Thursday, 10 April 2014

Ten 21st Century Summer Psychedelic Nuggets

© D. Mainwood
The eternal return
I don't know about where you are but where I am it's now spring. And summer's coming...

Spring always seems to me to be one of nature's great psychedelic events. The eternal return. The relaunch into the high flytes of summer. Life is reborn, colour replaces the bleak monochrome of winter and our senses seem to refocus and intensify. The air is warm and fresh and people start taking most of their clothes off...  and head for the beach.

And for me therein lies the sound of most of the music featured in this post. For me "Psychedelic" pop has a warm bright shimmering quality. Like distant movement seen through a desert heat-haze. Sunlight flashing on waves... It makes the perfect soundtrack for summer.

So, to celebrate these new incandescent manifestations of spring in all their psychedelic or otherwise glory here are 10 of the best new psych bands of the last 10 years or so. And psych in the 21st Century is not so much psychedelia reborn as the long strange trip just going further.

Some of the tracks selected below may have a strong whiff of the 1960s about them but they are far from yellowing photocopies of a bygone age.There is a freshness about all these tracks. A timelessness. This isn't just nostalgia.

Anyway, time, as any Dr Who fan knows, is not linear. It's "like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff". Presumably it's all wet and gooey then... Or maybe time is like the sea. Vast and forever in movement. We just lose ourselves in the light speckled waves.

So when you listen to some of these don't be too surprised if you start floating and you're not quite sure of when you are...

Enjoy the summer. And don't forget a towel.

1) Quilt - Arctic Shark
Let's start with a track from Quilt's recent new album "Held in Splendor". Quite a step on from their first rather jam oriented CD. On this album they've obviously been concentrating on the song writing. It's a much more satisfying listen and sonically references David Crosby, The Byrds, Mamas and Papas and even Country Joe and the Fish.

2) Woods - Size Meets The Sound.
The Woods are one my absolute favorites here (along with Beechwood Sparks). They have been putting out consistently high quality albums for nearly ten years now. They have matured from their lo-fi beginnings into a great 60s inspired rock / pop band with some interesting experimental tendencies to spice things up a bit. Some of their instrumental jams come over like a cross between German Kraut rockers Neu and early Quicksilver Messenger Service. They also have the pop sensibility of Lovin' Spoonful or the Byrds. They have a new album out this month. Their last two albums Sun and Shade and Bend Beyond (from which this track comes) are particularly recommended.

3) The Smiles and Frowns - When The Time Should Come
Adam Mattson and Christopher James are a an American duo from Phoenix, Arizona who recorded a short (25 minutes), somewhat ethereal album full of very catchy songs in 2009 but now seem to have disappeared. The album takes inspiration from classic UK bands like the Kinks and more notably the Zombies and ticks all the psych quirky boxes.

4) Real Estate - Had To Hear 
This is opening track from Real Estate's new and excellent album Atlas. Their third and best yet is a superb dreamy series of hazy summer afternoon suburban vignettes.

5) The Allah Las - Tell Me What's On Your Mind.
Is it 1965? Are we on the Beach? When are we...?
The Allah Las have a kind of chilled but perfectly evoked 1965 garage sound.
Their recently released first album is perhaps a little monotonous in its choice of tempos but I have high hopes for the second. This is one of the high points.

6) The Paperhead - Do You Ever Think Of Me?
The Paperhead are from Nashville, Tennessee but actually sound like a lysergically inspired creation of Syd Barret's slightly distorted consciousness beamed out to Alpha Centauri somewhere around 1968 and now returned to land in a swamp in deepest Tennessee. Their first album was a very Syd / early Floyd inspired affair. It is a little too loose instrumental jam oriented for me however this song is a classic.

7) Ty Segall - She Don't Care
I'm not a great fan of his electric stuff but last year's acoustically oriented and very melodic Sleeper album shows some distinct Marc Bolan influences at times. Here's a taste.

8) Grizzly Bear - Knife
Imagine an alternate universe where Brian Wilson didn't have nervous breakdown in 1967, finished SMiLE with the full support of the Beach Boys and achieved massive success with it. What pop complexities would a confident Wilson have followed SMiLE up with? Grizzly Bear's albums, especially Yellow House (2006) and Veckatimest (2009), seem to me to take some of the ideas Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks were kicking around on SMiLE and take them further out. A kind of prog rock Beach Boys? Maybe...

9) Jonathan Wilson - Dear Friend
For my money Jonathan Wilson's two albums are nowhere near as good as he is live. Check out what I wrote about his live show here. After a Beach Boys / Beatles style intro the jazzy instrumental second half of Dear Friend from last year's Fanfare album reminds me of what the Grateful Dead were doing around 1972 / 1973 on their mammoth live work-outs of Playing With The Band and gives an idea of what Wilson and his band can do live.. 

10) Beachwood Sparks - Mollusk
Possibly my favourite band here. I've written about them here. Very Byrdsian I know. Doesn't this sound like it would fit right on Notorious Byrd Brothers?  2012's Tarnished Gold album is sublime summer music and my favourite album of the 21st century so far.

And what finer way to finish this set of psychedelic summer nuggets...

"You control the space and the time
How it shines
I am like your shadow,
And I am like your shadow
Happy faces, gleaming eyes
Reflect the music in your hair
Birds laughing, upon the golden sand".

Bonus track
Quilt in the park on a sunny day playing what sounds like it could have been an instrumental out-take from Country Joe and the Fish's Electric Music For The Mind And Body. The expansive spirit of spring psychedelia resounds here. Chill...

More on stranger than known
The Tarnished Gold of Beachwood Sparks

The Sadies - This Week's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World live... 

The Intergalactic Sofa - A Radio Kras Podcast

Jonathan Wilson - Retro-Futurism at the Centro Niemeyer, Aviles, Spain...

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