A few psych releases managed to fly under my radar this past summer. Who am I kidding, there are probably dozens of worthy albums that I miss out on throughout the world. Anyway, here’s a few more albums worthy of your consideration that did not get originally mentioned in Psychedelic Psummer: Return to the Dark Side. Before I play catch-up, there is an album that came out Friday.
The album of the hour is the second full-length album from L.A.’s Morgan Delt, Phase Zero. After releasing a very promising EP of gauzy, trebly psych pop in 2012, Psychic Death Hole, they (well, Morgan Delt is one person, but seems like a band) turned heads with a self-titled full-length on Trouble In Mind in 2014. Ironically, his lo-fi bedroom psych sounds more contemporary than others since the influences look more toward the likes of The Bevis Frond, Elephant Six bands Olivia Tremor Control and Circulatory System, and to some extent, the hypnagogic pop of the early 10s (Emeralds, Forest Swords, Gary War, James Ferraro). Already forgotten about hypnagogic pop? Perhaps they didn’t leave enough hooks on the wall to hang your coat on and stay a while. What gives this project more potential for longevity is Delt’s knack for writing tunes with some good, albeit slippery and snaky, melodies. Sub Pop recognized that and snatched signed him. While the sound has not changed drastically on this one, there are some moments where the messy layers of sound and wild shifts in volume are cleaned up a bit. It’s still trebly, wobbly and dreamy, all to good effect, especially on “Sun Powers” and “Mssr. Monster.” The lovely album closer, “Some Sunsick Day” suggests a bridge to possible future directions, which seems aimed in parallel to the likes of Tame Impala and Temples. Wherever Delt wants to go, he’s definitely worth following.
While Italy has it’s own rich history of progressive rock and psych (Blue Phantom, Le Orme, Circus 2000, Garybaldi, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Area, Il Balletto Di Bronzo), The Winstons’ primary influences are Canterbury Prog like Gong, Caravan, Soft Machine and Henry Cow, along with elements of garage blues and psych. While there’s other bands that tap similar territory such as the UK’s Syd Arthur, they offer some unique twists, including singing two songs in Japanese, the lyrics written by artist responsible for the cover art, Gun Kawamura. The power trio are all veterans of the indie rock scene, and offer some impressive musical chops. They keep the instrumental workouts fairly concise (with the exception of the 7:53 long “…On A Dark Cloud,” and have crafted some pretty memorable tunes, especially “Play With The Rebels,” which features a gorgeous chorus reminiscent of Procol Harum’s songbook if it were reimagined by the Arctic Monkeys. “She’s My Face” starts out sounding like a traditional 60’s psych pop tune, but offers multiple changes and parts that push the right pleasure buttons in ways I haven’t heard since The Hidden Masters. Elsewhere they get a little heavy along the lines of Motorpsycho like on “A Reason For Goodbye.” On opener “Nicotine Freak,” they start with acapella vocal harmonies that seem to pay tribute to Robert Wyatt (originally of Soft Machine). Like Wyatt’s former band, they dabble in some jazzy passages here and there, along with some horn-driven chamber pop. A lot of stylistic ground is covered, but they manage to keep the songwriting focused and accessible, with a nice warm recording that nods to the past but also sounds modern. Endlessly listenable, this just might be a contender for Fester’s Lucky 13.
I love it when a band seemingly comes out of nowhere and completely slays with their debut album. Like The Winstons, Dresden, Germany’s Sir Robin & The Longbowmen released theirs back in January, but it took a while for me to find it. Looking at the cover art with the angry beaver, it’s impossible to get any idea as to what the music would sound like — energetic, garage psych that’s both hooky and darkly atmospheric. Where were you when we needed you beaver? Farfisa organ, sitar and mellotron definitely roots the band’s sound in that very special 1968-72 era when psychedelic rock evolved into progressive. While the band doesn’t get too fancy with solos, there are a couple extended instrumental workouts, like closer “Road To Jezioro Tejsowo.” Despite being a large band with seven members, the songs aren’t too loaded down with layers. It’s all pretty spritely, rocking garage psych, especially on “Sick Bang,” “In The Dark” and “Ianus.” “Sunshower” features the album’s most fragile moment, while “Tramboliko” and “I Would Like” balance it with more sinister vibes. A great debut from one of my new favorite bands.
Belgium’s Hidden Trails boasts the former rhythm section of the esteemed Hypnos 69, who were joined by vocalist and guitarist Jo Neyskens, formerly of Cosmo’s Foger-T. Like their predecessor’s band and Saturnia, Instant Momentary Bliss was released on Elektrohasch. Opening track “Lancelot” reveals a decided departure from Hypnos 69’s fuzzy stoner rock into the kind of progressive psych and space rock that Pink Floyd specialized in from 1969-72. “Mutations” uses spoken bits to set up the story and is mainly a proggy but quick paced instrumental with distant shrieks from monkeys underlying the narrative. They take another interesting stylistic twist with a unique blend of country prog on “Beautiful Void,” complete with mellotron, and lovely vocal harmonies. “Rick” shifts to delicate indie pop with acoustic guitar that would blend in well on a Doves album. “Hands Unfold” is harder rocking, but again, the band seems to really stand out when they delve in the melodic pop of “Leaving Like That,” rather than the space rock of “Space Shuffle.” After another highlight, “Come And Play,” the album ends with “Denser Diamond” which sounds like they’ve absorbed a bit of influence from Dinosaur Jr. They are more than competent at everything they tackle, but their unique formula of psych prog pop seems destined to set them apart from the fairly crowded psych pack.
Next stop on our psychedelic European mystery tour is Portugal, where we find Saturnia. They’ve been around for a while, The Real High being their sixth album since 1999. All were released on Colour Haze’s label Elektrohasch. Their mix of psych, space rock and German kosmische along the lines of Popol Vuh has developed into a kind of smooth, hypnotic mood music for aliens and misfits alike. The album that previously got the most attention was Muzak (2006) which featured both Hawkwind’s Nik Turner and Gong’s Daevid Allen as guests. It also had a boob on the cover. The latest can definitely challenge for the status of their most accomplished work, with a gorgeous, luscious sound, deep bass, and vocal harmonies that tickle the senses. Amazingly all the instruments are played by one person, Luis Simones. The video for “The Real High” shows our barefoot freakster bro in full hippie glory, alternately walking in the desert and sitting cross-legged playing his big-ass sitar, unabashedly reveling in every psychedelic visual cliche imaginable. So I can see why he’s not exactly fashionable, but to those dialed in deep into the music, none of that shit matters.
Baden-Württemberg, Germany’s The Spacelords have been producing consistently engaging space rock since 2010. Liquid Sun is their fourth album, with just three long tracks. While there’s no shortage of jammy psychedelic instrumental space rock, from Earthless to Denmark’s Øresund Space Collective, The Spacelords have put their stamp on the subgenre. The shortest track, “Spaceship Breakdown” at 9:38 focuses on their rhythmic abilities, starting out funky like early Z.Z. Top, and then revealing their prog roots by switching up the tempos. Whooshing analog synths and just the right amount of time warping guitar effects do indeed lend to a sense of travel, alternately floating peacefully through space, then being jerked by gravitational pull through an asteroid field or perhaps even toward a black hole. Enjoy the ride while you can.
Tucson, Arizona band The Myrrors self-released their debut, Burning Circles In The Sky in 2008, when the founding members were still in high school. Word of mouth slowly spread on the band’s fairly unique take on desert drone psych, so drummer Grant Beyschau and guitarist Nik Rayne reactivated the band with a new lineup and released Arena Negra last year, and quickly followed it up with their second album on the Beyond Beyond Is Beyond label, Entranced Earth at the beginning of the summer. It’s a meditative, perhaps spiritual album that subtly incorporates a lot of new sounds and ethnic instrumentation the band has explored in recent years, and takes a bit of time to fully appreciate. While it works as background music, it really blossoms with a focused listening session. For example, title track “Entranced Earth” has a repetitive, cyclical pattern that might not seem remarkable as aural wallpaper, but reveals many different layers and sonic details up close, much like German kosmische bands like Can do. The title was taken from a film by Brazilian director Glauber Rocha, and gives a clue to the instrumental band’s socio-political leanings, mainly a healthy concern for the the eco health of this planet. What once may have seemed frivolously hippy-dippy now sounds more than ever like our last chance. “Surem Dervish” switches up the meditative mood to a more propulsive intensity and urgency, before cutting off abruptly as if the plug were pulled. Listen to The Myrrors, tune into your surroundings, save the planet.
Final stop on this world tour is Tampere, Finland, home of psych metal supergroup Atomikylä, including Dark Buddha Rising’s Vesa Ajomo and Jukka Rämänen and Oranssi Pazuzu’s Toni Hietamäki and Juho Vanhanen. There was a wealth of representatives from Finland at the Roadburn festival in April, and it was hard to catch everything. I regret only seeing the last song of Atomikylä’s set there, because they were one of the highlights of the fest according to a lot of folks. Without a doubt the darkest, heaviest band of this particular batch, Juho carries over some of his band’s avant black metal element with his choked and strangled vocals. Honestly they nearly turn me off to the whole project, as I pretty much can’t stand that style, and would prefer they just be instrumental. However, there’s no doubt that they’re a great band. After the promising debut Erkale (Svart, 2014), they showed they are much more than a side project with their second album. On Keräily, they reward even those who are put off by the vocals (which are far from a constant presence) with some truly captivating jazzy instrumental virtuosity and genre-bending fusions.
There have been a lot of live albums released this year, including Truckfighters, Thee Oh Sees, Big Mountain Country, Radio Moscow, Dead Skeletons, Agusa, Øresund Space Collective and the latest from Colour Haze, Live Vol. 1 Europa Tournee 2015. Performances are cherry picked from various dates of last year’s tour (Frankfurt, Paris, Wuerzburg, Berlin and Koeln). While a 2 CD live set already exists from the Burg Herzberg Festival (Elektrohasch, 2009), this latest document of their live show is plenty valuable, especially to anyone who lives outside of Europe. Colour Haze has never properly toured in North America, though they did play their first show here in over a decade just this weekend at Psycho Las Vegas. I would have gone just to see them, but could not swing the trip this time. So I’ll just have to crank up this album and imagine I’m there. The song selections have a nice sampling of highlights throughout their career, and the majority of their last studio album, To The Highest Gods We Know (2014). As expected the sound quality is tip top as leader Stefan Koglek would never release anything that doesn’t properly represent their rich, fuzzy tones and textures. Read more about the rest of their impressive catalog in Colour Haze: Kings of Stoner/Psych Rock Mountain.