UPDATE 11/26/12: Click for the 10 Best Psychedelic Albums of 2012
Allow me to preface this list by noting the following: I don’t really know what “psychedelic” means. According to the OED, the word translates literally as “soul-manifesting,” which I suppose is another way of saying “mind altering,” which I suppose is another way of saying “having to do with drugs.” Regardless of the word’s exact meaning, however, it’s clear that a lot of excellent music can be properly described by it. You might think that most of this music was made in the 1960s, but, like cassette tapes and porkpie hats, psychedelia has been recently transformed from dated cultural artifact to semaphore of hipness. The records below resemble each other only on the margins, but they share in common a spirit of experimentation and adventure. And some kick-ass guitar solos. Sit back and zone out.
One review of this album referred to it as a dichotomy “between ambient narcotic mystery tours and pummeling, skyward neo-kraut.” I have no idea what that means, nor do I want to. What I do know, however, is that this is the kind of music I would want to listen to were I ever to find myself trapped in a sweat lodge.
More wild sweat-lodge music, only this time the sweat lodge is in India. Also, they’re sisters, they’re Hare Krishna, and they sing in a made-up language.
8. Quilt – Quilt
Unlike the bands before it on this list, Quilt traffics in a more roots-based psychedelia, one in which traditional elements of Americana intermingle with spaced-out guitar lines and demented drumming. To wit: they have a song entitled “Cowboys in the Void.”
If you learn anything from this column, it will be that wood is the most common element employed in the naming of psychedelic bands. In fact, Woods likes wood so much that they released this record on their own label, Woodsist. The band has now released five excellent records of Byrds-inspired folk-rock over a five-year period, and Sun and Shade may be their best yet. Combining lengthy jams with concise pop gems, the record reveals both a remarkable range and a refined sense of songcraft. Guaranteed to calm your nerves.
Compared with the records before it on this list, UMO a lot less jamming and a lot more funk. Still, the spirt of the 60s is unmistakable on their debut LP, with melodies smeared with bubble gum and its song titles like “Jello and Juggernauts.” One of the most mood-enhancing records of the year by a band that fucking rules. Don’t believe me? Read this wikipedia entry.
I’ve never understood why a certain brand of soaring, delay-drenched guitar music is referred to as “space rock;” given the cold and desolate images of the cosmos to which we are exposed, it’s a wonder that music comes to mind at all. Still, there is something positively astral about this live collaboration between Portland guitar wizards Eternal Tapestry and weirdo loop-fanatic Sun Araw. Essentially one 38-minute performance divided into four movements, Night Gallery is straight-up drug music and will not be to everyone’s taste. But, if you enjoy a dash of adventure and skilled musicianship in your rock n’ roll, dim the lights and give this one a chance.
If you like your psychedelia infused with Jamaican dub, have I got the band for you. Madison, Wisconsin’s Peaking Lights are a husband-and-wife duo who make dreamy, beguiling, and occasionally soporific music that is somehow appropriate for both dancing and meditating. With song titles like “Marshmellow Yellow” and “Amazing and Wonderful,” it’s safe to say that you’ll have a better time with this record than just about any other from 2011.
More wood! Unlike their sylvan predescesors on this list, however, San Francisco’s Wooden Shjips (yes, that’s a “j”) soak each of their freak-outs in a Black Sabbath fondue before unleashing them on the masses. For fans of the conscious-altering and the face-melting.
Full disclosure: when I first heard the debut album by Austin trio Pure X, it bored me to sleep. Perhaps their languid, whimsical melodies were an inappropriate backdrop to the death-rattling New York highway driving in which I engage each morning. But, as the year advances, I found myself turning to this record again and again and again. There is nothing particularly revelatory about Pleasure, but the patient, gorgeous guitar lines and plaintive lyricism at the record’s core are positively entrancing. At the end of a difficult day, this is the record for you.
Before the release of D, there was nothing particularly psychedelic about Austin’s White Denim; their 2009 release Fits was essentially a punk album. But, somewhere along the line the band decided to double up on the guitars and engage in the occasional flute solo, and as a result this minor masterpiece was born. If you are one of those people who spends his time wondering what happened to real rock n’ roll, you need look no further than this record. It’s enough to make a man wish he lived in Texas. Almost.
L.V. Lopez yadda yadda yadda you know the drill.