Columnfortably Numb: Your Psych Reviews For February

The album format will never die, says JR Moores, not where psych rock is concerned. With Deep Hum, Bardo Pond, Death Pedals and more

Back in the days when I should have shown more spunk, spending my Friday nights schmoozing in trendy wine bars in order to secure some vague semblance of a career, there was nothing I would rather do than draw the curtains, collapse under a cosy blanket and watch BBC2’s Newsnight Review while clutching a bottle of blended budget scotch. Sadly that show has since been axed under the pretence that our attention spans can no longer countenance a visual programme in which a cluster of public intellectuals sit around a coffee table to debate and discuss recent cultural happenings and, besides, that does all sound like a disconcertingly French pastime. In the philistine-celebrating and expert-phobic climate of Brexit Britain the term ‘weekly arts round-up’ will soon mean the televised execution of blindfolded members of the liberal elite – Will Self, Val McDermid, Simon Callow, The Reverend from Reverend And The Makers and a Grayson Perry pot shaped as the comedian Josie Long.

I was always gripped by the Newsnight Review, whether I disagreed or not with some photogenic historical biographer’s assessment of a controversial ballet which dealt sensitively with the pertinent social issues of the day via full-frontal contortions. I was always gripped by the Newsnight Review, even when deep down I didn’t really care what Tom Paulin thought of Robert De Niro’s latest slapstick farce. I was always gripped by the Newsnight Review, even when the loathsome Toby Young spouted pure horseballs from his stupid frowning egg of a face. “Now there’s a privileged moronic hack who can’t possibly go on to be awarded a prestigious role of central importance in our education system,” I thought to myself back in the halcyon days of a Labour government.

Anyway, I remember one segment in which a renowned music critic from the post-punk era began dismissing a new album, by an act whose name I can’t recall, purely on the basis that it was an album. The critic, who has stubbornly continued to publish his words on the antiquated medium of paper, was prophesising the immediate death of the album format, both physical and digital. The album format had zero relevance to the daily lives and cultural interests of the youth, he contended. Adolescents nowadays had streaming sites, single-song downloads, Napster, YouTube vids and playlists at their fingertips. They couldn’t concentrate for long enough to reach the end of this sentence, let alone stomach 45 minutes of arena-ready guitar-based rock songs. What use had they for a full album?

Now that might ring true for certain genres, but as far as I can tell it is still not applicable to fans of prog rock or psych, be they young listeners or old, as fresh-faced as a Cabbage Patch Kid effigy of Owen Jones or more decrepit than Methuselah himself. Last year, the laudably popular King Gizzard & The Wizard released five albums. Not five tracks. Not five Vevo clips or five curated virtual reality memory mixtapes like what they have on Black Mirror. The Gizzard released five whole albums and those albums were lapped up by Gizzard enthusiasts the world over, many of whom, I am reliably informed, are so young that if you make reference to VHS cartridges or Mini Boglins they just stare at you in blank-eyed pity. What’s more, many of them purchased all five of the blooming things on vinyl. That’s better than what I do. I still buy most things on compact disc like an absolute 90s chump.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard don’t write songs, they write albums, and usually concept albums to boot. Their fans wouldn’t want it any other way. They, and bands of a similar ilk, thrive in the long-form format. Who’s going to just stick on ‘Melting Balrog Drawbridge Intro Pt. IV’ and then move straight onto to a different track by some other artist? This is music to wallow in and absorb slowly and steadily. To last you the whole train journey. To transport you to otherworldly planes as you recharge your cerebral batteries. To run a bath and then bathe to.

The album format will never die, not where psych or prog are concerned. That’s what I predict, anyway. Here are some of the latest (plus one 30-minute EP):

(And if enough people have the patience to watch a 20-minute video clip in which Anthony Fantano orally dissects a record by The Mars Volta, then surely there’s hope for further episodes of the Newsnight Review, the only TV reboot I want to see.)

Deep Hum – Transgondwanan Supermountain EP (self-released via Bandcamp)

Technically this one came out in late 2017 during that most wonderful time of the year when music journalists produce only best-something listicles while the wider record industry focuses solely on promoting That Bloke From The Chase Sings Standards For Your Nan. Quite how Transgondwanan Supermountain didn’t prove to be a viral seasonal sensation I’ll never know. Since 2016’s Desert Moon Ouroboros, Deep Hum have expanded to a trio with guitarist Luke John joining sitar player Gareth Davies and Lloyd Markham, who’s behind the synths, drum machines, production effects and submission of EPs to yours truly when I couldn’t tell my arse from my elbow because it was mid-December. Each member is based in a separate Welsh location but collectively they sound like they reside and rehearse in a cosy biodome with adjoining chillout lounge on the extrasolar planet Lupus-TR-3b. Influenced by Brian Eno’s Apollo, apocalyptic science fiction, ghost stories and “more 90s IDM than we care to admit”, Deep Hum’s latest shortform release is a heavily layered, properly absorbing and frequently thumping slab of abstract cyber-psych which bodes very well indeed for the forthcoming full-length which I hope will be beamed down to us here on Earth before we’re forced to endure the next carrot-based Aldi Christmas campaign.

Carlton Melton – Mind Minerals (Agitated)

Living just down the lane from Deep Hum on the extrasolar planet Lupus-TR-3b (while purporting to be based in San Francisco) are the instrumental space-rock trio Carlton Melton. Like their jam-peddling forbearers Bardo Pond, Carlton Melton are the platinum-selling superstars they deserve to be in the utopian parallel universe that exists only in my head. Mind Minerals provides a further 77 minutes of evidence for why that should be the case.

Trans Am’s Phil Manley recorded Mind Minerals and it was mastered by the mighty John McBain of Monster Magnet, Desert Sessions, etc. They’ve both done a top-notch job and each dude has also contributed dustings of synth work and extra guitar tracks here and there, making this the richest sounding Melton record to date. ‘Electrified Sky’ is an eight-and-a-half minute jam with fuzzy licks, drowsy synth arrangements and a solid glam-stomp feel to the drum beats. Tracks including ‘The Lighthouse’ and ‘Snow Moon’ see the trio trying on their rubber masks of Brian Eno to showcase more tranquil leanings. Listen to the appropriately titled ‘Sea Legs’ while standing upright and it’ll genuinely make your limbs go wobbling in all manner of dimensions completely of their own accord. Carlton Melton are less deserving of a standing ovation than a jolly jelly-legged one.

Bardo Pond – Volume 8 (Fire)

Previous instalments of Bardo Pond’s Volume series came in form of highly limited CD-Rs which were self-released by the band and have been extremely hard to hunt down unless you happen to know the correct incense enthusiast who can be persuaded to part with his second-hand copy in exchange for a pretty large baggie of a certain green herb. Fire Records have been doing a commendable job of nurturing the long-running Philadelphian outfit of late, issuing proper studio albums as well as Record Store Day obscurities including the odd side-project too. So why not give Volume 8 the wide release it deserves? Like its predecessors, Volume 8 captures the Pond performing in their Lemur House base in freeform baked-up rehearsal jam mode which, let’s face it, isn’t exactly that much more abstract than their usual LP material. Isobel Sollenberger’s vocals don’t surface as frequently, though she floats around in the record’s cosmos brandishing that supernatural flute of hers and when she re-emerges from the depths of the sonic gloop to supply lyrics for the 17-minute closing track, well, it’s better than witnessing the return of a Lazarus/Phoenix mutant love hybrid.

The Prefab Messiahs – Psychsploitation Today (Lolipop/Burger)

These Massachusetts misfits were originally active for a couple of years in the early 1980s, presumably fizzling out on account of the public being more interested in spinning ‘Holiday’ by Madonna or partaking in the countercultural concern of sweatily slam-dancing in an SST T-shirt. They reformed earlier this decade after MGMT or whoever the hell it was made psychedelia a loosely profitable enterprise again. Psychsploitation indeed! Fans of Thee Oh Sees, early Mercury Rev, Wayne Coyne’s sparkly glitter cannons, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Pink Mountaintops and In The Red Records should certainly hop along for a ride on the Prefabs’ scooter. If the groovy organ tones, 60s garage riffs and catchy choruses are all a bit too blissfully fun for you, the lyrics often swing more to the pessimistic side. ‘The Man Who Killed Reality’, for instance, tells of a dishonest liar who has erected his own commemorative skyscraper and cares to indulge in the odd golden shower. Now who could that be?

Mythic Sunship – Upheaval (El Paraiso)

Certain bands have a clear ethos, U2 being just one example. Since meeting manager Paul McGuiness at a Dublin gig in May 1978, Bono & co have ridden the ethos to excel solely in the accumulation of wealth. Copenhagen quartet Mythic Sunship’s ethos is a more laudable one: "the ethos of free jazz in a doom setting". At first, that almost sounds like a contradiction in terms, what with free jazz being so skittish, fluctuating, vibrant and alive. Doom, on the other hand, is thoroughly corpselike. Believe it or not, there have been precedents for such a seemingly incongruous fusion. SunnO)))’s Monoliths & Dimensions concluded with a 16-minute tribute to Alice Coltrane after opening with a track which shares its name with a 1975 double live album by Miles Davis. Julian Cope – SunnO))) collaborator, krautrock jockey, Japanese free-rock fanatic, space-rock tripmeister and devotee to the altar of Sleep’s Dopesmoker – has written in characteristically rapturous prose about Davis’ often maligned mid-70s "sell out to funk" period, finding it a veritable "blueprint for third-eye travel".

Proving that jazz-meets-doom doesn’t necessarily have to resemble Monoliths & Dimensions or the glacial-paced death-sax parps of Germany’s Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, Upheaval consists of four expansive instrumental tracks which are full of beans. I’ve probably overegged the jazz-doom concept because you don’t need to be wearing a bebop beret/monastic robe combo to dig these lively grooves. Heavily psychedelic, with as much of a desert-rock as a doom-rock feel, Mythic Sunship recall their label bosses Causa Sui, Portland’s Eternal Tapestry and the freak-out warlock jamz of Acid Mothers Temple. Maybe those acts all play doom-jazz too and it’s only just dawned on me that that’s what it actually is.

Dommengang – Love Jail (Thrill Jockey)

It can surely be no coincidence that virtually every Red Hot Chili Peppers album has been released during the summer months when the public is more giddily susceptible to tepid funk songs about shabadabadeeda casual sex under the doobeedoodabda Californian sun. Any accountant will tell you that you don’t run a thriving ice-cream business by banking on steady sales during autumn and wintertime. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are very much the ice-cream of the music industry, one small difference being that if you get stuck in a lift with an ice-cream, the ice-cream won’t suddenly start licking you. I’m not comparing Dommengang to Anthony Kiedis’ mob of sock molesters. I wouldn’t wish that on any band. Yet as I prod these letters into my laptop keyboard with these weary index fingers of mine, if I gaze out of the window I note that it is currently snowing. This jars slightly with listening to Dommengang whose new album has a pine tree on its cover, features the lyric "Cruising through the desert now" and includes a track called ‘Dave’s Boogie’. They probably use Orange amplifiers and have viewed Richard Linklater’s Dazed And Confused on more than twelve occasions. Hell, they’ve probably lived it. If you’re into Dead Meadow, Howlin’ Rain or Dommengang’s labelmates Pontiak, then this’ll be right up your street. But in that case you probably don’t believe in the constrictive and dictatorial Roman concept of "streets". What you prefer is the wind in your hair, thick shades on your face, the steering wheel of the dune buggy in your hand and nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. That’s real freedom, man. Fu Manchu also have a new album out this month. Might be best to stick ’em both in the draw of the bedside cabinet and unleash them properly after the clocks go forward.

Death Pedals – Death Pedals (Hominid Sounds)

And finally, here’s one for all you noise-rocking psych punks out there, courtesy of the Hominid Sounds label which has previously issued material by USA Nails, Casual Nun, Bad Guys and other aggressive assailants of the tympanic membrane. It’s the London group’s third album and also their final one which is a shame because their music is very loud and nicely dense, bearing song titles with which it is all too easy to identify (‘I Am A Loser’, for example, or ‘Shower Of Shit’), and why should METZ and Destruction Unit be awarded all the limelight, glory and relative riches just because they’re from the glamorous and culturally imperialist North American continent? Death Pedals could’ve been recorded by Steve Albini but was actually overseen by the band’s own Wayne Adams who played with Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs the other night at our Quietus fundraiser, providing synth accompaniment to a track that he’d never even heard before. Death Pedals are dead. Long live noise rock.

Next time: Bring me the head of Murun Buchstansangur

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