Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For October Reviewed By JR Moores

JR Moores sifts through the latest batch of psych releases, some of which were not recorded by King Charles III & The Lizard Wizard. Homepage photo, Solar Corona by Sara Sofia de Melo

How psychedelic was our recently departed monarch? That’s the pressing question! Queen Elizabeth II? Sounds like an underwhelming BAFTA-nominated sequel starring the lapsed anti-royalist Dame Helen Mirren. Next up, King Charles: 33 1/3. Anyway, was she particularly lysergic in nature, dear old Queenie?

Too clickbaity for you? I bait those clicks like a couple of rod-wielding millionaire comedians bait fish and then net a whole lotta sympathy for ruminating on their own inevitable demise for 30 minutes at a time. Seriously and tragically though, Gone Fishing is the best thing I’ve ever seen on the telly vision. Apart from an extravagant funeral! Right?!

The pipes! The pipes! Did you hear them? They’re calling me. Those drones. Those sweet, pungent, unhinged drones. Pretty heady, right? Maybe she did have a psychedelic edge to her, ol’ Lizzy. Paul "her majesty is a pretty nice girl but she doesn’t have a lot to say" McCartney was a fan and he’s been no stranger to a tab or two of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Sure, in some ways he was the least freaky Beatle (except Ringo, who took a suitcase full of baked beans to Rishikesh). But Paul does own a brightly coloured piano.

Elizabeth was pipped at the post by her sister, surely. The rebellious and hedonistic Princess Margaret (1930 – 2002; miss u, hon) was said to be, among various other scandalous allegations, very close to Mick Jagger. She might even have inspired ‘It’s Royal Over Now’.

To be fair to Lizzy 2, try hard enough and you can imagine that Her Eight Miles Highness might have let her hair down by reflecting on her Jefferson Air-Reign while cranking The Brian Thronestown Massacre so loud it could be heard throughout the Tame Impalace. Or perhaps I’m confusing her with Grace Slick.

As far as mad trips go, it doesn’t get much more intense than being led slowly towards the Pearly Gates by a hip-high, marmalade-dependant bear who dresses in human clothes from the waist up and can speak English with the voice of Ben Whishaw. Far out, Ma’am!

Too soon? Maybe I can pivot into stand-up comedy where offensiveness is regarded as wit and the word "special" used too often as a noun. First by Americans and then, inevitably, over McHere. "Don’t order the special!", as any culinary expert will warn you. They’re invariably made from leftovers that are about to go off.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms And Lava

The new album by these prolific psych mongers was cooked up according to strict criteria. All the music was to be written collectively in the studio, with a ban on any preprepared ideas. The song names came first, selected from a long list of potential titles hoarded on frontman Stu Mackenzie’s phone. A beats-per-minute value was assigned to each title. Each song would also follow one of the seven modes of the major scale, which will mean something to the music theorists among you. Seven days of recording resulted in hours of jams which were then edited down and overdubbed. Even the lyric writing was a full-band effort, assembled via a shared Google Doc. Stringent guidelines can make for loose listening, however. There’s a summery, laidback feel and a loungesome warmth to the instruments’ tones as well as the production. The recording achieves this without slipping into dreaded yacht-psych territory and while offering spiky solo spots here and there, not to mention some heady jazziness and flute aplenty. As for the cooperative lyric writing, this really hits it peak on an eloquent, 13-minute rumination on the ordeals of suffering from itchy skin. Somebody get these guys some ointment!

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Laminated Denim

Another new album by these prolific psych mongers is a sequel to Made In Timeland which was released back in the mists of time (March 2022). Its title is an anagram of the original and it again offers two pieces that are exactly fifteen minutes long. Each song is performed over an incessant ticking sound, in case you’re not already desperately aware of your own brutally limited mortality. Did you use your brief time on Earth wisely, old man? Well, I did spend an inordinate amount of hours writing about several hundred King Gizzard albums… There are worse ways to spend your "crack of light", as Nabokov called it. Just look the career of Mark Dolan. Side A, ‘The Land Before Timeland’, has a motorik beat (incessant ticking will do that to you), proggily spiralling lead guitar parts, Old Grey Whistle Test harmonica toots and softly sung words about rattlesnakes and demons. Stu Mackenzie also applies his signature rallying cry — "WOO!" — to Side B. Even so, its mood is a touch darker and more anxious. "Hypertension is all that’s left," bleats Mackenzie. Somebody book this guy a Swedish massage!

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Changes

Yeah, yeah. You wait a few hours for a King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard album to arrive and then three come along at once. What’s the deal with this one, then? Mackenzie sees it as a song cycle. The seven pieces are all built around the same chord progression. The album was conceived in 2017 and temporarily abandoned so the band could concentrate on their millions of other ideas. Finally completed, Changes‘ title track sways mellowly at first before Mackenzie bursts into his Oz-hippy equivalent of G-funk rap bars. This, in turn, segues into cheap-keyboard-assisted space rock. Then they try to incorporate a touch of doo-wop because, well, who’s going to stop them? Elsewhere, ‘Astroturf’ dabbles in soul-funk. ‘No Body’ is a concise ballad with a George Harrison feel to it, while ‘Gondii’ ups the synth-throb quota. That should give you some idea of the variety on offer. They should’ve called it Ranges!

Zong – Astral Lore
(Cardinal Fuzz)

Like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Zong are Australian. Unlike King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, this Brisbane trio sound like they were born and raised in deepest, darkest Birmingham. Their slow and lengthy meditations are based around down-tuned riffs so Sabbathian they might as well be dressed head-to-toe in leather and ordering a pint of snakebite from a dimly lit bar in Digbeth. Suffice to say, in every photo I’ve seen of the band, each member proudly sports their own dark moustache à la Tony Iommi circa 1972. Zong embellish their phat chords with Earthless-y solos galore, occasional Eastern guitar patterns and moments of blustering Hawkwindiness. As the end of ‘Encounters On The Astral Plane’ assures us, you’re never too far away from some hearty Master Of Reality-style doom. This reaches its apex on the final track, ‘Primordial Void’, which could be a demo for the next album by Sleep, albeit before Al Cisneros has started chanting his sacred marijuana wordplay over the top.

Solar Corona – Pace
(Lovers & Lollypops)

Portugal was the first foreign location I was luckily enough to visit once lockdown had eased and I was comfortable enough to sit in a commercial flying contraption among other wheezing, sniffing, sweating, farting, coughing human germ-bags. In Porto, I found a record shop called Louie Louie which had a commendable range of psychedelic records (and cool t-shirts to boot) and a friendly clerk who was blasting 10,000 Russos over the stereo. In that same city is based the label Lovers & Lollypops which is behind the fifth release by Solar Corona, who formed in nearby Barcelos. (That was in 2013 so the name has nothing to do with the recent virus, the press release is keen to point out.) The quartet play hypnotically energetic, instrumental space-rock which sits somewhere between the riff-centric post-metal of Pelican and the dilated pupilisms of Eternal Tapestry. They get particularly animated on the appropriately titled ‘Thrust’. It sounds like someone has swapped Carlton Melton’s weed stash for a big bag of amphetamines that was graverobbed from the late Lemmy and then the ghost of John Peel accidentally played the results at double-speed. Gasp!

Richard Pinhas / Merzbow – CODA
(Bam Balam)

There’s an argument that Masami "Merzbow" Akita is at his best when collaborating. Sure, there are times when his uncompromising tornados of white noise simply drown out some unfortunate companion, but with the right partner and a well-balanced mix, the results are exercises in mutual complementation rather than a battleground for aural space. For example, Merzbow’s many joint works with the experimental rock band Boris have worked particularly effectively, the latter being loud enough to hold their own in any duet of volume. Richard Pinhas is no stranger to Merzbow either. Several times prior, both live and on record, the emperor of noise has worked with the French guitar-and-synth wizard who’s behind the mighty Heldon. The pair’s latest hook-up is a masterclass in dense, suspenseful, crackling, ever-shifting-yet-also-monolithic avant-rocking space thunder. Each of the two pieces lasts about 20 minutes. Judging by the song names, Side A’s title track is intended as the main event and it certainly offers a colourful, ricocheting journey into the heart of an all-consuming sonic solar storm. The other side’s piece is called ‘PostCODA’ and it’s just as satisfying, although in a slightly different sense. Here the pair are joined by Oren Ambarchi, Senza Testa and Florian Tatard. Thanks largely to Tartard’s accordion, there’s a more melancholic and mortal atmosphere to Track 2. Well, initially at least. A thicker and fiercer swamp is soon built up through layers of pedal effects, Martian noodling, keyboard textures and whatever multi-wired assortment of equipment and/or sticky laptops Merzbow is using. ‘PostCODA’ leaves the listener to ponder what on Earth has just happened as it eventually fades into silence.

The Landscape – Botanic Therapy

The Stone Roses’ second album was delayed because of legal hoo-hahs and writer’s block. Dr Dre hasn’t been as prolific as fans once hoped due to his side gig as a door-to-door headphones salesman. The Beatles decided not to complete Let It Be in good time because it would make for a more intense eight-hour documentary edited by Peter Jackson half a century later. Spare a thought for The Landscape, then, who had to suspend the recording of Botanic Therapy because their country had been plunged into war. Certainly puts into perspective the plight of Ian "karaoke?" Brown. You wouldn’t have known that the Ukrainian band had been forced to interrupt their sessions as there’s little disjointed about this material. Granted, there is a captivatingly ramshackle feel throughout the record. It’s not thin enough to be lo-fi. In other hands or a swankier studio, the shoegazey assortment of sounds and textures might have been rendered richly. As presented here, it’s murky or earthy, a fact compounded by the slurred and grungy nature of the despondent vocals. Even the ballad, ‘Just Like Before’, has been performed and mixed in a manner that flirts with self-sabotaging its own singalong potential. Will they continue to work in this distinctive and admirably foggy way? And for how long? Will a future album of theirs be Kyiv’s answer to Dinosaur Jr’s Where You Been? Cannot wait to find out…

Electric Wizards: A Tapestry Of Heavy Music, 1968 To The Present by JR Moores is now available in paperback, although even in that format it is still pretty HEAVY

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