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.
We’re wrapping up 1996 with the final album of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “trilogy” of albums, Thank God For Mental Illness. Certainly one of the less conventional of their records (as conventional as they can really get) records from this year, it still caps off the year in a beautiful way. The album is essentially split into two parts, with one half essentially lo-fi, psychedelic folk/country and the other a half hour collage of complete songs and fragments compiled and titled “Sound Of Confusion.” And yet for all the unorganized mess that is “Sounds of Confusion”, it’s easy to get swept into it the same as any other of Newcombe’s compositions. What I love about this record is that in spite of it being the third in a calendar year, it doesn’t feel rushed. They certainly weren’t trying to fill some end of year “quota.” These three albums together show the band certainly at their most prolific and shows that years and albums to come will have just as much fuel and fight.
Kurt Vile ups the ante with every new release and (watch my moves), his debut for Verve records is no exception. While not necessarily in the same vein as most of Verve’s catalog (a label known mostly for releasing many of the greats in the world of jazz), it certainly has a home next to records released by The Velvet Underground and (for better or worse-definitely worse) Frank Zappa. That aside, this is Vile at his best and most vulnerable. The album starts with “Goin’ On A Plane Today” with interspersed plans to drink a beer and go open for Neil Young, paired with self reflective lines like “Things getting a little weird/My mind gone foggy, my memory’s unclear/Manhood compromised/Watch me shrinking back into a little kid/Just as I’m just getting old.” And yeah, I can’t help but be giddy at Vile throwing in Springsteen’s “Wages Of Sin” towards the end when you’re already swept up in it all.
Most likely you know Seth Swirsky from songs he’s written for other people. He’s penned hits for the likes of Tina Turner, Air Supply, Celine Dion and Smokey Robinson (to name a few). This alone proves he certainly has the chops to write a catchy pop song, but his fourth solo album Songs From The Green Couch (Lollipop) will convince the most skeptical snob of that. And not only are the pop songs good and catchy, they’ve got that laid back vibe that hits our radar just right. Songs like “Sunny Day”, “Every Time”, “I Don’t Wanna Lose You” and “Making It Up” are right on that spacey, cosmic pop part of the spectrum. And “You Kind Of Mood” has a sweet, jazzy feel that is as “walk in the park with your sweetheart” as any other song can get. It’s refreshing to see someone who is successful writing songs for other people, also be able to write great songs for themselves.
I’m starting to discover a large crossover between psychedelic rock and country infused music. It’s certainly not unfamiliar. Almost any style of music can be paired with a spaced-out, cosmic element. But this one in particular was perplexing at first. My love of spaghetti westerns (as well as their soundtracks) could be partly to blame for that. Another guilty party could be Desert Records. After highlighting Betty Bennedeadly in last month’s column, it’s only fitting that we’d be featuring the latest by another of their roster, Blake Edward Conley, who performs under the name Droneroom. Whatever Truthful Understanding contains 5 long droney desert “anthems” (if that’s even the right word). A mix of guitars and field recordings, the listener is taken on the journey that Conley himself took from Louisville, KY to Las Vegas. It’s complete with all the sounds of the road paired with a soundscape as eerie and vast as the visual backdrop of this trip.
I don’t know how Riding Easy Records finds all these classic forgotten songs, but I’m sure damn glad they do. The fourteenth trip of their Brown Acid series has yet another great big slab of long forgotten or never known psych/stoner rock goodies, like Harrisburg, PA’s The Legends (“Fever Games”), Ypsilanti, MI’s Mijal And White (“I’ve Been You”), Duluth, MN’s Transfer (“Play It Cool”), Independence, MO’s Appletree (“You’re Not The Only Girl) join all the other bands that are now resurrected from obscurity. It always seems unlikely that they’ll be able to unearth more gems but it’s also always a welcome surprise when another installment sees the light of day.