It might only be March, but already it has been a vintage year for lovers of wonky sixties influenced pop aka psych.
Last year’s great hope, Jacco Gardner, has already treated us to a very fine album that delivers on the promise of his exceptional early singles. While Robyn Hitchcock, the spiritual godfather of British psych has turned out an album that rivals the best music he has ever made.
And then there’s an American band Foxygen, who might just be the best 60s influenced band that country has produced since The Strokes and The White Stripes.
Here then are 10, ok 8, great albums from this year plus a couple from the tail end of last year. Spotify new Psych playlist – which features many of the bands – below the pics.
Skelly is the drummer of The Coral so has impeccable psych credentials. Here he does his best Skip Spence and has created an album that while deeply trippy, is still chocka with very hummable tunes. Byrds (and Coral) fans will love the Younger Than yesterday vibe of I See You while the title track recalls both Love and Brit 60s cult heroes like Kaleidoscope. There are also hints of Acid Folk bands like The Trees and on the more accessible songs like Time, Nick Drake and early Genesis. It is an album that washes over you a bit when you first play it but stick with it and its becomes quietly addictive..
The single perfectly captured late 60s British Baroque Pop in a way that no one has done for decades. Yet it still managed to sound contemporary and, dare I say, digital.
Gardner is now very much at the forefront of the new psych revival which has been bubbling under for ages, went over ground last year with Tame Impala and will go stratospheric this year once BBC 6 Music gets its head around the astonishing Foxygen.
So let’s just say that the expectations for this, Gardner’s debut album, are very high. Fortunately for psych fans everywhere the fella has delivered an album that builds on the promise of that superb single without, to be honest, ever quite eclipsing it.
I should say straight up that this album is not for everyone. There will be a people for whom the oompah beat, fairytale lyrics and Mellotron of the album’s closer The Ballad of Little Jane will send them screaming back to their Stooges albums. But if you like melodic, tuneful, experimental (there are plenty of odd song structures going on here) pop that owes a huge debt to the late 60s start here.
In many ways Gardner has picked up on some less, how shall we say this, fashionable psych influences. Sure you can hear Syd Barrett in Clear The Air and UK band Kaleidoscope could quite easily have recorded Where Will You Go in their Fairfield Parlour guise. But I am also hearing the first Genesis album (check it out it has some great tunes) on several of the tracks and the Mellotron that washes over Help Me out reminds me of The Moody Blues. Gardner is also clearly a huge fan of the always brilliant Fading Yellow series of compilations masterminded by Swedish psych fanatic JJ.
Highlights. Well apart from the singles Clear The Air and Where Will You Go (love that nibbling bass sound) the spacey drone of Puppets Dangling and gentle folky waltz of Lullabye do it for me. There isn’t really a weak moment. Occasionally though the precise nature of most of the tracks (Gardner is obviously a perfectionist) and the very mannered English sounding (for a Dutch fella anyhow) vocals can have you screaming for some explosive drums, powerful grooves and fuzzy guitar to mess things up a little. Maybe next time.
For now though give Cabinet a few listens on Spotify. By the time you have played it three or four times you will be addicted to it. Then get the vinyl!
Luke Haines has quite possibly the best Twitter profile description ever. The one time Auteurs and Black Box Recorder man who recently rewrote the history of Britain in the North Sea Scrolls describes himself as being at ‘At the coalface of conceptual rock n roll.’
And mining away next to him in producing melodic pop gems with wonderfully pretentious monikers like ‘I Danced in A Secular Fashion and ‘Everyone I Know Dead Or Fire’ are Mondo Jet Set. And they are good, very good.
Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t heard of them. The West Country band are very under the radar and seem quite content about it too. Some of the members were in a late sprouting Brit Pop act called Garfield’s Birthday. With Mondo Jet Set they have now issued four albums which have steadily got more ambitious, bizarre and tuneful as the years have gone by.
Their latest, Provincial Drama Club, which came out a week or so ago is their most brilliant, and most baffling yet. It is a collection of 23 songs, the vast majority of which clock in at under two minutes. Even the longer tracks like Caravan/The Slow Arcade are actually two songs spliced together.
The quirkiness and brevity of many of the songs remind me of The Magnetic Fields’ magnificent 69 Love Songs where the band veer from Busby Berkley show tunes to Velvet Underground style punk and then on to cheesy jazz in the space of five minutes. I’d also namecheck the rather brilliant and very hip Foxygen as fellow travellers too in the way that the LA band’s tracks are so packed with unexpected twists and turns.
Provincial Drama Club is slightly less exotic than 69 Love Songs – the key influences here are The Kinks, early Blur B sides and occasionally the harmonies of the Wilson Brothers – but is still a disconcerting listening experience.
Yet like 69 Love Songs, which took me about 10 plays before finally getting under its skin, stick with Provincial Drama Club and pretty soon you’ll be so addicted to it you’ll wish there were even more songs to hear.
There really are so many highlights here from the instant pop blast of ‘Everyone I Know Dead Or Fire’ or the Blur-esuqe (think Bank Holiday type thrashes) ‘Moth Attack.’ Pretty much everything on the album has a a hook or a melody and some odd instrumentation that makes it very memorable.
It does get a little too much at times. Alice – the latter part of John Before The Fire – has a gorgeous Beach Boys’ style melody which you want to hang around for way longer than the one minute that MJS give it.
But given the ambition and scope of Provincial Drama Club I can forgive them anything.
And when finally you have exhausted this album – and it has taken me the best part of three months to get in any way remotely tired of it, there is its predecessor Ha, Ha, Ha to explore – an album that for me was the best, ok second best, of 2011. A must buy for anyone who cherishes quirky English pop.