Elephant9’s “Silver Mountain” Breathes Fresh Air into Psych’s Overflowing Canon

Psychedelic rock, at least the modern variety, has been consistently sabotaged by some members of the press and casual listeners alike as a poor man’s genre – a style of music rooted in the ”good old days” of Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and the 13th Floor Elevators with nothing to say. They’re not entirely wrong. It seems increasingly difficult to find inventive, innovative acts operating within the confines of psych. From the dazed-out-pop of Unknown Mortal Orchestra to the far-out, volcanic jams of Earthless, these are essentially the same kaleidoscopic conjurations your parents heard in the ‘60s and ‘70s. “What’s next” is a question many bands of this ilk wrestle with, whether in the studio or deep in the lion’s den of music journalism. But Norway’s “best live band” Elephant9 brings a simple answer to the table: “just add jazz.” With “Silver Mountain,” Elephant9 rejects the pretense of modern psychedelia and embraces its namesake with arms and minds wide-open.

Minds-wide open seems like a good tagline for the record, as the band’s ingenuity is apparent from the get-go. Whereas the prototypical psych outfit contents itself to ride a colorful passage for all its worth, Elephant9 and Reine Fiske reject stagnation. Much like the genre’s namesake, compositions shift shape with regularity, evoking variegated hues and visual patterns. “Occidentali” snakes and slithers its way through curious, jazzy instrumentals before blanketing the audience with echoing washes of synth and guitar. The calm, however, quickly snaps into a spastic freak-out. Guitars, courtesy of Dungen’s Reine Fiske, rocket through the percussion’s inconstant gravity before dying out. Moments like these come in ready supply and almost always captivate. Though it should be obvious by now, it warrants clarification: this isn’t your parent’s psych. “Silver Mountain” doesn’t ride the strength of its instrumental creativity alone, though.

Both production and mixing play significant roles in the album’s success. Each instrument breathes in relative clarity, but makes allowance for the natural obfuscations warranted by the genre. Fiske’s guitar is given extra attention, piercing through moments of tranquility with a colorful, pin-point trajectory. Here, the music is vivid – vibrant, even – but never polished to a fine sheen. Centerpiece “Abhartach” pounds its way through an off-kilter groove dominated by side-step drum patterns and surreal, thick spikes of distortion. Elsewhere, the militant, pounding rhythms of “Kungsten” hammer down with serious gravity, weaving in-and-out of line while battering the listener. It’s noisy, often chaotic, but it sounds exactly as it should: evocative and engrossing. And really, if you can say a modern psych album is evocative and engrossing, not just a despondent and derivative addition to an overflowing canon, then you’ve got a winner.

9.1/10

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Earthless Release New Track

California’s veteran psych-jam trio Earthless released its new track, End to End, via Scion AV. The track clocks in at a measly four minutes – far below the band’s typical 20 minute jams – but carries all of the firepower. Additionally, the track marks the return of vocals to Earthless’s sound. The song can be streamed here.

Artist Spotlight: Dungen

Despite an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and a performance at Bonaroo, Dungen can’t claim much of a profile. Swedish psychedelia has yet to break mainstream, but that hasn’t stopped the band from releasing a number of fantastic releases over its 16-year career. From  Ta Det Lungt‘s hazed-out indie psych to the pastoral, summery vibes of Skit I Allt, Dungen has maintained an enviable consistency. The band’s latest record, Allas Sak, keeps that tradition alive.

Tracks like the phenomenal “Franks Kaktus” showcase the band’s instrumental ingenuity with a solid percussive backbone anchoring airy flute passages. Beneath, Reine Fiske retains his ever-tasteful guitar tone and seals the deal for a truly gorgeous instrumental jam. Elsewhere, “Flickor Och Pojkar” ebbs and flows like a gentle stream, soothing the listener with its lapping melodic waves. It’s more than just a gorgeous track: it’s a perfect excuse to daze out of reality. Really, that just might be Dungen in a nutshell. Whether playing peaceful psychedelia or indie rock through a kaleidoscopic lens, the band remains uniformly excellent – as does Allas Sak

You can find more information about the band via its official website.

Tame Impala’s “Currents” Is Equal Parts Dance Fever and Mediocrity

It seems that Kevin Parker will never be happy with taking the indie world by storm. It just isn’t enough. While some fans would be happy to hear his debut “Innerspeaker” over and over again, those looking for a change of pace are likely to find a lot to like about Tame Impala’s third album, “Currents.” The fuzzed-out guitar of Parker’s debut is entirely absent, replaced by variegated cascades of synthesizers and dance beats. It’s undoubtedly different, but different doesn’t always translate into better. Parker’s third foray into the Tame Impala canon starts admirably with a series of invigorating cuts, but “Currents” gradually drifts away in Parker’s own ambition for change. Swept by the currents, indeed.

The album’s biggest problem isn’t its quality: it’s the record’s slow dive into monotony. “Let It Happen” may be the best opener Parker has ever recorded, full of vibrant synths and romping disco beats, but the luster of Tame Impala’s shiny new aesthetic quickly wears off. By the time “The Less I Know the Better” comes around, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that this exact song played just a few minutes ago. For all purposes, it did. Parker has clearly fallen head over heels for his shining new psychedelic dance persona. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this sound, but by album’s end the whole proceeding washes over like waves of obfuscated noise. Tracks like “Reality in Motion” drag the album to a grinding halt as it repeats the same tricks heard minutes earlier and serve only as deadweight to pan out the running time.

Monotony isn’t the only issue plaguing Parker’s latest opus: bizarre songwriting quirks spring up like weeds. “Past Life” is the worst offender, beginning with an irritating spiral of synth repeated ad nausea beneath a low-register, roboticized spoken-word intro. Just when the irritation ends and a song starts to emerge, the baffling narration returns for continued sabotage. “Let It Happen,” the album’s highlight, isn’t free of problems, either. Midway through, the same note repeats for thirteen seconds straight. It was literally as though the media file had been corrupted and glitched into a loop, but for some reason this was determined to be a desirable effect. It’s inexplicable, and it doesn’t do the album any favors.

Don’t get the wrong idea, though; there are gems to be found here. “Yes I’m Changing” is a remarkably pretty ballad, full of confessional self-inflicted barbs and crooned exclamations of “bullshit.” Parker’s admissions feel genuine enough warrant a considerable emotional response from the listener, securing its spot as one of the album’s key tracks. Album closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” injects some much-needed life into the proceedings with its expansive, electric sweep, and “The Moment” works well as an early album energizer with its charming boot-heel stomp and Parker’s spaced-out recollections of dance-floor magic. Lines like “I fell in love with the sound of my heels on the wooden floor, I don’t want our footsteps to be silent anymore” work well to sell any hesitant listeners on Parker’s new aesthetic.

Moments like these, though, come few and far between the further one delves into “Currents.” It’s an album of jolting revolutions without the backbone to support them. Engaging songwriting, typically one of Parker’s strengths, seems to disappear half-way through the album, leaving the listener to wonder whether the magic is truly gone or whether it’s been buried beneath top-dollar production sheen and endless barrage of electric noises. Unfortunately, “Currents” is likely a better album title than Parker realized. The further he ventures from that illustrious debut, the further and further away he’s drawn from what made his music special in the first place.

5.1/10

Artist Spotlight: Earth

Admittedly, I’ve not been one for drone music. I’d always associated the genre with some irrational repulsion – the type that sent my younger self retreating to the thin walls of my bedroom at the sound of my neighbor’s lawnmower. Sure, there were exceptions, namely the variety of epic moments throughout the Godspeed discography and the occasional mixed-genre ambient recording, but that all changed when I heard Earth’s 1993 recording, “Earth 2.” That record opened my eyes to the unique quality, and the unique power, of drone.

Since that time, I began working forward through the band’s discography, one album at a time, until I discovered their opus: last year’s “Primitive and Deadly.” While this newest recording may have largely left the rumbling repetitious notes behind, it’s ventured onward into new sonic territories. For Earth’s latest phase, post rock, post metal, stoner and psychedelia are all part of a grander design to capture the essence of the very ground they tread. It’s strength, consolidated in musical form – a mission they’ve always seemed intent to fulfill regardless of musical style. Earth’s plans for future expansion are anyone’s guess, but the safe bet is that the result will be something to remember.

More information regarding Earth can be found at the band’s website.