Posts Tagged ‘psych-folk’

Sacred Lamp

Familiarity with Canada’s psychedelic noise conduit Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn may have come to you in quite a few ways over the last year or so. Despite having been the eye of the storm when it comes to Canada’s more experimental core, Dunn also proved that he’s got a tender tear in him as well with his solo album, Lightbourn, last year. The album saw Dunn slinking towards more traditional songforms, finding solace in Northern Lights country and flaying open his heart. While he did occasionally break out the burn on a few of this songs, the album a fairly different animal from the CD-r stock pile of an artist who’s spent time in the trenches with MV & EE, Woods and the more outre end of the psych-folk spectrum. Even more unlikely, Dunn was integral to coalescing the band that would back up Meg Remy on U.S. Girls’ In A Poem Unlimited last year, straying even further from his comfortable soil with a blend of ‘70s pop twists and jazz-scratched disco that led to one of her most invigorating albums.

He’s proved a versatile artists who can’t be underestimated, or pinned down. So naturally, his collaboration with longtime cohort Ayal Senior as Sacred Lamp is akin to none of these things. If these are your entry points to Dunn, then the duo’s eponymous LP is something more ephemeral. Built on an interplay of guitars that run between the blues ballasted acoustic and twilight divining electric runs that feel haunted by the memories of something just beyond the folds of the horizon. The record is forever chasing the feeling of peace. The LP luxuriates in the guitar, touching on moments that recall Bishop and Chasney, Basho and the collaborative combos of Steve Gunn.

Its a rose-hued gem of a record that should appeal to any fans of those respective camps or the long tendrils that tie them to several schools of fingerpicked and potent psych-folk. This one feels like it has the capacity to slip through the the most slender of cracks. I’d advise grabbing hold before it does.



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Elkhorn – “To See Darkness”

For the past couple of years psych-folk duo Elkhorn has been amassing a catalog of burnt-cinder and toasted molasses guitar gems on labels like Beyond Beyond is Beyond, Debacle, and Eiderdown. Now they stand ready to stun with a two LP set on the way from Feeding Tube that’s packed with their best burners yet. I’m happy to premiere the video for one of the set’s absolute standouts, “To See Darkness.” The track’s steeped in soul-scarred smolder, carrying weight of apocalyptic magnitude in its wounded fuzz leads. The duo’s interplay of fingerpicked runs and high-plains sonic pestilence is peaked and prowling on this track. Should the gods of the small screen ever get around to working out a cinematic vision of Jonathan Hickman’s East of West a wise seeker should tap the duo to soundtrack the menace of Death spreading across the salted plain.

The pair rightly accompany the cut with an austere video of them live in the room with just a somber backdrop of blue to buoy the track’s sonic slash. Captured by Eric Silver (photography) and Josh Johnson (sound) the clip shifts the focus to the power of the music without looking to flood the viewer with anything except the awe and menace the song rightly inspires on its own. The album set, Sun Cycle + Elk Jam, recorded by Jason Meagher at Black Dirt, is out April 12th on Feeding Tube, I’d feel inclined to mention how necessary these are, but I feel like that video might have just made my case for me.



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The Spacious Mind

Long running Swedish psych unit The Spacious Mind are still mining the edges of lysergic consciousness after fifteen releases and counting. The band’s been scratching at the surface of the sun since 1993, and their latest on Essence Music sees the band working through longform pieces of aching dread. They rise out of the mists with “The Cinnamon Tree,” a haunted dirge of psych-folk that pairs mournful guitars with the scrape and scuttle of bells and percussion – feeling like Loren Connors rinsing his licks in Ash Ra Temple’s altar. The 13+ min opener builds to a peak of mossy graveyard aura, threatening to burst open with riffs that melt the stones and burn runes along the entry, but the band keeps their restraint, giving the song a tension of dread that lumps in your throat the whole way through.

They throw out form altogether for a mid-point track that amps the clatter up to a din – smacking sticks into a hectic racket – before flipping on the throb of guitar growl to push their pallor of daunting dread even darker than the opener. They resolve into gaunt, bitten guitar works with shades of Evan Caminiti strung throughout the skeletal second offering, before finally lighting that aforementioned torch on the album’s closer “Creekin’ At The Goose.” The band hurtles into the piece, amp-scratched and clawing at the cords. There’s a whiff of ozone and a metallic taste to the formless riffs that squelch from the speakers, before the band settles back into their haunted desert caravan, crawling towards death or transcendence or both. Clock this one alongside that Ulaan Passerine album from earlier in the month for album’s that weave guitar scorch with apocalyptic dread. If this is your first taste of The Spacious Mind, don’t make it the last. Dig deep, but start here.






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Traffik Island

On his solo debut, Zak Olsen (ORB, Hierophants, The Frowning Clouds) casts a subtler shadow than he does with ORB. The record strips away any semblance of the doom-shaking freak fuzz and Sabbath hangovers that have permeated the trio’s work. However, the shaky, whimsical footprint of Syd Barrett remains. In fact, the affectation not only remains, but becomes the guiding light for Nature Strip. The record reclines in pools of purple light, slips through the kaleidoscope’s eye and revels in an impish glee that’s only been hinted at in Olsen’s other projects. Its not just the Madcap magician that makes his stamp (though it is indeed the boldest imprint), this appears to be an album built from the bricks of fragile souls. Its pop as purveyed by Kevin Ayers, Skip Spence, Roky and Twink, and Olsen has lovingly recreated a lush world of bemused wonder that would befit any of them.

As the volume and fuzz have ducked out of view Olsen eagerly replaces them with a palette of mercurial keys and chiming guitars, not to mention a bevy of swooning strings and flutes. The record is pastoral and peaceful, but with a mischievous smile. Olsen feels like he’s having fun playing the part of the damaged artist – indulging every inch of the studio while creating beauty and weirdness in equal measures. This bubbles over a bit with the almost too spot-on Syd dribble “Lazy Cat,” but in most other cases he’s drawn the caricature lysergic psych-folk with a steady hand and pleasingly good-natured wit. There was often a lingering darkness that made the works of the ‘60 acid-damaged set as tragic as they were enjoyable, but Olsen finds a way to imbue the genre with a playfulness that doesn’t end in pain.



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Sparrow Steeple – “Roll Baby”

Philadelphia’s Sparrow Steeple tap into an imagined lineage in which the grimoire obsessions of 70’s occult psychedelia never shook its hold on the world. Like Wolf People and Black Mountain before them they’ve sliced through the acid blotter and come out the other side dodging wizards and wolfmen with only the aid of blistering psych and folk rock to protect them. The band, which is comprised of ex-members of Strapping Fieldhands, continues the traditions of their former front, picking up a penchant for drinking songs and sea shanties wrangled into psychedelic alchemy. Album opener “Roll Baby” sees the band at their most raucous – cohering the electric shakedown with a dose of barroom harmonica (courtesy of Philly’s own “Harmonica” Dan Balcer) and some biting background vocals that give the song a dizzying off-the-rails quality. While it threatens to burn down the stage at any moment, the song holds on until the smoke dies down to smolder and ash. The band’s sophomore album is out on Trouble in Mind April 5th.



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Prana Crafter Reissues MindStreamBlessing with Two Bonus Cuts

Last year Washington State psych-folk aficionado Will Sol entered best of lists here both at the halfway and year-end mark with two different albums under his Prana Crafter handle. Sol’s lush, earthen psych picked at traditions from Popul Vuh, Träd, Gräs & Stenar, Amon Düül II, blending nimble picking with the meditative thrum of drone. Bodhi Cheetah’s Choice was a welcome surprise full of burrowed forest psych, that was just edged out in the final run by the cinematic swirl of Enter The Stream. The latter album also marked the artist’s first foray out of the tape and CD-r formats for a vinyl run that served as a fitting canvas for Sol’s humid, haunted fare. However, Sol had quite a few gems in his catalog prior to his breakout year. 2017’s MindStreamBlessing was just such a gem, issued in a short run on the always entrancing Eiderdown Records. Now the label, in a joint release with Cardinal Fuzz, is issuing the album on LP with reformatted artwork and two bonus cuts.

The new material sits expertly alongside the originals, with “FingersFlowThroughOlkSkokRiver” lapping at the banks of the Psylocibin pond once more. Sol admits that he was immersed heavily in Sandy Bull at the time of its recording and as such he asserts that it “left its energetic imprint on that piece.” The song shares Bull’s penchant for rippling, circular playing, pushing against the circadian buzz of drone below. The new issue will be available in March from both labels in both black and limited green/pink colorways. Check out both of the bonus track below.

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Masaki Batoh on Pearls Before Swine – Balaklava

As I mentioned in the review a few days ago, the work of Masaki Batoh has a pretty strong foothold in the roots of RSTB. Ghost in particular is a personal favorite, but the guitarists’ work has touched on higher burning psychedelic forms with The Silence and Cosmic Invention, twisted through experimental norms in his solo work and resonated deeply in his works with collaborator Helena Espvall of Espers. The latest solo outing, though, has felt like a coming home to the psychedelic folk and blues that first gripped me. As such its great to have Batoh contribute to the ongoing Hidden Gems series and tackle a release that he feels might not always get the proper due it deserves. Check below as Masaki discusses finding Pearls Before Swine’s underground classic Balaklava and the impact its had on his own writing.

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Scott Hirsch – “No No”

Can’t pass up the video for one of my favorite tracks from a likewise favorite album of 2018. Scott Hirsch’s latest can’t be talked up enough, but the vibes on the cough-syrup fresh JJ Cale take “No No” is the where he shines the best. For a video, Hirsh takes the Mescaline meltdown of the song’s already psychedelic flare and pushes it hard through the lysergic mirror. With a psychdelic roadtrip backdrop and sinister vibes aplenty, this is the best accompaniment to the freak train that Hirsch is conducting. If you missed out, miss no more and get into Lost Time Behind The Moon.

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Masaki Batoh

On his first solo album since 2012’s largely experimental Brain Pulse, Japanese legend Masaki Batoh returns to the roots of psych-folk that wrought Ghost all those years ago. Winding through the same serene mists that haunted Lama Rabi Rabi and the band’s eponymous debut, Nowhere is a picture of Batoh leaning into his strengths while embracing both Japanese and, for the first time, English lyrics. While this is his first solo record proper in a while, its hardly the first we’ve heard from Batoh’s camp in the last couple of years. Following three albums working the psychedelic edge with his outfit The Silence, Nowhere is also a return to the meditative pacing reverent calm for the songwriter, relying on circular fingerpicks and the humid creep of echo to replace anything as outwardly explosive as he’s been fond of recently.

Having been drawn to the work of Masaki Batoh through Ghost and later working back through Sweet and Honey and Cosmic Invention, this mode feels like a welcome homecoming for me. The songwriter’s long arched over into the mystic touches, feeling every bit as otherworldly as the Tolkien-referencing plucks of Bo Hansson or the ritualistic runs of Ash Ra Temple. On Nowhere, Batoh dips back into those modes, while also proving that he’s picked up new habits along the way. He picks at American blues on “Devil Got Me,” and skews towards a a tougher, almost ‘90s blooze approach on “Sundown,” but he manages to keep the album from feeling like a hodgepode. Its more like a journal of psychedelic damnation – a sketchbook of psych-folk-blues embattlement as divined by someone at his own crossroads. Maybe Batoh’s isn’t as famous as Robert Johnson, but it still feels elemental.



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Ash & Herb – “Salt Lick”

Notch another win for the constant creep of Cosmic Americana and East Coast freak psych, Ash & Herb are back and things are woollier than ever. After a solid offering from MV&EE house label Child of Microtones, the duo have a new 7″ on the way from Maine label Flower Room and the A-side’ll knock you sideways. The band is gearing up for album #2, titled Dome Cookbook (channeling Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic vibes, eh) but before they go that route the band is kicking out a double shot single. “Salt Lick” ropes in a previously unfelt funk to the mix, pinning a chooglin’ beat to spacey keys and reverbed marinated vocals for a track that’s keeping pace with their circle of contempos in Wet Tuna, MV & EE, and Mountain Movers, while also feeling like a force all their own. The band’s debut owed a lot to the shrouded school of forest folk, but its clear with the release of “Salt Lick” that they have no intention of blending into the bushes by the time that second LP rolls around. This is a stacked high bonfire party track that’s begging to be blasted to the top canopy of any camp out. Too bad its January, but keep this on file for the coming spring thaw.



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