Words by Andrew Ryan 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.
Sure, Pink Floyd are more recognizable in the classic/prog rock category, but almost any modern psychedelic band has been influenced by them. So, dear readers, before we get into the best of what’s out nowadays, join me as we begin to explore the ups, downs and sideways of these psych trailblazers: We’ll start with the 1967 debut The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. It’s so odd that Syd Barrett is seen as such an integral part of the band, despite only appearing on this album and large chunks of their follow up Saucerful Of Secrets. And yet, there’s no way Pink Floyd could have existed without Barrett. The opening tracks on each album’s side, “Astronomy Domine” (side A) and “Interstellar Overdrive” (side B) give the formula for psychedelic rock for decades to come. The experimentation, improvisation, and just overall weirdness. It’s all there. The weird sound effects on “Flaming” layered in with “real” instruments almost instantly brought to mind the opening to “Money” from Dark Side Of The Moon. It’s a nearly perfect introduction to them and the world they create, even if (as we’ll explore next month) their second album already started to see the band exploring a new direction altogether.
John Dwyer, as a person, is a genre unto himself. Earlier this year he released a collection of Tom Yonkers covers under the moniker Damaged Bug (Castle Face). A new album from Ohsees (as they’re being called for now) is on the near horizon, which promises to be as much of a mindfuck as ever. And here he’s assembled a collective of musicians (some of them collaborators with his aforementioned flagship band) and released Bent Arcana listed under each member’s name forgoing an official band name. This “filing method” of the album gives insight to the open-ended nature of the music. Most songs take a very improvised, free-jazz route, where it seems that they just pressed record and started playing from scratch. And yet, the songs take shape very quickly. The band enters a group mindset quickly and seem to be on the same wavelength from the beginning. Despite Dwyer being a pretty heavy driving force on Ohsees, he takes a role on an equal level as everyone else.
After three stellar full length albums and handful of cool EPs and singles (including a brilliant cover of Madonna’s “What It Feels Like For A Girl”), No Joy has made a transition from loud, fuzzy, shoegaze to a more electronica-fused sound, hinted at with their last EP. Motherhood, their latest album (Joyful Noise), takes that evolution full on. Founder Jasamine White-Gluz is pushing forward as the sole “official” member of the band and while keeping the elements that make it a No Joy album, it would be fair to say she’s starting from scratch and making something truly her own. It’s still fuzzy and hazy, but beyond just guitars and drums, there are synths and more synths and electronic beats. In a just world “Nothing Will Hurt” would be a worldwide hit. It’s as pop as can be but you can truly get lost in it and zone out too. “Four” is a bit of a head-scratcher, with elements of late 80s/early 90s dance pop, then transitions to something heavier than anything else you’ve heard from No Joy to move towards the end. Thankfully it doesn’t feel out of place once you get into it. There are times I miss what made previous No Joy albums so great, but in many other ways this surpasses what White-Gluz has done before.
Albuquerque, NM based Desert Records is beginning a new series called Legends of The Desert. Featuring bands that fall under the umbrella of “Desert-infused” Rock, this series (spread out over the next couple of years) tells tales of the West in a sort of “People’s History” mindset. Not from the perspective of the usual cliche cowboy heroes, but from those who truly embody the desert. Those that live it and know it. Recently released Volume 1 features Palehorse/Palerider (from Denver, CO) and Lord Buffalo (from Austin, TX). Palehorse/Palerider’s half of the album captures a sound referred to as “doomgaze”. It may sound like a ridiculous genre, but what the band does is pretty damn spectacular. And honestly with it’s noisy elements of shoegaze and the slow, heavy aspects of doom, you really can’t do any better. Lord Buffalo, whose latest album Tohu Wa Bohu (covered in a previous column) is one of the bleakest yet most calming albums I’ve heard in years. Their half (titled “Noetica” and divided into five separate parts) begins with a solemn violin and slowly builds layers with each new movement. It doesn’t get too much into the heavy “rock” realm like Palehorse, but it’s a solid joint effort that fits perfectly and one can only assume future installments of this series will be just as wonderful.
Italy’s Black Elephant bring the fuzz in hot with Seven Swords, the band’s fourth album (Small Stone). “Berta’s Flame” and “The Last March of Yokozuna” start things off with a nice rise and fall in volume and intensity. “Yaoyi Kusama” picks things up with a heavy bluesy riff and doesn’t let up for the full 3 and a half minutes. The remainder of Seven Swords is quite the ride that ebbs and flows throughout building up to “Govina” an album closer that is as good it can get. Hypnotic and meditative you’re almost given a “highlight reel” of what you’ve experienced up to that point. Quite often the vocals (on the songs that have them) are buried under the instruments and obscured. And yet, it adds to the appeal. The bigger focus is on the musicianship and writing. Almost as if the music is telling the story, not the words.
And finally, it’s been 12 years since we last heard from space rock superstars Secret Machines. After a scrapped album, an abrupt decade-long hiatus and the tragic passing of guitarist and founding member Benjamin Curtis, expecting anything further would have seemed unreasonable. So their latest album Awake In The Brain Chamber is a welcome gift for such a fucking dark time. Remaining members Brandon Curtis (Benjamin’s brother) and drummer Josh Garza have crafted 8 songs that have the late guitarist’s fingerprints all over it. At the risk of sounding cliche, his spirit truly lives in this record. It’s a bit more of a straightforward “rock” record without much noodling/experimenting. “Talos’ Corpse” has the most “spacey” vibe to it and would be a solid single, if those things even existed anymore.
Past episodes are archived online.