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.
As we cautiously step into the new year, hoping it’s not the utter shitshow that the past two have been, we’re taking a deep dive into a band that’s had a significant impact on psych rock and beyond: The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Obviously a band known for being incredibly prolific and also for erratic behavior (particularly by frontman Anton Newcombe) what I’m hoping to do throughout the year is focus on the former, while not ignoring the latter and in fact exploring (where appropriate) the effect they both have on each other.
Their 1995 debut album Methodrone (Bomp!) is as strong a start as a band can make. Opening track “Evergreen” features more of a dreamy shoegaze sound, similar to Spacemen 3, while still having that trippy psychedelic sound that will define the band in later releases. By the time we get to “That Girl Suicide” you have a sense of Anton’s vision for the music. Methodrone also gives some insight into the rotating cast of musicians that will be a part of the band throughout its life. For God’s sake there’s a wikipedia page solely dedicated to current and former members, many of which have come and gone at various points in time. Backup vocalists and drummers in particular seem to be interchangeable. However, the consistency of sound we’ll hear throughout their discography makes it almost unnoticeable.
In March of 2020, as the world began to fall apart, the band The Psychic Ills suffered a personal tragedy as well with the loss of founding member and frontman Tres Warren. Unsure of what to do next, the remaining members of the band created a tribute album spearheaded by bassist Elizabeth Hart. A mix of originals and covers of songs that Warren had a deep connection with, Songs For Tres (Sacred Bones) is an incredibly mournful but heartfelt tribute by the band to their friend and collaborator. “I’ll Walk With You”, written by Hart the day of Warren’s passing, but before she had heard the news, is a wonderful duet with Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. Sandoval’s voice has always been able to capture a range of emotions within a single song and this song is the best proof of that. “Home” is an uplifting gospel-inspired tune that is a celebration of Warren’s memory and serves as a counter to the more mournful vibe of songs like “Walk Around”, full of cosmic twang. Those two songs in particular represent the loss of a dear friend, but also showing the fragility of life and the importance of remembering the people in your life after they are gone.
John Dwyer has produced another great installment in this ongoing series of experimental collaborative albums with Gong Splat (Castle Face). Described by Dwyer himself as a “sister album” to Witch Egg, this collection is more of the fusion/funk laden tunes that made the former album such an enjoyable listen. The layers of synthesizers and bass along with smooth, jazzy as hell drumming with the 1-2 punch of the opening title track and “Cultivated Graves” serves up a noisier version of Herbie Hancock’s formative funk/fusion masterpiece Headhunters. As much as I’m anxious for another Oh Sees album, it’s pretty clear these 5 (so far) records are showcasing Dwyers ability to create a world beyond anything we’ve experienced with his primary output.
Staying with the funky psych vibe is Acid Tongue’s 3rd album Arboretum (Freakout). The Seattle duo has created the perfect blend of a fun and danceable record with capturing the personal struggles that many have endured over the past few years. Songwriter Guy Keltner takes the title of the record from spending time at an actual arboretum. Used as a bit of solace from the mental health issues he had been facing, the beauty of that environment inspired the beauty captured on this record. Arboretum is full of high energy disco beats and wonderful vocal harmonies, particularly on “All Out Of Time”, a song that can only be described as timeless. One could just as easily hear this in a 70s club as a modern day rock club (when will we get to experience those again?). “Suffering For You” has a more soulful vibe, but keeps that high spirit that just saturates the rest of Arboretum. It’s a record that pushes as much joy into the world that seems to be lacking it immensely.
After the demise (too dramatic?) of the British pop band Ultimate Painting, songwriter for the band Jack Cooper wasted no time continuing to bring music that speaks to him under the moniker of Modern Nature. Island Of Noise (Bella Union) (inspired by a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest) takes several sharp turns away from what we heard from Ultimate Painting. The songs are slightly less traditionally structured, some even lacking a consistent “melody”, but there’s still a cohesiveness to it that keeps it from being jarring or off-putting. Adding saxophonist Evan Parker and violinist Alison Cotton to a more traditional band set up, they add a wonderful texture and color to songs like the aptly named opener “Tempest”, “Bluster” and the closer “Build”. And “Build” does exactly that. The repeated refrain of “Do You See It?” adds layers as it goes, even as it pulls back at some point. Island Of Noise is an album that will challenge listeners but in a wonderfully rewarding way.