Heat haze. Lazy psummer days. Drinks spiked with elderberry. And a need for psychedelic music to keep the mind afloat. If you had too much to think last night, here are some choice cuts from the last psyx years to cleanse your brain.
Hidden Masters – Of this & other worlds (2013)
In many ways, this album is the whole reason why I am doing this list, and why I am starting it in 2013. Despite being made by a Scottish trio, it plays like a high octane take on the West Coast sound.
What it might lack in originality, it takes back in implementation. Impeccably played, with thrilling vocal harmonies, and full of stunning melodies. Jangly and catchy. This was very much my summer soundtrack of 2013 and by being so blatantly retrogressive, it achieves its own sense of timelessness.
Unfortunately the Masters subsequently went into hiding and never made another album. Still available on the net for next to nothing, so get it while you can!
Paul Lefty Wright – Songs from the Portal (2014)
Paul Lefty Wright qualifies himself into this little list already by being a sitar player. Listen to the track ‘Multani DMA’ and you will understand what I mean. But there are many other psychedelicatessen on this sprawling double album. Having been written by a guy who knows his ragas, the melodies also have a refreshing strangeness, although they are mainly being played on ordinary rock instruments.
The music is quite dark and rooted in the proto-prog years of the late 60s and labels with a somewhat gothic feel like Vertigo or Nepentha spring to mind. Nevertheless, it has its own personality and occupies its own space. Although quite hallucinogenic, the visions induced by this record are of a more esoteric and potentially scary type than those provided by the intake of illicit substances. The ghosts here are real and the afterlife always present.
Do yourself a favour and make sure to get this wonderful album. There were still 24 copies left when I last looked!
New Electric Ride – Balloon Age (2014)
Probably the most beatlesque album in this list. Listening to ‘Balloon Age’ feels like watching the world from inside the promotional and quite murky clip for ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ with people walking backwards as much as forwards and jumping into trees to wire up proto-cyberpunk instruments. Luckily, the production values here are as tinny as an unrestored copy of that clip and the singing is aggressive enough to give the whole thing surprisingly much personality.
The New Electric Ride also avoid being tounge-in-cheek, something that helps them steer clear of comparisons with the Rutles, the Dukes of the Stratosphear or even the Junipers’ Euphonious Trolley. In fact, beyond the obvious Beatles influence, ‘Balloon Age’ does not feel derivative. Instead we get a set of adventurous tunes that are backed up by refreshingly chaotic playing and a bit of tuneful sonic experimentation. Even an homage like ‘A Submarine Song’ miraculously manages to stand on its own.
Although I am not sure this was ever on vinyl, what I imagine would be the A- and B-sides both start with vignettes that contrast quite abruptly with the following tracks in a rather satisfying way.
Before the album, they released an equally intriguing EP in 2013. Also on Bandcamp.
Schnauser – Protein For Everyone (2014)
Imagine a world where you sell your parts of your body for others to eat and you have ‘Protein For Everyone’ by Schnauser. Not only do these guys out-absurd everyone else, they also play pop in the way that the Soft Machine did on Volumes One and Two.
Great vocals and twisted organ sounds irresistibly draw you in. The real jaw-dropper is the marvellously titled ”Disposable Outcomes”; a continuous 17 minute long potpourri of ideas subdivided into shorter parts with wonderfully silly names. It starts out with a propulsive Hatfield & the North beat and Wyattesque lyric: ”And so we reach the final song / Don’t be afraid to sing along”.
I have been a Schnauser fan for years, but here they are at their very neo-psychedelic best. If you don’t like this album, then I recommend you to go see an otolaryngologist!!
Jack Ellister – Tune Up Your Ministers And Start Transmission From Pool Holes To Class O Hypergiants (2015)
Here’s an album that qualifies on its title alone. But make no mistake, it delivers in spades when it comes to content as well. Released on Fruits de Mer Records, it sticks close to the label’s ideology of late 60s worship, but thankfully does not go down the covers route. Instead, we get a playful and wide-eyed ride through a neo-psychedelic wonderland that will delight any anglophile pop lover.
Jack himself should probably be counted among those anglophiles by the way. He was born in Poland and previously fronted a band called the Yordan Orchestra in Holland.
Being quite a Fruits de Mer Records regular, he has also done many of the label’s seemingly required covers tracks, including a full album called ‘Roots Conference’ in 2017. But I would recommend sticking to his original material, including the self released and already obscure 2018 gem ‘Telegraph Hill’.
Edward Penfold – Caulkhead (2016)
What would a neo-psychedelic list be without any mention of Syd Barrett? Well, here you go, Edward Penfold is so uncannily reminiscent of Syd that one could crack a joke or two about reincarnation. While that may be most obvious on his second and in some ways superior album, ‘Denny Isle Drive’ from the following year, I have selected ‘Caulkhead’ here because it literally blew my mind when I first heard it. It was primitively recorded on the Isle of Wight with shoddily tuned rubber band guitars and sense of confused lack of preparation. Penfold’s voice is tonally gliding down and then up for emphasis here and there; and the lyrics, no matter how personal and revealing, are delivered with a sleepy yet observational detachment.
Creating this low tech and stumbled-upon atmosphere in our digital age without inviting the spectre of pastiche is no mean feat. This is the real thing.
The Junipers – Red Bouquet Fair (2016)
Soft and meticulously constructed pop of the highest order. ‘Red Bouquet Fair’ is gorgeous, autumnal and very English. That this is indeed psychedelia is very clear right after the titular instrumental intro, with the first vocal track offering up the line: “And it would seem, I had too much to dream.”
Whereas the Junipers are masters of understatement, that is also somewhat their Achilles’ heal, as nothing screams in your ears for attention. But if you give them a bit of your time, hooks that didn’t bite the first time around worm themselves into your mind and lustrous harmonies draw you into their orbit. The Junipers fully embrace the sounds of yore, from sitars to swirly sound effects, but their well-crafted compositions and captivating lyrics exists very much in the here and now.
You also need to get their previous album ‘Paint The Ground’ as both are bona fide masterpieces of the genre. Next, you might want to get the Bob of the Tops covers albums by bandleader Boryng Bison, uh, I mean Robyn Gibson.
All on Bandcamp.
The Chemistry Set – The Endless More And More (2016)
Although the Chemistry Set have been around since the late 1980s, this is only their second album proper. And what a tour the force it is. Cosmic and spaced out. It takes you there and makes sure you never get back again. While not really sounding much like the Pink Floyd, there is a kindred feeling of grandiosity here. Triumphant and almost declamatory it opens kaleidoscopic doors to the universe. Or at least to Pompeii…
With the best name of all neo-psych bands, and the beautiful Hipgnosis-like artwork, this is really an album you must own.
Since this album, the band have returned to their more typical activity of releasing a track here and a couple there. £3 on Bandcamp for their sergeant power-poppy ‘Lovely Cuppa Tea’ EP is really a pittance. And though I prefer originals, it does contain a great Moody Blues cover.
Snails – Safe In Silence (2016)
Intentionally wobbly pop music that recalls Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci at its most fragile. Just like Euros Childs, Dan Weltman’s voice has a charmingly barretesque touch of emotional isolation, while the lyrics can contrast with sly wit. Lines like “Lets get drunk and make our parents happy” could have come from the pen of Kevin Ayers…
The overall feel of ‘Safe In Silence’ is relaxed and the arrangements benefit greatly from use of trumpet, violin, cello and flute. In combination with finger-picked guitars, the sound isn’t too far away from the Honeybus, in fact. Lovely stuff.
More recently, a lathe cut EP, ‘Starting with Mine’, was released for Record Store Day 2017 in minute quantities. Unfortunately I never managed to get hold of a copy, but at least it is available digitally on Bandcamp. Recorded live in studio without the added instrumentation from the LP, it definitely comes across as more wistful.
Green Seagull – Scarlet Fever (2018)
Formed by Paul Nelson from New Electric Ride and Paul Milne of Hidden Masters and Magnetic Mind fame, Green Seagull have the dials of their inner Tardis set for 1967.
The sound is very much a combination of their previous bands. This means a very strong deference to the original psychedelic era combined with a focus on quality songwriting. The focus here is not on re-creating technicolour images and studio frippery, instead the band revel in a knowledge of late 60s music that is kaleidoscopic indeed.
From the Mamas & the Papas to the good old Beatles, it is all here, and ‘Scarlet Fever’ is an album of encyclopaedic psych-pop. As such, it can only exist now that we can cross-reference every single chord sequence and note online in a second; music that is simultaneously locked into the past and the future. A time machine that can take you anywhere. Come along, hop aboard!