Columnfortably Numb: Psych Reviews For July By JR Moores

JR Moores surveys the latest psychedelic offerings with a little help from his friends and also Mungo Jerry

In the summertime when the weather is hot
You can bliss right out and touch the psych
When the weather’s fine
You got rhythm, you got reverb on your mind
King Gizzard’s on a drive
To release albums, count them, five!

USA/Mexico will make your mind unpeel
Nolan’s Spectre Folk have a floatier feel
Then there’s John McBain
Whose vibes makes you glad that he’s alive
As the sun goes down Träd, Gräs Och Stenar gently jive

Circle’s great, people, they are Finnish and insane
Chicago’s Crown Larks will play havoc with your brain
When the weather’s fine
Put your feet up and listen to these LPs
Don’t get too happy
Hey Colossus forecast Brexit misery…
Dee dee dee-dee dee!
Dah dah dah-dah dah!
Et cetera, et cetera.

Hey Colossus – The Guillotine

As a flat white supping elitist puritan ponce who looks down on other peoples’ music tastes with all the charm of Theresa May trying to ingest a coneful of chips without revealing her mutant hemipteran proboscis, I sincerely believe that anybody who writes favourably at length about the new Paramore or Harry Styles albums should be forbidden from listening to anything apart from the amplified grinding of Gary Barlow’s internal facial mechanisms which manoeuvre his right eyebrow up and down, up and down, up and down as a pale replacement for having an actual personality. You might as well be praising the functionality of the Crane BevMAX4 for Which? Carbonated Drinks Vendor Magazine. A great pop album is still a pop album. A great sequel to The Fast And The Furious is still a part of the deplorable Fast And Furious Franchise (even when it does include the culturally slumming presence of HRH Helen Mirren). A great colonoscopy still sees you lying on your side praying for dear life as a stranger surveys your iffy rectum with a fibreoptic bum camera. So down with poptimism, yeah?

As the bearer of such priggishness, I find it tricky to think of many bands that have grown more melodic and accessible without succumbing to a concurrent escalation in sheer naffness. Nirvana, perhaps? R.E.M… for a little while? Therapy?’s Troublegum contains banger after banger I’ll give you that. Nick Cave. Wolf Eyes? Grumbling Fur! In Hey Colossus’ case, it helps that they started from such a niche position in the first place. Check out last year’s compilation of early material, Dedicated To Uri Klangers. Much of it sounds like a trouserless Mad Max trying to grunt his way out of a giant bowl of Rice Krispies. 2015 marked a turning point for Hey Colossus with the release of two albums, Radio Static High and In Black And Gold, each notable for its cleaner and catchier sound. 2017’s The Guillotine has the potential for even wider appeal and yet there still isn’t the faintest whiff of "selling out" partly because Hey Colossus never attracted enough fans to call them out on it anyway (tee hee). But seriously, it’s because they remain objectively ace.

This may be the season for passing out on the beer garden picnic table with your pink face pillowed by Seabrooks dust while hornets drown themselves in lager dregs but Hey Colossus are in no mood for festivities. This is a pessimistic post-referendum record par excellence, bristling as it is with misery, anger, anxiety, incredulity and wry nihilism. With ‘Englishman’ they’ve basically written a ‘Jerusalem’ for the Brexit age. Long gone are both William Blake’s pleasant pastures and Satanic mills. In their place, England is personified as a rickety old Brobdingnagian; a proud isolationist always looking back to the glorious age of empire with the addictive adrenaline of trialling witches still flowing through its nasty veins as it sinks slowly and masochistically into the sea. Musically speaking, The Guillotine evokes mavericks like Melvins, Harvey Milk, The Bad Seeds, Swans and The Jesus Lizard although such comparisons undermine HC’s own British, or perhaps that should read European, eccentricity. The troupe’s three guitarists (four if you include bass) craft a lumbering and spindly onslaught of big riffs and hot licks while drummer Rhys Llewellyn performs as if he’s fighting off a veritable hoard of flesh-eating Kate Hopkinses.

USA/Mexico – Laredo
(Riot Season)

Take Craig Clouse (Shit And Shine/Todd), Nate Cross (When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth/Expensive Shit/Marriage) and King Coffey (Butthole Surfers) and lock them in a room together. They’re unlikely to come up with the biggest-selling single since Mark Ronson’s ‘Collegiate-Private-School-For-Boys Funk’. Instead, the assembled parties have honoured their assorted previous works while forging something wholly their own by making a big fresh steaming pile of putrid noise. And boy is it sexy. (Albeit in a way that might involve adjustable metal clamps, auto-asphyxiation and wax-based ritual humiliation in a motel room full of strangers all wearing latex masks shaped as the face of Texan senator John Cornyn.) The riffs alone are filthier than James Joyce’s private correspondence to Nora Barnacle. Track 1’s vocals resemble a bullfrog attempting to croak its way out of a faulty dialup modem from the previous millennium. There’s one track named ‘Dumber Rock Riff’ and another called ‘Bullets For Pussy’ so you know they ain’t gonna sound like Keith Urban. The trio earn bonus points for covering ‘L.A.’ by The Fall and turning what is largely considered to be one of the Salford unit’s suavest numbers into (you guessed it) an ugly, swampy, foul-smelling mess.

Spectre Folk – Vol. 4
(Vampire Blues)

Pete Nolan is not content with drumming in the most badass art-rock band of our times. (No that isn’t Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s Magik Markers, you philistine.) In addition Nolan fronts the marvellous Spectre Folk, for which he is backed by such cool customers as Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth and smiley Pavement bassist Mark Ibold. You’re nobody in this psych business unless you have the audacity to begin your fourth album with a raggedy 11-minute choogler called ‘Begin The Mothership’ and that’s exactly what Nolan et al. do here. These astro-sozzled jams feel looser than Justin Bieber’s belt buckle and as spontaneous as when I inserted the word CHAMFRON into this sentence for little reason whatsoever. You can imagine that Nolan gave his players only the teensiest indication of each song’s chords, structure or intentions, and within a minute or so the performers were fully off on one, fleshing out their leader’s sketches into big snazzy frescoes of Mars moons and communal utopias. A cross between Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and one or two of the 90s stars of independent lo-fi, Nolan’s somnolent voice floats in and out of view like… well, quite like a spectre I suppose.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Murder Of The Universe

Aspiring for permanent ruddy residency in this column, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are purportedly releasing five albums in a single year and here is their second of 2017. This one consists of 21 relatively short tracks which have been grouped into three distinct "chapters": The Tale Of The Altered Beast, The Lord Of Lightning Vs. Balrog and Han-Tyumi And The Murder Of The Universe. Clattering frantically along with most tracks flowing immediately into the next while frequent spoken-word voiceovers pop up to help propel the frazzled narrative ever forward, it’s all enough to overwhelm even the most liberal and moustachioed member of Hawkwind. The first two chapters are narrated by Leah Senior whose deadpan presence makes announcements such as "You’re ruthless and savage and sadistic and vindictive / And you find human flesh is incredibly addictive…" We can only assume that the Altered Beast segment is inspired by the 1988 Sega Megadrive game of the same name. That’s fitting because neither King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard nor the 1988 Sega Megadrive game Altered Beast are pastimes of which my mother would approve. Both are highly addictive, prone to induce seizures and will knacker your brain cells something rotten. All you have to do is press "play" and before you know it hours of your life have drained away into that brightly coloured vortex. Mother much prefers listening to Radio 4 presented by John Humphreys & The Curmudgeonly Comfys.

Circle – Terminal
(Southern Lord)

Circle are so honourably nuts that we should all book flights for a pilgrimage to their hometown of Pori and spend a jolly fortnight wandering around in spandex leggings and leather studded bracelets while chanting in the band’s made-up language of Meronian and forming impromptu supergroups with any animal, mineral or vegetable we stumble across. Who’s with me? This is, after all, the band who once leased out their name to a completely different set of musicians (for 2013’s Incarnation album) and also released an record called Pharaoh Overlord on the same day that their side-project, Pharaoh Overlord, released one called Circle. With those kinds of shenanigans, Circle make most artists’ releases look as conceptually pedestrian as the latest Neil Diamond hits CD. Such wacky antics wouldn’t cut the mustard unless Circle also had the musical clout to back it up and they skilfully fuse krautrock, heavy metal, hard psych, garage, art-rock and plenty more besides, all the while wearing fairly silly outfits and without it coming across as annoying or quirky or quaint or (the worst felony of all) "fun". Formed in 1991, Circle’s only remaining original member is Jussi Lehtisalo and their vast discography can be daunting to newcomers. A great place to start, Terminal is equally guaranteed to delight long-term Circle aficionados. ‘Rakkautta Al Dente’ opens the album in style with its irresistibly chunky Led Zep riffs, proggy midsection breakdown and vocals which shift from black-metal screechdom to high-octave Rob Halfordisms. The title track gaily mashes up The Stooges with something synthier like Harmonia, and elsewhere we find cultish chanting, booming organ tones, avant-garde hair metal, ambient/kosmische detours and bulging psychedelic workouts all fighting for attention. Looks like those Pori boys have done it again, chief.

Crown Larks – Population
(Already Dead/Satellite)

My dear readers are often writing in and asking how on Earth I manage to discover all the obscure psychedelic sweetmeats that fill up these columns [1]. The truth is, there are all kinds of methods. Sometimes it’s a case of laboriously sifting through literally tens of emailed press releases and sorting the far-out wheat from the disco-blues chaff. Other times, tQ editor John Doran will forward something with a four-word message along the lines of "Skronk psych. Very tasty." Alternatively, you can take a two-footed leap down an eight-hour Bandcamp rabbit hole. One of the most efficient methods is to simply lie down at a crossroads in Hebden Bridge and wait for the hippest psychedelic troubadours to trip over you on their way to a collaborative performance with Damo Suzuki. In this particular instance, I was idly browsing the (plug alert!) pre-order page of the Norman Records website when I came across Crown Larks, so there’s a wee glimpse behind the wizard’s moth-nibbled curtain for ya.

Crown Larks appear to have one ear on Philadelphian space rock, another ear tuned in to the highbrow jazzfingered post-rock heritage of their hometown Chicago, and a mystical third ear pointing in the direction of Velvets-smitten New York no-wave squatters. Population is writhing with trippy flutework, cosmic-bop sax parps, gargling organs and polyrhythmic drumbeats. After listening to the full record, I glanced at the track lengths and was surprised to discover that most numbers sit below the five-minute mark. They all feel a lot deeper and more expansive than that but perhaps the Morbier had gone to my head. Jack Bouboushian is lead vocalist in most cases, his slurred wail sitting somewhere between early Thurston Moore and Angus Andrew of Liars fame. Occasionally Lorraine Bailey will take over, her voice more in the Peaking Lights or Broadcast vein, and next time round it’d be funky to hear even more of Bailey in the mic but in that respect I’m only picking nits.

[1] No one has done this.

John McBain – Accidental Soundtracks Vol. 1: The Alpha Particle
(God Unknown)

Too few people know the name John McBain. At his mention, your average Joe might confuse him for an action hero in The Simpsons or the Republican nominee for the 2008 US presidential election. A founding member of Monster Magnet, McBain quit the band after completing work on their debut album (a blow from which many argue the New Jersey space warriors never recovered). He’s also played with The Desert Sessions, Hater, Wellwater Conspiracy, Carlton Melton, Evil Acidhead and Kandodo. Oh, and he only bloody co-wrote the best Queens Of The Stone Age song ever recorded (first album, track one). Don’t approach this release expecting Orange-amped desert fuzz, mind. The album title is appropriate because there’s a definite John Carpenter or even Vangelis vibe to many of its tracks. ‘Lower California’ and the aptly named ‘No Guitars’ are particularly Yamahearty. On the other hand, McBain’s Bill Frisell-ish cover of The Fender IV’s surf classic ‘Malibu Run’ sounds readymade to stalk William Burroughs’ private dick Clem Snide as he slinks in and out of various seedy dens. Accidental Soundtracks also contains its fair share of shimmering Neu!-tastic excursions, ambient tides and cool-ass spidery guitar work all created pretty much on the fly as part of a dare to record a song a day until a whole album appeared. Another doozy, and quite a feat, from this hero of the American fringes.

Träd, Gräs Och Stenar – Tack För Kaffet
(Subliminal Sounds)

Like Blue Hour by The Drift or TLC’s latest studio album, there is a tragic absence at the heart of Tack För Kaffet. Träd, Gräs & Stenar members Torbjörn Abelli and Thomas Mera Gartz died in 2010 and 2012 respectively. The record is dedicated to their memory and, although Abelli and Gartz made contributions to its music, the results are soaked through with feelings of loss and an terrible sense of finality. Compare the sound here with the Swedish "progg" group’s vivacious 70s output and you’re probably looking at one of the saddest psych albums in the western canon. "Psych" might be a misleading term because much of Tack För Kaffet has more in common with the early post-rock boom. Works by various members of Slint come to mind, or The Necks, as well as bands from Chicago, and all those once-mysterious groups whose CDs were packaged in cardboard sleeves which smelt of old books that you’d pick up in the years immediately before record shops began dropping like flies. The mostly improvised music gets a little wilder, crunchier and gnarlier at times but the emphasis is on melancholic guitar patterns, textures and distortions accompanied by delicately skittered drumming and the general pace resembles one of those wise old giant tortoises who’s lived for over a century and a half having observed more weird shit from his low vantage point than you’ll ever hope to see through your myopic human eyes.

Next time: what exactly the deal is with Mogwai’s obvious love of language never being expressed beyond the boundaries of their chucklesome song titles

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