New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: pink floyd

A Sharply Amusing New Record From One of New York’s Best Psychedelic Bands

For the better part of ten years, the Academy Blues Project were one of New York’s most consistently entertaining psychedelic bands. They got as far as the Rockwood, where they held down a long series of big-room residencies. Their annual Big Lebowski tribute was as much a giveaway to their sensibility as their sly, surreal live show. And unlike most rock acts in town before the lockdown, carefully scheduling gigs to maximize turnout and ensure future bookings at a handful of coveted, profit-strapped spots, these guys would take random dates at some pretty out-of-the-way venues just to keep the vibe fresh. It was always fun to catch them at an intimate space like Shrine, or Long Island City Bar, on an off night.

Although they’ve released a  handful of eps, their new album The Neon Grotto – streaming at Bandcamp – is their first full-length record. It’s like discovering your cool stoner uncle’s stash of artsy psychedelic records from the 70s. The obvious influences here are the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan, but there are also echoes of acts as diverse as Supertramp, P-Funk and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. The band recorded the basic tracks right before the lockdown. After their members were scattered to the winds by the summer of last year, they finished it over the web. The seductive surrealism and archetypes in Meera Dugal’s album cover art make a perfect visual companion.

The opening number, Athens to Corfu, could be the good-natured Hollywood Hills boudoir soul tune that never made it onto Steely Dan’s Aja record. Frontman/guitarist Mark Levy tremolo-picks feathery washes and sunbaked, echoey blues, keyboardist Ben Easton starting out with starry Rhodes piano and drifting into an oscillating swirl, bassist Trevor Brown and drummer Jim Bloom kicking up the waves at the end. There is nothing remotely Mediterranean about this song other than the lyrics’ clever wordplay.

Turbulence, the second cut, could pass for a late 70s track by the Who: the metaphors reach cruising altitude and the brief, celestial bass-and-guitar interlude midway through seems devised for much more extended jamming. The album’s instrumental title track opens with a sideways Grateful Dead reference and then hits a steady backbeat pulse, Levy spinning his catchy riffage through an icy vintage analog delay pedal.

The album’s big epic is Rock Song (Don’t Step in the Gooey Parts), an aptly dramatic, tongue-in-cheek musical history of geological formations, from lava to ossification. The big sunburst intro brings to mind early Santana; from there the band truck like the Dead to an uneasily jangly Nektar bridge and then rising and falling echoes of Pink Floyd.

Make Believe, a big concert favorite, is part Blackberry Smoke newschool southern rock, part White Album Beatles. Prevailing Winds has Genesis written all over it, from Easton’s elegant piano intro to Levy’s big vocal peak.

All Will Be Revealed begins as a deviously detailed account of what could be a stolen election, or some other massive fraud:

And the innocents forget who’s master and who’s slave
Packing peanuts in their trunks, they join in the fray, they join the parade

Then Easton’s gospel piano leads the band skyward to Levy’s savage guitar outro. Who knows, this song could be more prophetic than anyone ever could have imagined.

They close with the instrumental Little Island, Big Volcano, Levy adding amusingly balmy Hawaiian flavor with his slide. It’s still early in a year where there haven’t been many rock records released, but at this point this is top-ten-of-2021 material. What’s even better is that the band have two other albums planned for release this year.

Warmly Drifting, Epically Atmospheric Instrumentals From Numun

Atmospheric instrumentalists Numun comprises members of cinematic, pastoral noir band Suss as well as New York’s most popular Balinese bell orchestra, Gamelan Dharma Swara.  Multi-instrumentalists Joel Mellin and Bob Holmes’ new album Voyage au Soleil – streaming at Bandcamp – is pretty much what you would expect from those influences: vast, slowly hovering tableaux with the occasional Asian tinge.

The opening track, Tranceport rises from slowly shifting atmospherics and the occsional boom of what could be a gong, to a swaying, gorgeously lush acoustic guitar groove spiced with cumbus lute and airy, tremoloing keys. First Steps starts with wry, robotic keys over a trip-hop beat, percolating organ and menacing reverb guitar, then rises to a darker but equally sweeping crescendo.

With its keening, tinkling synth lines and surreal spoken-word vocals half-buried in the mix, Tranquility Base is a hyperactive stab at a nocturne: the slow acoustic guitar-based sway returns, more loopy this time. The alarm motif that kicks off Mission Loss could have been faded down more mercifully for the listener, as a thicket of short pulses and then the warmly predictable acoustic guitar vmp takes over.

Expanse is the one track that begins with guitars and then drifts into an echoey vortex with dubwise bass anchoring starry keys: it’s the album’s most interesting and psychedelic number. The final cut is the title track, which with the cumbus could be an Asian-tinged outtake of an interlude from Pink Floyd’s Animals. Cue this up and set the controls for the heart of the…

Guitarist Kurt Leege Reinvents Jazz Classics As Envelopingly Ambient, Richly Psychedelic Soundscapes

There’s considerable irony in that Kurt Leege, one of the most interesting guitarists in all of ambient music, first made his mark as a feral lead player, beginning with Curdlefur, then Noxes Pond and finally System Noise, New York’s best art-rock band of the zeros. Leege’s new album Sleepytime Jazz – streaming at Bandcamp – is his second solo release, a similarly celestial follow-up to his 2018 record Sleepytime Guitar, where he reinvented old folk tunes and spirituals as lullabies.

This one is calm, elegant, drifty music with a subtle, soulful edge, a mix of jazz classics from John Coltrane, to Miles Davis, to Herbie Hancock and Louis Armstrong. Leege layers these tracks meticulously, typically using his ebow to build a deep-space wash and then adding terse, thoughtful, often strikingly dynamic multitracks overhead. This may be on the quiet side, but it’s also incredibly psychedelic. Play it at low volume if you feel like drifting off; crank it and discover the beast lurking deep within.

Blue in Green has spiky, starry chords and resonant David Gilmour-like phrases fading deep into spacious, hypnotically echoing ebow vastness. Leege has always been a connoisseur of the blues, and that cuts through – literally – in At Last, his spare, gentle but incisive single-note lines over the starry resonance behind him. And Coltrane’s Spiritual is much the same, and even more starkly bluesy: shine on you distant diamond.

Georgia on My Mind comes across as opiated Wes Montgomery with distant Memphis soul echoes. Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage could be a particularly immersive, atmospheric interlude by 70s art-rock cult favorites Nektar.

Leege reinvents My Funny Valentine, artfully shifting up the metrics with equal parts Pink Floyd grandeur and Bill Frisell tenderness. He hits waltz time even more head-on in his version of Naima, the fastest and most hauntingly direct of all these slow numbers.

Neferititi, appropriately, is the album’s most delicate and hypnotic piece. The echoes come in waves most noticeably throughout Tenderly, tersely layered from top to bottom. And Leege’s take of What a Wonderful World is as anthemic as it is warmly enveloping. What a gorgeous record. It’s a real find for fans of jazz, ambient music, psychedelic rock, or for that matter anyone who just wants to escape to a comforting sonic cocoon

A Trippy, Labyrinthine New Album From Popular Psychedelic Rockers Theusaisamonster

Theusaisamonster are well established in the world of newschool psychedelic rock. Until we can manage to get our world back to normal and enjoy them live, we have their latest album Amikwag – streaming at Bandcamp – to trip out with.

Lyrics and vocals are not their thing, but their upbeat, crazyquilt songs and long trails of catchy melody over strange time signatures will keep you entranced. The labyrinthine opening track, Permaculture’s Promise has tricky tempos and more than a hint of bracing Middle Eastern chromatics over math-y tempos, like a mashup of Love Camp 7, peak-era 70s King Crimson and the Grateful Dead. Sounds incongruous, but it works.

With its skittishly syncopated changes and alternately burning and jangly layers of guitar, the second track, Rapido Amigo, is much the same minus the King Crimson and the chromatics. Loopy Terry Riley-ish organ swirls and leaps over weird, similarly leaping rhythms in 8 Years Old, a dead ringer for Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. The band keep that vibe going throughout Verbs, an encouragement to use an economy of words. There’s considerable irony voicing that opinion in a song more than eight minutes long, the group jamming it out with layers of keys, tumbling drums, fuzzy bass and a stomping guitar-fueled peak at the end.

The only slightly shorter Side of the Road begins noisily, then the band channel Genesis and the Dead with uneasy hints of King Gizzard. We Are Not Alone, a goofy conversation between aliens, has the closest thing to a straight-up guitar drive here.

The band wind up the album with its trippiest number, Nothing and Everything, a wryly suspenseful, distantly classically-tinged intro morphing into a hypnotic Obscured by Clouds-era Pink Floyd march, then more Genesis. These guys’ record collections must be amazing. And as much fun as these songs are, what would be even better would be to see the band kick them around onstage.

Flickering Nocturnes and Big Sky Atmospherics From Suss

Back in 2018, this blog called New York cinematic instrumenalists Suss “the missing link beween Brian Eno and Ennio Morricone.” Their debut album was aptly titled Ghost; the release show, at a black-box theatre in Long Island City, was magically sepulchral and unexpectedly energetic, the band taking their time expanding on the record’s distantly Lynchian themes. Their new vinyl album Promise – streaming at Bandcamp – is even more vast and atmospheric. It’s best appreciated as a cohesive whole – with a pause to flip the record over.

The opening number, Midnight is a characteristic, glacially unwinding big-sky tableau, pedal steel player Jonathan Gregg’s minimalist lines washing over the ambience from guitarists Pat Irwin, Bob Holmes and keyboardist Gary Lieb.

Drift, the second cut, is exactly that, a flicker of low, twangy reverb guitar finally puncturing the enveloping, misty layers. Individual instruments become more distinct in Home, a minimistically folksy Great Plains nocturne.

The guitars get a little grittier and starrier in No Man’s Land – and is that a harmonium shadowing them? Mission is Pink Floyd spacerock with half the notes and layers of guitar, while  Echo Lake is a clever study in sound bouncing off one distant surface back to another.

Pensively strummed acoustic chords and the occasional troubled, watery electric guitar phrase linger beneath the hovering atmospherics in Winter Light, the album’s most ominous and memorable interlude. They close with the hypnotically twinkling Nightlight.

The Data Lords Are No Match For the Rest of Us in Maria Schneider’s Visionary Magnum Opus

Imagine what Hitler could have done if Facebook and Instagram had existed in 1938. There wouldn’t have been a single Jew or Romany person left alive in Europe. Or any musicians, artists, writers, or member of the intelligentsia.

All genuine art is transgressive. And fascists don’t like people who disobey.

There are a lot of little Hitlers working for the Trace and Track Corps right now who are datamining Facebook, Instagram, and every other digital platform including private phones.

You do the math.

So it’s kind of a miracle that Maria Schneider has been able to release her new album Data Lords in the year of the lockdown. In a career where she’s been widely acknowledged as the foremost jazz composer since the 1990s, this is a magnum opus, her bravest and most musically ambitious release yet. And it ends optimistically. As Schneider sees it, the people – and the animals, and the lakes and the trees – are going to win this war.

It’s a double album, the first titled The Digital World, the second Our Natural World. Schneider grew up in Minnesota, an outdoorsy kid whose love and advocacy for nature remains a persistent theme throughout her work. That resonates more strongly than ever on the second disc.

The first is protest music on the highest level of artistic expression, with Shostakovian irony and defiant Mingus humor. Improvisation seems to play an even greater role than ever in Schneider’s work here, and her brilliant ensemble attack it with reckless abandon and attention to the most minute details. It would take a book to dissect each of these pieces.

The opening number is A World Lost. Reduced to lowest terms, it’s basically a one-chord jam. From Frank Kimbrough’s elegaic, modally circling piano and Jay Anderson’s somber bowed bass, drummer Johnathan Blake adds mutedly shamanistic color. The orchestra develops a chromatic menace anchored by the low reeds, Rich Perry’s hopeful, defiant tenor sax pulsing through what could be groupthink. Anderson signals a rise to a fullscale conflagration; Perry’s tumble out of the sky, shadowed by guitarist Ben Monder’s atmospheric lines, is one of the most stunning moments on the album. Is this a portrait of the innate feebleness of the data lords, whose machines have not liberated but disempowered them? Or is this the failure of the world to realize the sinister implications of digital media?

The sarcasm in Don’t Be Evil – you know, the Google motto – is savage to the extreme. The quirky intro hints that these dorks couldn’t hurt a fly – but wait! A folksy caricature grows more macabre, with stabbing horns and a spastic, tormented guitar solo as a marching lockstep develops. Trombonist Ryan Keberle plays momentary voice of reason, Kimbrough the gleefully evil architect of an empire of spies with his phantasmagorical ripples. This might be the best song Schneider ever wrote.

Although CQ CQ Is There Anybody There predates the lockdown, it could be a portrait of what Del Bigtree calls the “illuminati of clowns” behind it. This one’s particularly creepy. There’s a persistent rubato feel to a large proportion of this disc, and this song is a prime example, from acidically swooping atmospherics and a descent into the murk with guitar lurking just overhead. Tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin provides ebullient contrast over the growl as Blake builds wave motion, then trumpeter Greg Gisbert and his pedal become a one-man cheer section for impending doom as the orchestra fall in and out of sync, until his shriek signals complete control. Those masks will never come off again.

Scott Robinson channels a vast range of emotions on baritone sax, from burbling contentedness to valve-ripping extended technique throughout Sputnik. Kimbrough introduces it somberly, then it becomes a contented deep-space theme. The way Schneider weaves the initial disquiet back in is nothing short of brilliant; the group bring it full circle. A 5G parable, maybe?

The album’s title track and centerpiece has a cold vindictiveness, from the glitchy electronic sarcasm of the intro, through an anxious flutter of individual voices as Blake circles his kit. Trumpeter Mike Rodriguez chooses his spots over a grim vamp, offers a guarded optimism but finally grows frantic. Could alto saxophonist Dave Pietro’s menacing chromatics and wobbly microtones over Kimbrough’s tinkle be a cartoonish take on a Bill Gates type?  When everything completely and abruptly falls apart, leaving only glitches behind, Schneider leaves no doubt that the data lords are doomed – and as the rest of the record attests, there are better things ahead.

Our Natural World begins with Sanzenin, a steady, calmly pulsing anthem which could be a largescale Claudia Quintet piece with Gary Versace’s terse accordion at the center. Steve Wilson’s coy blippy soprano sax is joined by warmly rippling piano, followed by whimsical conversation between accordion and sax in the carefree Stone Song, a rubato samba with lots of quick staccato bursts from everybody

Kimbrough’s glistening, incisive chords introduce Look Up, trombonist Marshall Gilkes echoing that bright lyricism throughout several solos. Gospel allusions from the piano filter through the orchestra’s lustre: Schneider’s signature colors shine especially in the inventive harmonies between low and high brass. There’s a jaunty son jarocho bounce as it moves along, Versace’s accordion coming to the forefront once more.

Braided Together, the album’s shortest number, is a lustrously triumphant, anthemically pulsing pastoral jazz vehicle for fondly soaring alto from Pietro. Bluebird, the most epic track here, is a throwback to Schneider’s Concert in the Garden days, with Gil Evans sweep and expanse, a muscular rhythmic drive, Kimbrough fueling the upward climb. The rhythm section channel the Meters behind Wilson’s jubilant, blues-tinged alto sax; Versace leaps and spins like a seal in the water. The orchestra reach a blazing peak and then shuffle down to a fadeout

The Sun Waited For Me makes a benedictory coda, glistening highs mingling with burnished lows. Eventually, a soulful, increasingly funky ballad emerges,  McCaslin’s tenor ratcheting up the energy. A career highlight from a group that also includes trumpeters Tony Kadleck and Nadje Nordhuis, trombonist Keith O’Quinn, and George Flynn on the bass trombone.

As you would expect, the web abounds with live performances from Schneider’s rich catalog; at present, this is not one of them. Schneider has had a long-running beef with youtube, and considering what’s happened this year, who can blame her. This is a treasure worth waiting for when it comes out on vinyl. 

Sharply Lyrical, Smart Purist Rock Eclecticism From Spygenius

Canterbury, UK-based band Spygenius play densely lyrical, erudite rock that draws on sixty years of classic tunesmithing. Their new double gatefold vinyl album Man on the Sea – streaming at Bandcamp – is as ambitious as it is vast. Their ability to channel an amazing number of styles is breathtaking. New wave? Check. The Beatles? Doublecheck. 80s pop, 70s art-rock? Check and doublecheck. Clever puns and cynical humor notwithstanding, frontman/guitarist Peter Watts’ songs occasionally take themselves a bit too seriously. But when this band connect, they really hit it out of the park (gratuitous American baseball reference in a review of an English band, WTF?), and they do that a lot here.

The opening track, Another True Story is Rubber Soul Beatles as Squeeze might have done it, with a twelve-string guitar: Oxford group Dada Paradox come to mind. Likewise, Albion, a snide dismissal of icy British conformity, is a McCartneyesque ballad with hints of the tropics and an unexpected snarl as it goes on.

Propelled by Ruth Rogers’ bubbly, dancing bass and Alan Cannings’ tightly clustering drums,  If You Go A-Roving looks back to the chimepop of 80s bands like Happy Mondays, with a Celtic tinge: keyboardist Matt Byrne’s trebly carnival organ is a deft touch. They keep the jangle and clang going throughout Salaud Days, a sendup of hypocrites. The title is a pun: “salaud” is French for “bastard,” Watts using the word in the Sartrean sense of an individual who refuses or neglects to exercise his free choice.

Side one concludes with Tomorrowland, a very clever critique of wide-eyed, futuristic techie fantasies, Byrne’s piano leaping and bounding uneasily. Side two begins with the Kinks-ish Café Emery Hill, followed by the sobering Dolphinarium 1986, a moody Celtic folk-rock reflection on how nostalgia is the enemy of history.

New Street is a snarky mashup of organ-driven 60s psychedelia and mid-80s REM. The album’s high point is the metaphorically loaded seafaring ballad Man Overboard: this grimly detailed account of a mutiny wouldn’t be out of place in the Charming Disaster catalog if that band played eight-minute songs.

Green Eyed Monster opens side three amid wild sheets of noise and then an anthemic, minor-key sway like the Church circa 1985 or so. From there the group segue into In a Garden, Byrne’s phantasmagorically twinkling piano elevating it above REM ripoff level. “She can’t help being stupider than you,” Watts rails in the scampering, organ-fueled Don’t Blame It on Your Mother, a dis to somebody who’ll do anything to avoid facing up to responsibility – a recurrent theme here.

Midnight Bandola comes across as an Irish take on the Grateful Dead circa American Beauty.  Rogers sings Spite, its bright Manchester pop sheen masking her hilariously venomous portrait of a pompous twit. Watch Your Back rises slowly from unresolved Robyn Hitchcock jangle to a big payoff. Windy (an original, not the 60s pop hit) has its airy late Beatles ambience: it could be late-period Love Camp 7 with a keyboard. That’s where the album ought to end; the intro to the last track is torture. Back in the radio-and-records age, this band would have been huge.

Ward White’s Leonard at the Audit – Best Rock Record of 2020 So Far

Since the early zeros, songwriter Ward White has been on a creative tear matched by few other artists, ever. In context: Bowie in the 70s; Aretha in the 60s; Elvis Costello from 1977 to about 1985; and Steve Wynn pretty much since birth. Hall of fame company. And White just doesn’t stop: his tenth and latest album, Leonard at the Audit, is streaming at Bandcamp. In terms of searingly literary lyricism set to imaginative, catchy rock changes, White is pretty much unsurpassed these days.

This particular record is probably the closest thing to White’s sinister nonlinear song cycle Bob – rated best rock record of the year here in 2013 – that he’s released since then. The album title reflects parallel narratives: Leonard Cohen’s 1960s flirtation with Scientology, and a seemingly mundane but actually much more grim story that looks back to the deadly geopolitics of the Bob record. Is this a sequel? Maybe.

The opening track, Bubble and Squeak, is White at the top of his imagistic, slashing game. A creepy cast of characters from the deep state along with an undertaker’s assistant make their entrance, none of them identified by name. “If you tangle with the Pharisees, be prepared to give up a son,” White warns. Musically, this sounds like the Police, built around a recurring guitar figure that White calls “seasick.” The band – Andrew Bird keyboardist Tyler Chester, Jakob Dylan drummer Mark Stepro and bassist John Spiker – maintain a low-key new wave pulse alongside him.

White goes for a more lush, ornate, briskly backbeat-driven feel in Not the Half, probably the only song to date to make the connection between Dylan Thomas final post-barroom collapse and lockdown-era respirator deaths. Above the watery web of guitars, the story references a hostage but also issues of artistic posterity or lack thereof.

The voice of a seemingly stoned and enlightenment-fixated Cohen alternates with someone whose marriage is going to hell on the express track in the similarly enveloping, jangly Ice Capades – or maybe it’s just a single narrator. The journey to the center of White’s songs is always a challenge, but an irresistible one.

Awash in hazy mellotron and icy chorus-box guitar, the Pink Floyd-inflected title track weighs the sacred against the profane – alongside what might or might not be a plane crash. The next song’s “Kleenex/Phoenix” rhyme is one of White’s funniest lyrical moments ever, and the litany of 70s references afterward are just as amusing, as is the central guitar hook – in a skeletal art-rock song about a contract killing, no less.

Likewise, the opening clang of Edmund Fitzgerald Is a Wreck (DAMN, White nails everything 70s here!), a sick, distantly late Beatlesque, characteristically image-rich Wisconsin death trip.

The backdrop shifts ten years forward into allusive 80s powerballadry with Try Me. The suspense and the black humor are relentless:

I was talking to the funeral director
Asking him how much this might all cost
He said “It’s hard to put a price on a relationship with God”
I said “Try me”

The surrealism reaches fever pitch in Dreaming of Dentistry, a druggy El Lay tableau akin to Floyd doing a sneering take on 70s lounge-pop with more than a hint of southwestern gothic. Dead People Fucking is one of White’s more Costelloesque numbers, referencing James Joyce, Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, and others with wry imagery that’s part Shakespeare, part Warren Zevon.

White sets the ominous gambling metaphors of You Gotta Have a System to a slow, lingering sway:

Lucky with queens, but not in spades
I told you to hit me!
Diamonds retreat where the heart invades
You might as well double down

He winds up the record with the Bowie-esque Pornographic Ennui, connecting the bloody dots between dirty pix and police state ruthlessness:

He was a man who liked machines;
On cocaine it was guns, on beer, anything that runs on gasoline

If it still makes sense for there to be such a thing as a music blog in December 2020 – let’s hope there is – you’ll see this again, high on the best albums of the year list.

A Mighty, Epic, Surreal Double Live Album From King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

Australian rock can be very surreal, and there’s none more surreal than psychedelic road warriors King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard‘s vast catalog. They put out albums at a frenetic pace, have a passion for edgy Middle Eastern tonalities and don’t show any sign of slowing down. Their latest release, Chunky Shrapnel – streaming at Bandcamp – is a lavish double live lp recorded at several European festivals last year. It’s the band at their most squalling, three-guitar intense: the swoosh and swirl of many of their studio records gets switched out for a roaring attack and a deliciously Balkan-tinged triptych at the end.

After a murky, ambient soundscape, the band launch into the sarcastic faux-lounge of The Rover. About three minutes in, they take a pause and then shift into high gear for some Os Mutantes tropicalia, a haphazard guitar solo from frontman Stu Mackenzie kicking off a long quasi-funk jam.

The group take their time straightening out the rhythm as they segue into the wryly titled Wah Wah, Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s organ lingering behind the guitars of Joey Walker and Cook Craig, As drummers Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore pound away, they shift right into the jubilantly galloping, metal-tinged Road Train.

Lucas Harwood’s tricky, loopy bass riffage propels the distantly Middle Eastern-flavored Murder of the Universe, ablaze in oscillating guitar distortion. They hit a hardcore drive with the furious eco-disaster parable Planet B, winding down to a boomy bass loop. A London crowd goes nuts for a silly drum solo; then the Lizards (Wizards?) pick up right where they left off with a pummeling, acidic take of Venusian 2, from a Milan gig.

Hell is pretty much straight-up thrashmetal, with more of a delicious Middle Eastern chromatic tinge: it’s one of the record’s high points. The White Denim-style pseudo-soul of Let Me Mend the Past makes a jarring segue, even with its tastily shrieky guitar break.

The Turkish-flavored Inner Cells, with its tricky tempos, suspenseful keys and icepick bass, is another killer cut. The synth cleverly picks up that same Balkan riff and runs with it in Loyalty, switching out eventually for brooding mellotron. They continue the magnificently dark, dancing interlude with Horology and cap off the record with practically twenty-minute take of A Brief History of Planet Earth, part Grateful Dead, part Doors LA Woman with a little Balkan punk and Jethro Tull mixed in. This is one of the best albums these guys have ever made – and they’ve made a bunch.

The Dream Syndicate’s Most Epic, Psychedelic Masterpiece: A New Double Vinyl Record

The Dream Syndicate distinguish themselves from the legions of jambands out there with the sheer intensity and focus of the guitar duels between bandleader Steve Wynn and lead player Jason Victor – and their songs’ carefully crafted narratives. One of the band’s signature moves is to take Wynn’s tightly wound three-and-a-half-minute riff-rock gems and thrash the hell out of them.

Their new double viinyl album, The Universe Inside – streaming at Bandcamp – takes a turn in a radically different direction. It’s a suite, by far the band’s most psychedelic record: history may judge this as the fullest realization of the vision Wynn introduced on the band’s influential debut, The Days of Wine and Roses. There are element of jazz, art-rock and latin music here, but ultimately this is its own animal.

Bassist Mark Walton more or less loops a catchy, dry, trebly riff as Wynn and Victor triangulate in a spare exchange with guest Stephen McCarthy’s lingering guitar-sitar to open the album’s twenty-minute first track, The Regulator. Shards of reverb and sputters of sparks from the amps punctuate those succinct phrases amid the swirl and pulse: Chris Cacavas’ echoey electric piano becomes the icing on this space cake. With drummer Dennis Duck and percussionist Johnny Hott’s supple shuffle groove, Carlos Santana’s late 60s jams come to mind, but also Isaac Hayes’ sprawling psychedelic soul vamps – and Meddle-era Pink Floyd, and Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch film themes.

There’s a spoken-word vocal that concerns soothing the soul and blown fuses, both things this band know something about. Marcus Tenney’s one-man horn section wafts through the mix – some sax, some trumpet, sometimes both, frequently evoking Sonny Rollins’ work on the Stones’ Waiting on a Friend. It ends as you would expect it

The groove expands, the spacerock becoming more drifty in the second track, The Longing. This tragedy occurred “Like it happened moments ago, distant across the chasm…the harder you try to fix it, eliminate, deep-six it, all that remains is the longing,” Wynn sings, pushing against the top of his register.

The three six-string guys – that’s McCarthy on six-string bass here – trade off warmly major-key Ticket to Ride phrases as Apropos Of Nothing gets underway. It’s a classic, cynical, allusively grim Wynn narrative

What were you expecting
What did you become
Apropos of nothing
Chain reaction before the fall

And just when the band have lulled you into an alterred state, they hit a crunchy, roaring What Goes On drive.

The sardonic jousting that introduces the instrumental Dusting Off the Rust – a line from The Regulator – is one of the album’s funniest moments. This one’s a gritty slinker, a trippy dichotomy of punchy riffs and swirling cascades in the same vein as the spidery Topanga Canyon Freaks, from Wynn’s iconic 2001 Here Come the Miracles album.

The record’s final cut, The Slowest Rendition rises from a web of aching bent-note cries, to a pummeling drive and then a brooding, summery haze. Elegantly animated interplay aside, it’s one of Wynn’s most haunting, death-fixated songs. “Chaos flickers in the night” on “this silent, darkening, empty beach,” his disembodied narrator bracing for what comes next as the sax winds down. It’s an apt ending from the guy who wrote John Coltrane Stereo Blues. If there’s still a reason, or a means, for music blogs to exist at the end of 2020 – let’s hope there are – you will see this high on the annual best album of the year list here