Tag Archives: psychedelia

Hide and psych

People suddenly liked The Horrors circa-Primary Colours because that album was so unexpected, given what had come before it. Once the Southend quintet had settled quietly into their skins, second time round people lost interest. That’s a pity, because a year on Skying has lost none of its weather-drenched majesty. Songs unfurl opulently from quasi-baggy rhythms, like “Dive In” and the opener “Changing The Rain”. They luxuriate in reverb and then snap, in an instant, into thrashy garage rock, as on “Endless Blue”.

At the end of last year, I said it was “an album best enjoyed when you close your eyes to The Horrors’ record collection”; the studious epic “Moving Further Away” is a case in point. Anything, from the chugging rhythm to the soaring-heavenwards synths, might remind you of a different band, a different record, a different era. But that’s not the point. Rather, I think you’re meant to semiconsciously appreciate how these elements of the past have been carefully sculpted into a sleek beast of the future.

The same could be said, and even more easily accepted, on Tame Impala‘s sophomore effort, Lonerism. In 2012, it’s easier to hold up someone like Kevin Parker as a voice of a generation—see how quickly Lena Dunham was given the same tag, despite her representing, in truth, only a tiny fragment of American society. But look past the song-titles and lyrics which speak, yes, of isolation and doubt and guilt (because we’ve already had plenty of that from the PBR&B crowd, and their lyrics are easier to decipher than Parker’s), and much of Lonerism is really a very sunny slice of psych rock, at home at the poolside, with Ray Bans on, accompanied by a crisp Brooklyn lager.

There’s the poppy psychedelia of The Beatles or primetime Flaming Lips; there’s the nod to labelmates Cut Copy in the blissed-out vocals and guitars and the studio trickery. Halfway through the album comes a woozy three-minute slow jam, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, which rolls around an effortless groove and bounces vocal harmonies into the upper reaches of consciousness before vanishing like a burst bubble. That’s representative of the levity this album brings to the fore on several occasions. Same goes for the unexpected way in which “Mind Mischief” transforms from a pretty canonical scuzzy (there’s a word to describe the guitar tones throughout the album) rock song into a spacey love song reminiscent of The Flaming Lips’s “Silver Trembling Hands”.

Only on a few occasions does the music rumble a little more heavily, as on the stomping “Elephant”, which is the kind of perfect pastiche (à la “Drunk Girls” on This Is Happening) so cheerily observant you can instantly forgive it. And even there, there are some magically futuristic moments, which I’d rather not ruin for anyone unlucky enough not to have heard the song. No, for the most part, this album is like a mildly hallucinogenic take on the simple suburban grandeur of Real Estate. And that’s great. On the penultimate song, “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” starts out like “Tomorrow Never Knows” but soon shifts into a more triumphalist mood: less twilight zone, more breaking dawn. In the closing two minutes, swirly sound effects threaten to swallow up the song, but wind up just spitting it out into a candyfloss confection. There’s a coda, of course, fleeting and victorious.

So here we have two albums that superficially look backwards but, treated with a little more respect, reveal themselves to be pacing stridently into the future. One is the product of a misunderstood British band whose back-story many are bored of (NME poster-boys with closeted sophisticated tastes); the other, a bedroom genius whose background gets repeated as much as that of Justin Vernon (rooted in Perth, Australia’s most out-of-the-way outpost). But both are worthy of your time and reverence. They take risks; they travel along unconventional arcs; they are the works of iconoclasts.

Spiritualized — Sweet Heart Sweet Light

There are two songs on Spiritualized‘s new album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light, which recall the fried, reach-for-the-sun-or-die-trying splendour of Jason Pierce’s one undisputed masterpiece, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. “I Am What I Am” and “Mary” come as a consecutive pair, and they are glorious. Free-jazz skronking rockets through the former’s glammy stomp; on the latter, plaintive strings pierce through a stately pocket symphony.

More often, Sweet Heart… is a terrestrial affair, reining in the old mores and paranoia and sounding pretty joyful about having nothing much to celebrate. That’s not to say it isn’t a highly accomplished work from a true visionary; rather, it shows Jason Pierce has changed as a songwriter. Of course he still speaks the language of religion from the perspective of a non-believer—he’s not going to heaven unless God’s his chauffeur; Jesus is someone you pray to for salvation, redemption, forgiveness. Of course that makes him cling to clichés other artists would have outgrown long ago—”Love lights the flame when there’s hearts it can burn” and all that guff. And, of course, there remains a patina of druggy imagery in which he is sinner and saviour rolled into one.

“There is an elegant simplicity to parts of the album some listeners will mistake for tiredness”

But alongside all this, there is an elegant simplicity to parts of the album some listeners will mistake for tiredness, and that’s just not correct. You notice it most in the string arrangements, which I was pleasantly surprised to learn flow from Pierce’s pen. Familiar ingredients are gently transmuted into mystical, revelatory elements, as if he were an alchemist. On “Get What You Deserve”, a song whose bottom-end has been pretty much lobotomised (a carryover trait exhibited by all of the Spacemen 3), a faintly Eastern string motif weaves in and out of a misfiring organ drone, creating a sweetly woozy ambience. When John Harris interviewed Damon Albarn recently, the journalist picked up on the titling of “Caramel”, saying it was “seemingly referring to the brown goo produced when heroin is heated up”. On Sweet Light…’s more experimental cuts, there is a similarly opiate vibe.

Elsewhere, these strings are more innocent and playful, as on the soulful “Little Girl”, which could pass for a poppy Yo La Tengo number. “Life Is A Problem”, meanwhile, channels Ágætis byrjun-era Sigur Rós, in particular the palindromic arrangement of “Starálfur“. I smiled upon discovering that parts of this album were recorded at the Sundlaugin studio owned by that Icelandic post-rock outfit.

You might think, at this point, Sweet Light… is an album with an identity problem. It’s switching constantly between Pierce’s beloved 1960s pop, and the space rock he pioneered at the end of the 1980s. The lyrics betray his earlier taste for hedonism whilst also casting him as the family man (two of the songs feature the vocals of his eleven-year old daughter, Poppy).

“Pierce is visualising himself at death’s door, and he’s fine with it”

Well, no. This is a work that’s unafraid of swapping things around, but which essentially operates within one framework throughout: Pierce is visualising himself at death’s door, and he’s pretty much fine with it. The key lyric comes near the start of “Little Girl”: “Sometimes I wish that I was dead,” he sings, “‘Cause only the living can feel the pain.” From that mental image he conjures forth different strands of his life to date: the “Play loud and drive fast” mantra in the liner notes, as in the jangly opening track, “Hey Jane”; the cocky charmer waltzing through “Too Late”; the dying man on an IV drip, petering out infinitesimally, on the gospel-tinged closer “So Long You Pretty Thing”. These are Pierce’s very own seven ages of man, and, he now admits, he revels in all of them.

There are moments of supreme tact and subtlety on this album he has never even thought to attempt previously: a velvety, parping tuba here; a very British take on motorik there. There are also moments where he totally lets go, and you cannot begin to think of this being music assembled painstakingly at home by a man whose liver had disintegrated (the thoroughly mental “Headin’ For The Top Now” is the best example of this). And so this isn’t anything like, in aggregate, that previous masterpiece, but it is an album true to the spirit of that same creator, fifteen years on. And that means it’s a unique set of flavours we should all taste, at least now and again.

Spiritualized’s latest album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light, was released on 16th April 2012, on Double Six Records.