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.
I don’t have the words to describe how utterly ridiculous it feels to be posting a column on psychedelic rock music right now. The world is in such a strange and maddening place right now, that my brain just couldn’t see the point of putting this together. It almost didn’t happen, folks. But here it is: your monthly dose of trippy hazy rock. Check some of these releases out, and then get the new Run The Jewels album. Seriously.
In last month’s column I briefly touched on an installment of the Brown Acid compilation series released by RidingEasy Records. Soon after, I dove head first into the entire series. It’s a pretty spectacular collection of unknown stoner and psych rock acts that for any number of reasons never rose above the output of one album (or in some cases, one single). One band featured on volume 9 was a band from my neck of the woods (Indianapolis): Ice. They recorded one album in 1970, The Ice Age, then abruptly called it a day and faded into obscurity. 50 years later, RidingEasy is doing them justice by finally releasing this gem. Much like the Brown Acid series as a whole, there’s a double appeal with this album. Not only hearing the music, but getting a view (obscured, sure) of rock history. Soundwise, The Ice Age has the makings of a classic rock radio staple, particularly the opening track “Gypsy”. Who knows if it would have put Indianapolis on the rock map or not?
On the other hand, it’s fair to say that Joyful Noise Recordings has definitely helped Indianapolis make a nice imprint on the music world. They’ve worked with some of the best musicians around and made some of the most innovative records from all points of view. At the label’s 2018 Christmas party Adam Harding (Dumb Numbers) and Marina Tacdic (Eerie Wanda) met and began a series of creative projects together. Most significantly is the self-titled debut album under the name Kidbug. The band has used the term “cuddlebug sludge” to describe their music, which is as confusing as it is adorable. It’s about as 90’s as it can possibly get. Swirling shoegazey guitars and slow, but steady and pounding drum beats (brought by Thor Harris, from Swans and also a Joyful Noise Artist in Residence). The hints to My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain are pretty obvious, sure. And the lyrics of each song centers around love, so maybe “cuddlebug sludge” is as accurate of a description as you can get.
Alex Henry Foster’s latest opus Windows In The Sky (Hopeful Tragedy Records), is an epic journey (and I do use that term without any sense of sarcasm or condescension, that’s just simply the best way to describe it) through someone experiencing a truly difficult time and truly expressing it through song. Between the loss of his father and his personal mental health struggles, Foster seems to be telling his story in real time, as if you’re experiencing it at the same time as he is. With an even mix of spoken and sung lyrics, it plays out more similar to a film than an album. The music itself (rising and falling post rock, reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor) is in the truest sense of the word a soundtrack to the events Foster is walking us through, and doing so quickly and earnestly. And yet it’s a trip that seems over too early and you sense that there may be more to say down the road.
From the fine folks at Castle Face, comes the debut of Brigid Dawson & The Mother’s Network, Ballet Of Apes. A wonderful collection of ballads that still carry a heaviness that pulls you in, slowly but forcefully. Having spent some time with psych-garage powerhouse Thee Oh Sees (Oh Sees, OCS), Dawson’s vocals are haunting, captivating and beautiful. And the music itself follows suit. Crafted by Dawson and accompanied by a handful of her labelmates, opener “Is The Season For New Incarnations” brings to mind the ominous vibe of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”. Ballet Of Apes feels like an album from another time. Not that it feels dated or out of place. Just a wonderful surprise that we get an album like this in 2020.
Finally, it’s a given that I’ll dig anything that Ripley Johnson does. Moon Duo and Wooden Shjips are (in their own way) standard bearers in modern psychedelic music. Here we have him performing solo under the moniker Rose City Band. Summerlong (Thrill Jockey) shows Johnson exploring more of a “psych-twang” sound with pretty obvious country influence. It’s a more stripped down feel which truly highlights Johnson’s guitar playing and singing, where they might be slightly buried in the layers of sound on Moon Duo or Wooden Shjips. It’s a chance to have a more up close look at the type of songwriter he is.