Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For March Reviewed By JR Moores

Is artificial intelligence really the future of niche psych and noise rock criticism? JR Moores investigates

Bruxa Maria, photo by Julie Kane

The boxed-set-bashing music journalist Simon Reynolds recently wrote about whether AI could do his job for him. At least we think he did. Because there’s no way of verifying that Reynolds hasn’t already been replaced by an I, Robot without tracking him down and asking him to peel the rubbery skin off his mechanical arm like Arnold does in Terminator 2. If it was really him, "Reynolds" concluded that the sophisticated ChatGPT text generator was incapable of producing decent copy for it can hear neither the music under analysis, nor the (lack of) musicality and rhythm in its own stilted prose.

Well, that might be the case when WALL-E tries to write like Simon. He’s one of the most highly respected music critics on the planet. Ought the bar be set a little lower? The Yul Brynner android from Westworld wasn’t a convincing cowboy from day one. Probably worked its way up from clawing feebly at fluffy toys in the amusement arcade.

When I asked it for help in composing this column, ChatGPT accurately replicated the actions of any human who’s ever put me on a festival or panel bill by missing the "s" from the end of my apparently confusing surname. It wasn’t offended when I corrected its spelling and apostrophe usage. Nor did it apologise. It did then try to get into my pants.

"Columnfortably Numb is an essential read for fans of psychedelic and noisy music," it informed me. Oh, really? Is that so? Do go on. "Moores’ [that’s better] extensive knowledge and passion for the genre make it an engaging and informative read, and his dedication to uncovering hidden gems and shining a light on overlooked artists make it a valuable resource for discovering new music." ChatGPT, how you flatter me! "His writing is informative and insightful, providing readers with a thorough understanding of the music and the culture surrounding it." Do you want to go out for a drink sometime, Chatty darling? So you can tell me more about how brilliant… "Moores is a long-time music journalist…" Oh, you’ve ruined it now, chatbot! I’m not that old!

Once we got the small talk/foreplay out of the way, we then knuckled down to writing about music. See if you can guess which one of the following psych/noise-rock reviews was written by artificial intelligence. I asked it to insert more jokes and metaphors, had to fix some of the song titles it got wrong and ended up providing a fair bit of prompting myself. Hopefully this proves to my editors that for the time being I cannot be replaced by fucking Twiki.

Score – Cope

(Cruel Nature)

A tip for any ambitious mongers of psychedelia out there: here’s a sure-fire way to see your wares fast-tracked into the hallowed listings of Columnfortably Numb. Simply write a concept album based on Julian Cope. That’s exactly what Chris Tate of Score has done. He immersed himself in the pages of Cope’s two classic volumes of autobiography, Head-On and Repossessed, then set to work in a garage making tunes inspired by the archdruid’s quirky descriptions of the greatest music encountered through his acid-tinged life. It’s an instrumental affair, so songs including ‘Old Prick’ have no words (sadly?) and nobody’s had to find any rhymes for words in the Copeian lexicon like "freekazoid". It opens with a one-man take on glam, in all its saxophonic stompery. Appropriately enough given that Cope literally wrote the book on the subject (Krautrocksampler), many of the songs have the general feel of what’s otherwise known as Kosmische Musik. ‘A New Beat’ is a surfy take on the formula, if you can call it that because Krautrock was established as more of an anti-formula, really. Brassily noirish, ‘Brick’ suggests Tate is playing private dick, shadowing Steve Reich down some dark alleyway. ‘On The One’ is surely inspired by Cope’s love of bands like Sly And The Family Stone because it’s funkier than Craig Charles’ unwashed briefs. Speaking of underwear, ‘Sock’ feels like it’s referencing different eras/alter-egos of David Bowie all at the same time. Has anyone put this on Mr Cope’s radar? It’s likely he’d be so impressed he’d spill his cup of blotter tea.

Skull Practitioners – Negative Stars

(In The Red)

Henry Rollins says he stopped making music because he ran out of lyrics. He didn’t run out of words, however, because he’s carried on writing, talking, ranting and raving with the energy of someone with verbal diarrhoea, not to mention actual diarrhoea because he drinks an awful lot of coffee. Rollins also didn’t want to play the same songs every night for decades on end and couldn’t figure out a different way to make music. "When I see Mick Jagger still singing ‘I can’t get no satisfaction,’" Rollins said in 2011, "I have to conclude that he’s either very stupid or not being truthful." Could be both! Given the ex-Black Flag and Rollins Band man’s Catholic tastes in all things tinnitus-inducing, had he stayed in the game and overcome his doubts would he have made a similar racket to Skull Practitioners? All three members sing but none considers himself a singer. The trio’s sound is rooted in post punk, with much of the experimental edge that the term originally inferred, before its more recent application for any guitar band from BRIT School with a shouty singer. Without sounding erratic, the band slyly weave elements of shoegaze, garage, art-rock, surf-rock, space-rock and other texture-heavy subgenres into their radgie mélange. Perhaps this is what Gang Of Four or Fugazi might’ve sounded like, if they’d been more partial to board-upon-board of multiple guitar pedals. Has anyone put this on Mr Rollins’ radar? It’s likely he’d be so impressed he’d spit out his sextuple espresso.

Plastic Crimewave Syndicate – Space Alley

(Cardinal Fuzz)

Plastic Crimewave Syndicate like to keep things loose. Heavy on the extemporisation, theirs is a sound that some critics might’ve chastised for being sloppy and the likes of Lester Bangs would’ve adored for the exact same reason. How shall we fill the next bit of the song, in that instrumental passage between the repeated lines of "YOOZ…! YOOZ YER MIND"? Keep going! Just crank some nasty lead guitar noise out of your strings using whatever stompboxes come to hand. Or feet, rather. You know, like we did in rehearsal. What, man? There was a rehearsal?! Spiral Galaxy’s Sara Gossett drops in to add Bardo Pond-ish flute sections here and there. Taralie Peterson from Spires That In The Sunset Rise provides saxophone parts that’ll make Nik Turner smile down from Venus. The final song takes up the whole second side and sounds like it was recorded while tumbling up and down several of Escher’s staircases for about 20 minutes. Matching the raggedy agenda of the astral jams, the artwork looks like it could’ve been made on MS Paint for Windows 95. Fabulously ragged.

Neutraliser – Capsule Bowed Space

(Cruel Nature)

This duo’s first release came out under their actual names, i.e. "Mike Vest / Charlie Butler", a four-part psychathon titled Neutraliser. That appears to be their band name now, perhaps because Mr Vest likes to unveil about three new projects in any given week. Their new one is a single piece that lasts for 80 minutes. That’s longer than Sleep’s ‘Dopesmoker’, The Jungle Book movie of 1967, or the average cooking time on a coq au vin. Speaking of rich and herby flavours, let’s tuck into their audio stew. Both players contribute multiple instruments and neither one’s in any rush to reach the end of the recipe. Together they concoct a warm and heavy brew out of guitars, drums, synthesisers, organs and pianos. If you like the idea of relaxation tapes but can’t bear the thought of entering that shop that smells of incense to buy a CD with a white woman in lotus position on the front, you could do a lot worse than embarking on Neutraliser’s trip. Butler does go quite wild on the drums for a little while, mind. And you will have to break out of your trance to turn over the cassette halfway through. It’s like music made by space whales in chef’s hats.

Carlton Melton – Resemble Ensemble


As if their jams weren’t already as dense as lava, long-running instrumental institution Carlton Melton have expanded to a quartet for their latest transmission from the Californian coast. The biggest surprise here is the upbeat ‘High Alert’ which has shades of Eliminator-era ZZ Top, admittedly without any bearded chaps singing about ladies’ lower limbs. The song’s mixture of perky synth and carefree guitar noodling also recalls the postmodern disco-rock of Trans Am. The long and hypnotic opening piece, ‘Prescribed Skies’, offers propulsive Krautrock. ‘Elsewhere (Need To Be)’ is all ambient and drum-less. ‘So The Story Grows’ unfurls from an accordion-like wheeze into serene and starry eyed space-rock. And ‘Route Thirteen’ expands the noodle quota over an almost alt-country backing twang. Once again they’ve smashed it out the geodesic dome.

Bruxa Maria – Build Yourself A Shrine And Pray

(Riot Season)

Three albums into their career, Bruxa Maria don’t sound any less angry. More or less an extended intro, the new one’s title track builds the suspense in a clattering manner before ‘God Gun Scruples’ really kicks the cobwebs into next Thursday with its murkily rendered near-nu-metal riffs. ‘Totalitarian Pissing’ rocks like Babes In Toyland turned up to 11 and dragged backwards through a bramble bush. The longest piece, ‘Blind Side’ opens with a steamrolling post-rocky crescendo, as if they couldn’t be arsed to play the quiet bit first, which somehow manages to escalate further when the vocals kick in. As low in the mix as its singing is, this is one of the most tuneful songs in Bruxa’s canon, while still being crushingly heavy throughout. Later on the final track, ‘True Say’, also seems to be pushing the band’s noise-punk style into new realms thanks to an underlying melody that could have been imported from an Arabian territory. Again, it seems to be upping the epic factor. Across the songs, Gill Dread screams, shouts and mutters as madly, terrifyingly and articulately as a Shakespearian villainess. If that sounds too classy for you, the download has three bonus tracks composed in the noise-collage mode which are equally atmospheric in a more abstract manner.

The Men – New York City
(Fuzz Club)

New York City by The Men is the latest offering from the Brooklyn-based punk rockers, and it’s a raw and gritty love letter to the city that never sleeps. The band has always had a knack for blending punk, noise rock and post-punk elements, but on New York City they have taken it to a whole new level. The opening track, ‘Hard Livin’ sets the mood with its heart-pumping drums, distorted guitars, and lyrics that capture the manic energy of the Big Apple.

‘Eye’ is a track that lurches and stomps its way into your consciousness, like a giant monster rampaging through the streets of the city. It’s dark, brooding, and packed full of heavy riffs and driving beats, making it the perfect tune for anyone who’s ever felt like they’re fighting a losing battle. ‘Round the Corner’ is a garage anthem that would make Iggy Pop and The Stooges green with envy. This song is like a caffeine shot for the ears, guaranteed to get you jumping and shouting, or at least tapping your feet. If you’re a fan of punk, noise rock, or post-punk, then this album is definitely one that you need to "take a bite" out of.

Electric Wizards: A Tapestry Of Heavy Music, 1968 To The Present by JR Moores is now available in paperback. No Cylons were harmed in the making of this production.

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