Tag Archive: Dan Deacon

Liam’s Reviews

Biggest Disappointment of the month

JJ Doom – “Keys to the Kuffs” (Lex)

JJ Doom first came into being after MC Doom was sent some beat CDs on his label Lex Records. Most the beats he chose to work with were created by New Orleans based experimental hip-hop producer Jneiro Jarnel. “Keys to the Kuffs” is the result of the collaboration between the two artists. Its all new ground for Doom, completely different to all his previous projects and while this is a breathe of air at times the project feels like two disparate styles that don’t meld together. However, its by no means an album without its moments ‘Guv’nor’s truncated riff, speech samples and Doom’s rhymes all mesh nicely, ‘Banished’ matches penetrating bass with electronic atmospherics and a lo-fi beat  that expertly underpin Doom’s usually speedy flow, ‘Bite the Thong’ provides lyrics on music industry politics and a twisted flow from Doom and the mournful strings and piano chords of ‘Winter Blues’ are well up their with Doom’s best tracks and adds an extra emotive edge to his complex verbiage. Jneiro keeps things interesting with a variety of styles and beats employed and even a few false endings that then lead on new sections that seem completely unrelated to what’s gone before, unfortunately I feel that though he’s by no means a bad producer, his style doesn’t suit Doom’s unique lyrical style and delivery. I’m also disappointed that I cannot hear the the contributions of Damon Albarn, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Beth Gibbons (Portishead) as those collaborations seemed like they’d create a contrast to what Doom and Jarnel were expected to provide. Though I’m sure fans of both these artists will find tracks they enjoy hear, I feel overall the album is flawed.

Teengirl Fantasy – “Tracer” (R & S)

The new album by Teengirl Fantasy doesn’t quite live up to expectations but is by no means a massive let down either. The album highlights are ‘Pyjama’ with its broken beats and brittle oriental melodies, ‘End’ with its longing pads, light arpeggios and reverb heavy piano melody, ‘Vector Spray’s tribal beats and sweeping synthetic strings, ‘Do It’ featuring Romanthony of Daft Punk fame with it funky thumping, uplifting house beats and album closer ‘Timeline’ with it glassy arpeggio, knocking beats and Acid style 303 bassline. However, the album lacks variety and fails to convince on the remaining five tracks. The repetition is found in the overuse of glassy synth arpeggios and oriental melodies which grates over the course of the whole album. It also feels like while the duo can deliver thrills aplenty with a track like ‘Do It’ they have a tendency to work their way into an awkward cul-de-sac on other tracks e.g.  ‘Orbit’ and ‘EFX’. Some tracks also suffer from sounding too similar to the duo’s peer particulary Laurel Halo whose sound is recalled throughout the album with no variation on her unique style apparent. As I said at the start of this review its not  all doom and gloom as when the album hits it heights it either delivers in spades or demonstrates great potential for the duo’s future release. Teengirl Fantasy are still a project in development but I await their next move with much anticipation.

Dan Deacon – “America” (Domino)

This very much an album of two halves the first stuffed full of short pop songs, the other a four part classical music style suite. Both are linked to together by Deacon’s concept of writing about America’s greatest geographical vistas and simple experiences. The whole album concurs up images of America from the Grand Canyon to riding on cross country railways and everything in between. This is by far the grandest conceptual and most hi-fi record of Deacon’s career in which he has abandoned traditional instrumentation and studio based recording for circuit bent toys and synthesizers and grotty lo-fi 8 bit sound quality. This lead the album a lush and more detail sound as well as broader sound palette all of which showcases Deacon’s skill as an arranger that may have sometimes been hidden by the noisy natural of his previous albums. The first half opens with the familiar corrosive noise and pounding bass drum that is Deacon trademark before a melody emerges halfway through the opening track ‘Guildford Avenue Bridge’, leading to a temporary blissful ambient section before everything piles back in. Next up is the album’s purest pop song ‘True Thrush’ with its acoustic guitars, and gentle synth arp and piano and mallet riffs that recall the Beach Boy’s finest moments set to a hip-hop beat and given a modern 8-bit twist. ‘Lots’ is an 8-bit electro punk pop stomper complete with sugar rush melodies that blows through your brain and is over before you know it. The first halve finish with the Tangerine Dream-esque ‘Prettyboy’ and ‘Crash Jam’ which channels some of fellow Baltimore oddballs Animal Collective into Deacon’s noisy electro pop song. The second half beings with large arching strings before slowly gather pace and intensity that brings with it 8-bit synth riffs and pounding tribal drums along with complex reverb heavy vocal harmonies and Deacon’s own heavily treated lead vocal. ‘USA II: The Great American Desert’ gives the listen a brief rest bite opening with fizzing and buzzing lead synths and synth bass drone before the entrance of rolling acoustic drums, thundering synth bass, jarring 8-bit melodies and huge vocal harmonies join the party!! The previously mentioned railway trip is evoked on ‘USA III: Rail’ with its complex rhythmic interplay between violin plucks, piano notes and what may or may not be real horns. The album finishes with the immense bass drone and tumbling drums and percussion of ‘USA IV: Manifest’ these elements are later joined by a corrosive synth sound similar to one from the opening track, which bookends the album and ties it together sonically and conceptually. There’s no doubt that “America” is a complex and ambitious work that takes more than a single sitting to digest and though it definitely has some musical success, it’s an album that we’ll be figuring out for a while yet.

Liam’s Top Release of the Month

Matthew Dear – “Beams” (Ghostly International)

Matthew Dear returns with his fifth album under his own name and “Beams” is another great work from an artist who has consistently delivered the good over the years. “Beams” differences from Dear’s previous solo albums as its not produced by him but Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid, most famous for their work with Fever Ray and Blonde Redhead, of which Dear is a fan. The album combines the dark sounds of Dear’s last album “Black City” and the Talking Heads influenced techno-pop of his masterpiece “Asa Breed”. Due to his superior production and songwriting skills Dear makes combining these two different but not unconnected sounds seem like child’s play and the result is an effortless feel throughout the album.  The album begins with the singles ‘Her Fantasy’ and ‘Earthforms’ the former a tropical sounding techno pop track of the highest quality the latter Dear self described ” deepest delve into a straight rock song”. The album swiftly moves on to another tropical sounding track in ‘Headcage’ the groove led title track of Dear’s EP from January this year. Two more upbeat groove based tracks in ‘Fighting is Futile’ and the Talking Heads influenced ‘Up and Out’ whizz by and give up the more electronically inclined second half of the album. This starts with the Surging synth bass line and techno beat ‘Overtime’ that are barely contained by speakers. ‘Get the Rhyme Right’ returns to similar territory to ‘Earthforms’ but with the emphasis on twisted synths and distorted guitars that smother the drums and bass in their electric filth! Things get more sparse and downtempo on ‘Ahead of Myself’ with Dear’s breathy vocals given minimal synth and drum machine backing. Then album enters the home coming straight with ‘Do The Right Thing’ a song that starts with just a bubbling and bouncing groove topped with lo-fi simple melody but steadily and subtly develops into a full and rounded track thanks to Dear’s masterful arranging. He finishes the album with the one-two punch of ‘Shake Me’ a dark torch song that recalls Depeche Mode of their most moody and magnificent and ‘Temptation’ a slow burner that repays the listeners patience tenfold! All in all “Beams” is a great album from an artist well into his career showing that he can still learn and keep the listen guessing  and satisfied even after all this time.

Vier’s Reviews

Deepchord – “Sommer” (Soma)

Following on from last year’s darkly intense “Hash Bar Loops“,Deepchord (Rod Modell) continues to reinvent and diversify. Traces of the previous album remain on “Sommer” but there is a lighter, more ethereal feel. Deepchord’s characteristic manipulation of space and time remains, which is an integral part of “Sommer”‘s soundscape. Effect-heavy textures, sliding and shifting rhythmic elements and intricate production details create a constantly evolving, vaporous tapestry. Rich field recordings, made on a beach close to Modell’s home, imbue “Sommer” with an aqueous character and create a unified atmosphere that breathes underneath the fluttering percussion and bass pulsing from the speakers. Owing to their airy and aquatic textures, the songs seem like a hybrid of Porter Ricks’ “Biokinetics” and “Merriweather Post Pavilion” by Animal Collective.

Modell explained the reason for “Sommer”‘s relaxed delivery in a recent interview, “This one is different than my previous work. It’s got a lighter feel. The music lacks the tension in other DC projects. Generally, 85% of my recording sessions have been done during the middle of the night. This one was recorded during more daytime hours. Strange as it may seem, I think this affected the outcome. Summertime was in the air. My home is 30 metres to the water/beach, and as I sit in the house, I can see sailboats going by all day and people on the beach. It was stress free. I think this was channelled into the overall feel.” Modell’s new-found guiding practice of “work during the day, by the sea and quickly” (avoiding what he calls analysis-paralysis: a destructive spiral of re-thinking and re-playing of the recorded material in to which many producers fall) results in 13 techno tracks that provide a new view of the ambient Detroit techno that Deepchord has made his own.

“Sommer” captures evocative sound passages. Beautiful, humid atmospheres are drawn in ‘Glow’, ‘Wind Farm’ and ‘Cruising Towards Dawn’, dark fluid journeys traced with ‘Flow Induced Vibrations’ and ‘Gliding’. We travel towards the sunny getaway that ‘Amber’, ‘Benetau’ and ‘The Universe As A Hologram’ propose. In short, “Sommer” is an amalgamation of deep and warm organic atmospherics and dance music. The mood evokes warm summer evenings when the sunset takes on an ethereal and introspective nature. The emotive, atmospheric warmth and intuitively produced layers of details are what makes “Sommer” another essential Deepchord album.

Vier’s Top Release of the Month

Silent Harbour – Silent Harbour (Echochord)

Operating on the cusp of ambient techno and electro-acoustic music, “Silent Harbour”, the new project from Boris Bunnick (who is best known for producing exhilarating techno as Conforce) explores deep-sea submersion and aquatic environments and all the ambiance and isolation such places involve. The concept of “Silent Harbour”: travelling through that great, deep unknown, shines through immediately. From the opening seconds of ‘Aquatic Movement’ the listener is gently lowered below the sea’s surface. Steady pulses guides us past tinkling glass and through gentle washes that sway and shimmer as specks of sounds float by.  Sun rays occasionally beam down from above; sometimes you’re in warm water, other times it’s colder. ‘Cascade’ speaks of danger, suggesting a brewing storm. An attacking beat, which hints at a predator swimming towards prey, builds tension above booms and drones. Further below the surface is ‘Scintillans In The Port’ where we’re met by abstract ambience and gloomy water. Bunnick shapes diffuse sounds until the listener glimpses hallucinatory tones in the dissonant ambience. 4/4 anchored rhythms are fractured and percussions survey the perimeters while the vast space between becomes a playground for radiant metallic timbres and shimmering electronic apparitions. “Silent Harbour”’s structure can be divided into four sections. It takes the listener from the initial submersion down to the gloomy territory of predators then further down to intense, suffocating depths then gradually lifts us back up to the water’s surface during the album’s last four tracks.

‘Geometry’ is the closest song to outright techno on “Silent Harbour”. Bass drums and hats push along; warm bass frequencies soothe and embrace in the warm water. A synth acts as sunrays warming the water’s surface. There is a great focus on details and while it still has a slow tempo (the average BPM is 106) it feels lighter and optimistic. Somehow Bunnik manages to soundtrack what seem like underwater shipwrecks. ‘Dock Operations’ evokes rusted metal and swarms of ocean floor-dwelling vertebrates within dark, murky surroundings. A standout comes in the form of the album’s eighth track ‘Saltwater Intrusion’. Light percussion and sonar-like bleeps introduce a hollow drone that gradually rises to invoke a sense of creeping forebode. After nearly two minutes a determined bass drum cuts through, propelling us further down into the sea. Additional gleaming drones appear and float by.  Shimmering water swirls around the listener as the percussion glides through the expansive ocean. ‘Profundal Zone’ glides the listener through a slow and delicate soundscape. Meditative warm water is recreated with bouncing bass drums, tapping percussion and bubbling synths. The immersive bass frequencies of ‘Descending Radius Curve’ surge and roll as atmospheric sounds appear and dissipate regularly, evoking an exploration of shallow water that bursts with growing coral and flowering aquatic plants. “Silent Harbour” is so brilliantly evocative you will soon forget you’re standing on terra firma. As Kompakt describes it, this is music “for techno heads to fall into when the kicks are too much.”

Vier’s Recommendations

Silent Harbour – “Silent Harbour” 6th August (Echochord)

Dutch producer Conforce debuts a new alias by the name of Silent Harbour with an accompanying eponymous album on 6th August. Best known for dreamy, warm techno, Conforce’s decision to work under an alias is explained by a desire for him to “explore more cerebral and conceptual sounds” with a theoretical focus on “isolation, deep-sea submersion, [and] aquatic environments.” It will be released on the Danish label Echocord. Conforce’s Delsin-released album “Escapism” from November 2011 is highly recommended for fans of techno’s lower BPM side.

DeepChord – “Sommer” 27th August (Soma)

Heir to Berlin’s Rhythm & Sound is the Detroit-based Deepchord. Active since the late ‘90s Deepchord (Rod Modell) has been tweaking the dub-techno formula for years, trying out various balances of muffled beats, hazy ambiance and field recordings. This is precisely what the press release says you can expect from “Sommer” (German for summer): meditative electronic compositions enriched with organic sounds, many of which Modell collected at the beach near his home. “Sommer” comes barely a year after “Hash-Bar Loops” and like that album it will be released on Glasgow institution Soma Records.

Liam’s Recommendations

JJ Doom – “Key to the Kuffs” 20th August (Lex)

JJ Doom is the latest collaborative project to be announced/rumoured for release in 2012 by underground hip-hop legend MF Doom (in addition to Madvillian, Doomstarks and his collaborations with Johnny Greenwood and Thom Yorke from Radiohead) and features producer/rapper Jneiro Jarel. Guests on the album are Beth Gibbons (Portishead), Damon Albarn and Khujo Goodie (Goodie Mob). Check out ‘Guv’nor’ below plus ‘Banished’ from the album here and Dave Sitek’s remix of ‘Rhymin’ Slang’ here.

Teengirl Fantasy – “Tracer” 20th August (R&S)

For their second album “Tracer” Teengirl Fantasy have abandoned their sample based approach and bought in a number high profile guest vocalists Laurel Halo, Panda Bear and Romanthony (most famous for his guest slots with Daft Punk). Moving to Belgian dance label R&S suggests that 4/4 dance beats may more to the fore and so far the three pre-release tracks have demonstrated a good understanding of modern house and Hyperdub dubstep influenced sounds, this could rival Blondes self titled debut album for leftfield dance album of the year!

27th August

Dan Deacon – “America” 27th August (Domino)

The long awaited follow-up to “Bromst” (2009) is Deacon’s first release to use primarily acoustic instruments after many years of creating electronic 8-bit synth music that sounded like a delightfully deranged Atari game soundtrack. This change in direction was prompted after touring “Bromst” with a 13 piece acoustic ensemble. Deacon changed focus on this record making the lyrics and their more positive but still political content front and centre. The album is split into two sides, Side A is full of straight forward pop songs, while Side B is a 21 minute cinematic suite in four parts. The early signs are good with pre-release tracks “Lots” and “True Trush” sounding like wonky pop summer anthems. Whatever the rest of “America” sounds like you can’t doubt Deacon’s ambition.

Matthew Dear – “Beams” August 27th (Ghostly International)

Now a firm fixture on the dance music scene Dear returns with his fourth solo album, the follow up to “Black City” (2010) which featured in Sonic Fiction’s Albums of the Year 2010. The pre-release tracks that have emerged suggest that as with the transition between between “Asa Breed” (2007) and “Black City” Dear continues to subtle evolve his sound rather than completing a revolutary turn around on each new album. This is no bad thing and as he’s always proven in the past, Dear is very much the master of his unique sound.

Psychedelia: The Return

Disclaimer: This post is in no way attempting to suggest or create a new  musical genre or sub genre. It is intended to observe some of the, at times tenuous, links in a burgeoning network of new psychedelic artists.

After a decade in development 2009 saw an organically grown set of artists exploring new and different ways of creating psychedelic music reaching critical mass. While the mainstream music press bangs on about ‘nu gaze’ they have missed a much wider and larger development that has and still is producing amazing, mind expanding music.

So who and what am I talking about when I refer to new psychedelic music? There are three main strands of this phenomenon. The first is the noise scene of UK and North America  where wildly oscillating colourful music has become the predominant feature for the likes of Animal Collective (who’ve come a long way from their humble beginnings), Black Dice, Fuck Buttons, Holy Fuck and 8-bit legend Dan Deacon. Animal Collective are currently earning the most column inches but they were virtual unknowns prior to the 2007 release of ‘Strawberry Jam’, which coincidently is when the band hit upon a winning formula for their music. Both ‘Strawberry Jam’ and the commercially successful 2009 follow up ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ showcased Animal Collective’s great musical achievements and exposed people to their contemporaries.

This scene also demonstrates that the genre is a step forward. Unlike Britpop this resurgence isn’t a retrograde movement looking through rose tinted glasses back to the ‘60s heyday of guitar and organ based psychedelic music. The employment of synthesisers, sequencers, drum machines, games consoles, toys, guitar effects pedals and circuit bending (the modification of musical and non musical toys to create new sounds) creates a digitised, corrupted version of psychedelia that is more in tune with the modern world. Occasionally these acts write lyrics with a similarly naive hippy vibe but by and large artists have shunned this in favour of a more modern post-irony lyrical slant. Much of the noise scene even avoids the use of conventional vocals. Though Animal Collective have two singers they treat the vocals as another instrument or effect in their music, veering from the disturbing and distorted to the ethereal and dub-like. Most importantly in a genre where it is difficult to establish yourself as unique and vital, to outsiders at least, all these acts have managed to achieve this, whether through a long development period like Animal Collective, Black Dice and Dan Deacon or a seemingly quick time in the case  of Fuck Buttons and Holy Fuck.

The next strand is the UK electronic and indie scenes that in recent years have received an injection of psychedelic sound. The main artists include Clark, Four Tet, The Big Pink and Maps. Over the last few years these acts have all released albums that resonate with their own unique sounds. Four Tet’s (Kieran Hebden) fourth album ‘Everything Ecstatic’ in 2005 delved into the relatively untouched worlds of late ‘60s psychedelic jazz of Art Ensemble of Chicago and Alice Coltrane and Krautrock (a German form of progressive rock) whilst retaining Four Tet’s originality. Hebden was a huge hip-hop fan and the joy he took in deconstructing and reconstructing these genres into a new sonic tapestry is indicated in the album’s title. Around this time his remix work shifted focus in the same direction and he began a fruitful relationship with Stone Throw Records and producer Madlib. The Krautrock influence would also rear its head again albeit in a colder form on the ‘Ringer’ EP from 2008. The next crucial release in this chain was 2006’s ‘Body Riddle’ by Clark on Warp Records. Though not the most obvious psychedelic album I’ve discussed it nevertheless reveals its twisted, swirling and dark heart with repeated listens. Like ‘Everything Ecstatic’ it uses modern hip-hop and R&B rhythms and production techniques to create a dense, evolving collage of sound to the extent that it feels as if ‘Body Riddle’ is the flip side of ‘Everything Ecstatic’ but where Four Tet looks backwards for his core influences, Clark uses modern sounds and electronic influenced noise to communicate a near pitch black sound of emotional turmoil. In 2007 these artists were joined by Maps (James Chapman) who released his multi-layered synthesizer heavy debut album ‘We Can Create’ to critical acclaim. The album was purely electronic music balanced with pop melodies. His sound is the most commercial that I’ll discuss but even Chapman is grounded in indie roots. Maps’ new album ‘Turning the Mind’ (2009) is true psychedelia. It takes the textures from his debut and adds new colours to what had been a very blue sound. ‘Turning the Mind’ is vividly colourful; resonating with bright reds, yellows and oranges yet there is a dark undercurrent to the sound, which is spoiled occasionally by Chapman’s naive lyrics and the odd Pet Shop Boys melody.

The latest arrival in this scene is the most hyped of the so called nu gaze bands The Big Pink. They combine electronic beats, guitar and synth sounds that owe to the original shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Jesus and Mary Chain and the Cocteau Twins and their sound has much in common with Maps’ debut but employs guitars instead of synths. The Big Pink recorded their debut ‘A Brief History of Love’ at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York, stating that it helped create the vibe they wanted and ‘added a magic’ to it. Much like electronica and indie the noise scene is trying to forge a way forward instead of merely repeating past ideas and it has mostly succeeded in this aim in a time when this is near impossible.

The final strand is the underground hip-hop scene in the US andUK. The former is based around Stones Throw Records and Madlib and the latter helmed by Four Tet and Warp Records’ recent signing Hudson Mohawke. Though they are all different they have led to the creation of the first truly psychedelic hip-hop records and although the Beastie Boys and De La Soul had come close in 1989 with ‘Paul’s Boutique’ and ‘Three Feet and Rising’ and OutKast’s ‘Stankonia’ in 2002 was a brilliant tribute to classic Parliament/Funkadelic concept albums, Madlib is the first truly original psychedelic hip-hop producer. His name standing for Mind Altering Demented Lessons In Beats.

He is hugely prolific and flits between a vast array of black music genres but his work is always under the banner of hip-hop and almost always has a drugged feel. The high points of Madlib’s catalogue include the albums he released as Quasimoto  – ‘The Unseen’ and ‘The Further Adventures of Lord Quas’ in 2000 and 2005 and his work with MF Doom under the name Madvillian who released their debut ‘Madvilliany’ in 2004. He and Four Tet use hip-hop’s main weapon to create their unique sounds: the sampler. As Quasimoto Madlib created the weird vocal effects by slowing his beats down, recording vocals on top then replaying the vocals over the original beat. He also used his sampler and drum kit to create a disorienting dark world for MF Doom’s character Madvillain to live and breathe in for their album. This created a sound more akin to jazz or stoner rock music than traditional hip-hop. It was around the time of ‘Madvilliany’ that Madlib and Four Tet struck up a collaborative relationship and swapped remixes over the next year or so, many of which ended up on Four Tet’s ‘Remixes’ album. This then extended out into remixes of other Stone Throw artists and vice versa. Madlib has also worked under the guise of Yesterday’s New Quintet, in which he plays all four fictitious musicians and explores psychedelic jazz and incorporates influences from the Beasties Boys’ organic hip-hop and the atmospherics of Jamaican dub. With YNQ Madlib achieves his dual ambition of paying tribute to the styles of the past while being faithful to the progressive nature of jazz and his own innovative music.

Since signing to Warp Records Glaswegian producer Hudson Mohawke (Ross Birchard) has released the ‘Polyfolk Dance’ EP and debut album ‘Butter’. At first his sound was difficult to pin down but a little research revealed what made this strange brew. Mohawke grew up listening to soul and funk records and the rave tapes his cousin played and as a teenager he learnt the art of turntablism (becoming the youngest DMC UK champion at 15), which explains his unique sound that mashes together the luxuriousness of modern hip-hop, the day-glo noise of rave and found sounds and samples. ‘Butter’ is an apt title for a record that is so rich and textured yet has roughness indebted to the bass and found sounds and samples, lending the album an analogue feel evoking classic mid ‘70s Parliament/Funkadelic through a very modern filter. None of these three artists live in the same country but they have contributed to and influenced a new generation of hip-hop producers who can take these new ideas and twist them into varied shapes and sounds.

As stated earlier the music examined is not a retread of old psychedelic music genres but it would, however, be naive to suggest that these artists are rootless and are creating completely new music. There are three main components of influence, some of which interlink. The first is Krautrock or kosmiche music that originated in Germany in the late 1960s continuing throughout the ‘70s and up until the present day. Though many important Krautrock artists such as Kraftwerk, Neu!, Faust and Can have been canonised for their work the new breed of psychedelic artists also take their influences from the ambient organic work of Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Cluster and Harmonia.

Tangerine Dream emerge as the biggest influence and indeed achieved the biggest sound and sales at their height. Their authority is detectable in the music of Animal Collective, Holy Fuck, Dan Deacon, Maps and Four Tet. Their music, which is comparable to the dense texture and melodic styles used by their successors, allowed ‘sound patterns to build up slowly and blend into one another’. The classical and silver-toned guitar of Ash Ra Tempel and Neu! can be heard on records by Four Tet, Clark and Hudson Mohawke (though they probably aren’t a direct influence on Birchard’s work). Rhythms and harmonies employed by Can are mirrored in the work of Holy Fuck and Four Tet and are closely associated with Madlib’s style with Jaki  Liebezeit’s drum breaks been a constant source for sampling for hip-hop and dance music since the late ‘80s. The colder, pre-industrial ambient sounds of Cluster and Harmonia have also found their way into the corners of material by Maps and Four Tet’s ‘Ringer’.

The next influence is closely associated with the Krautrock and kosmiche music artists discussed. It is best described as ‘70s synth music, a rough generic term bringing together the music of Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Isao Tomita (Japanese synthesizer artist famous for his reinterpretation of Gustav Holst’s symphony ‘The Planets’), Klaus Schulze (Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel) and others. These artists and their music were musically ambitious, taking  Krautrock’s expansion of the potential of synthesizers to a symphonic level. Vangelis began his career in Greek prog rock band Aphrodite’s Child and, like Schulze, managed a smooth transition to a more symphonic sound; in Vangelis’ case, to successful soundtrack work which includes ‘Chariots of Fire’ and ‘Blade Runner’ (1982). Tomita and Jarre made similarly bold synth-led, reverb drenched sonic adventures. Tomita produced his own brand of synth music and was a successor to the classical reinterpretations by Walter/Wendy Carlos. Jarre successfully turned this music into a commercially successful sound and created huge visual shows to compliment this. In 1977 Jarre hit the charts with ‘Oxegene IV’ in a breakthrough year for synth music, which finally saw Kraftwerk infiltrate the mainstream and Donna Summer top the charts with the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’. This became the catalyst for Jarre’s burgeoning live extravaganzas and the proliferation of synth music worldwide in the following seven years.

Schulze represents a darker, more contemplative and less grandiose sound but no less layered. He came from what is now referred to as the Berlin School, an experimental selection of  Berlin-based artists determined to discover the very outer limits of what a synthesizer and music could do.

The multi layered, ambitious and synth heavy material of the acts listed above has had an influence on the similarly layered and luxurious sounds of Maps, particularly ‘Turning the Mind’, which explores interesting sonic and emotional depths, Four Tet, Holy Fuck, Hudson Mohawke, Fuck Buttons and Animal Collective.

The last strand of influence on new psychedelic music is the ‘90s shoegaze scene which featured the heavily processed guitar sounds of the recently reunited My Bloody Valentine (MBV), Slowdive, Ride and their predecessors the Jesus and Mary Chain (JMC) and Cocteau Twins. This scene varied from the feedback driven sound of MBV and JMC to the ethereal ruminative guitar sketches of the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie. The mainstream media have focussed on the ‘nu gaze’ scene but the influence of these acts has been evident for a while now. LCD Soundsystem covered ‘Slowdive’ by Slowdive in 2005; Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s verbatim theft of JMC’s sound and image; and the constant comparisons of Jonsi of Sigur Ros’ vocal style with that of Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. Although it was the reformation of My Bloody Valentine that really thrust the spotlight on those that were obviously influenced by shoegaze’s brand of guitar pedal  noise. This ‘nu gaze’ scene is led by The Big Pink, No Age, School of Seven Bells, Atlas Sound however many of these acts are merely derivative. The really interesting manifestations of the influence are mainly on the noise scene. Holy Fuck, Health, Animal Collective, Dan Deacon and Fuck Buttons all take something from shoegazing even when they’re not using guitars. Health are the most indebted to MBV and the other shoegaze bands but they have managed to create a more obtuse take on the original sound that has more common with noise’s roots than most shoegaze acts. The density of the music by Animal Collective and Dan Deacon has the feel of a less attack oriented version of MBV, JMC and Ride. You’re not being abused but there is enough edge that it’s not merely background music. As I mentioned in paragraph three, the use of vocals as another layer or instrument can be traced back to Liz Fraser’s vocal techniques and are present  or rather deeply buried in the music of Holy Fuck, Fuck Buttons, Animal Collective, Four Tet and Hudson Mohawke . The fetishisation of guitar pedals and their analogue sound is also evident in the sound of the modern psychedelic acts that I’ve discussed and is another tie to the original shoegaze bands.

Though all the artists I’ve discussed are in themselves unique and individual, this article demonstrates that the artists that influence them and the techniques used to achieve their sound interlink in various ways to show a broad landscape of sub genres and artists that make up a reinvigoration of psychedelic music. In a time where the majority of bands and artists struggle to free themselves from commercial pressure or the inevitable repeating of what they’ve been influenced by these artists are attempting individually and collectively to direct us forward and to expose us to experiences and music that we may not have heard or felt before.

The influence of Krautrock and synth music is keenly felt but unlike previous artists who have just taken on these influences e.g. Stereolab and Muse these artists have discovered ways of creating something of their own in the spirit of those who had gone before. Their influences all ploughed their own furrow and it is difficult not to fall under their shadow so I salute the work of the extraordinary artists who’ve taken the risk on making something even more adventurous and exploratory.

Here’s a Spotify playlist (HTTP links, then Spotify URL) so you can check out the bands mentioned in this post:

Psychedelia: The Return

Psychedelia: The Return

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