Intense, surreal, remote, dynamic. Come along with us as we chronicle the adventures of the soul through psychedelic, drone, noise, experimental, pop music based around Chicago bands in particular and local bands everywhere.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Vital and Joyful Memory

I often reflect on psychedelic music, and what distinguishes psychedelic music as a particular classification in music. I frequently take the position that psychedelic music depends specifically upon a manipulation of technology in order to provoke or provide a template for psychological and emotional reflection and examination. After all, the art form is not itself a genre, borrowing instead from folk, country, and rhythm and blues songwriting conventions with manipulations and templates constructed within those time frames and structures. While I do not think that such a definition of psychedelic music captures the phenomenon entirely, I do think that it explains for the eclectic development of the psychedelic tradition in rock.

One of my friends often challenges me, asking whether psychedelic music is a creative dead-end. In doing so, he often cites efforts by psychedelic bands to dive into the standard conventions of their songwriting backbones, eventually producing records that are more folk or country or rhythm and blues than psychedelic. Of course, there is also the ever-present history of non-psychedelic bands that take a voyage into technological manipulation and indulge themselves for one album, only to return to their standard convention once more. I do not have an answer for his challenges, except to note that technological manipulation cannot be a dead-end so long as technology exists and the mind develops through history with that technology, develops a relationship with it, and interacts with it. In this manner, psychedelic music is more of a challenge, an infinite subconscious beneath all intersections of technology and songwriting, simply waiting for a demigod or mad scientist to unfold developments in music that are ripe for psychological and emotional reflection.

Psychedelic music is necessarily sensual, fully immersed in that which is sensible in order to clear the terrain and barriers between affectivity and intellect.


Darker My Love released their third LP, Alive as You Are, in the United States yesterday. Judging from comments from the band, statements on the development of this record, and the development of their live show, I fully expected something different. My expectations were confirmed when I heard the band's two samples, "Dear Author" and "Split Minute." Upon listening to the record, I found that my expectations reached in the wrong direction, and the result was a listening experience that was completely surprising, joyful, emotionally engaging.

At every turn in the record, the band shows their flexibility, musicianship, and songcraft, showcasing their profound ability to drive your mind through rich traditions without sounding old, tired, or forced. From previous interviews with the band that I have read or watched over time, it is clear that the band fosters a certain honesty about the type of music they want to create, and it is not surprising that I find their explorations through the storied pages of rock'n'roll to be fully unpretentious and completely innocent.

The group already provided a wide pallet of sounds in their first two LPs, and this record continues a journey that does not simply run through the history of rock, but also runs through the band's own catalog. Darker My Love is a group that explores every corner of their sonic space, every implication and aspect of their musicianship and songwriting. This is where the band's flexibility comes from, and it's not a flexibility that denies them identity, but rather a flexibility that allows them to freely create without regard to identity first.

Working through the band's genealogy, the direct recording and dry production were surprising in some regard, switching the balance between vocal performance and musical performance from the previous records. However, the ringing arpeggios, shuffling rhythms, and bright timbre follow aspects of "People" and most of the latter half of the band's self-titled debut, as well as "Immediate Undertaking," "Pharaoh Sanders Tomb," and "Even in your lightest day" from 2. Within their own discography, there are several aspects to Darker My Love, and if 2 followed the path of "Helium Heels" and "Claws and Paws," this one works alongside other trends in the band's development.

Instead of emotionally reflecting against waves of fuzz and dense, layered instrumental passages, the listener is presented with immediate, earnest vocal performances that run through parables in the lyrics that invoke automatic writing, or a method of presenting images to help one to recall navigation through the world's spaces and situations.

The production and imagery of the record created an experience that was immensely enjoyable throughout; the record helped to guide me through my memories, by leading me through places that I have already visited, but perhaps could not directly recall, or failed to see from a specific aspect. This does not mean that the record looks backwards; on the contrary, an engagement in sensation and the sensible world, framing and developing memories, in turn helps us to develop our own actions and attitudes toward the world. This is perhaps the greatest psychedelic achievement of Alive as You Are; inverting the technological manipulation in favor of a direct aesthetic results in a record that sound deceptively simple and straightforward, but rewards with continual focus and reflection.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


So, we're just about set with the Sunny Muffdivers, All Half Evil. Everything is submitted, we should be able to release it by September. Comment / email if you want to order a copy.

There's an excellent bedroom pop cassette on the way, a complete album of songs by Cedar Wax Wings called Orphan Autumn. The album was completed years ago, but never released, and it's going to be the fifth 'Spective Audio release.

Also, the first official Leavitt Ours release is on the way from 'Spective. The trio is releasing a four-song EP. Recording is finished and the band is now working on preliminary mixes and mastering.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

One Dandy Retrospective

In the tradition of classic rock -- and perhaps, contractual obligations -- The Dandy Warhols recently released abroad The Capitol Years, with a stateside release planned for the end of August. Featured on the release are our favorite Dandy jams and singles from their four Capitol releases, as well as one brand-new, previously unreleased song.

First and foremost, as a hardcore fan of the Dandys, I look forward to hearing the new song, and investigate the aesthetic of the release. I am interested in reading between the lines of the release -- that the band leads with "Boys Better," the ill-fated second single from ...Come Down, for which Courtney Taylor-Taylor provides the matter-of-fact note that Capitol failed to promote due to the chart performance of "Not if you were the last junkie on earth" in notorious documentary, Dig!."Holding Me Up," perhaps the most important song of the band's career in terms of linking their new wave / dance aspects to their meandering psychedelia, is the lead song from Odditorium. "Horse Pills" is absent.

As a musician and/or critic, I relish the opportunity to think about what precisely constitutes a discography, and how artistic development of a band is best captured. One of the most interesting aspects of Dig! is the simple note that upon their signing to Capitol Records, the label required the band to take a second attempt at finishing their major-label debut; the first effort is archived as The Black Album. Perhaps unknown to most fans -- myself included -- until last year was the fact that Welcome to the Monkey House featured an entirely separate, prior mix, left unreleased for nearly a decade. These artifacts remain undocumented on the The Capitol Years, which lead me to ask: how do we characterize the Dandys career? Or, what is a retrospective?

I find that one of the most endearing qualities of the Dandys is a pure independence. The band often straddles the line between meaningful free art and pure art-rock excess, but the lessons they provide often indulge in a tradition of psychedelic rock that sometimes flies beneath the surface of the Sgt. Pepper's sixties. Against the pillar of accepted psychedelia -- where Sgt. Pepper's is typically noted as the first meeting between art and pop music (why not "Say Man," by Bo Diddley?)-- we might embrace Notorious Byrd Brothers, Their Satanic Majesties Request, and S.F. Sorrows. In this tradition we will find artistic indulgence alongside the pop development of the rhythm and blues tradition, excessive effects, and meandering passages.

Equally pitted against organic psychedelic -- where subtle productive qualities explore the tradition's folk and country aspects -- and shoegaze -- which is now becoming a fully accepted tradition of focused fuzz and gloom -- meandering passages of joy or bliss provoke memories of the big, loose sounds of the 1970s as manifest throughout the Dandys catalog. My favorite analogy, as the Dandys' psychedelia meets a overt new wave tradition, is Physical Graffiti as a dance record. Often big and loud fuzz sounds are met with sassy or ironic breakdowns, heavy bass, and precise drums.

In terms of the Dandys' own catalog, this development of free art, new wave dance, big, large fuzz, and meandering bliss stands in their Capitol catalog on the structure of their ongoing covert operations. Independence presents itself in surprising ways when it is an authentic phenomenon, and this is the challenge that the Dandys' catalog presents to listeners.

How do you respond to the surprise of freedom when you listen to your favorite records? Or even records you hate? When we find our sensibilities regarding traditional rock or our expectations of a particular strand of psychedelic music to be transgressed by moments of pure freedom or excessive meandering, we might be repulsed, turning away from the potential of exploring open and vacant landscapes, in favor of scavenging familiar and comforting lands. This is the conflict we often find between the accepted, now-institutional development of psychedelic rock in critical circles, and the challenges of actually creating something new, something without bounds.

Isn't this the very tension found in the base of psychedelic rock itself? The mainstream and institutional release of progressive pop against a secret history that is diverse and free? This is the tension that I find at the very core of the Dandys' music, and this is precisely why I find myself returning to each and every one of their records -- mainstream or secret -- time and time again.