Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For March Reviewed By JR Moores

Hoping to entice more readers, JR Moores pivots to showbiz psych rock reporting

Fran Ashcroft, photo by Rob Clarke

It’s been a tough time for web-based music publications, so the openly tyrannical editors of The Quietus have put pressure on their lowly subgenre columnists to attract greater quantities of what’s known in the business as "clicks". Imagine, if you will, J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man comics wearing a vintage Nurse With Wound t-shirt and becoming increasingly aggravated by severe tinnitus induced from too many absurdly loud concerts by The Bug, Sunn O))) and the mighty Erasure.

It turns out elaborate metaphors for lengthy Primordial Undermind jams aren’t exactly what mass readerships are looking for. Gossip! That’s the golden ticket to stratospheric hack fame. It’s how the formerly double-barrelled Piers Pughe-Morgan got his Fleet Street break and look at him now! Interviewing Ja Rule on primetime YouTube and eyeballing Meghan Markle with the obsessiveness of Travis Bickle.

What this column needs, then, is more tittle-tattle. A psych rock equivalent of the weekly Popbitch

newsletter, albeit with greater emphasis on ex-members of Sleepy Sun.

Columnfortably Numb is dead. Welcome to the inaugural edition of PSYCHBITCH. (I have not checked the legal ramifications of this.)

"Michael McIntyre ? I don’t get it. Sorry!" – Edwyn Collins

Courtney Taylor-Taylor of The Dandy Warhols has shared memories of watching David Bowie’s Glastonbury set from the sidelines in the year 2000. The Dandys’ keyboardist, Zia McCabe, thought it would be fun to blow bubbles across the stage during Bowie’s performance. This prompted somebody official to launch into a tirade: "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?! THIS IS GOING LIVE ON TV TO MILLIONS OF PEOPLE!" So McCabe put the bubbles away. A song later, the same person ran back up to her with the desperate request, "DAVID LOVES THE BUBBLES! WE NEED MORE BUBBLES!"

Which leader of an ersatz psych band who uses every interview and press release to talk up his long-running sobriety in heroic terms has been caught necking shot after shot of vodka in a bar round the corner from his regular recording studio?

One of Yoko Ono’s old pals was spotted at her current Tate Modern retrospective, Music Of The Mind, earlier this month. That’s right, it was none other than everyone’s favourite drummer, Ringo Starr. "It’s very interactive!" he was heard to observe. Anybody know whether Sir Paul has visited yet?

On that note, our Accidental Partridge Of The Month goes to the angular faced star of the Dune franchise, Timothée Chalamet. Take a guess at his <a href="

" target="out">favourite Beatles album.

Zia McCabe now works as an estate agent for Portland’s biggest realty company. "There’s quite a bit of rebranding between the way people see you as a rock star and the way people see you doing a complicated legal transaction for them," she says.

Now that’s out of the way, here are some potential candidates for our future roundups and cheeky exposures. This lot might want to think twice before tipping poorly at Nando’s or firing their merch seller at the drop of a hoodie!

Firefriend – RCKNRLL
(Cardinal Fuzz)

In the year 2000, Primal Scream changed their name to PRML SCRM when marketing their album XTRMNTR (pronounced "exterminator") on the basis that, according to their singer, "All vowels are fascist, man". The offending letters weren’t erased from the album’s tracklist or credits, however. And then, guess what? Except for the confusing Live In Japan by PRML SCRM, which for consistency should’ve been titled LV N JPN, every follow-up album has had all vowels intact because Bobby Gillespie is hypocritical fucking idiot. (Not only for the reasons described here.) I mention this because (a) Firefriend’s new record is called RCKNRLL and (b) their music has been described as "explicitly anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian rock music". It’s a live album, recorded a couple of years ago at the 74Club in Santo André, when a certain populist nutbag was still the Brazilian president. At times, all the feedback and fuzz that emanates from Yury Hermuche’s amplifier appears to be in control of the guitarist, rather than the other way around, suggesting that Firefriend could be South America’s answer to Les Rallizes Dénudés. When it’s her turn to sing, bassist Julia Grassetti comes across like a total badass who you wouldn’t want to mess with, in the tradition of Kim Gordon or perhaps more recently Ganser’s Alicia Gaines. ‘Yellow Spider’ even recalls the post-rock genius of the much-missed Electrelane. The future of Brazil’s underground scene is in good hands. KCK T TH JMS MTHRFCKRS!

Meatbodies – Flora Ocean Tiger Bloom
(In The Red)

The second song on Meatbodies’ fourth album appears to be answering the age-old question, "What if The Smashing Pumpkins hadn’t become so utterly objectionable?" Until the Gary Numan keyboards turn up during its extended outro, ‘Hole’ couldn’t be any more Siamese Dream if it was sung by a bald-headed libertarian with a wrestling fixation. It suggests an alternative history in which Billy Boy’s ego was never indulged to the point of vast orchestral backings and concept albums based largely on himself. Let’s not get hung up on one song because other moments on Meatbodies’ muscular-yet-lysergic new record sound like they’ve been crafted by a supergroup encompassing members of Jane’s Addiction and Pink Mountaintops. Elsewhere, ‘Move’ finds surf guitar solos played over krautrock repetition. ‘Criminal Minds’, on the other hand, resembles one of Kurt Cobain’s ballads, fed through a Britpop filter, with added wooze. Is it an imagined songwriting partnership between the Nirvana of the 1990s and the original, London-based Nirvana of the 1960s? That premise would make for a nice (if niche) episode of Dr Who. Ncuti Gatwa would be at the doors of the studio, fending off drug dealers, Andy Wallace and an army meddling Krotons. Suffice to say, there are a lot of ideas here to which these 200 words have not done justice. Soz!

Psychic Lemon – The Unheimlich Kingdom
(Drone Rock)

Psychic Lemon are based in Cambridge which, as noted in their press release, is the most unequal city in the country. United Kingdom? Hardly. Not in these days of bankrupt councils, Rwanda deportation schemes and tax cuts for landlords. The Unheimlich Kingdom, more like. "Unheimlich", used by Sigmund Freud, has often been translated into English as "the uncanny". This was inadequate, according to Mark Fisher: "the word which better captures Freud’s sense of the term is the ‘unhomely’". The Unhomely Kingdom? Sounds about right. Trust a group with no vocalist to provide a better synopsis of the state we’re in than most other bands manage with 45 minutes of sprechgesang post punk. Formerly a power trio, Psychic Lemon recorded their fourth album as a two-piece. You wouldn’t know it though because, if anything, their apocalyptic form of instrumental psych is sounding bigger, grumpier, harsher and more urgent than ever before. ‘Trepanning For Gold’ sets the tone with its hulking distortion and refusal to go anywhere fast. The star of the show has to be the 21-minute title track, however. It brings to mind some ill-fated character from one of Ben Wheatley’s better movie premises who’s been spiked with ethically harvested hallucinogens, hunted across woodlands full of mantraps and then sealed in a mausoleum decorated with skulls and moss, as his mind unfolds and body bleeds out. Don’t let that put you off.

Fran Ashcroft – The Songs That Never Were
(Think Like A Key Music)

On the opening song to his new album, Fran Ashcroft sings of ‘Waiting For The Britpop Revival’. Ashcroft need hold his breath no longer, given that Shed 7 recently scored their first number one album and Fierce Panda co-founder John Harris has been appointed shadow late-night trams tsar by the Labour Party’s Yvette Cooper (probably). "Say what you like," Ashcroft sings over some pub rock piano, "It’s much better than shoegaze." Is this tongue-in-cheek? Well, there follows a postmodern spoken-word section about failing to write a serviceable spoken-word section. Then the second half of the song takes potshots at Damon Albarn, Oasis and "art-school wankers." Its reprise, at the end of the album, is even more cynical. Ashcroft is an ex-member of The Faraway Stars and The Monos. He’s also a producer who is (according to the lyrics of this song) still awaiting the credit he’s owed for some work with the aforementioned Blur singer. Based in Liverpool, Ashcroft has an ear for melody and a rascally sense of humour. On ‘Strange Things’ he speaks to God, who warns him off the idea of religion. ‘I Believe In You’ is more sincere. Like something Paul (and Linda) McCartney might have put on Ram, it’s rich and lo-fi at the same time. On the title tune Ashcroft sings of "writing strings of hits they didn’t play". In some ways, he could be kindred spirits with the younger Lawrence from Mozart Estate. Ashcroft has used artificial intelligence to develop the material out of old recordings he’d dug from the scrapheap, essentially forming a songwriting partnership with his earlier self, although who knows how seriously we are supposed to take that either. One thing’s for sure. It beats listening to that Beatles single from last year.

Japanese Television – Automata Exotica

(Tip Top Recordings)

Japanese Television are not Japanese. You know what? Nor are they a device with a screen that receives electrical signals and changes them into moving images and sound. Well, get this. The Presidents Of The United States Of America never ran for office. None of The Eagles had feathers. And just how grateful was Jerry Garcia when having his fatal heart attack in a rehab clinic at the age of 53? Too soon?! 1995? Get over it, hippies. Anyway, if this band aren’t actually goggleboxes shipped from the Toshiba factory, then what exactly are they? A London-based quartet who claim to be the only currently active band that specialises in 100 per cent authentic space surf, of course. Good for them! Theirs is a busy style that’s loath to ever settle down for very long at all. The calmer moments are as fleeting as those in Adam Sandler’s Uncut Gems. The title ‘Typhoon Reggae Police’ is lifted from Mark E. Smith’s ghostwritten autobiography, Renegade. The song itself sounds less like The Fall than Link Wray’s spirit haunting a dusty organ. Partly influenced by Nigerian funk, ‘Death Waltz II’ is heavy but also joyful. ‘Uranium Knights’ sounds like Adam West’s Batman is tripping balls inside a massive lava lamp. You get the feeling that if their tour bus ever ran into quicksand, Japanese Television could simply play their way out of danger by starting a jam that would magically lift the vehicle upwards and then into the air like something from a colourful Hanna-Barbera cartoon. I’d watch that show!

Dope Purple & Berserk – This Is The Harsh Trip For New Psyche
(Riot Season)

We last heard from Dope Purple back in 2021 when one esteemed music critic referred to their album, Grateful End, as "spicy". Turns out they hadn’t used up all the supplies in the pantry. Or if they did, they’ve restocked. This time they’ve partnered with Berserk who by the sound of things fancies himself as Taipei’s answer to Masami "Merzbow" Akita. That bloke’s work with Boris might come to mind when you hear the guitarists’ amps do battle with Berserk’s electronic squeals and erratic static. ‘Norman On The Moon’ is more noodle-oriented than much of Boris’ work, mind. The next song, ‘Highlander’, is faster and heftier. It would suit the car’s cassette deck when trying to outrun a colossal alien invader while swerving to dodge any asteroids that are simultaneously crashing down to Earth in a flaming cluster. ‘Never (Say) Die’, Dope Purple’s idea of a ballad, offers eight minutes of relative tranquillity. The final song, ‘Ashes Of My Telepathic Love’, would seem right at home if it appeared on an album by Acid Mothers Temple. Is there any higher praise? Top marks for the none-more-trippy front cover, too. Stare at it long enough and its patterns definitely start to move.

Den Der Hale – Pastoral Light


Sweden’s Den Der Hale are touted as a "post psych" act, perhaps because there’s something quite epic, maybe even a little overdramatic, about their thundering pieces. Don’t get me wrong, they sure can groove. Just check out the chest-grabbing bassline that introduces ‘Horse From Turin’, its title inspired by the event that’s meant to have triggered Friedrich Nietzsche’s mental breakdown. Mimosa Baker’s captivating voice has a commanding gothiness to it, whereas that of her fellow sometime singer, Pontus Lindskogen, evokes the earliest Sonic Youth recordings, before people realised that Thurston Moore was less an idol-killing Manson obsessive than a cheerfully laidback record collector. The band are big on textures, most of these offering stormy chills rather than the warmer glow that a lot of psych bands go for with their assortment of pedals and keys. It’s likely the members are no strangers to some of the classic items from the back-catalogue of Canada’s Constellation Records. (Britain’s FatCat, too, which would make sense because that’s the label they’re on.) If any promoters are reading, Den Der Hale would work well on a lineup with Bonnacons Of Doom. Maybe stick Flowers Must Die, also from Sweden, on the bill as well, if only to lighten the mood a touch.

Electric Wizards: A Tapestry Of Heavy Music, 1968 To The Present by JR Moores is available from wherever you buy your books from

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