I’m going to say something that may well sound quite strange and, for some, may be controversial. But for me 2017 has been the moment that what many call ‘psych’ has disappeared into the ether of great music. What I mean by this is that bands who have been broadly regarded as being ‘psych’ have put out albums that are so out there on their own as to not only defy what was left of the borders of the genre, but to smash through them. Earlier this year the Cosmic Dead declared ‘Psych Is Dead’ with an album that took them farther into the emptiness of, I guess, post-psych (I’m not sure I like the term but bear with me); cutting free from any ties that previously bound them.
Other bands have also done this in different ways. Dead Sea Apes, already outliers, produced a fantastic dub-influenced album that tore a massive hole in my already high expectations; while such as The Myrrors, Kungens Män and Flowers Must Die have produced albums that pushed the boundaries in different ways.. broadening tastes and expectations. There are undoubtedly others too, but if you go away and listen to these five tell me there’s not something quite special going on with our music scene at the moment.
Into this mix comes this new album ‘Intro/ Outro’ by Moths and Locusts which adds to this movement in a truly remarkable way, and this is reflected in the press release for the album in which the band quote Yoko Ono:
I just go with the flow, so any style can be in my music – that makes it exciting.
This is a great place to start with this, and the other five albums mentioned here, because this for me is exactly what I want my music to be about. Not narrow definitions and formulas but broad creative and expansive approaches in which nothing is ruled out. OK I may not like everything that fits that description but I can certainly understand the approach. Here, though, is something quite extraordinary.
I first came across Moths and Locusts last year, a Canadian band from Nanaimo, British Columbia, I just immediately fell for their 2013 debut ‘Mission Collapse in the Twin Sun Megaverse’, and then last year’s offering, ‘Helios Rising‘ was comfortably one of my favourite albums of last year. That this new album has set the bar even higher is, in itself, remarkable.
So before I disappear into a cloud of superlatives lets get into it. This album is produced by Rob the Viking, a member of Canadian hip hop crew Swollen Members. I have to admit that I have a tendency to switch off when I hear the words ‘hip’ and ‘hop’ mentioned together, but have to say that the influence works really well here. That is not to say the Moths and Locusts have produced a hip hop record, but I suspect that the collaboration has taken both producer and band outside their comfort zones in a way that has been very positive (referring back to Ono’s quote again here).
The album’s opener ‘Acid Cloud Pt.1’ is a slow burner of a track which both sets the tone for the album as something different and thought provoking. It take, for want of a better word, a psych influenced bass line and building around it with chilling effects and screaming vocals (that certainly wouldn’t be out of place on an Ono album). The track leaves the listener strangely unsettled and unsure of what to expect next.
What comes next, ‘Sea ‘Hell’ is a real contrast with a spoken word sample from Joseph M. Mauro’s ‘British Columbia: One Hundred Years 1871-1971’, which is placed to perfection with the a massive chugging bass breaking into… well… a melange of dub, folky flute, beats and rock rhythm section, before going off into a whole new direction as if the sea calms in the middle of the storm before breaking out into the tempest of styles which inexplicably fit so well together.
‘Hymn to Hathor’ is a sampled spoken word piece, which fells like an interlude between the tracks, a siren calling the listener onto the rocks of new experience; perhaps daring us to be more eclectic in our musical interests (and if you’re not interested you’re listening to the wrong album here). This leads well into ‘Strange Space’ which is perhaps the one track that indicates where the band’s past has lain. With its stoner riffs and tribal drums this is no traditional rock track though, but one that has been filtered through something much more rarefied, a refraction of what we normally thing that sort of music to be.. an evolution… a band moving on!
With ‘Acid Cloud Pt 2’ we return to some of the themes of the opening track. There again is the chilling wailing, which I’m not sure that I’d go with in every setting, but in this track really works as the band bring their instruments up into the track and gradually build up a head of stream that has them really rocking out. This track brought to mind Public Image Limited at their caterwauling best, a massive number that evokes so many different emotions during its relatively short time.
Out of the collapse of ‘Acid Cloud Pt 2’ comes something altogether calmer. There is something almost bucolic and pastoral about the beginning of ‘Scream’ by contrast. Gone are the hard edges that have rained upon is so far to provide a gentle, yet quite sinister, slower track which feels like a real come down… and entreatment to become more thoughtful and considered. ‘Roadside’ to is less hectic and, again, feels like an interlude… almost a fragment of a song, which itself seems to be making a statement within the context of the album.
This leads into ‘He Who Has the Most Strings’ which ups the ante again in terms of heaviness, both in the usual sense and in the way the band sound mired in something that they cannot escape from. This is contrasted with the space rock elements that somehow fit together in a different way from most bands who play around with these combinations of sounds. In the middle is the bass line which reminds me of JJ Burnel’s solo work ‘Euroman Cometh’ (one of my favourite albums from the late 1970s). This gives the whole thing an eeriness which is continued unto the final track ‘Martian Sunrise’.
This sounds to me like decay, the disintegration of the musical forms that the band have been pursuing here. There feels like an almost wilful destruction going on here, a collapse signifying the end. The end of the album certainly, but perhaps the end of something more symbolic too. Whatever this is it brings to a conclusion a remarkable forty minutes of music that is so varied and expansive that it feels much longer because there is so much going on here. This is because ‘Intro/ Outro’ is the sound of a band taking chances, the sound of a band who are not afraid to experiment, and the sound of a band on the move. They join a number of other bands in what we broadly call the ‘psych scene’ who are pushing their music inexorably into areas that risky, yet by doing that are bringing big rewards.