Were it not for the din of disco-punk, the underground’s other retro fixation du jour might be more noticeable. Granted, new-millennium psychedelic rock is a comparatively low-stakes aesthetic. But for every LCD Soundsystem, Le Tigre, or Out Hud, there are just as many bunches of hipsters who want nothing more than to envelop you in a purple haze or blind you with the sunshine of their love. Among the new breed are critic-feted folk-poppers (Joanna Newsom, Animal Collective, and Dungen), groundling-adored amp abusers (Comets on Fire, Sunn 0))), and D.C.’s own Dead Meadow), and even a Santana-loving commercial success (the Mars Volta, of course).
You might chalk this up to our rather late-’60s-ish political climate. After all, it’s easy enough to imagine that sanguinary Republican administrations make bohemians see paisley. Yet none of the aforementioned acts are particularly protest-minded—that is, if they sing at all. For many, I suspect, it’s a curiosity about indistinctly mapped musical margins, not anger toward Dubya, that’s fueling the fixation. The less generous would call it obscurantism; others would argue that passage of time has lessened the era’s baggage. Either option would go a long way toward explaining the popularity of the druggy Nixon-era reissues currently being pimped by every cool record store from San Francisco’s Aquarius to New York’s Other Music.
It’s probably safe to bet an original copy of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn that at least one of the guys from New York power trio the Psychic Paramount has frequented the latter’s Psychedelia section. More likely than not, it’s frontdude Drew St. Ivany, a long-haired, needles-in-the-red guitarist who is obviously well acquainted with the heftier elements of late-’60s and early-’70s acid rock. On his band’s improv-heavy, all-instrumental debut, Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural, the fuzzed-up six-stringer leans hard on his whammy bar (“Para5”), jams along with his own echo (the title track), and—duh—conjures that extra-wasted vibe by recording some stuff backward (“Megatherion”).
But like the most imaginative of their peers, the Paramounters are no mere revivalists. St. Ivany’s frequently herky-jerky riffing also betrays a youth spent scouring the SST Records catalog or some similar claim to punk geekdom. And it would be downright neglectful not to mention some of his tighter, more machinelike lines, most likely left over from the guitarist’s late-’90s tenure with Can- and Neu!-influenced math-rock outfit Laddio Bolocko. On the six-minute “Echoh Air,” for example, he’s sometimes so precisely repetitive that his parts sound like tape loops—especially against the unhinged-seeming rumble and flail his bandmates whip up as accompaniment.
In this, the rest of the group is utterly single-minded. Throughout Gamelan, bassist Ben Armstrong, another Laddio Bolocko alumnus, channels the spirit of Jesus Lizard– style postpunk, chugging out surly, blues-free riffage apparently ad infinitum. And drummer Jeff Conaway bashes at his kit as if he knows not the meaning of the word “restraint”—or “genre,” for that matter, given his tendency to let rocky passages blur into jazzy ones and vice versa. More than anything, though, the Psychic Paramount’s rhythm section just sounds angry. Definitely not the kind of guys who would dig what Mom and Dad dug. “Incense and Peppermints”? Forget it. Some unknown “proto-metal” reissue on the Aquarius-approved Akarma label? Bingo.
Still, Gamelan comes across less like a collection of rock numbers than a free-jazz-style blowing session—an impression enhanced by the fact that there’s no singer and no singing. Mind you, the record is about as likely to be mistaken for New Thing as it is for real Indonesian gamelan: Sonicswise, it has more in common with ’60s alt-rock than with either of those styles. But the album is nonetheless informed by nonrock notions of tension-building and melody-carrying—an approach that’s been favored by forward-thinking heads for decades. In this sense, St. Ivany & Co. are traditionalists in the very best sense: In applying the recombinant spirit of the past to the sounds of the present, they’ve made a record that couldn’t have been released at any time other than right now.
Like the Psychic Paramount, Osaka, Japan’s, Boredoms are another gaggle of ex-punk types who’ve opened their collective third eye. Once synonymous with apeshit avant rock, the long-running Yamataka Eye–led group gave itself an extreme makeover with 1998’s Super Ae and 2001’s Vision Creation Newsun, of-a-piece albums that abandoned John Zorn–approved spaz in favor of drum-circle psychedelia. Back then, lots of fans viewed the band’s transformation as a tasteful but, at best, lateral move: This stuff was pretty enough, but hardly as mind-expanding as, say, seeing the band play live in the early ’90s.
In light of the neopsych trend, however, those records now seem a lot more prescient. And everyone from the Flaming Lips to Fischerspooner says so. OK, they don’t really, but album titles and cover songs speak louder than words; DFA act Black Dice even recorded what amounted to a double-album Super/Vision tribute: 2002’s Beaches & Canyons. Perhaps as a result, the Atlantic-distributed Vice Records has given Boredoms their highest American profile since 1993, the year Reprise released Pop Tatari in a fit of grunge-era delirium. Unfortunately, the triptych-fulfilling Seadrum/House of Sun is unlikely to be as influential as its two predecessors. It may well outsell them, just because you can find the damn thing. But too much of the album feels like an afterthought.
It’s unclear who, besides vocalist Eye and drummer/vocalist Yoshimi P-we, claims membership in Boredoms anymore. The album’s one-sheet refers to guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto as a “former” member, and in a March 2005 column in the Seattle Weekly, Douglas Wolk, the Greil Marcus of Boredoms criticism, writes that the band has possibly broken up and reformed as “V ∞ 3 redoms, or perhaps 7 VO 7.” And yet, as I write, Boredoms are touring a handful of cities in the United States and Canada. None of this is cleared up in a P-we interview in a recent issue of Index magazine, but she does mention that the latter half of the two-song Seadrum/House of Sun is as much as 5 years old. A Vision leftover, perhaps?
It sure sounds like one. Out of the decades-spanning Boredoms discography, “House of Sun” is one of the few instances in which the band actually lives up to its name. The 20-minute cut—described by P-we as “the drone track”—features layer upon pillowy layer of meandering guitar and thrumming tamboura. The latter contributes few notes and lots of ambience. The former, which appears in both backward and forward varieties, is relatively prolix—and relatively pointless. On an early Werner Herzog soundtrack, a few minutes of “House” would work great; as half of an album, though, it’s Muzak for freaks.
Good thing, then, that 23-minute opener “Seadrum” is closer to the tantric complexities of Super Ae and Vision. P-we says they recorded the track at a beach in Wakayama prefecture, sea water washing up on the percussion and mikes. The looped drums and waves of digital noise, however—not to mention the cut’s perfect ebb and flow—lead one to believe that the recording is more a product of computer wizardry than natural communion. Throw in a few wordless female vocals and some McCoy Tyner–esque piano wank and you’ve got the missing link between cosmic ’60s whatsis and current-day laptop electronica.
A friend who works as a soundman with some of the biggest luminaries of disco-punk recently tried to convince me that everything has been done before—that this is the dawn of a new era of “postoriginality.” He’s wrong, of course: Rock is healthy enough to glance over its shoulder without spewing out simulacra. “House of Sun” ain’t gonna to convince anyone of that. But “Seadrum,” just like the entirety of the Psychic Paramount’s debut, would make for a mighty fine case in point.CP