Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For October Reviewed By JR Moores

Our intrepid reporter, JR Moores, investigates the latest psych and noise-rock offerings, reviewing new releases from King Gizzard, Silver Apples and Makoto Kawabata, Carlton Melton and more

Frankie And The Witch Fingers, photo by James Duran

A few weeks ago there was some big news in the world of music journalism. No, not Jann Wenner officially outing himself as the bigot’s boomer. That’s about as surprising as the Russell Brand revelations. Who’d have thought he wasn’t the harmless walking Punch caricature he’d never convinced us he was? As for Wenner, presumably he experienced an epiphany over 50 years ago when gazing up at a massive marble statue of Saint Peter. It was at that moment he decided to become an even whiter gatekeeper.

Anyway, another story on some people’s lips was that the company in charge of USA Today had advertised for the vacancy of ‘Taylor Swift Reporter’. The following day, the same organisation put out a second advertisement for the position of ‘Beyoncé Knowles-Carter Reporter’.

So that’ll do for our premise. Let’s run with that and reapply it to the psych-rock world. Milk some paragraphs out of it. Then get down to the business of running through a few recent releases. We all know the rules by now, as the curmudgeonly Paxman used to grumble on University Challenge. Don’t call me jaded but I’ve been churning out this absolute gold on a bi-monthly basis for several years now and the head-hunters at Condé Nast still aren’t bashing down my door with the offer of a lucrative cocktails column and chauffeur-driven Range Rover. What’s a hack got to do? Be born with a silver spoon? Reside in a location with any kind of tangible link to the industry in which one works? Have crisper copy with fewer self-indulgent digressions? Write about topics that are a tad less utterly niche? I’ve got integrity to maintain!

Reporting on Taylor Swift on a full time basis? Imagine that! Swifty’s got a new single out. Swifty’s made a video for the new single she’s got out. Swifty wore a Celtic Frost hoodie when buying a skinny latte from a downtown Dunkin’ Donuts while gracefully ignoring the scumbag paparazzi who follow her every god damn move. Swifty’s ended her relationship with another fellow superstar because it took her a full five minutes to discover what a fetid bumbag he is. Et cetera.

Think that’s a tough gig, eh? Try being the fulltime King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard correspondent for Super Shindiggedly Psychedelic Spectrum Dot Com! What about, in this never-ending 24-hour news cycle, reporting on John Dwyer from Osees all day, every day until one of you croaks it from exposure to fatal amounts of reverb? They’ve made another album. They’ve made another album. They’ve changed their name again. They’ve made another album. They’ve changed their name again. They’ve changed their name again. They’ve made another album. This one’s based on a late-80s Warhammer board game called Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb. Another one’s more jazzy than last time. They’ve made another album. They’ve made another album. They’ve made another album. All fretwork and no weight makes Clapton a dull boy. All fretwork and no weight makes Clapton a dull boy. All fretwork and no weight makes Clapton a dull boy. All fretwork and no weight makes Clapton a dull boy. All fretwork and no weight makes Clapton a dull boy…

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – The Silver Cord

Here we go again then. What are they up to now? They’ve only gone and made another album! Can you guess what its concept and style will be? A quadruple LP set of pentatonic yacht prog? A simmering song cycle which can only be heard when you hold the holographic sleeve in front of a mirror and repeat thrice the words "Beast Boogie"? Don’t do it on a full moon! A straightforward sequel to the thrash metal ones? No, silly! With a Paramore remix album topping the charts and Kylie Minogue reaching the younger generations with ‘Wham, Bam, Thank You Padam’, the time is ripe for the Gizzard’s inevitable electronic album. It comes in two forms, naturally, one of which is the fat-trimmed pop version. The other hosts extended takes of all the same songs. As an indication of the difference, the first song is either three and a half minutes or the length of an US sitcom episode without the adverts. What’s a thumping dance album doing in a psych-rock roundup? Psych isn’t a genre. It’s a state of mind, maaaaaaaaan.

Frankie And The Witch Fingers – Data Doom
(Greenway Records / The Reverberation Appreciation Society)

There has been some discussion in the psych-rock oriented subsections of Reddit and elsewhere regarding Frankie And The Witch Fingers. We already have Osees and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard knocking out their LPs faster than the Dairylea factory can mass-produce six-packs of Dunkers, so the argument goes. Do we really need this LA-based band of frenetic upstarts? Well it’s not as if John Dwyer or Stu Mackenzie invented garage-rockin’ psychedelic prog rock in the first place is it? That will have been Arthur Brown or somebody, I expect. Isn’t there room for everybody on the one-way bus to Tie Dye Street? Sure, this lot are working within the same genre as the aforementioned acts and the singer’s hepped-up yelp isn’t doing much to stand out from them but we shouldn’t write them off as copycats because they have their own twists on matters. Data Doom makes its case with heavy helpings of brass and related Afrobeat leanings, deviations into frantic funk and enough jarring changes in time signatures to keep awake the Snorlax after an all-you-can-eat turkey carvery and a double dose of valerian root extract.

Grails – Anches En Maat
(Temporary Residence)

In contrast to the album above, here’s something that is somewhat calmer, smoother and – dare I say it – sexier. In the promo shots to plug this record, one member of the band is wearing a Venom t-shirt and another’s sporting the merch of Rush. That’s misleading as their music does not resemble a combination of those two influences. What would that sound like anyway? Voivod, obviously. Distinctly unVoivodian, Grails’ eighth album and their first in six years is the kind of thing John Carpenter would have made had he spent his career directing softcore skin flicks instead of chilling horror movies or dystopian thrillers and had still recorded his own soundtracks to the blue movies in question. The band’s lineup has changed a little of late and this is reflected in the way Grails’ music has edged closer to that which Alex Hall and Emil Amos create with their other project Lilacs & Champagne. Grails remain a moodier prospect, however, and where L&C’s recordings are always sample-heavy, this album keeps live instruments as the mainstay no matter how polished they sound. It’s like post-rock fuelled by piña coladas.

Carlton Melton – Turn To Earth

It is becoming increasingly rare for artists to release just one album per annum anymore. Obviously King Gizzard put out about 20 on average but the desert supergroup Yawning Balch and Finnish experimentalists Mahti have both had two LPs out this year and they’re not the only ones. It’s not just happening in the psych-rock sphere either. Even popstars like Ed Sheeran and The National have had a go in 2023. What did we do to deserve two records by each of those boresome moaners? What has angered you, Lord almighty? Spare us your wrath for we know not what we do. More welcome is additional content from the mighty Carlton Melton of California. Resemble Ensemble came out at the beginning of this year and they’re back already with a double-LP of fresh jams with a capital "j" and a "z" at the end. Some of the tunes unwind themselves slowly and gently, in contrast to the heftier rockers like ‘Cloudstorming’. There are moments of synthy ambience too, some proggy noodling on ‘Last Times’, and for ‘Canned Head’ they even threaten jazz. A feast for the lugholes.

Silver Apples & Makoto Kawabata – Mirage

Simeon Coxe of Silver Apples died in 2020 while this collaboration with Kawabata Makoto of Acid Mothers Temple was being put together. It acts as a wonderful tribute though, and one that sounds very much alive with all its gurgling synthesisers and hypno-rhythms. The LP opens with its longest piece, ‘Dragonfly’s First Flight’, a warm and soothing instrumental voyage into the cosmos. ‘Abduction Of The Guilty’ is gnarlier as Kawabata’s scorching guitar work takes the spotlight. The title track is perhaps the most moving, as both musicians read poetry simultaneously in their native languages over what sounds like a groaning robot running out of batteries. ‘Future Reminiscence’ tops it off nicely with Simeon singing this time over further gorgeous oscillations.

NYOS – Waterfall Cave Fantasy, Forever

In 2012 guitarist Tom Brooke left Leeds and relocated to Finland. Who can blame him? The UK was two years into the Cameron-Clegg collaborative shitshow, One Direction were topping the charts and Ricky Gervais had just written Derek. Don’t know why we didn’t all emigrate. In Finland he met drummer Tuomas Kainulainen with whom Brooke plays in NYOS. And boy is that drumming important to the duo’s sound. His style is busy yet firm and it couldn’t have been recorded any more crisply if Steve Albini had been on hand with twenty custom microphones and every back issue of Meticulous Studio Engineering Monthly. The collective sound is certainly math rocky but it’s done with soul and good taste so as not to succumb to the common pitfall of that genre which is to employ so many time changes and widdly diddly noodle doodling that it quickly irritates. Certainly NYOS have the talent to have done that if they’d wanted to. Instead, they are playful, rocking, surprising and delightful. Robert Fripp would be proud of them, if he wasn’t too busy making wacky YouTubes with his wife.

Melenas – Ahora
(Trouble In Mind)

With their newly acquired range of vintage synthesisers, Melenas’ third album sees the Spanish quartet enter their krautpop period. The layered textures are rich and the melodies so catchy it makes you want to sing along even if you’re still several Duolingo sessions short of fluency in the band’s native tongue. In lesser hands the style could sound kitschy but Ahora balances everything really well. Stereolab is an obvious comparison to draw and fans of the much-missed Electrelane might want to check it out too. The band began working on this record while pondering the question "Can you make jangle pop and garage rock with synthesizers?" I’m not sure that’s exactly what they have created, although the ear-worming ‘Bang’ probably fulfils the brief. Whatever it is they’ve made, it’s certainly a pleasurable ride.

Modern Technology – Conditions Of Worth
(Human Worth)

The good people at Human Worth, which donates a proportion of all its sales to charity, are capable of making very ugly music indeed. Behind the label are Modern Technology whose music fits somewhere between noise-rock and sludge metal and is incredibly powerful considering there are only two members. Chris Clarke has bass riffs thicker than the walls of a bank vault. He also appears to have heard the vocalists of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs and GNOD’s recent output and responded with, "I think you’ll find I can roar more bleakly than them." Owen Gildersleeve, meanwhile, hammers his kit like a caged octopus thrashing its way directly into the next life. Conditions Of Worth may not be an easy listen but it’s a brutally cathartic one, perfectly reflecting the frustration felt by those with any sense of empathy, fairness or justice in the age of austerity, Brexit, Grenfell, Rwanda deportations, wilting YouTube lettuces and celebrity edgelords.

The duo’s self-titled debut, released in 2019, had entirely monochrome artwork. Here we have smudges of yellow creeping across the sleeve. This reminds me of a piece by England’s greatest living poet, John Hegley. In a poem about visiting Mark Rothko’s paintings in Tate Modern he rhymes "In the Rothko room" with words such as "catacomb", "doom" and "gloom", as might be expected by those familiar with the painter’s oppressive abstracts.

The poem, sometimes a song when Hegley performs it with his ukulele, ends on a different note with a line that doesn’t rhyme with the rest of the poem at all. "But, then there’s the yellow ones." There will always be hope.

Electric Wizards: A Tapestry Of Heavy Music, 1968 To The Present by JR Moores is published by Reaktion Books

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today