One of the welcome artistic developments of the 21st century has been the resurgence of psychedelic music. We don’t mean the kind of wet, holding-hands-and-gently-humming-at-the-flowers variety — we’re talking about bands whose music immerses you completely, whether it’s because they’re given to pile-driving drum patterns and guitar freakouts, or because they make the sort of blissed-out drone sounds to which you can turn on, tune in, and drop out to your heart’s content. With neo-psych doyenne Jesse Sykes on the bill for a recent installment of the Sailor Jerry’s Presents concert series, we realized that she most definitely features on the roster of awesome neo-psych acts everyone should know. Click through for a bunch of similarly worthy suggestions, then be sure to check out more can’t-miss upcoming shows from Sailor Jerry’s Presents.
Sykes’ music started out as gentle, folk-influenced balladry, but it’s been getting heavier as the years go by, a trend that was cemented with her contribution to the 2006 Sunn 0)))/Boris collaboration album Altar (which is pretty much as heavy as heavy gets). Sykes and her band the Sweet Hereafter’s latest record, Marble Son, walks the line between the two poles of her sound deftly, balancing the driving beats and guitar wig-outs of tracks like “Hushed by Devotion” with moments of acoustic reflection.
Jackie O Motherfucker
While we’re on bands who strike a balance between delicacy and extremity, few do it better than Portland’s Jackie O Motherfucker. They’re one of those groups that have been around for ages — since 1994, to be precise — but never quite got the recognition they deserve; so if you’re not familiar with them, we highly recommend rectifying this ASAP. Flags of the Sacred Harp, their 2005 release on ATP Records, is a fine place to start — among other things, it contains “Hey Mr Sky,” which is right up there on the list of our favorite songs of the 2000s.
San Francisco has long been associated with psychedelic music, and the scene’s almost as healthy in 2011 as it was in the halcyon days of Haight-Ashbury. You probably won’t want to be wearing flowers in your hair when you see the cream of today’s SF psych bands, though, as they’re likely to be blown out and deposited somewhere near the sound desk. If we had to choose one band to represent the Bay Area’s neo-psych sound today, it would be the mighty Wooden Shjips, who marry motorik beats to the sort of extended guitar pyrotechnics that make you want to drive down a Californian freeway, trying to ignore the bats.
They were one of our favorite acts at CMJ this year, but trust us, we’re not Johnny-come-latelys to the world of New York psych veterans Psychic Ills. Like Jackie O Motherfucker, they’ve never quite drawn the big spotlight they warrant, although their recent record Hazed Dream (released on NYC indie du jour Sacred Bones) has had excellent reviews. Rightly so — it’s a record that’s more focused than its predecessors, while losing none of the band’s hypnotic charm.
While we’re on NYC psych, we’ve written before about what an under-appreciated pleasure Woods’ most recent album, Sun and Shade, has been this year. The record’s title fits it perfectly — it’s a hazy mixture of sunny, spacious atmospherics and darker, more introverted pieces. The two come together in tracks like the one here, which is nine minutes of immersive instrumental goodness.
The Sand Pebbles
It’s not just the USA that has a burgeoning neo-psych scene — Australia also seems to be home to a particularly healthy selection of spaced-out sounds at the moment, as the next couple of entries in this list will attest to. We’re particularly fond of the Sand Pebbles, who are pretty much an antipodean psych institution, notable both for their fine records — which you can get in the US via Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips’ label Double Feature Records — and for the fact that they’re perhaps the only band in the world to feature five members born in five different decades. (The two youngest are also in a band called the Sun Blindness, who are also well worth a listen.)
Also from the land down under, but figuring at the other end of the psych spectrum, are hyper-talented Perth trio Tame Impala, who have had a heap of (deserved) hype stateside over the last year or so. Their music tips a hat to psych-rock forebears like 13th Floor Elevators and Moby Grape while remaining utterly contemporary, a perfect synthesis of old and new — and it also lends itself surprisingly well to dance-floor reinterpretation, as Erol Alkan’s remix of “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” and Canyons’ killer reworking of “Half Full Glass of Wine” both demonstrate. (The band do a pretty great cover of Blue Boy’s “Remember Me” live, too.)
Skipping back across the Pacific, LA label Not Not Fun have been one of our favorites for quite some time, and they’ve made it their business to put out records by a virtual who’s-who of the city’s most interesting and drone-inclined musicians, from the reasonably well known likes of Pocahaunted and LA Vampires to lesser known acts with names like “Hello Astronaut, Goodby [sic] Television” and “My Sexual Dad.” Some of our favorite work on the label, however, has come from Cameron Stallones, aka Sun Araw. His music takes cues from a disparate set of sources — everything from dub and drone to, um, Hawaiian music — and the results are immersive, fascinating, and mighty trippy.
Best band name ever? (Although psych contemporaries Run DMT and Psychedelic Horseshit both provide pretty stiff competition.) But apart from the pun-tastic nature of their chosen moniker, Truman Peyote’s music makes for a pretty fine soundtrack to inner explorations — until the vocals and the groove kick in, at which point you stop blissing out and start shaking your hips.
Burning Star Core
Rarely has a band sounded more like its name than Burning Star Core, whose music mixes 2001-esque atmospheric soundscapes with the droning, distorted sound of founder C Spencer Yeh’s violin, and sounds like it should be soundtracking slow-motion footage of supernovae, or galaxies disintegrating. And, for goodness’ sake, they had an album called Challenger, which, well… let’s just hope it was an unfortunate coincidence.
Who would you add to our neo-psych heroes list? Let us know in the comments below!