Words by Andrew Fetter
Andrew Fetter has been writing about music for over the last decade and playing in bands for even longer. His latest endeavor is the radio hour, The Noise Kaleidoscope which airs Tuesdays from 4:30-5:30pm ET on 99.1FM WQRT in Indianapolis. On it he covers his personal collection and influences of psych rock from over the last half century, starting with early influences and reaching to it’s modern incarnations. Past episodes are archived online.
One of the things I love about psychedelic music is its ability to permeate other genres of music. Sure, it’s mostly associated with rock music, but what makes a particular song/album/artist psychedelic has little to do with a specific genre. I had a conversation recently about this and in that chat, we both agreed that what it really boils down to is this: psychedelic music transports you to another world. It fucks with your consciousness. There’s a reason that the genre is so often associated with substances that (for better or worse I suppose) change your point of view. That aspect can be applied to any genre: be it rock, folk, jazz, or yes, even hip hop.
Like most of my favorite musical discoveries, I first heard Kid Cudi by accident. I’d been on a big Childish Gambino kick a year ago and on one of the many interchangeable streaming apps my thumb inadvertently hit the “artist radio” option and the next song that played was Cudi’s single “Day ‘n’ Nite.” I loved it instantly. Every aspect of the song took me on an indescribable journey that, while incredibly somber, I didn’t want to end. Then, in the last 30 seconds, there’s this massive shift in the song. The tempo abruptly slows and there these swirling synths that still grab my attention after listening to it maybe 50 times.
“Day N Nite” comes from Cudi’s 2009 debut release Man On The Moon: The End Of Day. An album that’s a perfect combination of hip hop and psychedelic music. It’s arguably one of the most ambitious debuts of any artist, regardless of genre. It was an attempt to find his own voice, after getting his start as a protege of Kanye West. And the ambition he put into this record pays off. A concept album, split up into five “chapters”, the lyrical themes of depression and isolation (concepts often covered in more rock based psych albums) are paired with a sound that does exactly what is expected of psych music (per my previously mentioned conversation). Songs like “My World”, “Sky Might Fall,” and “Pursuit Of Happiness” have this prominent trippy vibe that’s really not of this world, complemented by guest appearances from the likes of MGMT and Ratatat.
It is an album I identify with on so many levels. Both as a fan of psych music but also someone who has, for many years, struggled with depression and anxiety. Full disclosure: as a fairly privileged white dude I’m always a bit apprehensive to say I can relate to a lot of rap lyrics. The struggle depicted by so many of my favorite artists in the genre is not something I can relate to. Desperation and the concern for basic survival on that level isn’t something I can (or probably ever will) relate to, and I always make sure that I don’t take that for granted at all. However a line like “My hearts an open sore that I hope heals soon/I live in a cocoon opposite of Cancun/Where it is never sunny, the dark side of the moon”? Or Yeah… I’ve been there more times than I care to remember.
The End Of Day ended up being a part of a planned trilogy. What followed was Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager. It’s a noticeably darker album but it’s as good a followup to as you could expect. The first notes heard on the album are a nod to The End Of Day’s opening track, reminding the listener of what started the journey Kid Cudi is taking them on. Soundwise, it doesn’t quite have the same bright and trippy psych vibe as its predecessor, but his gift as a storyteller keeps you in the same trajectory, if only for a short while.
Sadly, the journey ends with Mr. Rager’s closing track “Trapped In My Mind.” Part three of the trilogy has yet to be released, and many sources have confirmed that it probably never will be. It’s unfortunate for multiple reasons. Mainly because the albums that have followed haven’t measured up to the otherworldly vibe of The Man On The Moon series. Not bad albums by any stretch, but when you set the bar so high for yourself at the outset and then don’t bring the full idea to fruition, shaking the comparison becomes almost impossible. But also, fans are left wanting to know how the story ends. I suppose we can draw our own conclusions, but how close can we really get to what Kid Cudi had in mind once he started the journey?