Columnfortably Numb: Psych Rock For August Reviewed By JR Moores

Forget Orange Juice, says psych, space and noise rock correspondent JR Moores, here's how to jazz up the Labour Party

Technically speaking, the UK’s first culture minister was David Mellor, then MP for Putney. In those days the position had the fusty official title of Secretary Of State For National Heritage. Mellor was thought to be in touch with the common man, unlike his fellow Tories, due to his love of football. When Mellor resigned a few months into the role after the exposure of an extramarital affair, The Sun ran juicy stories about his habit of wearing a replica Chelsea shirt during coitus. This detail was later revealed to have been invented by Max Clifford, who had once worked with The Beatles. Or did the manipulative publicist make that up too?

Although the future could still be undone by a bigotgate or EdStone moment, my liberal bubble is adamant that a landslide Labour election victory is just around the corner which means Lucy Frazer will be out on her arse as Secretary Of State For Culture, Media And Sport. This begs the question, naturally, of how psychedelic the new cabinet will be. If his carefully selected Desert Island Discs are to be believed, Keir Starmer is a fan of Scottish janglers Orange Juice and ‘Three Lions’ by some reactionary blokes from the 1990s.

The current shadow culture secretary, Lucy Powell, has attended Glastonbury Festival a few times. But where does she stand on Hawkwind’s 50th anniversary celebration of Space Ritual at The Royal Albert Hall? Near the mixing desk where the sound is meant to be best, in the throng at the front, or next to a tall bloke who talks all the way through about all the previous Hawkwind gigs he’s attended? We need answers!

Another pressing issue is whether Powell should team up with Stone Roses fan Mayor Andy Burnham in order to force Manchester Psych Fest to change its name, seeing as its line-up always features whichever generic indie acts happen to be touring at the moment, some of whom are about as psychedelic as Judy Murray’s Slazenger socks. Or would such an intervention on the events management sector be an egregious abuse of the powers of the state?

Steve Albini, as he once told me, believes that "as requirement for holding public office you should have to be able to demonstrate that you had taken psychedelic drugs at least once." One way that could be ensured would be to spike the whole lot of them with LSD, like Monster Magnet used to do to their early audiences (as legend has it). Now that would make for a livelier Labour Conference. John McDonnell all loved up with dilated pupils, tying luminous ribbons into the matted hair of Jess Phillips. A speech longer than those of David Icke from a loose-collared David Lammy on the true meaning of life as recently imparted to him by a talking marmot as an official representative of Mother Universe. Jonathan Ashworth quietly sweeping up the Woodstock levels of mess, like what Mark Corrigan from Peep Show would do. Angela Rayner, fuddled off her mazard and boogying harder than an extra from the Batman telly series. Lord Mandelson sprinting down the corridors, desperately fleeing a seed-spawn of Azathoth that only he can see.

At a push, it might even make Kathy Newman from the Channel 4 News think twice about making constant references to Starmer as a politician who is too "boring" to run the country. Forget Orange Juice, then. Here are some alternative soundtracks for the bacchanalian campaign.

Prison – Upstate

(Drag City)

Prison feature Paul "Top Dollar" Major from Endless Boogie and anybody who gets a kick out of their strung-out jams will no doubt dig this too. The lineup is written in the past tense on the bio, indicating the transient nature of the New York collective but also because Sam Jayne (from Love As Laughter) has since passed away. Also performing on Upstate were Sarim Al-Rawi, Mike Fellows and Matt Lilly. The shortest of these five songs is 11 minutes long and the longest is over 22. They’ve also given each piece two titles, so nobody should be under any delusion that this is going to be an exercise in taut, self-edited snappiness. If anything, these boogies threaten even greater endlessness than Major’s other group. ‘Hold ‘Em Up / Comin’ Down on Me’, for example, opens with Stooges-like energy before growing a hell of a lot more swampy and atonal, a bit like the middle section from one of those long songs on the Sonic Youth CDs with cardboard sleeves. Roused back to life by the building drumbeats, they’re eventually zapping out the garage licks again. If only all forms of incarceration were this far-out.

Gunn Truscinski Nace – Glass Band

(Three Lobed)

Long-running instrumental duo Steve Gunn and John Truscinski have added Bill Nace of Body/Head to their lineup for their latest audio voyage into the imaginary tundra. As should be expected from the pedigree involved, it’s lovely stuff throughout. The moods are many yet the coherence is there. Several songs, such as ‘On Lamp’, ‘Tape’, and ‘Stacked’, are fireside folk jams from a distant planet. Among the more abstract pieces, ‘Venus’ deals in ambient drone while ‘Junctions’ is dominated by the kind of percussive jangling you might get from art installation consisting of old bells hanging from the ceiling of an otherwise empty warehouse. There are moments that recall the Americana experimentalism of Jackie-O Motherfucker or Pelt. Those who are after something more rocking can skip straight to the longest song, ‘Fencer’, which rattles fuzzily and full of feedback so it ought to please all the skronk heads out there.

Mong Tong 夢東 – Tao Fire

(Guruguru Brain)

More of a melting pot than The Iron Giant’s fondue set, Mong Tong 夢東 make energetic, virtually hyperactive, psychedelia that’s loath to stay in one place for very long at all. Lifting ideas from Eastern and Western cultures while combining traditional elements with radically modern sonics, Taiwanese brothers Hom Yu and Jiun Chi will veer from wah-wah riffing to Peaking Lights ambience or Black Dice cut-ups and then onto gamelan passages or skittering dance music in the space of a few short minutes. The effect can be dizzying, perhaps even jarring, but it’s never dull. Close your eyes while listening and let your mind paint a vivid picture of a neon-lit, rapidly paced action movie with culturally subversive undertones that hasn’t been made yet.

Dead Neanderthals – Specters


For their latest record, which is heavier than the vinyl it is pressed on, core DN members Otto Kokke and René Aquarius have teamed up with Scott Hedrick of Skeletonwitch who also played on 2019’s Ghosts. Once again, the trio offer two side-filling marathons, this time with a slightly different flavour. While that last collaboration was jazzier and, on its second song, practically post rock, here they offer something a lot more intense, unforgiving and monolithic. There is an inescapable intensity, thanks largely to the busy drum work but also the repetitive and gradually mutating synth and guitar textures. Phatter than shoegaze, more energetic than drone rock and as hefty as both of those artforms mashed together, ‘Necrology’ will either start listeners’ day with a rousing bang or send them fleeing back under the covers. The second piece, ‘Banishment’, is a little calmer, if you can call it that, with its slow, suffocating and massively distorted riffs. Then in the final four minutes or so, it starts to resemble an uplifting Vangelis theme as covered in suitably epic fashion by The Cure. It’s metal, Jim, but not as we know it.

Yawning Balch – Volume One

(Heavy Psych Sounds)

Hot on the heels of Yawning Man’s Long Walk Of The Navajo comes a collaboration on which the aforementioned mob are joined by fellow desert veteran Bob Balch from Fu Manchu. This record emerged from a day-long jam session at Joshua Tree. Of course it did! Where else would they have done it? Weston-super-Mare? It’s a beardy and noodle-heavy album which some people might find a little self-indulgent whereas others will jump in headfirst with their armbands on. Fans of Fu Manchu might be expecting more outright and chunksome riffery but the emphasis here is on serener musical contemplation. The guitarists were keen to fiddle with a range of different effects pedals and this means those many noodles don’t all contain the same flavour; thereby monotony is averted. Plus, there are synth sounds to add a space-rock feel. ‘Cemetery Glitter’ could even be an instrumental incarnation of Hawkwind, spinning away on the turntable at half-speed. The album title suggests we haven’t heard the last from this team-up.

Baker Ja Lehtisalo – Crocodile Tears

(Cruel Nature)

Here is a meeting of minds between two prolific musicians, Aidan Baker of Nadja and Circle’s Jussi Lehtisalo. A CD version came out last December, which is a barren month to release anything as most music journalists are hibernating at that time or else too busy gawping at Mariah Carey’s Madame Claus miniskirt. Fresh on cassette format, Crocodile Tears is less dark and asphyxiating than much of Baker’s work with Nadja. This must be at least partly down to Lehtisalo’s sunnier temperaments. There remain elements of melancholy, particularly in the softly sung vocals, but the overall experience is of floating rather than drowning. Despite the lengthy running times, there is also an accessibility here. Some of the moments that combine keyboard motifs over industrial distortion evoke the instrumental passages on the last good Nine Inch Nails album, 1999’s cocaine-dusted double-LP, The Fragile. At the beginning of ‘Face/Off’, which is hopefully a tribute to John Woo’s bonkers Travolta-versus-Cage thriller, the duo even threaten to drift into ambient techno territory. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a fruitful partnership.

Mahti – Musiikki 2

(Riot Season)

Jussi Lehtisalo also plays in Mahti whose second album has arrived about three months after their first. Keep up that pace and they’ll soon be giving Billie Jean King & The Blizzardy Fizzy Scissors a run for their money. In this outfit, Lehtisalo is joined by fellow Circle member Tomi Leppänen, ex-Circle musician-turned-psychiatrist Teemu Elo, and Hannu Saha. Almost immediately the delicate plucking of Saha’s kantele (an ancient Finnish instrument) is accompanied by harsher noise and penetrating pulses, as if Nordic players from distantly separate timelines are communicating through a wormhole. Somewhat gentler, besides the occasional screech of a swinging gate, is the kosmische musik (or "kosmista musiikkia"?) of ‘Pala 7’. That said, it gets a little more intense towards the end of its 12-minute trip. The next song is even dreamier while the final piece is what post rock would have been without the cheesy, overly obvious bits.

Upper Wilds – Jupiter

(Thrill Jockey)

Each Upper Wilds album is at least as enjoyable as the last, the band’s formula mixing post hardcore tunefulness with guitar effects that are as dense and wild as the brushstrokes of J. M. W. Turner. After the non-planetary debut Guitar Module 2017, Jupiter follows 2018’s Mars and 2021’s Venus so presumably the Brooklyn trio are working their way through the solar system as quickly as Elon Musk can say "I’d like to emigrate to an alien globe where I can fulfil my deluded destiny as the cult leader of colony consisting of balding Aryans." Upper Wilds have always had a Hüsker Dü feel and here they throw in a cover of that band’s ‘Books About UFOs’, a take that proves beefier than the original with exuberant saxophone accompaniment from Jeff Tobias of Sunwatchers. The original songs, many of which consider humanity’s uncertain place in the universe, are just as powerful. ’10’9"’ is suitably muscular for a song about a giant. The title track is faster and bouncier, like a pop punk band from a cartoon utopia. And that’s just scraping the moon surface. 

Electric Wizards: A Tapestry Of Heavy Music, 1968 To The Present by JR Moores can be found on the shelves of all the best bookshops this side of Mercury

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