Trends in music can be fickle, but it’s still exciting when you can sense something re-emerging from the past. Psychedelic rock is coming back in a big way, particularly among Australian groups like Tame Impala, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Richard in Your Mind, Methyl Ethel and many more. There are few things more mind-bendingly brilliant than a classic psych rock jams, so here are five of the best to get you in the psychedelic mood.
Kicking off the immortal 1972 compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts of the First Psychedelic Era is The Electric Prunes’ searing, fuzzed-out psych classic. With eerie backwards guitars (probably inspired by The Beatles) and bombastic overuse of their wah-wah pedals, The Electric Prunes took unsuspecting listeners to another world. “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” is both primal and sophisticated at once, and The Electric Prunes make it look easy.
Last week, The Grateful Dead were honoured with a gargantuan five-disc tribute album featuring a who’s who of indie rock, but it’s still impossible to match the intensity of “Dark Star.” The definitive version opens the Dead’s 1969 live album Live/Dead, stretching out the jam to nearly twenty-five minutes (and nearly ten times its original length). “Dark Star” is elegant and flowing, the guitars have the texture of molten mercury and the drums patter and swing. It feels as if you can sink into it like a great, swelling ocean.
Mahavishnu Orchestra guitarist John McLaughlin was such a master of the groove that Miles Davis himself named a song after him. The jazz prowess of the group is on full display on “Meeting of the Spirits,” which opens their jazz fusion classic The Inner Mounting Flame, but at the same time they play with the unhinged fire of a rock band. McLaughlin’s guitars licks at the listener like unwieldy flames as the groove spirals and splinters below. You could almost believe they’re communing with the spirits.
By the time this ten-and-a-half minute jam comes to a close, you’ll hardly be aware of how it got from a delicate, pastoral dreamscape and to the feedback-laden jet engine roar that it becomes. Mercury Rev’s playful take on psych rock loves tension and contrast, subsuming the delicate, almost twee sound of the opening of “Meth of a Rockette’s Kick” in a mess of tangled, whining, squealing guitars. It’s noise, but it’s rapturous noise.
Darkside are only a duo – producer Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington – but the supple, mysterious “Golden Arrow” is packed with as many ideas as a full band might bring to the table. In the 21st Century, electronics and guitars can co-exist; Jaar’s overlapping, luminous synthesisers are played with just as much exploration and passion as any traditional instrument, and it is Harrington who lays down the groove with his piercing, spindly guitar. Darkside’s first (and only) album Psychic is a real trip, and “Golden Arrow” is just the beginning.