Hauntingly Brilliant Retro Psychedelia from the Mystic Braves

by delarue

Los Angeles quintet the Mystic Braves have grown into one of the most darkly interesting retro psychedelic bands out there. Throughout their new album Desert Island – streaming at Bandcamp – the menace doesn’t relent. They’ve also got a show coming up at the Mercury on May 7 at 7 PM; general admission is $10.

The album’s opening track, Bright Blue Day Haze works around a catchy, jangly four-chord hook that brings to mind Rhode Island psychedelic legends Plan 9, its many layers of guitar mashing up surf, funk and paisley pop. Ignacio Gonzalez’s swirling organ mingles with the layers of ominous reverb guitar on There’s a Pain, Tony Malacara’s trebly bass tiptoeing over drummer Cameron Gartung’s uncluttered pulse. Coyote Blood has a swaying, lingering desert rock ambience lit up with deliciously watery Leslie speaker guitar, something akin to the 13th Floor Elevators taking a stab at a late 60s Laurel Canyon sound.

The album’s title track glides along on dark Doorsy changes, Gonzalez’s funeral parlor organ anchoring an expansive, Robbie Krieger-esque lead guitar track and frontman/guitarist Julian Ducatenzeiler’s memories of “relationships gone to shit.” Valley Rat takes an iconic surf theme and syncopates it almost beyond recognition before going in a funkier direction and then adding mariachi trumpet. By contrast, You Take the Dark Out of Me makes ominously straight-ahead rock out of a creepy border bolero, Gonzalez’s ghostly, keening organ again serving as the icing on the cake.

I Want You Back isn’t the Jackson 5 hit: instead, it’s a propulsive mariachi-rock anthem with a devious Animals quote and a long, memorably scrambling tremolo-picked guitar break. Born Without a Heart mashes up surf with a hypnotically vamping Elevators/Chocolate Watch Band groove. In the Past kicks off with an spikily macabre folk-rock intro and then works a characteristically catchy four-chord hook. The album comes full circle with Earthshake, another track that could be Plan 9 doing the Elevators. For anyone who loves the early Doors, Peanut Butter Conspiracy or Country Joe & the Fish, this is heaven. Is this best album of 2014? It’s one of them.