It has been three long years since The Len Price 3 issued their fabulous Pictures album, so it really exciting to hear the first track from the band’s upcoming, as yet untitled, new album.
Maggie, is as you might have guessed, a non-tribute to the recently departed ex-PM and if you are in any doubts where the boys stand on Thatcher the pay off line is ‘see you again on judgement day.’
I wonder if they recorded this very recently or if it has been in the can for a while. Anyhow great tune and much better than other Thatcher protest songs we could mention.
Another big fave here this week is the track Merry Go Maggie (which may or may not be the most bizarre Thatcher song yet – I haven’t decided) from LA’s Smoking Trees. The band has recently signed to the brilliant Ample Play Records, who have got The Sufis, excellent Belgian band The Bed Rugs and French psychsters The Sudden Death Of Stars, and their album Acetates is due in May.
This track sounds like a refugee from one of those Piccadilly Sunshine compilations given a contemporary spin. The album is very trippy in places yet has a strong pop edge to it. If you like The Sufis and Paperhead, then you’ll enjoy this too.
Also out this week is the second album from Salisbury’s psych band Beaulieu Porch - We Are Beautiful. I’ll review it properly later this week, but after a couple of plays I can safely say that if you loved the debut album you’ll find plenty to cherish here too.
Also on constant rotation here is the upcoming album from “>London’s Shadow Kabinet - Nostalgia For The future. It is very different from the band’s last album – the Sgt Pepper in miniature that was Smiling World’s Apart, but every bit as good.
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.
This album actually hails from the end of last year, but it is so good it really deserves yet another plug. The Moons are a London-based (via The Midlands) band whose debut album Life On Earth was a sprightly mix of all things 60s. Fables is a huge leap on with tunes that don't just pay homage to the band's 60s heroes, at times they rival them. Jennifer Sits Alone is a wistfully acoustic strum with hints of The Kinks/Hollies while Habit Of A Lifetime is perky Merseybeat given a contemporary spin with a killer chorus. Revolutionary Lovers sounds like a long forgotten 60s hit single. It is beautifully arranged too. Every song seems to have an off the wall - but perfectly crafted middle eight. Imagine listening to an episode of R2's Sounds Of The 60s featuring loads of great tunes that you have never heard before. Well Fables Of History is just like that.
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!
Like everyone I am sad to hear of the death of Ravi Shankar this morning. The Indian sitar player, who was arguably the first World Music (as we understand it now) star, wowed them at the Woodstock Festival, was chummy with The Beatles and much of pop’s aristocracy, and did much to popularise Indian arts and music at a time when few Western ears ears and eyes had experienced it.
From a pop fan’s perspective though it wasn’t so much Ravi’s own music that changed the world, but the way in which the young turks who heard him and tried to emulate him had a seismic influence on the development of contemporary pop. The key moment in the history of the sitar was when The Byrds’ guitar player Roger McGuinn introduced the George Harrison to Shankar’s sitar music at a party in in 1965. As legend has it both men were tripping on LSD at the time and McGuinn believes the experience inspired Harrison to travel to India where they met Shankar and took sitar lessons from him.
Harrison first played the sitar on Norwegian Wood on The Beatles Rubber Soul album. After that it was open season on the instrument with every young guitarist in both the US or UK either aspiring to play the sitar or more likely using Vox wah wah pedals to make their guitar sound like a sitar.
Here then are five great pop moments that wouldn’t exist had it not been for Ravi Shankar
1 The Byrds – Eight Miles High
Allegedly inspired by a jaunt to London, but quite often held up as an LSD trip set to music, Eight Miles High was an attempt to marry the Shankar sound (using guitars) with the free 60s jazz of John Coltrane, all wrapped up in a killer pop song. There is a pretty strong case that this was first psychedelic single ever coming as it did in late 1965 a good six months their rivals began to experiment with the new musical sound.
2 Traffic – Paper Sun
One of the best ever psychedelic singles – this was debut from the super group of sorts Traffic which featured a very young Stevie Winwood on vocals. Few would ever manage to combine soul-esque beats with a sitar driven psych tune in quite the same way.
3 The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black
Never slow to copy from The Beatles the Stones added a sitar to this classic 1966 single, which was perhaps their first and best brush with psychedelia (though Citadel on Their Satanic Majesties album and Jumping Jack Flash’s B side Child Of The Moon run it close). Brian Jones was a huge fan of the sitar and it lead to him explore the unique sounds of many other eastern instruments.
4 Genesis – I Know What I Like
Genesis were one of the few bands to use the sitar in the 70os. Here it is used to very good effect on their classic 1973 single I Know What I Like – a kind of psych song that was recorded five years too late
5 Lord Sitar – I Can see For Miles
During 1967 many record companies issued cash in albums featuring sitar versions of the day’s hits. Many were terrible. The album from Lord Sitar though was inspired and this sitar-driven, dance floor friendly version of The Who’s I Can See For Miles was a big indie club staple in the 1990.
In case you hadn’t noticed there is a bit of a psychedelic revival going on at the moment. and it isn’t just garage bands cranking up the feedback or janglemeisters going a little woozy. This is proper psychedelia in all its technicolour glory.
As the pop historians among you know, the first psych era started in 1966 with tracks like The Byrds’ Eight Miles High and The Fabs’ Tomorrow Never Knows which took basic beat pop and freaked it out by all manner of weird effects and musical influences. By 1970 psych was all but over as the wigged out pop got replaced by light and fluffy bubblegum pop for the kids and pretentious prog nonsense for their older siblings. Of course there were still bands like this lot that fell between the cracks, but psychedelia became about as fashionable as music hall.
Punk’s year zero approach meant that psych, like every other 60s and 70s musical form, was the uncool preserve of a previous generation – which given that The Sex Pistols loved Psych bands like The Creation and The Small Faces – was a little uncharitable.
The first psych revival really took place in the UK in the early 80s throwing up this mob – who even scored a genius novelty single – and the decade’s best kept secret Miles Over Matter, who recorded some amazing swirly pop songs but never managed to release a single or an album.
A few years later musicians from big alternative acts like The Smiths. The Bangles and REM began to plunder the late 60s for musical ideas, while at the same time a hardcore garage psych scene that strove to be authentic to the original 60s sound began to emerge. Then you had The Stone Roses who’d clearly read ever word in the psych textbook and whose debut album might just be the first psych record to really rival the music from the first psych era.
The new psych bands
And so to today. Bands like The Sufis and Paperhead from Nashville, Alfa 9 and Beaulieu Porch from England and individuals like Holland’s Jacco Gardner have set the controls for the heart of the sun delivering prime Barrett-esque psych. And then there’s the elder statesmen. Have you heard the new Brian Jonestown Massacre album - it doesn’t get a lot more psych than that?
Then there’s the band that are the torchbearers of the new era – Australia’s Tame Impala. Trippy as anything, but very BBC 6 Music friendly, the band have released a pair of brilliant albums and even sold out Brixton’s Academy this week.
Quite why this is happening is a mystery. Maybe it is just bands have become bored of recycling all those early 80s bands, and the Brooklyn mob, who have appropriated C86 sounds – arguably the most British music trend since Skiffle – have found it just a little too one dimensional.
Another point is that the sound and the equipment of the 60s can now be replicated with Garageband, so all those weird phasing motifs and kitchen sink style production is available to anyone who can work their way round a Mac.
Then there’s the influence of Shindig magazine, whose ever increasing circulation means that a whole generation of pop fans are discovering classic, and often ultra obscure, 60s bands as well as getting to read about the new bands.
Anyhow, enough of the theory. Here’s a quick trawl through some incredible new music.
The Sufis – come from Nashville and have just released one hell of a Pink Floyd-esque album. It is utterly addictive. The single Where Did She Go, is prime trippy 60s Brit psych with a hint of the Three O’ Clock. Marvellous, and it is on Spotify too. Paperhead share the same manor and many of the same influences as The Sufis and their debut was one of the highlights of last year.
Jacco Gardner – Jacco is a Dutch bloke who is obsessed with making beautiful multi-layered psych using unusual instruments. His first single – Clear The Air – was stunning. This current one Where Will You Go, is almost as good.
Alfa 9 – Signed to Blow Up Records this Stoke-based band have just issued their second album, Gone To Ground, which boasts some gorgeous floaty psych as well as jangly stuff like this. It is on Spotify too.
Beaulieu Porch - Multi-instrumentalist Simon Berry has just delivered two truly great albums in less than six months. It is like Nick Nicely’s Hilly Fields or even Tears For Fears’ Sowing The Seeds turned up the max. Also on Spotify.
The See See - It would be very rude not to mention this London band who have just issued a superb Byrdsie album which contains this corking single.
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Who, IMO have produced the album of the year so far. If you like breathy 60s pop as practised by Ivy and The Postmarks, but with a load of weird effects and time changes this is for you. Working in similar territory are The Hall of Mirrors and The Still Corners, two wonderful English bands.
We shouldn’t forget the Welsh psych bands, the best of which, Colorama, recently issued this cracking album.
Finally, honorable mentions go to The Sunchymes (think Beach Boys meets Syd Barrett), The Soundcarriers (whose two superb album mix easy listening, kraut rock and 90s indie), Toy (BBC 6 Music faves) and The Chemistry Set (who are keeping the early 90s psych flame alive).
And here’s quite a few of those bands in one Spotify playlist