From space rock wig outs to industrial bltizkriegs and electronic meanderings, the two-day Liverpool Psych Fest – held last month at former warehouse-cum-arts space Camp & Furnace – truly reflected what a diverse and sometimes contradictory term ‘psych’ has become in 2013. A movement that’s undoubtedly gaining momentum, despite lacking a clear definition, this communal gathering saw the likes of Hookworms, Moon Duo and Dead Meadow all play, but also a brilliant crop of new or hitherto unheralded acts. After spending two days opening our third-eye, the NME found five mind-bending acts from the festival who you really ought to get to know.
The Soft Walls
Dan Reeves’ Soft Walls project flew under the radar last year, but eponymous LP The Soft Walls – out on his own one-man independent record label, Faux Discx Records – was a deliciously threaded together record, rich in faded textures and hushed grooves. It effortlessly managed to straddle the line between ambience and tension in a way that Deerhunter’s Cryptograms or Women’s Public Strain did. Live, with the help of his main band Cold Pumas, he manages to retain the warm fug of the album’s half-light evocations but, with the added propulsion of live percussion, his set clicks into a more repetitious state of aural hypnotism. Plenty opt for a constant motorik this weekend, but as Reeves and his band weave in and out of it, they do so with a deftness of touch which allows breathing space for our senses to wander, as opposed to being bludgeoned by sheer sonic force like we are for much of the festival…
…Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, and certainly not when it’s executed as thrillingly as it is by Californians, White Manna. Much of the edge of their set – which takes places amidst a backdrop of retina-burning ink projections of purples, blues and whites – comes from vocalist and guitarist David Johnson. He uses each loop of their psychedelic reel to whip himself up into a frothing at the mouth frenzy, to the point where his repeated mantras become unhinged howls, raging against the bone-hard space rock of his four band mates. In a recent interview, Johnson revealed he didn’t pick up a guitar until his late 20’s, which partly explains the primal nature of White Manna’s wonderfully swampy sound: on the one hand they’re heading towards the cosmos, but on the other they possess the raw punk nous of seminal garage bands like The MC5 and The Stooges.
The Oscillation are one of a clutch of bands on the line-up who can justifiably argue that the current psych movement is something that’s long been deep-rooted within the UK, it’s just taken a while for us all to catch up. The London-based trio released their third album, From Tomorrow this week after two equally brilliant delves down the darker rabbit holes of psych, on 2007’s Out Of Phase and 2011’s Veils and live they make for a menacing presence indeed. Singer Damien Castellanos voice ranges from cool detachment to possessed-mania, switching between altered states much like the group’s music, in how it veers repeatedly from sinewy drum and electronic-based structures to full-on guitar-driven assaults. In contrast to their comparatively slickly produced records, The Oscillation live show exists on the tipping point of chaos; instruments squeal with feedback and distortion, the volume reaching such a fever it threatens to derail the tracks totally from the metronome drumming of Valentina Magaletti. It’s their battle against that collapse which makes them so captivating.
Already referenced above, Cold Pumas sees Dan Reeves take guitar duties as part of this scuzzy four-piece. 2012’s Persistent Malaise mixed the sort of rhythmic constancy to be found on a Neu! record, but placed it in an altogether rougher sounding context, as though they’d taken a Cadillac down a dirt track. Guitar tones are loose and abrasive, while drummer Patrick Fisher’s vocals ebb just beneath the surface. They’re part of a strong Gringo Records set playing at Psych Fest, with Sauna Youth and Hookworms appearing elsewhere and live they’re incredibly tight, with guitars and bass working in close synchronisation. This doesn’t destroy any sense of freedom that feeds into the group’s driving percussion-led patterns, however, and ‘Fog Cutter’ sounds the most likely to break free of the their firm structures, as it swells in volume and takes some of the crowd dancing with it in its tide.
If label Sacred Bones received NME’s plaudits when we ran our New Psych feature back in the Spring, then recent months have seen Chicago-based Trouble In Mind show themselves to be equally adept at spotting the weird and wonderful that lurks between the margins of this current psych movement. Signings Fuzz and Jacco Gardner both perform in Liverpool at the weekend, but we’re most taken with The Limíñanas, a group formed by duo Lio and Marie Limiñana in Perpignan, in the south of France. With Maria’s coolly delivered vocals and spindly Hammond organ melodies acting as a basic skeleton for their tracks, the addition of live drums, bass and guitar adds a layer of fuzzy layer of psych freak out to these otherwise intimately put together 60’s-inspired pop motifs. With both the grace and scope of countryman Serge Gainsbourg, but also the rawness of Nuggets-style garage rock, The Limíñanas are a revelation.
By Simon Jay Catling