Browsing Category Reviews

Skyminds

Skyminds slipped a small eponymous tape run (100 copies) out on Auasca earlier this year and its sorely deserving of more attention. The set, from members of Channelers, Ashan, and Selaroda, is ladled with the same syrupy serenity that their other outfits offer, slotting definitively into the mind melt zones one would expect. However, they also expand amiably on the synth duo dynamic with forays into desert dub, radiant high plains guitar shimmer, and meditative acoustic strum. Henning and Conrad melt their psychedelic float into a record that ripples like mountains out the window, calming as a sine wave but also rather breathtaking as the full horizon unfolds.

With a drone underpinning most tracks, the pair place delicate stacks of flutes, strings, plucks and even the occasional beat into the mix but they always return to the ether to unwind with pillowy synths as the bedrock of their sound. The album’s first half mix n’ picks some of their strengths, but the band stretches out completely as they ease into the latter tracks, “Morning Way” and “Illuminated and Warming.” The sounds become a bucolic haze washing over the listener. Each listen on the album picks out new combinations of sound that give the album shading and shape. Recommended picking this one up before the run sells through as its a nice little gem.

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Dommengang

On their third album Dommengang still navigate the causeway between psychedelic blues and the frayed edges of harder rock, but this time they’ve added a looseness to their sound that breaks the lash that held them to a more regimented past. While they used to bump into the bluster of metal, this time around they’re cooling their sound into something more cosmic, and it feels like the piece of the puzzle they’d long been missing. Tim Green, again at the boards, gives the album a spaciousness that floats on the air like steam n’ sweat in the crisp morning air. The album is perched in permanent golden hour hues, with the songs coming on like a third beer swagger that melts the weight of week away.

That cosmic crash doesn’t crest too early. The band opens with “Sunny Day Flooding,” which ties the knot between last year’s Love Jail and the new album’s woollier ways. Then they ease into the tangerine drip of guitars on the back end of “Earth Blues.” Just towards the last solo you can feel the band loosen. It’s a respite before they kick the crunch back on but there’s a collective sigh between the notes. Sig Wilson’s playing on this one is his best yet, burning ether and ozone, getting lost in the smoke curls for more than a moment. The last album evoked the West, and the band’s move towards L.A., but this one embraces the desert as well as the lusher confines of the coast. There’s a touch of Big Sur in the gnarled drags on “Kudzu.” It’s a relief that tumbles down in a gush of guitar, quenching the soul of the parched sounds of their past.

This, along with the Crazy Horse burn that permeates and pounds through the heart of “Jerusalem Cricket,” gives the band a wild-eyed, crooked grin gravitas that they embody with ease. As Dommengang crunch into the loose gravel groove of the latter half of No Keys they position themselves to embrace the crux between David Nance, Chris Forsyth, and Endless Boogie. It’s a welcomed shift and one I hope they continue to mine for more material. That said, even with No Keys acting as an album in transition, the moments that burn bright tend to light up the horizon with a most inviting glow.



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RVG – “Alexandra”

Skidding into a US tour, Aussies RVG are back with a new single that finds them comfortable in their velvet cushion of sound that wavers between Echo and the Bunnymen, The Church, and Love and Rockets. “Alexandra” retains the band’s emphasis on sweeping drama, mirroring Echo’s knack for riveting swells and invoking anguish as a genre unto itself. Amputated from a larger narrative of an album the song’s more of a primer for those who might have missed out on their excellent, and still underrated debut. If this one catches your ear, its recommended you go back to the crushed eyeliner and rain of that eponymous gem.

The b-side sees the band take on mid-period John Cale, giving a dose of urgency to his ’85 deep cut from Artificial Intelligence. Vager’s vocals do well for the song, perhaps taking a bit of license with the original’s more buttoned-down approach, but she’s does plenty to make it her own. The band pumps the song full of the same sense of urgency that they employ in their own works. With all due respect to Cale, its actually a great argument for covering your heroes, as they give the song quite a bit more gravity than the original ever had. Nab this double cut, definitely see the band if they swing through your area.




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Les Rallizes Denudes + BE – ‘There’s No Heaven Like Hell’

Among the ranks of Japanese psych, one of the top takers for mythical status is Les Rallizes Denudes. Pinning down just what they were and how the noise unit operated is tricky. The band issued no official albums, though they played live for decades starting in ’67 at Kyoto University and centering on the works of enigmatic frontman Takashi Mizutani. Drawing inspiration from The Velvet Underground they took up originally as an accompaniment to theater performances, but quickly outgrew that status due to the volume and ferocity of their works overshadowing the performers. Like VU they aren’t a band that operated in one given box, and depending on the era and configuration they’d range from strummed and serene to amplifier fried chaos. The band’s status grew mostly outside of their country with stories of their intangible performances, members gone rogue (original bassist Moriaki Wakabayashi was involved in a Red Army plane hijacking in 1970) and their subsequent self-exile until the ‘90s.

The band’s catalog is mostly live performances that tumbled out of a rogue’s gallery of labels over the years, each in odd quantities that made them enviable to come across in the ‘90s and ‘00s. The pinnacle of their output might arguably be ’77 Live, but other great pockets in their catalog exist to be pored over as well. One such inclusion is a collaboration with experimental collective Be (also known as Yellow) who were headed by keyboardist/guitarist Taisuke Morishita. The original 2xCD issue included more material, but this LP on Alternative Fox centers on the two versions of the title track recorded at the band’s house in Fussa, outside of Tokyo. The first version is a pulsating drone of guitar and synth, zoned out and dropped via VHF to furthest reaches of psychic caverns of the mind.

The second version breaks the seal on bucolic peace for some heavier froth and fizz from the outset, sweeping across the speakers in extraterrestrial pulses. While the first version remains rooted in guitar and keys, droning into the ether, the second brings in the full band. Mizutani and the band lock in the rhythm, tearing at the fabric of reality in the way only LRD could. Though there are no official versions of the band, this setup was one worthy of documentation and its nice to see this pop up on vinyl. Its not always easy to get a hand on an LP of Denudes’ work so I’d say when you see it, it’s best to cop one.



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Djinn

Formed by members of Hills and Goat, and adopting the latter’s proclivity for obscuring identities, Djinn inhabits a style that’s no less psychedelic than its member’s usual haunts, but winds up more experimental than either. Djinn’s debut embraces the free jazz pyrotechnics of Albert Ayler and Don Cherry while also finding solace in the more meditative and serene end of the freeform universe – echoing the haunted ashram of Alice Coltrane and the metaphysical forces of Sun Ra. The band is named after mythical beings – not quite angels, not quite devils – but rather forces of mystery that confuse the senses and play upon the mystical nature of reality. This gives the spirits a bit more agency than their one-dimensional counterparts with qualities that can work towards evil or good. Its as apt a moniker as any for a band that’s cloaked in mystery and seeking to work through noise and nature alike.

The pair weaves through this blend of abrasion and bliss without finding the poles at odds with one another. They achieve a groove that approaches infectious on “My Bankaccount,” then burn down the buoyancy with the following five minutes of improv float and free-associated mumbling of “Rertrand Bussels.” If anything, that track name might be indicative of the only real downside here, the cheeky nature of the titles is sometimes distracting from the disquieting din. Then again, taking oneself too seriously has just the same off-putting effect, so why not slap “Djinn and Djuice” on the title of a song built on sax skronk, a menacing piano totter, and skittering percussion? The record works well in the abstract styles the band seeks to emulate, and while not necessarily coming close to the masters themselves, it serves as more than just mere distraction from the players’ full-time tenures. I’m hoping this isn’t just a passion piece one-off, because it feels like there’s more to grow on here. For now, fans of the freer end of the psychedelic spectra have something to dig into all the same.



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Olden Yolk

On their sophomore album Olden Yolk solidify their folk-pop sound, edging in a touch more of the soft-focus psychedelia that graced their first while embracing the rhythmic pulse pounding under their gauzy glow. The band shares a great deal in common with Shane Butler’s former haunt in Quilt, but they’re drawing deeper into the damp depths of ‘60s psych than Quilt’s sunny veneer ever let on. With this new album they’re picking up similarities to Sunforest, Euhoria, and Sapphire Thinkers giving their sound a lushness that’s even more present than the last outing. Like bygone autumnal strummers Ultimate Painting, they’re burrowing into melancholy with a wholeheartedness that reverberates throughout Living Theater. This doesn’t land them in the bell jar, but perhaps perches them just adjacent, making charcoal sketches of said jar to send to pen pals who sigh like they sigh.

In fact, autumnal is the wrong word, if anything Olden Yolk are vernal and all the better for the May release of their latest record. They oscillate between streaks of rain and scattered beams of sun in mercurial moments between the album’s ten tracks. The best songs here (and its hard to choose) embrace both halves of their split souls. “Grand Palais” is a particular stunner, edging into the light on tip-toes but heading into its skid spinning ‘round and ‘round until the air becomes dizzy. “Cotton and Cane” is the band at their most pop, pinning poetry on loss to a careening crackle and a perfect vocal dance between the leads.

The songs take on their heaviest cloak when Caity Shaffer steps up to the microphone, though. Soft flutes and a gentle nudge of bass huddle behind her while she croons contemplatively on “Distant Episode,” the song palpably drizzling with tenderness. She’s equally heartbreaking on “Castor and Pollux,” a haunting tale of indecision and loss. The air of duality remains a glorious constant on Living Theater the singers’ intertwined voices and the bittersweet vibes following the tides between joy and sadness like the soft quiver of a diaphragm before weeping. The debut was an excellent introduction, but with album number two, Olden Yolk plead to be on your list of 2019 essentials.



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Clinic

Has it really been seven years since Clinic was last seen creeping around the turntable? It appears so. After the band’s last outing, which saw them collaborating with Oneohtrix’ Daniel Lopatin, they return to a more familiar form, riding the raw snap of their familiar spooked psych-blues once more. The title of Wheeltappers and Shunters is likely lost on most US audiences, as it references a mid-70s British Variety series that hasn’t aged particularly well. The jocular program represents a time that, while often reminisced as the golden age of culture, actually rounds out to a cringing normalization of racial stereotype caught on tape and misogyny run rampant. The show is essentially the UK version of Hee-Haw (minus the country music) as far as I can tell, and as much as that’s likely a fond familial memory for some here, it’s as much a cultural black mark for everyone else.

The band works the album into a kind of inverse Village Green Preservation Society, holding up the sunny charms of the past to the magnifying lens of 2019 and looking for the dirt in the cracks. As much as both the UK and US have found sweeping waves of nostalgic nationalism in the wake of MAGA/Brexit culture, this is a necessary knock to the heads of the rally crowds looking to hearken back to some sort of perceived greatest generations. They pin their body politic to some progressive visions of the Clinic sound as well – stretching out to the ethereal embers on “Flying Fish,” and mining menacing prog on the fizzing closer “New Equations (at the Copacabana)”. The band’s bubbling through lava and lye on “Ferryboat of the Mind,” while they return to the classic pendulum swing swagger of their old days on “Congratulations.”

The record is indeed a dark depiction of nostalgia – panicked, preserved, and packaged for a future generation to find and ponder. They don’t look back on the transgressions of their predecessors lightly, just as our own heirs should not. While (somewhat ironically) fans nostalgic for classic Clinic will find something to love here, the band’s fusing much of the drive from their more experimental later years with the propulsive pop that locked ‘em on your college dial. It’s a new chapter in the history of the psych swamp and a rather welcomed return.



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Kukangendai

Kyoto trio Kukangendai push minimalist guitar jams to their logical conclusion – crafting terse, clipped songs that are rooted in repetition and cut clean of any excess. The band works like a biological organism, laying down a heartbeat of guitar that hammers steady, removing almost any flash from the instrument’s aspirations. Guitar and bass work like left and right ventricles, on songs like “Mure” pumping a hypnotic hum that’s almost meditative in its consistency. They lace in the occasional sighs of a non-metronomic chord or a vocal moan through the nervous network, tracing stimuli ever so gently across the consciousness of Kukangendai’s beat, but for the most part this album is an exercise in control.

That leaves the drums to wind up the free will warrior in the equation. The drumming rolls and twists within the framework, still lock-stopping along with the rest of the band but also tasting the energy in the room with something less mechanical than the other players. While this likely sounds like a tightly regimented panic attack, the results are as engrossing as any of the flashiest forays into guitar histrionics. The trio’s pushing the needle through the soft tissue of math rock, jazz and post-rock to create something grand in its appreciation of austerity. Looking to realign the senses? This is the baseline yer looking for to calibrate to the eternal thrum.




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Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation

On their third album Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation embrace wider scope of psychedelia, pushing their lush sound into swirls of hypnotic repetition, languid guitar bliss, silken slow jams, lock-top blues grooves, and a psych-pop shimmer. Having relocated from Stockholm to London, Öhrn and her writing partner in the band Fredrik have teamed up with a cadre of locals to fill out the sound and the new direction is even more polished than their previous incarnation. There’s still a haze hanging over them, but now they’ve added a certain color-saturated oblivion that occasionally feels more comfortable on a towering club sound system than it would from the stage. While this tangent starts out with a pocket full of of Moon Duo, Spacemen 3 galactic dust, they push much further into festival fodder than occasionally benefits their sound. This shift is most readily apparent on “I Can Feel It” and “Desire,” which might have worked better as a 12” pairing, chafing slightly, but still manage to hang on without completely pushing the record off the rails.

Thankfully they pull back the throttle and suck a little serotonin out of the room for cuts that are more about floating in the ether than about transcendence through dance. The sustained tones and spiritual lilt to “Only Lovers” is right out of the Spiritualized playbook and Öhrn pulls off the J Spaceman gravitas with grace. They follow that with another groover that’s a touch more lysergic than your average big budget blues workout, finding room to choogle through the cosmos on “Baby Come On.” Öhrn’s ability to hang her voice on the air like cloud cover is one of her greatest assets and she drapes the dew over much of the second half of the album. She slides out of the euphoric mania of the beginning of the LP for an extended comedown that’s gorgeous, lush, and radiating a shimmer that’s become their signature sound.

All in, the record’s a nice progression from their early echoplex embryo, and it doesn’t let itself stagnate on a sound too long. While a bit of the pop impulses are interesting, too much looses her sense of bliss. When the band’s carving out decadent dreams made of sound, they’re unmatched as far as most of their psych-pop contemporaries are concerned. This feels like a watershed moment for the band before they carve over into the territory earmarked for the Tame Impala, Hookworms, or Temples. Feel free to get to know ‘em now.



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Psychedelic Speed Freaks

After resurrecting High Rise’s sonic assault II from the cataloged caverns of PSF, Black Editions gives fans of guitarist/ear drum antagonist Munehiro Narita another treat with the issue of his revamped trio Psychedelic Speed Freaks’ eponymous LP. When the band first rolled out, High Rise dubbed themselves Psychedelic Speed Freaks, originally counting Narita with Masashi Mitani, Asahito Nanjo, and Ikuro Takahashi among the ranks. Presumably the name was an homage to the record label they’d eventually claim as a home, but the label thought the name was a little too on the nose once they were signed on board, hence the swap to High Rise. The switch back to their old handle doesn’t change much about the direction of the band’s sound. Still anchored by Narita’s “motorcycle fuzztone” guitar, the record is perched in the red and not looking to relent. David Jasso steps up on bass this time around and also adds in a dose of Lemmy-indebted vocals that scrape and strain to push themselves over the top of the cyclone assault of guitar and drums.

Straddling the lay lines between psych, metal, trash, and doom, the band creates a punishing document for 2019 that expands on the dynamic that Narita and Asahito Nanjo crafted and damn near perfected over their initial run. It’s easy to imagine that there are plenty of newer volume feeders out there who never got the chance to experience High Rise in their paint-melting prime, so Psychedelic Speed Freaks seek to right a wrong and bring more joyous noise to the universe both (barely) between the grooves here and in the live setting. From all accounts they tore the doors off of Black Editions’ Festival last month and hopes are on that they keep it up with more dates. The kind of heat that this thing is putting out hasn’t been much matched of late, with perhaps the exception of Feral Ohms, who’ve always seemed to be heirs apparent to High Rise.

Goes without saying that if you’re a High Rise fan, this one’s essential. Honestly, if the term Japanese psych gives you any goosebumps this one should already be on your shelf. It’s a total crusher in every sense of the term.




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