While not my strongest suit, the genres of Rock and Psychedelia (otherwise encompassed by ‘anything with guitars’ somewhat jokingly) seem to be the most fluctuating realm of musical taste for me. Five years ago, I’d be blasting Ambient Metal, a la ISIS, and barely aware of my future lust for the hazy, wandering wastelands of the most stoned kind. I’ve also grown more fond of Rock that is well blended with Americana, Folk and Eastern influences. Look no further than Portland’s enigmatic, if not frustratingly reclusive, Grails. The greatest band ever to piss me off so much. Apparently there is some scourge of the flesh, some deterioration of the spirit that would follow playing a show in Seattle, even if it is only 3 hours away. So, speaking of Grails…
The only proper release for the PDX boys this past year was Black Tar Prophecies Vol. 4, which turns out to be a much less Appalachian version of the appellation given to these previously cast-aside opium den sessions. Having previously reviewed the record, I’ll save my breath and let you check the link.
I guess the same can be said for both new albums by The Black Angels and Black Mountain. After a few months, I can still say I’m pretty underwhelmed by both of these records in comparison to their respective predecessors, but The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is definitely the better of the two.
Getting to that more stoned and dreamy side of things I’ll start with The Alps. San Francisco’s Psych and Americana outfit dropped another fine platter, Le Voyage, on Type Records this year. At times, there are some acoustic guitar riffs that sound straight out of The Beatles playbook and some Spring afternoon romanticism that almost raises Yo La Tengo from the dead (check album opener “Drop In”). At other times, they rock a little harder than on previous records (the pounding, aggressive drums of “Crossing the Sands” remind me of old Quarterstick Records bands) and even seem delving into Prog-Rock, but in a totally interesting way. The latter is propagated by my favorite track on the album, the title track, which is a hair under ten minutes and revolves round-and-round until you’re hypnotized just enough to believe you’re flying, floating maybe, just above the ground. I love the mix on “Le Voyage”, because the bass guitar is so prominent but not dominant. It is clearly the leader, the steady hand that allows spacey guitars to flutter around its assured center. And there is even a classic piano and sitar meditation in “Black Mountain” (I can’t make this shit up) to let you know this really is an Alps album.
One of my newest favorites in the Psych realm has to be Sun Araw. I discovered them this year, starting with Heavy Deeds and then On Patrol. Their sacred rite vocals, tripped out repetitive guitars, tribal drumming and Dub elements make them pretty unique in my mind; it’s a ballsy combination. They obviously work hard to make their recordings sound like they were recently discovered 60’s rarities. On Patrol doesn’t have all the heft that initially drew me to Heavy Deeds, but it does give me all the best of Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice mixed into this witch’s cauldron of musical spices. They cast a spell for sure, but run the risk of overdoing the incantations when some of the tracks run a tad too long. And in related news…
Magic Lantern, Sun Araw’s familial band, provided us with the best of 2010 in Rock/Psych with their album Platoon. First of all, I have to admit a dirty secret about this album. I had it in my collection for a couple of months and had barely paid attention to it. Then, one night of record shopping with my bro, the clerks slapped it on and I was clamoring for the ‘Now Playing’ display. When I got there, I felt a sudden rush of embarrassment, because I should have already known what was playing. I love how the opener “Moon Lagoon Platoon” builds slowly into the Funk grindings of “Dark Cicadas”. The guitar on that track sometimes sounds as if it is careening dangerously off-time, but somehow it is all held together and the jam is on! “On the Dime” might be the dopest Psych-Dub freakout song I’ve heard yet. Simply lovely. Somewhere between Syd Barrett and Eddie Hazel playing guitars with a mix of Rock and Funk session players backing them.
So, congrats to Magic Lantern for winning this one going away.