This first article will deal with three albums of the psychedelic persuasion; ‘Volcano’ by ‘Temples’, ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ by ‘King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’ and ‘The Weather’ by ‘Pond’. Do they rank as three of the best psychedelic rock albums of 2017? Read on and find out!
Temples – Volcano:
I wasn’t all that aware of ‘Temples’ until about a year ago, when I stumbled upon a few of their songs on a psychedelic playlist. I really enjoyed the two cuts (‘Shelter Song‘ and ‘Sun Structures‘) and ordered their début album that very day. Excitement brewed and I wasn’t disappointed by the results. I was surprised that I’d never come across them before and saw that they had an upcoming album this year, which I was also looking forward to. The first single ‘Certainty‘ was released and I was impressed by it, being a good mix of catchy pop whilst retaining those weirder psychedelic elements. ‘Strange or Be Forgotten‘ came next and was also a good song in my opinion, even if the chorus is almost a direct lift of Kasabian’s ‘Days Are Forgotten‘.
So, with these two previews in mind, I thought the album would be a great success and match the many high-points found on ‘Sun Structures’. I purchased the album on vinyl, was impressed by the great sound quality and, upon first listen, thought it was pretty good. It seems each successive listen though has made me realise that, actually, it’s not all that good and is more style over substance. The 2 aforementioned singles bookend the album and are by far the best songs on there, which can sadly be the case with albums sometimes. What’s a little more disheartening though, is how many of the remaining cuts are so utterly forgettable. I still for the life of me can’t remember at least three or four of the songs without playing them to refresh my memory, which even then just highlights that there are quite a few misses on ‘Volcano’. Songs like ‘(I Want To Be Your) Mirror‘ and ‘Mystery of Pop‘ spring to mind. They’re by no means bad songs, they’re just so decidingly average that they pass me by. One of my main criticisms this time around is James Bagshaw’s vocals, which seemed to have gained an octave in pitch since ‘Sun Structures’, resulting in some very annoying melodies and only drawing more comparisons to Aussie-counterparts ‘Tame Impala’. The similarities don’t end there either, as this album seems to have taken the template from the synth-heavy ‘Currents‘ that Kevin Parker’s outfit dropped almost two years ago. There’s very little melodic/fuzzy guitar on this album, which was one of the great selling points of their début. Now, I know they can’t just repeat that formula and I’m not a guitar-purist who won’t listen to anything else, but come on guys- don’t shy away from the instrument and replace it with Disney-esque synths that dominate the album too much. I thought they worked brilliantly on ‘Certainty’, to form the catchy hook, but it makes a lot of these songs blur into one and show that they haven’t written as many good songs this time around.
In summary; it’s still an alright album but could have been so much better. When it works, it’s a good marriage of pop-infused melodies and psychedelic elements but the bad points are that a lot of it is merely ok and the song writing is lacking a bit in comparison to ‘Sun Structures’.
Highlights: Certainty, Roman God-Like Man, Strange or Be Forgotten
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Flying Microtonal Banana:
Continuing with the all things psychedelic, is the 9th studio album by Aussie-psych rockers, ‘King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’. Although it’s one of the stranger album titles I’ve come across this year (or ever in fact), ‘Flying Microtonal Banana‘ certainly matches their own moniker for weirdness. Microtonality and ‘King Gizzard’ seem like a match made in heaven and their previous offerings like ‘Quarters’ and ‘Nonagon Infinity’ are hardly ‘normal’ in comparison to this album. I loved the latter album’s high pace energy and experimentation, whilst the theme of an ever-looping album certainly didn’t detract from the music. ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ carries over these sounds, whilst adding some exoticism as a result of the specially tuned instruments.
‘King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’ have always paid their debts to ‘krautrock’ acts, such as ‘Neu!’ and ‘Kraftwerk’, with their incorporation of motorik rhythms, whilst adding their own weird spin on the genre. Opener ‘Rattlesnake’ is testament to this, with its propulsive drum beat and almost Gregorian-esque chants deployed throughout. The first noticeable difference though, is the piano riff, which displays the Eastern influence presiding over the entire album. It may just sound like an out-of-tune instrument to our Western-scale-acclimatised ears, but ‘King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’ run with this idea, making every instrument slightly dissonant. It could’ve been a disastrous idea, but the band pull it off by utilising the tuning in some complex psychedelic workouts. ‘Melting’ and ‘Sleep Drifter’ could almost be classed as jazz-rock (which is apparently a future venture on this year’s ‘Sketches Of Brunswick East’), if not for the fuzzy riffs and hazy production. Lots of the time though, the microtonal tuning seems like an ‘added flavour’ to these songs, instead of being the focal point. This is no bad thing and although the songs stand up on their own, I just wish that the idea was taken a little further. ‘Billabong Valley’ and the instrumental title track should be the blueprint for this, as their Indian influences are a lot more prominent than some of the other cuts. The inclusion of a ‘zurna’, played by frontman Stu Mackenzie, transports the listener to a similar music setting as George Harrison’s ‘The Inner Light’ did 50 years ago. The Eastern wind instrument is key to the album’s exotic sound and shows their dedication for authenticity. Elsewhere, ‘Anoxia’ and ‘Doom City’ remind us that ‘Black Sabbath’s’ pre-cursor brand of doom metal is never far off in the ‘King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’ world, with the latter sounding like an imaginary cover of ‘N.I.B’ played by Tibetan monks.
In conclusion, I can say that ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ is a very good album by ‘King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’ and that the inclusion of microtonal tuning is definitely a success. They’re supposedly releasing four or five albums this years, and here’s to hoping that the remainders are as weird and wonderful as this offering. ‘Murder of the Universe’ is due out in June, and judging from the preview single, ‘Han-Tyumi & the Murder of the Universe’, it should be another great album exploring microtonality and possibly a future feature in another edition of ‘Best Psychedelic Rock Albums of 2017’.
Highlights: Rattlesnake, Billabong Valley, Doom City, Nuclear Fusion
Pond – The Weather:
Last up on the ‘Best Psychedelic Rock Albums of 2017’ is, ‘The Weather’, the 7th album by yet another Australian psychedelic outfit, ‘Pond’. I had high expectations for this offering, after the one-two punch that was ‘Hobo Rocket’ and ‘Man, It Feels Like Space Again’. Whereas both of those albums were more indebted to the fuzzed-out, raucous side of neo-psychedelia, ‘The Weather’ takes a more subdued approach to the genre. That’s not to say that ‘Pond’ have gone all mellow on us, there’s still plenty of freak-out moments, they’ve just expanded their sonic palette a little.
‘30,000 Megatons’ opens the album in true ‘Pond’ fashion, by being a slow-burning introduction, before exploding around the 3-minute mark. Nick Allbrook’s vocals are treated with reverb, as well as a slightly robotic effect, which complements the synthesiser really well. A burst of sped-up and reversed guitars enter, which hark back to the faux calliope sounds on John Lennon’s ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’, signalling the direction of the remaining album. ‘Sweep Me Off My Feet’, ‘Paint Me Silver’ and ‘Colder Than Ice’ all showcase Pond’s knack for inserting pop-esque melodies into their otherwise cacophonous compositions. ‘Sweep Me Off My Feet’ presents a sparser approach for the band’s song writing, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘Currents’, the last album from their sister-band ‘Tame Impala’. Although Kevin Parker intended for ‘Currents’ to be a marriage of modern psychedelia and synthpop, I feel that ‘Pond’ have achieved that fusion a lot better than him. It’s hardly a loss for Parker though, as he’s credited with producing ‘The Weather’ – “Yes, m’lady”.
‘Edge of the World’, a song split into two very different parts, is the most purposely overblown Pond-esque song on the album. It may as well have been split into four separate songs, as the first part sounds like two completely sections melded together anyway. It starts as an organ-centric piece, with some light guitar strums and Allbrook’s ghostly vocal, meandering along in a dream-like fashion before an arpeggiated synthlines disrupts the reverie 2 minutes in. Like all good psychedelic songs, it builds up to a climactic ending, which features fuzzy guitars galore. An erratic solo, courtesy of Joe Ryan, enters the picture as all hell breaks loose. “It sounds like Mario Kart” says Alice, my sister, and she could be right – in one form or another, mushrooms are definitely involved. ‘A-B’ is another multi-section song, but opts for the loud to quiet approach and ‘Zen Automation’ could almost be classed as ‘Trip Hop’, due to the sparse piano-based arrangement. ‘All I Want For Xmas (is a Tascam 388)’ might sound like a parody title from ‘Weird Al Yankovich’ and you’d not be far wrong. It’s just that ‘Pond’ blur the lines between serious and silly so often, that you never know how you should read a song of theirs. The second part of ‘Edge of the World’ follows the same template as part 1, but may as well be a different song. Ethereal major sevenths start the piece off, before every space sound-effect these Aussies could get their hands on are heard. A Beatles-esque coda is deployed and the song is home free. It’s an ambitious task, but Pond have never been about doing things half-baked, pun intended.
The title-track closes the album, but to be honest any track could be an epic closer – Pond are so cacophonous and layered after all. Imagine if 10cc’s ‘I’m Not in Love’ was made for LSD users and you’ve got ‘The Weather’. It’s a fitting closer to a very well-made album and only continues Pond’s recent run of very strong offerings. ‘Tame Impala’ may be the more famous band out of the two, but ‘Pond’ certainly deserve just as much recognition, with ‘The Weather’ definitely being one of the best Psychedelic Rock albums of 2017.
Highlights: Paint Me Silver, Edge of the World Pt.1, All I Want for Xmas (Is a Tascam 388), Edge of the World Pt.2
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