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 many cases, The Wall serves as an entry point to Pink Floyd for most if not all fans of rock music. We’ve all heard “Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2”, we know the powerful chorus by heart, we recognize the utter gibberish at the close of the song (but to be fair, how can you have yer pudding if ya don’t eat yer meat?). As with most of Pink Floyd’s now renowned albums it was released to mixed reviews, several critics found it pretentious (which is a common and even sometimes accurate criticism of concept albums as a whole, despite the possible brilliance of the music itself). Yet again, Syd Barrett serves as partial inspiration for a dark tale of a jaded rock star (known as “Pink”) who isolates himself to the point of building a wall within the mind. Combined with further tensions within the band, Waters composed the majority of the music fueled by his own frustrations, particularly with the audiences on their previous tour. There are many interpretations and debates on the meaning and symbolism behind the album, which in contrast to Dark Side of The Moon, does almost (almost) outshine the music itself. Individual songs stand on their own, but mostly the familiar radio hits (“Run Like Hell,” “Comfortably Numb” and “Hey You”). The rest of the album gets caught up in its own story and makes for an album that makes you think about it a little too much. Which, either to Waters’ credit or not, may have been the point. But, given its classic status today, the risk appears to have paid off.
Let’s dive into two stellar releases from Small Stone records. First off, if nothing else, North Carolina based stoner rock outfit Shun wins the prize for best band name inspiration. Taken from a Bruce Lee quote, “Adapt what is useful, reject (or shun) what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” And their self-titled debut accomplishes all three. Each song ebbs and flows between riff-heavy and spacey/atmospheric all wrapped up in a nice 40 minute package. “Sleepwalking” really shines with a chorus pretty reminiscent of mid 90s post hardcore. And J Robbins adds his signature in-studio touch that captures the band at their best. Topped with cover art that would make Hawkwind drool, Shun has really put their best foot forward at the start.
Our other Small Stone release comes from Robots of The Ancient World. Mystic Goddess is a wonderful brew of psychedelic and doom mixed with some nice blues/grunge flavors. Given the band’s home being Portland (not a stone’s throw from the birthplace of grunge itself) it makes sense. Caleb Weidenbach’s vocals have this cool but eerie vibe that at first was hard to pinpoint until you realize…..the dude sings like Glen Danzig. I’ll admit I’m not the biggest Danzig fan but it has NOTHING to do with his voice. So being able to identify it and hear it in context with the band’s sound as a whole makes it mesh perfectly. Guitarist/songwriter Justin Laubscher cites otherworldly influences (not necessarily from the music world – Carl Sagan, conspiracy theories, secret societies) for his songwriting and in a wonderful way they take center stage and enhance the experience of this record.
Body Meπa (pronounced “Meta”) walk a fine line between psych and post-rock. They give hints of June of 44 and Do Make Say Think which may not perfectly fit in the realm we usually focus on, but about halfway through the nearly 15 minute opener “Horse Flower Storm/Fabuloso” I found myself lost in it as I have with many other releases we’ve covered. Plus I began revisiting the aforementioned bands and noticed a fair amount of psychedelic (not even in quotation marks) moments. The Work Is Slow is as fitting a title as you can find. The songs take their time and breathe as they need to. The band is in no hurry to hit things hard and heavy even though they do get there. And when they do, it’s as if they fit more sound than there is room for but it’s still a beautiful soundscape to be a part of.
Finally, Desert Records has provided another transcendent installment to their Legends of the Desert series. The second volume (of a planned seven) brings together bands The Penitent Man & Cortége, and their pairing is as brilliant as volume 1 (with Palehorse/Palerider and Lord Buffalo). The Penitent Man begin this release with “A Long Deep Breath of Sadness” which could easily be a Jar of Flies era Alice in Chains b-side. It isn’t until “The Butcher” that things really pick up. “Rest My Weary Head” highlights their guest Todd Ogren from Rival Sons on keyboards bringing an almost spiritual close to their half. The other half is provided by Cortége, a duo that create music that could easily be a soundtrack to a gritty western. Combining bass guitar and drums and sprinkled with tubular bells, they bring an unsettling ambience to their sound. Midway through their first song “As It Lay (Heavy In The Air)” you can hear sounds similar to a gunfight which only adds to the soundtrack potential. It’s enhanced even further in “Circling Above” by bringing guest Matt Krolick on trumpet. And his contributions give that “hero riding off into the sunset” vibe that closes things out epically without it being over the top.