#31

October 23, 2010

King Khan and His Shrines What Is?!
garage-rock, soul, psych-rock

2007

The garage-rock revival scene, with all of its assorted offshoots, subgenres and crossovers, has plenty of players, movers and shakers. In terms of quality of output, some have been more successful that others, but the fact is that King Khan and his sensational Shrines succeed more than pretty much any of them. What Is?!, the nine-piece outfit’s third album, sees the group elevating their killer blend of boozy garage-rock, psychedelic leanings and sensual, love-machine soul to the highest possible level, making for their finest personal effort and a guaranteed lock for the canon of garage-rock classics. Immediate impact is always a blessing on these kinds of albums, and this one opens incredibly strongly, with the blazing, bare-chested machismo of “Outta Harm’s Way”, the hilarious and hard-rocking full-disclosure of “I Wanna Be a Girl” and the groovy, garage-soul cut “Welfare Bread”, the track most seem King Khan and His Shrines - What Is?!to pick as the album’s key highlight. The sheer number of hits littered throughout the remainder is equally impressive, though, with speed-garage cuts like “Land of the Freak” and “No Regrets” (a personal favourite) interlaced between psychedelic sex-cult serenades like “69 Faces of Love”, “Cosmic Serenade” and “The Ballad of Lady Godiva”. King Khan himself is one of those larger than life rock stars, whose showmanship, attitude and massive personality make him a crucial component in the quest to keep rock music’s old-school theatricality alive and kicking. He fits the role beautifully, although in a somewhat unlikely manner – shirtless, cape-clad, beer-swilling and pot-bellied, he bellows his sexed-up lyrics (which would sound sleazy if he didn’t come across as such a fun-loving charmer) with furious abandon and limitless energy, making him feel like a cross between James Brown, Iggy Pop and the local drunkard. Hail to the King, baby!

 

#41

October 13, 2010

Greg Ashley Medicine Fuck Dream
folk, singer-songwriter, psychedelic-rock
2003

Greg Ashley, the talented young Oakland-based singer/songwriter and leader of critically acclaimed side project The Gris Gris, was just twenty-one years old when Medicine Fuck Dream, his debut album of sleepy psychedelic folk, was first released. I usually try to exercise a bit of caution when it comes to praising debuts by young artists, as there’s a culture of “next big thingism” in online music criticism that, as far as I’m concerned, tends to do more harm than good, burning out promising groups with unneccessary hyperbole and unreasonable expectations for followups that’ll never measure up. Having given Medicine Fuck Dream plenty of time and attention, however, I can honestly say this is one of the best debuts of the decade, and Ashley really deserves to be getting a lot more attention than he currently receives. Combining stripped-back, acoustic instrumentation with authentic vintage recording equipment, Ashley has achieved a very well-realised tone on this album, creating a warm, gauzy sound that’s immediately reminiscent of first-wave psychedelic acts of the mid-1960s, such as Skip Spence and The Thirteenth Floor Elevators. What’s important to note, though, is that this approach doesn’t completely tie the record down to a particular time-period. There’s a lot of personality and creativity in this music, and the result is an album that actually sounds quite displaced and timeless. Medicine Fuck Dream commences with the quartet of “Karen Loves Candy”, “Medicine Fuck Dream”, “Mona Rider” Greg Ashley - Medicine Fuck Dreamand “Deep Deep Down”, all drowsy numbers that sound very contemplative in their lysergic slumber and combine beautifully to establish a desolate, late-night atmosphere. The remainder is divided between comfortable psych-folk cuts (the breezy “She” and “Legs Coca Cola” both sound like long-lost classics), a detour into dusty country balladeering with a lovely cover of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway” and the contrasting levity of “I Said, ‘These Are Lonely Days'” and “Apple Pie and Genocide”. Worthy of special mention is the title-track, which includes a memorable arpeggiated guitar riff and some nice ghostly harmonica touches floating in the background. It’s definitely my favourite track on the album and one of the decade’s finest psych-folk songs.

 

#50

October 4, 2010

Oneida Each One Teach One
noise-rock, experimental-rock, psych-rock
2002

“You’ve got to look into the light light light light light light light light light light light LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT…” With those words begins (and continues, and continues some more) “Sheets of Easter”, the noise-rock behemoth that opens disc one of Oneida’s mind-bending double album Each One Teach One. Oneida - Each One Teach OneThroughout the first disc, Oneida simply pummel you into submission, gleefully destroying your reality and replacing it with a wallpaper of looping soundbites that eventually becomes all you know. After prolonged exposure to “Sheets of Easter” and the equally devastating “Antibiotics” – which between them comprise the entirety of the first disc – your brain is melted down and rebuilt in preparation for the onslaught of disc two, synapses prepped to fire when and how Oneida want them to, limbs reprogrammed to flail on cue. When you’re finally reduced to a drooling vegetable, you shamble your way to the stereo and throw in disc two, and along comes “Each One Teach One”, countering the extended cerebral-assault of the first disc with a short and sharp sonic barrage that tosses you about like a freaking rag doll. And so it goes, until half an hour later “No Label” brings the whole thing to a close and your body is finally released from Oneida’s vice-like grip, assuming it hasn’t turned to dust in the interim.

#53

September 24, 2010

Thee Oh SeesThe Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In
psych-rock, garage-rock, noise-rock
2008

The Oh Sees deliver fifteen slices of fuzzed-out, druggy garage-rock on The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In, without a piece of filler in sight. Choruses of ghostly vocals Thee Oh Sees - The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night Inecho their way around the snappy percussion, sharp basslines and dense layers of dirty, jagged guitar riffs which slice through sheets of distortion like razors, while the heavily filtered vocals and gauzy production lend the album a nostalgic, retro vibe that’s authentic and awfully appealing. The songs here are about 3/4 riotous rockers and 1/4 hazy, trippy detours, and the album is sequenced quite perfectly to space the latter out amongst the former in a very pleasing manner. It’s also the sort of album so consistently great that picking highlights can be very tricky indeed, although personally I think the blistering opener “Block of Ice”, the super-surreal and very appropriately named “Graveyard Drug Party” (which features some great echoes of muffled, choppy guitar), the slightly poppy title-track and, in particular, the acid-soaked stomper “Visit Colonel” stand out from the pack. The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In is a shining example of top-shelf garage-rock, and it’s got one hell of a funny title to boot. You could certainly do a lot worse than spending a night in its company.

#60

September 16, 2010

Sunburned Hand of the ManJaybird
psychedelic-rock, free-folk, jam band
2001

Jaybird, the debut by prolific free-folk collective Sunburned Hand of the Man, is an exceptional work. The group have found some very rich middle-ground between psychedelic-rock, folk, improv, drone and funk, which sees them float their way through half a dozen lengthy tracks of drowsy astro-folk. Each of the album’s pieces sounds fundamentally similar, yet Sunburned Hand of the Man - Jaybirdthey all establish their own distinct balance between the building blocks of ethereal vocal hollers, jangling tambourines, multi-layered guitar (acoustic and electric, including some lovely touches of slide), flanged sound effects, whistling pipes, “faux-loose” percussion and solid basslines, with tiny, subtle differences from track to track (or sometimes within sections of a single track). While the druggy opener “Featherweight” is one of the album’s slower, sleepier affairs, followup “The Jaybird” tightens the basslines way up and adds a very slight funky edge to push the song into groovier territory, and so it continues throughout the album, alternating between consistently shallow peaks and troughs. I’d rate this one very highly within the psych/free-folk canon.

#77

August 5, 2010

The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
psych-rock, experimental-rock
2009

The Flaming Lips - EmbryonicThis one might be the biggest surprise of the decade. After playing it disappointingly safe with the sub-par, Yoshimi-retread of 2005’s At War With the Mystics, a lot of people had written The Flaming Lips off, placing them firmly in the “past their prime” basket. A few years passed with little in the way of band activity, before finally Embryonic came out of nowhere in 2009 to be the group’s most daring album in over a decade. Beyond being merely a comeback, I’m seriously tempted to call this the best thing The Lips have ever released (you can toss a coin on that one, because it’s down to this and Clouds Taste Metallic). The insular sound, the cosmic production, the jarringly vibrant instrumentation, the labyrinthine sequencing and the double-album format – all of these things constituted pretty bold steps at a time when everyone was expecting Wayne Coyne and Co. to once again maintain the status quo and make another album that fell into the (now thoroughly tapped) “life affirming” niche of their previous 2 or 3 releases. Instead they put everything on the line by creating perhaps the darkest album of their career, and the payoff has been tremendous. You can colour me very surprised – I just didn’t think they were still capable of making something this original and flat-out great.

#79

August 3, 2010

Heavy Trash – Going Way Out With Heavy Trash
rockabilly, garage-rock, psych-rock
2007

This rockabilly side-project turned out to be a perfect fit for Jon Spencer, best known for his work with The Blues Explosion. With his Elvis-tribute vocal style and constant swagger, it’s a schtick that fits Spencer so comfortably that it’s a wonder he didn’t try it sooner. Teaming up with rock ‘n’ roll guitar-wiz Matt Verta-Ray, Spencer injected some much-needed vitality into his noticeably flagging career (the Blues Explosion hadn’t put out a solid album since the late 90s), and with Heavy Trash he sounds completely at home and brimming with confidence. Nowhere is that more evident than on the duo’s kick-ass sophomore effort Heavy Trash - Going Way Out With Heavy TrashGoing Way Out With Heavy Trash. Taking hold of the rollicking rhythms, sexed-up lyrics, sly humour and outlaw personas of their more streamlined debut, Spencer and Verta-Ray augmented their sound with a hint of psychedelia and some heavy blues overtones, and then simply cranked everything up to a higher level. Big favourites are the killer single “Way Out” and the trippy closer “You Can’t Win”, but the whole thing is a floor-stomping triumph, worthy of high volume and high rotation.

#94

July 7, 2010

Frog Eyes – The Golden River
indie-rock, experimental-rock, psych-rock
2003

One of the more overtly unusual albums to fall under the very expansive umbrella known as “indie-rock”, The Golden River is a trip quite unlike any other. Frog Eyes’ lead singer andFrog Eyes - The Golden River principal songwriter, Carey Mercer, carries the image of something of an indie elder statesman or mentor, notable for having taken critical-favourite Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) under his wing, and his passionate, deformed-Bowie delivery is going to be the first hurdle most listeners encounter. If his all-over-the-shop whimper-hollering and bizarre lyrical imagery aren’t enough to scare you away, then all that’s left is to get a feel for the haunted fun house on acid instrumentation and totally unpredictable song structures that blur and creep and wind through the album like hallucinations. If you manage all this, then you’re all set to experience and enjoy one of the genre’s most truly unique groups. This isn’t quite their creative peak – that came with the 2007 song “Bushels”, which is just devastatingly good, although this album’s “One in Six Children Will Flee in Boats” comes close – but as far as I’m concerned it’s their finest album overall.