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Category Archives: Psychedelic

Tame Impala – Lonerism

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Genre: Psychedelic, Powerpop, Art Rock

Quite how Tame Impala managed to become platinum superstars in their native Australia is anyone’s guess.

2 years have passed since their debut album, Innerspeaker, took over the down under continent seemingly overnight, with its dazzling fusion of prog rock and space psychedelica. Of course, outside of Australia you’d be lucky to find someone who had even heard of them, let alone been one of the thousands who’d bought the album. But look anywhere and, even 2 years on, amongst the bizarrely fanatical Brazilian post-pubescants that seem to have glued themselves to the band, you’ll find that most of their (large) fanbase is still drawn from the source of mainstream, normal music fans. Rhianna, One Direction, Bon Iver, Taylor Swift… Tame Impala…


(it’s One Direction, they’re awesome.)

It would make perfect sense if Tame Impala created stereotypical, middle-of-the-road, made-to-please-the-masses pop music. But that is where everything starts to unfold and the delight of confusion sets in. Every few years, there are certain bands who get a short period of fame in their home country that makes absolutely no sense; Tame Impala in Australia is one of them (Muse is another example. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of them, their influence in the UK has been pivotal to progressive rock’s resurgence in popularity worldwide.)

See, Tame Impala make a kind of pop music. But it’s not pop music. It’s pop music in the same way that Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite is catchy pop music. Or in the same way that Harry Nilsson’s Popeye soundtrack was a pop album. In other words, they don’t fit into a category at the record store because they’re a little melting pot of everything.

But let us push aside the Beatles comparisons for a moment because, even though every mainstream media review speaks like Lonerism is the second coming of Revolver (and, while that’s not completely wrong, to compare anything to an album that changed everything is sacrilege), there’s one thing that Lonerism sounds a whole lot more like than anything else; Tame Impala have created something here that seemed impossible to recreate.

Todd fuckin’ Rundgren.

But not the songwriting genius of Todd from Something/Anything, not the half-hearted meanderings of his short-lived band Utopia, and certainly not the Todd Rundgren we’re left with in 2012 (which I refuse to accept exists)

No. It’s the i’ve-taken-5-acid-sugar-cubes-and-i’m-going-into-the-studio Todd Rundgren from “A Wizard, A True Star”. The same “A Wizard”, a near-perfect album, which was pretty much ignored completely in 1973 because it was so different. Well, it now has a son. A son born 39 years later, and it goes by the name of Lonerism.

To talk about the songs individually on this record would be missing the point; much like “A Wizard” it plays as if it’s a medley and, more importantly, it encapsulates a mood as opposed to being 13 seperate songs. That can, however, make Lonerism a very droning, claustrophobic, over-cosy listen. It IS same-y, in a similar way to Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Aufheben – whether you feel that’s important in the case of this album is another matter entirely. Don’t take that the wrong way though, if you were to drop your turntable needle on any groove you’ll find that it’s a treat, not a chore, to hear the sweeping synthesizers added to Lonerism, an upgrate from Innerspeaker’s no-synths approach. Or the incredible vocals that are eerily like someone overdubbed everything with John Lennon’s voice.

Or you might be treated to the final guitar riff in Music To Walk Home By, a tip of the metaphorical hat to Zeppelin’s Out On The Tiles.

Or the dancing sway of Feels Like We Only Go Backwards which could have come straight off Band On The Run.

Or the part-stoner, part-Marc Bolan stomp of Elephant.

Or the trippy, lucid repetition of Mind Mischief, recalling the 90s powerpop of The Posies more than anything.

Or, my favourite, Keep On Lying, an incredible cut that half way through drifts off into an extension of Tic Tic Tic from “A Wizard A True Star”.

However, the best way to experience this album is to press play and forget you’re listening to it. Let it go in and out of your hearing, don’t focus on it as 13 songs, and tune your brain to the mood of the album. In the proper way, somehow miraculously for a mainstream band, this is true psychedelica. You don’t need drugs to enjoy this music; this music IS the drug.

All in all, Lonerism is a more cohesive effort than Innerspeaker. The synths add a completely new dimension to this band, transforming them from Flaming Lips-type indie experimenters to… full blown psychedelia. I suspect it will turn many fans away.

Is it a better album than Innerspeaker? Only time will tell us. There are so many layers to Lonerism that it may be an inconspicuous grower. It may become album of the year, that much is possible. But, on the first week of listening, the sameness and monotony means it is an album for very specific moods. To quote Neil Young at the start of Year Of The Horse, “It’s all one song!” And that wasn’t a bad album either.

But, as far as A Wizard A True Star clones go, this is as good as it gets.

Lonerism is an enigma.

For fans of: Todd Rundgren, Paul McCartney & Wings, ELO

Released 8th October


Syd Arthur – On An On

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Genre: Art Rock, Canterbury, Psychedelic, Jazz-Fusion

It’s a sign of a good band when they can’t possibly be described in one sentence. And, believe me, this is good.

Infact, trying to force Syd Arthur into an insufferable pit of classification is a reasonably challenging and fun game to play. Though I wouldn’t bother if I were you, because this, I guarantee, is near-unbeatable:

An organic, rootsy Tame Impala hitch a ride with The Meters to go see White Denim play in a field in the countryside, where Caravan are discussing their favourite Phish shows and Tomorrow Never Knows is playing in the background.

But there’s one very bright influence, glistening through the rest like a volcanic sun. Canterbury Prog.

It’s so unfair to pigeonhole a band as young as Syd Arthur into a scene they were never part of. It’s also lazy and frustratingly ill-researched to say that they’re merely a resurrection of Soft Machine (which many mainstream reviews have fallen into the trap of doing already.) But to understand the music this band are making, it’s probably best to also understand the music produced in the history of their hometown.

Circa ’67-’78, the Canterbury scene wasn’t so much a genre as it was an entire decade of crazy musicianship, over indulgence and schoolboy humour, all condensed into 40 minute vinyl treasure chests. The tiny quantity of musicians involved could be easily counted on both hands, but the amount of outstanding albums made from that select few would need multiple mutated octopus fingers to tally. Some were indebted to the liberated exploration of free-form jazz being released by Impulse Records in the 60s; Matching Mole, Hatfield & The North’s eponymous debut, Soft Machine’s Three, Henry Cow’s LegEnd. Others to the rise of psychedelia: Kevin Ayers’ Shooting At The Moon, Gong’s Camembert Electrique, Khan’s Space Shanty. It goes on.

Of course, none of these bands sounded much like each other, and to call a band “Canterbury” confirms only two things: a no boundaries attitude and a rare authenticity of overwhelming English-ness. Similarly, to attempt to describe the wonderful music from Syd Arthur’s On & On is also to dishearten it (let alone compare it to an outdated – though brilliant – entry to the history of music). Can you really compare a modern band to a “scene”, not a genre, which faded without trace once punk music took over and all but mutilated and disembowled the art of musicianship?

This is where Syd Arthur fit into being, completely unfortunately, wrongly categorized as a Canterbury band. They are, by all accounts, reminiscent of some of the music produced, certainly, but mostly they’re just a lethal combination of prog, jazz, psychedelic and folk music.

The name itself should tell a lot of the nature of the band, Siddhartha being the protagonist in Hermann Hesse’s spiritual novel set during the time of Buddha. Or maybe it’s the Syd, matching Syd Barrett. Or King Arthur, the man who alone defines the word “English.” But don’t fear if the thought of 20 minute keytar solos and silver capes scares you, no, On An On is a modern album. It’s deliciously retro, indeed, but its feet are planted firmly in the present in the way that, say, Sleepy Sun are. The sweeping string arrangements, the fuzzed-out guitar, the woody mandolin, the time signatures changing without warning. It’s as close to perfect as modern progressive music can get. To add anything would be to detract from what is such a mature vision beyond their youthful years.

The three standouts here serve the purpose as highlights only for the sake of having highlights, for the whole record is immaculate, and, to quote Almost Famous, incendiary. Incendiary. Dorothy is a dreamy, jazz-fueled haze; a recollection of sleepy, 2am moonlights and breathy sunrises. Eye-popping instrumental Night Shaped Light is three and a half minutes of psychedelic bliss. Ode To The Summer possesses a monster Funkadelic-like verse riff that makes dancing in 9/8 possible. Vocalist/guitarist Liam Magill has a soothing, effortless voice, comforting like Nick Drake, but restrained like Brendan Benson in a way that lets the band take the praise together (and there is a slight resemblance of Benson’s solo music outside The Raconteurs on the choruses of On An On). It’s not Robert Plant fronting Syd Arthur, but it works in much the same way that Tame Impala does; using the voice as a texture.

It also doesn’t hurt that they’re all stupidly accomplished musicians. Even the weakest track here, the disjointed and almost-awful Truth Seeker, is glued together by guitar chops more tasteful than a Mars Bar.

In terms of the UK, there’s enough here to satisfy both the Glastonbury crowd (that is, the mainstream magazines and indie festival-goers) and also appeal to the passionate, anti-cool prog fans who would otherwise be turned off by what is, ultimately, pop music.

But it’s thinking man’s pop music. Warped pop music. It’s technical, it’s savvy, it’s adventurous. And that’s why it’s so good.

It’s gorgeous.

Grab your sativa, On An On is mindblowing.

For fans of: Music. Everything.
Recommended Track: Dorothy

Released 3rd July

Black Mountain – Year Zero: The Original Soundtrack

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Genre: Space Rock, Psychedelic, Hard Rock, Electronic

What do you get if you cross Black Sabbath and Black Sabbath?

You get every stoner rock band in the world.

Or you get Black Sabbath trying to multiply themselves and creating a great void of nothingness.

Either way, they’re all playing the same riff over and over. That riff is called Children of The Grave. Except it sounds nothing like Children of the Grave, because Children of The Grave is awesome. It’s more like if you had a doppelganger who followed you around everywhere, but instead of making you look presentable and replicating you correctly, they smeared chocolate over their face and made fart noises.

Coincidentally, “awesome” is also the last word you’ll ever hear in a review for a stoner rock band, because they’re all lifelessly average and meticulously boring. “Stoner music” is a complete motherfucker; it’s much like the term progressive rock was before its recent revival, when the only prog rock to exist were samey-sounding bands and guys in capes with wands. If you’re bad at stoner rock, you’re an eternal embarrassment to a scene where only one clique exists (that of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age fanatics) and if you’re good at it, like QoTS, it’s a term which is a knife to the back when you try to expand and evolve into anything else. When your band gets tagged “stoner” there is no escape, there is no way out of the hell in which you are now ridden. Forever trapped because of your Children of the Grave riff, and even an album of xylophone Abba covers would be accompanied everywhere by the one word to ruin them all:


So why must a great band like Black Mountain be thrown into the lion’s cage with every album when, clearly, they have far more to offer? Moreover, why must a great band like Black Mountain be treated like it were by your parents, aimlessly classing everything as “just that noise, all sounds the same to me.”

So with that said and done, i’d like to talk about this new release from one of the best ROCK bands around.

2 years on from the modest chart success of Wilderness Heart, a top-5-of-the-year kind of album to anyone who heard it, it would have been completely acceptable for Black Mountain to head off in a new direction and satisfy their newfound fanbase. A little switch to the guitar tone here, a few catchier choruses there. A spot on the Spiderman soundtrack would normally do this to bands. It’s a natural and easy thing, to sell out when you have the chance.

But apparently not to these guys. Black Mountain have instead gone and made the most mind-altering, hallucinogenic music of their career.

Year Zero is the soundtrack to a surf movie, an independant vinyl-only album containing 5 new tracks and 4 old ones. In a movie about people flying on water on plastic hovercrafts, the last kind of music you’d ever expect to hear is stoner music. Wait, wait, I mean Black Mountain’s kind of music.

But after seeing the trailer, you know what?

That’s exactly the right assumption to make. It doesn’t fit. The music itself, gratefully, is a different story altogether. The four old tracks are exemplar and naturally excellent choices. The five new tracks, though, are a little more incoherent:

Spacey electronic opener Phosphorescent Waves is a brooding spoken-word trance. Somewhat depressive, mostly just beautifully atmospheric, as a soundtrack addition it belongs not on the blue slow-motion of a surf wave, but in the outer shores of the cosmic ocean. Galactic music in every sense of the word, and miles away (or more appropriately, light-years away) from Spiderman’s Stay Free, something that’s not a completely good thing.

Mary Lou is the pick of the bunch; a heavy-as-hell, punch-you-in-the-face kind of gem which begs to be played loud and manages to stay on the right side of hard rock without drifting into the aridity of metal. It’s a track which spells out that these guys, like everyone else lately, have been listening to a lot of Krautrock (which seems to have become the flavour of the week so far in 2012.) If Neu’s epic this-is-the-best-thing-ever song Hallogallo was brought up to date, Mary Lou would be it. Much like your first boyfriend, nearly 8 minutes of joyous pleasure.

Embrace Euphoria and In Sequence are again electronic and spoken word underachievers which seem to have no purpose other than linking the previous and forthcoming songs. More importantly, they make it wholly impossible to understand if this is a new direction for the band or purely a one time experimental outing. When In Sequence’s extended synth outro drifts into fan favourite Wilderness Heart (with its Children of The Grave riff) it contradicts everything and suggests absolutely nothing.

Final track Breathe may tell us more however, and the overall fuzziness harks back to both Hawkwind and mainman Stephen McBean’s solo project, Pink Mountaintops. Yet interestingly, though probably unsurprisingly considering the context, there’s a serious hint towards the Yellow Submarine Soundtrack’s forgotten experimental hit It’s All Too Much.

In the end, who knows. What we do know is that, as an EP, the new tracks aren’t collectively strong enough to warrant this release more than 3 stars – but acting as segues to some of the band’s best material, Year Zero proves to be a reasonably strong and an entirely enjoyable album. Therefore (and mostly because the 13-minute Bright Lights is included) it’s with great shame that it won’t be able to win any album-of-the-year awards by default.

New fans are probably better checking out 2008‘s In The Future first because, as an introduction to Black Mountain, the peculiarity of the new material may easily scare some away. But for those already addicted, it’s worth getting just so Mary Lou can brutally knock your head off.

For fans of: Quest for Fire, Deep Purple, Blue Cheer, Aqua Nebula Oscillator
Recommended Track: Mary Lou

Released 2nd April

Brian Jonestown Massacre – Aufheben

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Genre: Neo-Psychedelica, Space Rock

Ah, psychedelic music. For something that’s become such a household term, branded around like a nomad with no real home, there sure are a lot definitions for it in the modern era. Anyone can be Psychedelic these days it would seem, both as a compliment and an insult. It’s similarly both debased and pathetically overused. Indeed, one could always suggest that the word psychedelic now conjures up an image of uninspired and ordinary banality. A category for bands who just haven’t found their niche yet.

But is “psychedelic” a clichéd peace sign, a floral shirt, and a vivid colour portrait of nature? Maybe a throwback to a 5 year period in the late 60s when Psychedelic Rock was as much a fad as Post-Grunge has become today? (Because, let’s face it, The Doors were the Nickelback of 68 and Woodstock a gathering of trendy kids subscribing to the latest fashion. Jefferson Airplane proved it best by morphing into Jefferson Starship; clearly it defied all their hippie beliefs to jump on the bandwagon of the next trend and release “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”)

In its raw, primitive state, Psychedelica is an explanation for the no-boundaries exploration of sound – the art of capturing a mood and a feeling, rather than a melody and lyric.

And, thankfully, this record is of the right kind.

Stylistically, it closes in on a musical area just short of Faust-meets-Sgt-Pepper, the vocals hidden way back in the mix, adding another layer of substance as opposed to being the main focus. But regardless of comparison, Aufheben is anything BUT a retro record. Infact, it’s arguably the most post-modern piece of work Anton Newcombe has ever recorded.

Beware, this is not music for the casual listener. That is, there are no real standout tracks here, there’s little in the way of song variation, and it is the kind of album that requires a certain dedication to understand. It has to be thought of as one full piece of art rather than individual songs; you don’t pick a track to enjoy and play it on repeat. This is complex mood music, it is challenging and demanding, it’s something you let simmer in the background as it charges your emotional senses. To some it may be genius, to others a complete waste of time. But if you’re aware of Brian Jonestown Massacre, you’re aware of what this music is capable of producing. It doesn’t exactly push outside of the box for the band or explore new sounds, but it doesn’t have to. It sounds like a Brian Jonestown Massacre album.

The krautrock motorik of Viholliseni Maalla and Caravan-meets-Didier Malherbe-isms of Face Down On The Moon are excellent. Others are not as excellent. But as a complete piece, it all seems to work very, very well. Aufheben is a record which shows its influences with pride and then expands on them as if they were a blank canvas – the love letters to Canterbury prog and Low-era David Bowie exist everywhere, but it’s on Stairway To The Best Party In The Universe where the self-aware Paint It Black ripoff shows a well-needed sense of humour in an otherwise serious and dark album.

However, there are negatives here too. The introduction of Will Carruthers to the band permanently has signified a change of approach. The ex-Spiritualized member, an unbelievably overrated band if there ever was one, brings a relentlessly persistent Britpop drawback to the exhaustive ramblings of I Want To Hold Your Other Hand in particular.

Conclusively and rather obviously, it takes the right state of mind to appreciate the beauty on show here; I wouldn’t find it all too surprising if most people loved this album one day then hated it the next.

But if you’re ready for the adventure, Aufheben proves to be a mostly transcendent trip.

For fans of: Tame Impala, Wooden Shjips, Spiritualized
Recommended Track: Illuminomi

Released 30th April