Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For August Reviewed By JR Moores

Feeling decrepitly out-of-touch with current psychedelic music mores? Don't fear, because JR Moores has recommendations galore. Homepage photo: Nebula

Daniel Dylan Wray, a writer I admire and respect and, as such, of whom I am deeply envious, has written about people who lose interest in music during their 30s, never to return. Imagine prioritising child-rearing and weddings over snakebite and Warmduscher, the humanity perpetuating parasites!

I have just had a depressingly big birthday, if you’re one of those mindless slaves to decimal digits (30s?! Pah!) and NO SURRENDER because I’m in it for the long haul. This is not like one of those music journalists who’ll sensationally declare that they are (i.e. he is) not writing about music anymore and then just continues to do so anyway as if no such statement was ever published. (I’m not going to hyperlink to such a piece but it’s all been clocked for posterity on’s Wayback Machine in case it suddenly disappears, Stalin!) Non-ironic absolutes? Who needs ’em? I’m more in the pattern of someone who’ll doggedly write the same stuff over and over, expecting different results that never arrive, like an appearance on BBC Four’s Great British Album Review-Off, which I believe is one clinical definition of insanity.

I got into this business, in the largest inverted commas known to man, later in life than is advisable to any human being who craves some kind of conventional time on earth. (I really should’ve learned computer code or Mandarin or how to monetise live-broadcasts of anal bleaching via high-definition pay-per-view…) Furthermore, and mark my words, I’ll be in ‘the game’ longer than anyone who thinks that having a pension is more important than being sniffy about Kaiser Chiefs. Rather that than therapy. Rather Therapy? than therapy. AMIRIGHT, fellow ailingly physiqued future particles of nothingness?

I can’t move onto writing about social justice or pivot into crime fiction any more than Bill Hicks could accept sitcom work or advertisement revenue. I mean, I have dabbled in copywriting but, let’s face it, neither party was totally invested in the stilted outcome. (Sarcasm alarm: Do Hire Me. I can position apostrophes correctly, I own a physical thesaurus and need to pay for catastrophically inflated bills just like anybody else.)

Incidentally and oh-so-professionally, I drafted most of this erratic and overly adverbed spiel on my smartphone’s notes app on the eve of my stupid big birthday because it’s the kind of daft thing I’d be doing with my spare time even if I wasn’t paid for it.

I can’t go on writing about music.

(Thought I’d better signpost that I’m paraphrasing Samuel Beckett here even though I have never read the complete text, like the precocious and intellectually invalid arse that I am or at least give the impression of being.)

I’ll go on writing about music.

I’ll go on.

Chris Forsyth – Evolution Here We Come

(No Quarter)

Certain acts like to churn out the same album, or even the same song, over and over again. I was going to cite AC/DC as an example but Julian Marszalek batted off that argument back in 2009. So let’s go with, erm, Slipknot? (Sorry, maggots.) As his new album title makes clear, Chris Forsyth is not in that line of dull duplication. The most jarring way to illustrate this is to contrast the abstract chaos of his early work, including the "non-rock" trio Peeesseye, with the rootsier choogling of this more recent output. Forsyth continues to progress in subtler ways. ‘Experimental & Professional’ is an apt and arresting opener. It features Forsyth’s core band (for this album: Ryan Jewell, Tom Malach and Douglas McCombs) jamming in a confidently chunky manner with bonus synth gurglings courtesy of Marshall Allen from The Sun Ra Arkestra. Other guests drop by elsewhere and co-producer Dave Harrington is credited with plenty of instruments himself, from pedal steel to bamboo flute. Forsyth says they were aiming to make rock music with a "surface" that resembles electronica. Don’t worry because that doesn’t mean it sounds like Klaxons. It’s more to do with the shifts and textures and finding ways to break through further sonic fences. The record is well-sequenced, too. It’s mostly instrumental, with a bit of singing in the middle (including a version of Richard and Linda Thompson’s ‘You’re Going To Need Somebody’), before it really blasts off into space on the final two tracks.

Primordial Undermind – An Imaginal Abydos

(Deep Water Acres/Sunrise Ocean Bender)

Led in different incarnations by the American ex-pat Eric Arn, now based in Vienna, Primordial Undermind are on to album number 11, their first studio work in a decade. An Imaginal Abydos begins with ‘Möglicher, Möglicher / Rekursiv’ which swoops and lumbers around like a cosmonaut in a tin-can spaceship, struck by asteroids, and trying to get purchase on a helpful-looking lever. Its ten minutes fly right by. ‘When I Was A Dune’ has a similarly anti-gravitational vibe. It vaguely flirts towards funk and dabbles a little bit in "Eastern" guitar patterns, while never ditching its key skronky base. ‘Jury-rigged, Makeshift Assemblage’ comes close to country balladry before growing more math-rocky. ‘Until They Break’ is like one of the Lee Ranaldo-sung highlights on a later Sonic Youth album. ‘Hermetic Armada’ seems to be Primordial Undermind’s take on groovy stoner rock. The set lasts just 40 minutes but they pack so much in that there’s enough here to keep the repeat spins rewarding, even if they take another ten years or so to follow It up.

Mienakunaru – Strato Arcology

(Riot Season)

Surely Mike Vest, the North East’s most prolific psychonaut, was as busy recording as ever, perhaps even more so, during lockdown with his impossible number of projects. (Zodan, Lush Worker, Artifacts & Uranium, Lucy Adlington & Mike Vest, Mike Vest & Charlie Butler, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…) Mienakunaru is his gnarly power trio with guitarist Junzo Susuki and drummer Dave Sneddon. In the spirit of one of Vest’s older projects, Blown Out, Strato Arcology features two hypnotically phat slabs of lava-lampian space rock, as dense and noodly as Auntie’s industrially spiced stir-fry. Whack on side A, zone out and forget your woes as the beats and licks wash over your sorry soul. Reluctantly rise when it draws to a close after 18 minutes. Maybe make yourself a brew or something and then repeat the meditation with the second half which, if anything, is an even heavier beast.

It should be noted that earlier this year, Susuki fell from a train platform, suffering a cerebral hemorrhage and subarachnoid hemorrhage. All his musical endeavours are on hold, as he’s currently in a rehabilitation hospital. There’s also a new compilation album, featuring Mienakunaru, solo Vest, Eric Arn, Carlton Melton, Dead Sea Apes, Kawabata Makoto, Ashtray Navigations and many others, which will help him financially and also acts as "one giant get well card": We Love You Junzo.

Nebula – Transmission From Mothership Earth

(Heavy Psych Sounds)

2019’s Holy Shit was one hell of a comeback for Nebula. Appearing ten years after Heavy Psych and two decades since their debut, it was as bold and beautiful as anything in their discography. Due to a lesser gap between releases, there is a risk that Transmission From Mothership Earth can’t possibly excite listeners as much as its predecessor. Forget about Holy Shit for the time being and imagine this as their long-awaited return, though, and a jolly good time will be had by all. Last time I wrote some bollocks about how Nebula’s occasionally satanic lyrics didn’t quite match the warm, good-time spirit of their stoner grooves. This is California’s Nebula, after all, not Electric Wizard from deepest, darkest Wimborne. Does one sense greater befanged malice in the atmosphere this time around? A creeping and nihilistic gothiness to the title track? A doomy bad-trip vibe to ‘Wilted Flowers’? A yearning for sheer sonic oblivion in the weightiest passages? They sound a bit more blissed out elsewhere, mind, with the final track recalling the Orange-amped Morricone-isms of Across Tundras. ("How do you make desert rock even more desert-y?" they once asked. "Dress up as a cowboy and hop on a hoss, partner!") Oh, and half the time Nebula still sing about being totally stoned, dude.

Wet Satin – Wet Satin

(Fuzz Club)

…From hail Satan to Wet Satin. Having played a meatier mode of psych in the San Francisco band Lumerians, Jason Miller and Marc Melzer have dropped the rock and stretched on their lounge pants. The duo call their style "Kosmische Tropicale" and it was born from trying to cheer themselves up when everything got a bit too heavy back in 2020. Suitable for laid-back kitchen discos, then, the record has a mellow, dubby and lightly funky feel. Wet Satin‘s ten songs all have their own individual flavour yet the whole thing flows together really well as one colourful journey. Personally, it takes me back to randomly picking up LPs from the Not Not Fun label when on holiday in Portugal in 2012. I’m also reminded of the kind of stuff that would be put on by the proprietor of a shop that used to exist around our way and specialised in carefully curated records and second-hand books. The place kept going for a few years and was clearly running at a loss, heroically. I don’t know how useful or relatable that anecdote is but there’s some point to be made there about importance of largely unsung endeavours.

Acid Rooster – Ad Astra
(Cardinal Fuzz)

Another document from the lockdown era, the two lengthy tracks on Ad Astra were recorded live in a secluded garden as the Covid pandemic was forcing the avoidance of hugging anyone. Knowing that context, one might read into ‘Zu Den Sternen’ a kind of traumatised moodiness where in usual circumstances it might merely be considered a trippy, astronomical jam. The Leipzig group sound in no rush to get anywhere as they breathe hazy licks into the air, and they were perhaps drawing out their reverbed jams for as long as possible to avoid having to pack up their amps again in order to return to the grim reality of stockpiling tinned goods and disinfectant. ‘Phasenschieber’ is over 20 minutes too and it’s either the highlight of the set or a glorified outro, depending on your tastes. It’s very placid and droney, with some subtle background tinklings to keep the palette interested. Extra layers are built on top of this but with no drums or climactic crescendo, it’s the sort of serene and meditative space rock that Brian Eno might have made, had the story seen him flee from Hawkwind rather than Roxy Music.

::nepaal – Black Batik Volume I And Volume II

(Cardinal Fuzz)

::nepaal was formed in tribute to Dávid Strausz’s late father Tibor, a Hungarian guitarist who left behind a bunch of high-end studio equipment. Putting that to excellent use, Dávid rallied an ensemble and began hosting mammoth, instrumental, improvised psych sessions. Pop must have kept his gear in good nick because the recording is top-notch. (And asking John McBain to master the results won’t have done any harm either). Thick distortion slathers the sound without obscuring the individual sonic elements, including a particularly pleasing, nice, woody bass tone. As for the style itself, it’s for the fans of acts like Causa Sui, Eternal Tapestry, Kandodo, Carlton Melton, etc. It’s hard to pick a favourite piece, moment or movement but the second part of ‘Pharisaismic Plebeian’ from Volume I really gets fizzing. As for Volume II, ‘Flying Mantra’ funkily lurches in a pretty darn sexy manner and there was no way a 15-minute song called ‘Pill Bong Jill’ was ever going to disappoint.

Electric Wizards: A Tapestry of Heavy Music, 1968 to the Present by JR Moores is available from all good bookshops and even some bad ones too

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