Release Date: Jun 3, 2016
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Alternative Pop/Rock
As a band’s recorded catalog grows deeper, the easier it becomes to find enough of the right pieces to assemble a narrative you might imagine playing out in their body of work. Such a tale of Psychic Ills’ journey so far could be seen as coming in two acts that coincide with the two labels they have been on, the Social Registry and, currently, Sacred Bones. In the first half, singer/guitarist and Texan son Tres Warren teams up with bassist Elizabeth Hart in Austin, they sling their guitar and bass over their shoulders and head for New York, and over time the two find a series of musicians to explore different modes: desert road rock, improvised space jams, heady drones.
Cheese and pineapple on a cocktail stick has always been a curious combination, yet it’s one of the most popular buffet nibbles going. Maybe it’s just a British thing, but there’s a whole host of other weird food combos on offer from all over the globe. Some things though, just ain’t meant to go together. Or are they? Out of all the musical genres to find themselves under similar ‘chuck ‘em in the mixing pot and see what happens’ experimentation, New York’s Psychic Ills seem to have had a go at most things, with a constant base ingredient of psychedelia.
Remember several decades ago, when the Beatles asked us to turn off our minds, relax and float downstream? Psychic Ills clearly do, and if their approach to their music is a far cry from what the Fab Four were up to, they've created one of the truly great "drifting on a cloud of lysergic thought" albums with their fifth long-player, 2016's Inner Journey Out. Obviously built around the notion that less is more, Inner Journey Out is made up of slow, contemplative numbers that embellish circular guitar and keyboard patterns as the musicians reach out to their hypnotic potential. Approaching something like psychedelic minimalism, Inner Journey Out's 14 tracks don't offer much in the way of melodies or hooks, but give them half a chance and you'll sink deep into this album like it's a comfy easy chair.
Though they were a full band line-up when they emerged out of New York’s psych scene for their 2006 debut album Dins, time has whittled Psychic Ills down to a core membership of Tres Warren and Elizabeth Hart, joined here by a revolving set of collaborators including Mazzy Star vocalist and occasional Mary Chain guest, Hope Sandoval, who turns up on the laidback and lo-fi duet I Don’t Mind. Their songs are hazy, languid, shoegazing affairs; at a glance you’d compare them with stablemates Moon Duo but then reflect them as being the reverse, pulling their slow drawl vocals out of the ether and into the fore where Moon Duo bury theirs in the fuzz and reverb, stretching their sounds in slow beats where their compatriots pile drive. Still relevant to associate the two outfits as part of the wider Americana wing of spacerock, if only to delineate how diverse that idea has become.
For all that somebody has forgotten to affix the warning 'This is NOT a Spiritualized record' to the album’s artwork – the Farfissa organ, the gospel flourishes, the languid, almost horizontal vocals straight out of the Jason Pierce guide to stagecraft – Inner Journey Out is not pastiche. It’s not even homage, once you look beyond the obvious, and while the New York duo have always sounded somewhat self-medicated, their songcraft travels far beyond druggy introspection – never more so on I Don’t Mind, its hazy undercurrents swirling, Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval providing vocal uplift alongside the pedal steel guitar. Elsewhere there’s a discernible country influence, Coca-Cola Blues road-weary, opener Back to You floating amidst Mojave textures.
Psychic Ills have always had a Rolling Stones-ish vibe. Like kindred souls the Brian Jonestown Massacre, it’s always seemed like the New York duo makes records that imagine what Keef and the boys would’ve sounded like had they expanded on Their Satanic Majesties Request. So it’s no real surprise that the Ills open fifth album Inner Journey Out with a pair of BJM soundalikes in the “Mixed Up Mind” and “All Alone.” Indeed, singer/songwriter Tres Warren, bassist Elizabeth Hart and their cohorts play in the same sandbox for a good chunk of the record – “Baby,” “Fade Me Out” and “No Worry” also have the same hazy folk rock core the BJM borrowed from the Stones’ druggier moments.