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 (Past episodes are archived online). 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 its modern incarnations.
In 1977, we see Pink Floyd with one of their most ambitious records, Animals. The followup to Wish You Were Here and the predecessor to The Wall (arguably their most well known album between it and Dark Side Of The Moon), it’s highly ranked among the most influential progressive rock albums of the 70s. Besides the bookend “Pigs on the Wing” at the start and end of the record, Animals consists of 3 fairly longer songs (“Dogs”, “Pigs (3 Different Ones)” and “Sheep”). “Dogs” was Gilmours only significant contribution to the album (not only because the remainder of the album was written by Waters, but also one of Gilmour’s guitar solos was inadvertently erased and lost during production), but it’s also viewed as one of his finest contributions to Pink Floyd as a whole. The concept of Animals is partially taken from George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, where three categories of animals featured (dogs, pigs and sheep). Whereas Orwell wrote the book as a critique of facism, Waters put a slightly different spin on it for the album by criticizing capitalism. In terms of political art it’s probably the band’s most upfront. However, it’s juxtaposed by “Pigs On The Wing”. Both parts are short and simple songs which chronicle aspects of Waters’s personal life. Without a single song released as a “single”, it puts Animals in an odd spot. Despite being sandwiched between their most well known albums, it wasn’t a record I had really discovered until I started exploring their catalog more closely. In doing so, it’s become probably my favorite Pink Floyd record. Both due to it’s scathing political content and also Waters really putting forth his best work in the band. However, as we’ll see, as an album itself it’s an odd in between for Wish You Were Here and The Wall, which we’ll tackle next month.
For 3 decades and change, New Jersey’s Monster Magnet have proven themselves to be the modern masters of stoner rock. In 2014 and 2015, they recorded “reimagined” versions of their albums Mastermind and Last Patrol, giving them a more trippy, psychedelic rock vibe, which made their latest album A Better Dystopia (Napalm) a good addition to their catalog. A collection of 60s and 70s psych rock covers, this gives a nice little hint into where a lot of their lesser known influences may have come from. Obviously you easily hear Sabbath and Hawkwind, but when they rip through Poobah’s “Mr. Scientist” and “Learning To Die” by Dust (a band featuring Marc Bell who would later become Marky Ramone), the dots connect pretty quickly. And their version of “Solid Gold Hell” by The Scientists is something I never knew I needed to hear, but it’s one of the best songs recorded by a band that didn’t write it.
And here we have another collection of John Dwyer’s experimental, jazzy, improv jams (Castle Face). Bordering on Guided By Voices’ level of prolific (being the 3rd release just this year), can you call them solo records at this point? Who knows? Regardless, I have to say as much as I really want another Oh Sees record, these releases have been really great. Each one of these endeavors has been more adventurous than the last and it goes without saying that there’s no telling what will come next. Assembling the same lineup as last year’s Bent Arcana, Moon Drenched leans into the groove created last time around and flips it in all directions. Songs like “Psychic Liberation and “The War Clock” take us in somewhat familiar territory with the noise and grooves, but “X-Cannibal’s Kiss” and the combo of “Der Todesfall” and “Get Thee To The Rookery” veer into more ambient territory and while you feel it building and you’re waiting for it to take off, it doesn’t happen. Similar to post-jazz titans Tortoise, the anticipation becomes the song itself. But, there’s no feeling “cheated” out of anything. We’ve been on this ride before. And we’ll come back for the next one.
The latest release from Sugar Candy Mountain (Org Music) became an “album of the year” contender during its first listen. Duo Ash Reiter and Will Halsey consistently create mesmerizing soundscapes of psychedelic dream pop mixed with Tropicália that will pull you in and don’t let go and Impression follows suit. Working once again with Papercuts’ Jason Quever (as they did with Do Right and 666), they’ve created another fantastic cosmic ride. First single and lead off track “Running From Fire” creates an eerie mood that rivals 666’s opener “Windows”. Emphasized by knowing a portion of the album was written by the band in seclusion after escaping the wildfires in California and waiting out the pandemic. “Gussie” has a fun and danceable vibe that doesn’t feel out of place like you’d think it would. Reiter’s vocals are run through so many effects it’s easy to mistake her voice for another instrument, even if the lyrics are perfectly clear. It’s all tied together with “Please Don’t Look Away” which closes the album with a fun 60s pop vibe.
Despite this being a “psych rock” column, I love diving into the ways that psychedelic music permeates non rock genres and want to keep doing so. You find traces of it in styles like jazz (which usually is categorized as fusion), soul, and hip hop but often the term psychedelic doesn’t get attached to it. Kid Cudi’s Man On The Moon trilogy embraced it full force, in terms of sound as well as concept. Georgia Anne Muldrow is a criminally overlooked contributor to that marriage of styles. Her 21st album (in 15 years…seriously) and third to carry the title Vweto (which translates to “gravity” in Kikongo), VWETO III (Foreseen Entertainment) is a largely instrumental album but it still carries the themes of justice and exploration of culture that Muldrow has always been passionate about addressing in her art. As an artist who pushed the term “woke” into popular culture (and full embraces it) when you have Erykah Badu calling you “a young Marcus Garvey” (not to mention Badu’s other comparisons made to Hendrix and Stevie Wonder), her stances are fairly clear even when songs lack “words” to accompany them.