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 rockfrom over the last half century, starting with early influences and reaching to its modern incarnations.
Here we are, the end of another year. I honestly don’t think anyone could have predicted how fucked up things would be right now. Even after last year. And 12 times this year, I’ve had to sit and attempt to make all of you care about my amateurish ramblings about psychedelic rock music. I spent the year finishing my deep dive into the discography of Pink Floyd. The band that set the standard for so much of the music we’ve covered here the past couple of years now. Their complicated history and the way it leaked into their music (for better or worse) might seem like standard, but it was the way they were able to translate all that into what we were able to hear. Even with the slight missteps, they left behind a legacy that has influenced (and will continue to) music culture at large.
One of the major highlights from this specific musical realm can be summed up in one person: John Dwyer. The mad genius behind Thee Oh Sees certainly didn’t suffer ANY kind of creative slump during this down time. While we haven’t (yet) seen a new Thee Oh Sees/Oh Sees/Osees/OCS release, he’s certainly blessed us with some incredible records. Focusing on more experimental/collaborative projects with some “Sees” cohorts (as well as other musicians), Dywer assembled a handful of records that may only hint at his primary “flagship” band, but certainly have his DNA all over it.
With Nick Murray, Brad Caulkins, Tom Dolas, and Greg Coates we have Witch Egg, which seems the closest to what we could normally expect. Caulkins brings his saxophone gifts to the table and gives a fresh spin on the elements of rock and jazz. The 8 songs that make up Witch Egg seamlessly flow into each other to create one beautiful slab of psych-garage-jazz-noise.
Endless Garbage brings Dwyer, Coates, Dolas, and Caulkins with the addition of free-jazz drummer Ted Byrnes. What sets this apart is basically a lack of song structure. Byrnes’s drumming is sporadic, chaotic, downright nonsensical. And yet, it adds to the album’s overall brilliance. In the midst of all of that chaos, he’s leading the remainder of the band right behind him, as if they are playing along and mimicking his playing, but still in a way that creates 8 pieces that sort of resemble songs.
2020 saw the release of Bent Arcana, which was the first of these albums we started to see. It featured Dwyer, Dolas, Caulkins, Ryan Sawyer, Peter Kerlin, Kyp Malone & Marcos Rodriguez. Later this year, that same lineup gave us Moon Drenched. This is probably my favorite of the 3. Bringing to mind similarities to the Herbie Hancock album Headhunters (mainly with it’s usage of funk-laden synthesizers), this sits somewhere in the middle of the other 2 releases. Where many songs do take on structure of sorts, they take their sweet fucking time getting there. The slow builds though, create some amazing anticipation that pay off every damn time.
In trying to decide where to take Head Space into the new year and also where to go post-Pink Floyd, I recently watched the movie Dig!, which chronicles the relationship between The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. Not much can be said about the latter, other than they were essentially a pop ripoff of the former. But I realized early on that I couldn’t very well write a column about psych rock and not dive into the rich influence of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Led by Anton Newcombe, the band has released an almost exhausting (in a good way if that makes sense) body of work and shows no signs of stopping (a new album is on the horizon at the start of the new year). And the mark they’ve left on modern psych rock bands is undeniable. So, starting in January Head Space will take you on yet another monthly album by album dive, this time covering one of the most aggressively prolific and influential bands of the modern rock era.