Posts Tagged ‘Psych-pop’

The Essex Green – “Sloane Ranger”

Love it when a band resurfaces that I didn’t even realize how badly I’d missed. I’ve never shied away from my overt love of The Elephant 6 around here, but it always cracks a smile when one of the alums keeps the train rolling. In the same respect that it was great to have Dressy Bessy back on the scene a few years back, its wonderful to see news that The Essex Green is back and still pumping out high quality sunset-hued psych pop that’s warmed by the sounds of the ‘60s and funneling the paisley pop revival right on into a new age.

The band shows no sign of dents or dings, picking up “Sloane Ranger” right where 2006’s The Cannibal Sea left off. Good to see them back on Merge and digging into their prime hooks. Gonna remain excited for the rest of this, but for now, I’ve got to keep this on repeat a few more spins.


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MIEN

MIEN is, for lack of a better word, a supergroup. Though perhaps it’s just four consecutive side projects, who can tell? The term is pompus at best and often overshadows the music of any who dare don the mantle. For what it’s worth, MIEN compiles the talents of members of The Black Angels, The Horrors, The Earlies and Elephant Stone. To most its going to be those first two that draw water and grab attention but, I for one, am excited to hear The Earlies mentioned in earnest in 2018. The band’s John-Mark Lapham would bond with Elephant Stone’s Rishi Dhir over a love of sitar in pop music, as would Dhir and The Black Angels’ Alex Maas. So, it winds up that the sitar is the glue that holds together MIEN’s eponymous debut.

Dhir also played the instrument with The Brian Jonestown Massacre for several years, so he’s done his time in the psychedelic trenches. His drones here swirl around the band’s embrace of a hypnotic pop that recalls the dark grind of The Black Angels as shot through the junkyard Krautrock of Clinic or current contemporaries like Snapped Ankles. They work off of chugging rhythms one minute and then lay back completely into the abyss with reverberating thrum the next – meting out blissful altered states of droned consciousness. The album isn’t flashy, despite boasting such talent and a flagpole raised on ‘60s sitar. MIEN takes a little while to wrap around the listener, boasting the kind of exhaust fume ambience that’s permeated much of The Angels’ work.

It’s easy to draw comparisons with Maas at the vocal helm, but the band distinguishes itself from most of the members’ other tributaries, swapping in mantra for hooks and embracing a repetition dropout that winds up engrossing in its own way. The moody atmospheres are no surprise to those who are working their psych band bingo on this project, but the band’s not one to miss out on levity, pushing for “Tomorrow Never Knows” cartoon squiggle territory on back half bubble “Odessey” to lighten the mood. If this album winds up a one-off, then it remains a curio worth investigating and if this is the seeds of something more permanent, I’ll mark this as some good roots to grow.



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Montero

The first time I’d heard Ben Montero was on the epic 2012 compilation of Australian psych bands covering Nuggets-era classics. That comp held plenty of now solidified-status rockers (King Gizz, The Living Eyes, Pond) doing their best to tear up some of the most ragged bits of the famous ’60s compilation. Montero erred in the other direction however, taking on Sagittarius’ lush psych-pop number “My World Fell Down,” embracing that track’s baroque beauty but giving it some edge as well. That dedication to the softer side of psych persists on his debut for Chapter Music, a study in swoons and swells that’s dripping with glycerine dreams of psych-pop in the grand tradition of latter day Lips, Tame Impala and Mercury Rev.

The album is produced by Jay Watson (Tame Impala, Pond) and as such it reaches for the heights of those larger acts while retaining a bit of the austerity that befits his indie label status. For the most part Montero’s indulgence in the pillowed psych of ELO and Todd Rundgren works in his favor, but sometimes he aims too heavy for the pop crossover that’s favored acts like Tame Impala. While Impala’s been able to swing wide from indulging too heavily in the repetitive or cloying aspects of radio-ready pop while still courting a wide audience, there are moments on Performer that cross the line. There’s a relaxed plush quality to singles like “Caught Up In My Own World” and “Running Race,” but the refrain on the album’s title track gets to be a bit grating the more I hear it and sticks out like a sore thumb on an album that’s going for grace over hits.

That misstep aside, this positions Montero for a bigger future given his trajectory. Aussie’s have a pretty decent lock on a brand of big britches psych pop these days, with the exception of perhaps Temples and Hookworms, and Montero makes a good bid to put his name aside some of those larger acts as a contemporary.




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HOLY

For his second album as HOLY, Sweden’s Hannes Ferm uprooted his life and slowly began to dismantle the sound he’d built on his previous album. The band’s debut was rooted in a brand of garage-pop that’s not out of line with many of his labelmates on local hub PNKSLM. As he shifted to his new home of Stockholm and his new digs at Studio Cobra, however, he looked to lush works for inspiration and began a journey to a double LP concept record about deep personal change, alienation, and the nighttime. It’s a subject that would seem to inspire quiet introspection and the soft pluck of strings, but not so in Ferm’s world. He envisions the night as glimpsed through the kaleidoscopic swirl of traffic signals, brake lights, and neon signs under the sway of melancholy and psychedelics.

Ferm calls out Todd Rundgren’s classic A Wizard, A True Star as inspiration and that’s a telling germ to cite. All These Worlds Are Yours takes a similar tact of diving into songs that explode with pop colors and softly strung hooks, then clipping them short right when they’ve got you in their sway. He pulls a pop one-eighty on the listener quite a few times over the course of the record’s tenure but rather than knock the listener off track, the technique just adds to the dizzying funhouse that Ferm has constructed. The album is rooted in glam’s opulence, but not it’s rock candy crunch – there are no fuzz-tones or Bolan-sized amp rumblers here. Instead, Ferm has built a velvet-draped dreamland that’s powered by reverb and light.

It’s a huge step forward for the artist, leaving behind his humble rock beginnings to embrace the kind of mini-epics once favored by the members of The Elephant 6 Orchestra. With the help of producer Martin Ehrencrona (Les Big Byrd) he’s captured the heartswell of emotions that accompany youth’s moments of alienation, revelation, and reinvention, then used them as a neon engine for creativity. All These Worlds Are Yours sounds every bit like it could have come down in Dave Fridmann’s heyday of panoramic psych-pop and that it was largely self-done speaks volumes to Ferm’s talent and to his promise for the future.




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Hookworms

On their third album proper, Hookworms have found their way to pop. Not that it’s been entirely absent from their work, but up until now the band has let a prevailing wind of noise and a frantic energy steer the rudder of their sound, burying the Easter Eggs of pop below the horizon line of their mix. Considering that the band’s driving force, MJ, has practically carved out an arm of UK indie around his production, it’s always been intriguing that he’s saved some of the more palatable touches for those under his studio wing (Martha, Menace Beach, Joanna Gruesome, TRAAMS, Pinact). However, on Microshift he’s taken the band to much catchier climes, leaving behind almost entirely the crusted foam of The Hum and Pearl Mystic.

In place of that foam he’s embraced the insistent chug of Krautrock and a swooning clarity that brings melody to the forefront on a permanent scale. At first, I blanched on this 90-degree shift. Admittedly I’d often found Hookworms endearing for their love of noise and their seemingly defiant shun of clean lines. It often felt like the band was signed on MJ’s promise as a producer and that any label looking to pony up was always hoping this was a turn the band would make. Now that they’d conceded to pop, it seemed time to shout down the cave in.

But the more time I’ve spent with the record that seems premature. Times change and the noise-pop wave that Hookworms crested in on and help foster might be on the wane, though I’ll always hope that noise-pop has a permanent place in the indie pantheon. So, it seems that the band should evolve. Stagnation is bad for the blood, bad for any artist. They’d done what needed to be done with the sheet of static and now they’re playing with the studio as sixth man. There still remains a hangover of experimental impulses and MJ and the band fold them into what works out to be a pretty solid indie record, though it’s one that’s not shredding the dominant paradigm so much as its trying to stretch it from the inside out. Here’s hoping they keep pushing.




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Beautify Junkyards – “Aquarius”

Coming off a solid 7″ entry to Ghost Box’s Other Voices series, the Lisbon band is now embarking on a full length for the label. The first taste is this sparkling, polyrhythmic treat, “Aquarius,” along with a suibtably psyhchedelic companion video. The band melds chugging beats with a veil of sun-squinted haze for a track that’s sniffing at similar territory blazed by Broadcast and Stereolab before them. The band now counts Helena Espvall, formerly of RSTB fave Espers in the mix and that pushes the anticpation up quite a bit from their single. Espvall’s folk work was singularly entrancing and she casts a similar spell here. The track’s got repeat appeal for sure and serves to whet the appetite for a full platter of similarly minded psych-pop. At this point I’m always intrigued as to what’s coming down the Ghost Box pike and rarely have I been disappointed. Great way to start off the year!



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Holy – “Heard Her”

I’ve been lax in the tracks department and for that I apologize. But that’s not to say that there hasn’t been much to dig into. Holy is the work of Sweden’s Hannes Ferm, and it’s a taste of his 13-months in the making sophomre LP, All These Worlds Are Yours. Treading into psych-pop territory proper, the song is bathed in a sunlit glow that’s echoing plenty of lush-pop purveyors in his rear view – bits of Temples, Super Furry Animals and even late-term Elephant Sixers like The Sunshine Fix coming to mind on this one. It’s definitely a good sell on what he’s had cookin’ for the last year plus, and while I’ll admit I’m a sucker for some verdant psych-pop this is just a damn fine tune all around. If you’re unfamiliar, lay back into this and let it wash over you in radiant waves.





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El Goodo

There are some names that swim into view and expect never to really resurface. I’d been a fan of El Goodo’s 2005 eponymous LP, which vaulted itself out of a post-Elephant 6 comedown of psych reverence around that time and waxed the sounds with a shine of power pop that was fitting for a band named for a Big Star tune. The Welsh band played to the Nuggets set with bigger aspirations than some of their US counterparts, but despite a verdant valley for garage-pop at the time, they never took root here and thus faded from view. A 2010 follow-up didn’t even wash on these shores and a discernible silence for the better part of the next decade makes their new album on Cian Ciaran’s (Super Furry Animals) label a swift surprise.

The album is still locked into a fixation on ’60s psychedelia, though cut now with a bit of temperament and an apparent implementation of the ramblin’ twang that sunk in towards the early ’70s. They’re no longer so overt as to saddle song with the title, “Stuck in the ’60s,” but they’re still clearly pining for simpler pop times. They’ve slunk into territory once occupied by Beachwood Sparks – finding equal obsessions with The Beach Boys and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Though, they certainly hew closer to the former, finding more use for multi-track pop than for country proper. They thread that high plains tone nicely throughout the entirety of By The Order Of The Moose, though and it suits them. As with all revival acts, they’re jumping into shoes that have been worn by another owner, but they make them look awfully good in a modern setting.




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Ariel Pink

It’s been kinda a while since an Ariel Pink album graced RSTB, and it’s definitely been a bit since one found its way onto my shelf. Following the cemented syrup-psych-in-boat-shoes classic that was Before Today Pink never quite hit the bar I was hoping for. Mature Themes was to many a defiant slap in the face to those who thought he’d go full-scale pop. For every “Only In My Dreams” he penned a “Schnitzel Boogie,” and hey, the man’s never promised anything other than personal indulgence, so why would we expect any less? It was, for all intents and purposes, an Ariel Pink album through and through, but the promise that it left hanging still stung.

2014’s Pom Pom didn’t deliver the stone cold shiver-shod studio deep dive either. Rather it explored more lo-fi freakouts with a Beefheart crust and left plenty of elbow room to wander stylistically. So here we arrive at Dedicated To Bobby Jameson, a cheeky reference to this very quandary of promises supposedly left unfulfilled. For those unfamiliar, Jameson himself was poised for accessible fame in the ’60s but found it always just out of reach – getting mixed in a twist of bad management, questionable decisions and drugs. So, in case there was ever a line of thinking that Pink wasn’t self-aware, quash that notion right here and now.

With that in mind, one would expect this to be Pink’s own further ‘fuck you’ to anyone looking for transcendence. Not so, it would seem. There’s still a trademark style dial-shift to the album that’s pure Pink, but in every aspect this comes off as an record planned and planed to its core to be a pop artifact. The psychedelic swaddling feels like it only accentuates the smoother moments. There are very few instances when he seems to need an external editor to whittle the album to its core (see again: Pom Pom). Instead this winds up being one of Pink’s most enigmatic albums yet. The pop is as chewy as ever – exemplified by the trio of “Feels Like Heaven,” “Another Weekend,” and the title track. The concept ties it down and the Robert Beatty artwork can’t be beat. This might be as close to closure as I could ever hope for. It might also be the album he’s always hinted was lurking in the heart of the beast. Or maybe that’s still yet to come. Either way, this is a definite step in the right direction.




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The Babe Rainbow – “Peace Blossom Boogy”

I’ve had a soft spot for The Babe Rainbow in the past and they’re scrubbing up and crystallizing their sunshine pop from the sounds of it. They finally have a full length on the way from Flightless in AU and apparently from Danger Mouse’s 30th Century Records here in the US (sure, why not?). The first single is as lackadaisical as they’ve ever been – another hippy sturummer with a touch of blue-eyed soul and a sugar shaker beat that feels like it’s primed for clear skies and picnic playlists. They accompany the cut with a walk back to ’60s pop films, mashing a ton of Magical Mystery Tour action into a double decker bus full of what seem to be family and friends. Sounding like a good one, not shaking the foundations of pop too hard, but when good homage has its place, especially when its this catchy.



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