorientating guitar effects. They also bring it down a notch by throwing in a dub track halfway through the LP and on 'RDEH4' they're veering into jazzy prog. Or proggy jazz. Prazz? Wait, wasn't he a member of 90s grunge trio The Fugees?

The Loveless – Meet The Loveless

Well, this is fun. "So, what's the premise?" I hear you shout. Let me explain. Marc Almond? Yes, the Soft Cell bloke. He hooks up with Neal X, the tower-haired guitarist from Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Keen to recreate the garage rock thrills of their youth, they recruit keyboardist James Beaumont and two blokes who've done stints as Iggy Pop's rhythm section. (No easy feat, that.) They record covers of vintage cuts from the likes of 13th Floor Elevators, Bo Diddley, Alice Cooper and The Kinks, throw in a couple of self-penned numbers which also sound like they could've been made in the olden days and… hey presto! If that looks too nostalgic a project on paper, I challenge you to drop the needle on Meet The Loveless and not end up grinning from one ear to the other. Every person involved sounds like they're having more than several hoots and the feeling becomes rapidly infectious. And that's just the covers. As for the original songs, 'Wild In The Streets' is like The Icarus Line meets Rocket From The Crypt and 'Nothing At All' leaves that recent Rolling Stones record wheezing in the dirt like The Simpsons' Hans Moleman after getting hit in the cock by a football. Their next challenge is to write themselves some additional rippers.

Ty Segall – Three Bells
(Drag City)

Ty Segall's crisply produced new album opens with a psych folk number with fruity time signatures, an authoritative drum sound, several song sections, a "blast off" style countdown and lyrics about life and death going full circle. It's only five minutes long but is jampacked with so many subparts and ideas, coalescing occasionally, the thought that there are another 14 tracks to get through will be a little overwhelming for those who are partial to his simpler blasts of garage rock. The prog-like complexity continues thereafter. Yes, it is a fairly exhausting experience but there are gems to be found within the thicket, usually at the points where Segall focuses his mind a bit. There's the nicely spiky 'I Hear', for instance. 'My Best Friend' pairs chunky riffs with a falsetto-sung Beatles-esque melody (and sentiment). 'My Room' sounds like a heavier and noodle-prone Elliott Smith. Other moments are a mess, although they'll still satisfy Segall's equivalent of Frank Zappa's most forgiving fans. Incidentally, I once met a musician who claimed that artists should strive for ever-increasing levels of complexity as that's how they push their work forward. To resist that, he said, would be a close-minded and almost fascistic restriction on creative potential. Regarding his judgement, he was a white bloke who wore reams of dreadlocks. So make of that what you will.

The Men Who Japed - A Spammer Darkly
(Socket Recordings)

"To be honest I was expecting jack fuck from this usual shitshow. Even I have to pissing admit the balance of repetitive drumbeats and woozy backing bollocks does actually work surprisingly crapping well. Cock. Piss. Fanny sticks. Smaller menu. Shaft. Bumbag. That Tupperware's full of mould, you cretinous gape. Needs more seasoning... for tits' sake!"
— Gordon Ramsay

Electric Wizards: A Tapestry of Heavy Music, 1968 to the Present by JR Moores is available online and within the physical shelves of reputable bookshops. New book coming in 2024...