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 ways I’ve been staving off the cabin fever lately is by watching a lot of music documentaries. I’m a music history junkie. And whether it’s The Stooges, Slint, or Wesley Willis, hearing the oral history from the artists themselves gives the best way of seeing why they hold an important place in music history. Two that stood out the most (and most relevant to our interests here) were Desert Age and Lo Sound Desert, both about the California desert rock scene. It saw the creation of a sound unlike any other and gave birth to some of the best and weirdest bands in the 90s. The most well known acts of that scene obviously being Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age, but they barely scratch the surface as to the influence it had on the world of “alternative” music (a term that to this day still feels gross). My only beef with Desert Age is the same beef I have with a lot of other music documentaries: when the fuck did Dave Grohl become some kind of stamp of approval that music history needed to have? Okay, great, he played drums for Nirvana, then founded the Backstreet Boys version of Nirvana. I guess in this instance it makes sense since he played on a couple of Queens Of The Stone Age records. But I still have a hard time not rolling my eyes whenever I hear him talk about every band being his heroes and how he wouldn’t even be playing music if it wasn’t for them.
Brant Bjork, a big player in the Desert Rock scene, has released his 13th solo album on Heavy Psych Sounds. In true solo record fashion, Bjork plays every instrument on the record, highlighting his ability to propel a full band forward, given his tenure is bands like Kyuss, Fu Manchu and Mondo Generator. The lead-off track and first single “Jungle In The Sound” sets the tone as a stripped down, groove-driven rock jam, preparing you for the next 30 some minutes. It’s not as loud or noisy as you might expect from Bjork, but there’s no doubt that this is the work of an artist who helped create a sound that’s recognizable and influential.
John Dwyer, the evil genius behind Thee Oh Sees (and Castle Face Records), pays tribute to one of his heroes, Michael Yonkers, under the moniker Damaged Bug. The album, appropriately titled Bug on Yonkers, highlights the career of an artist whose eccentricities had (and continue to have) a huge impact on Dwyer. The covers stay pretty true to Yonkers’ ideas but of course it being John Dwyer, joined by other Oh Sees, his signature weirdness saturates this whole album. “I Tried” is the best example of a song that is equal parts Yonkers and Dwyer, almost as if it’s a collaboration rather than a cover, which is the best way to approach it.
And speaking of Castle Face, the latest album from Once & Future Band, Deleted Scenes, is a piece of spaced out, psych-pop ear candy. With plenty of 70s progressive rock and jazzy elements throughout, I can’t help but hear ELO in the harmonies (no more apparent than in the short and straight to the point single “Freaks”) and Head Hunters-era Herbie Hancock in the synth heavy and sometimes (dare I say it) funky (yes I did) moments. Maybe funky is a stretch but songs like “Problem Addict” and “Mr. G” do have these busy and at the same time chill polyrhythmic grooves. And the album closes with “The End and the Beginning” which could easily fit as the epic “finale” track on any cheesy 80s soundtrack, which I’m starting to dig more than I used to (either caused by old age or the current state of the world).
Lastly, we are blessed with the tenth installment of Riding Easy Records’ Brown Acid compilation series. Dubbed “Heavy Rock From The Underground Comedown”, this series highlights lesser known acts in the world of Psych Rock, Fuzz Rock, Stoner Rock, Proto-Metal, etc. Why they are lesser known is anyone’s guess, safe to say an over-saturation of bands of this genre throughout the late 60s/70s. Or possibly their locations played a factor. With bands hailing from Flint (MI), Tucson (AZ), New Orleans (LA) and Nova Scotia, you’d have to imagine these would be plenty of bands without a real scene to thrive. Or it’s possible that since many of these bands released only one album (or in many cases one single), fading into obscurity was their only option. The good folks at Riding Easy Records are doing the bands (and us for that matter) a great service by compiling them all and making them readily available for the masses. The entire series is well worth your time.