I don’t know who your favorite Greek psychedelic band is, but mine is the mighty Acid Baby Jesus. Selected Recordings is their second full length album, and it’s a pretty goddamn wild trip. Where a lot of modern psychedelic bands are content to simply work within the genre’s preconceived boundaries, these guys seem legitimately weird which makes a huge difference. Where the band’s first album had a garage rock vibe that reminded me of Ty Segall, Selected Recordings is almost uniformly dedicated to drugged up drone-rock damage. Songs like “Diogenes”, “Night of Pan” and “Ayahuasca Blues” have me thinking of The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” but with a modern production and Spacemen 3-like dedication to achieving some kind of noisy nirvana meant to replicate (or enhance) the drug experience. “Who’s First” represents a sonic outlier, sounding like an obscure single from the early days of California punk. Oh, and the lyrics have something to do with a gay cop looking to give someone oral sex. You certainly won’t hear that on the next Foxygen album! Two songs later “Troublemaker” blasts your brain with a Sabbath-y heaviness that’s always welcome. Selected Recordings has cool sounds and cool songs, so check it out.
Pre- (r)amble: Well, 2014 wasn’t such a great year for music, was it? The problem with this year is the same from recent years – the bands I like from my late-’90s/early-’00s young adulthood are largely slumping and there aren’t enough high-quality young bands arriving on the scene to take their place. If I’m correct, ten of the fifteen albums listed below are from artists in their forties, or beyond. That said, there were still a lot of really good releases, and here are my Top 15. Enjoy!
1. Mark Lanegan – Phantom Radio (Vagrant)
If you grew up listening to music before the digital age made packaging obsolete, you’ve probably seen the name Glyn Johns on the back of some of your favorite records. He’s recorded, mixed or produced music from just about all the big names in rock like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and The Eagles, to name a few from his 50 year career behind the boards. Based on his accomplishments and the characters he’s crossed paths with, Johns’ autobiography should be an indispensable treasure trove of great stories and anecdotes from rock’s most vital period. Instead I find it kind of dull. Yes he was there, and yes, he played an important role in shaping the sound of classic rock. But his retelling of events is so dry and emotionless that all of the vitality gets sucked out of them. Johns wrote Sound Man – the title perhaps a play on his “normalcy” in a field dominated by insane characters – by himself, which was probably a mistake. It won’t take readers long to figure out he’s not a professional writer and that using a co-writer could have added some crucial spice to an otherwise bland read. They also could have suggested a normal-sized font instead of the squint-inducing font we’re left with. Johns also errs by only focusing on his most well known musical activities, condensing the last 35 years of his career down to just 40 pages. True, his output during that time is weak compared to the albums he worked on in the ’60s and ’70s, but this is supposed to be a biography and not a selective ‘greatest hits’. It might have been interesting to hear what it was like for him emotionally, given his extraordinary resume, to be working on albums by forgotten C-level bands like Summerhill, Jackopierce and The Warm Jets. Unfortunately he doesn’t let us in on that…or much else.
Once it hit big in the late-’60s, bands from all over the world began embracing psychedelia, creating weird local permutations of the sounds from the latest Beatles, Hendrix, Doors and Floyd records. Turkey has always been one of my favorite breeding grounds for psychedelic rock, probably because acts from there didn’t try to sound exactly like Western bands, and maintained a strong sense of “Turkishness”, using distinctly local melodies and instruments like the Baglama and Zurna. It’s these elements that give the music an exotic quality that transports you to someplace different, which was kind of the point of psychedelic rock in the first place. Anyway, Pharaway Sounds recently reissued albums by two of the best performers of Turkish psych-rock, Cem Karaca and Edip Akbayram, complete with remastered sound and in-depth liner notes.
Cem Karaca’s album, Nem Kaldi, is a grab-bag of singles from the ’60s and ’70s and, as you might expect, it’s all over the map. Besides Karaca’s booming Scott Walker-esque voice and melodramatic delivery, there aren’t many constants from song to song, running the gamut from highly-orchestrated Curtis Mayfield-styled funk (“Oy Bobo”) to soft-psych balladry (“Baba”) to crazed funk-prog (“Namas Balasi”). By constantly shifting styles (and sound quality) from song to song Nem Kaldi is somewhat tiring, though the highs are strong enough to make it all worthwhile. The highest of those highs is “Unutamadigim”, a surprisingly heavy rocker with manic double bass drums and swooping synth squiggles pushing the song further and further out into the stratosphere with each passing second.
Edip Akbayram’s Nedir Ne Degildir gets the nod here as the better of the two albums. It has the advantage of being an actual album, rather than a singles compilation, so the sound quality and backing band (Dostlar) are the same from song to song. The album dates from 1977, long after this type of psychedelic rock had faded in most parts of the world, but Akbayram still gets a lot of mileage from the sounds of the previous decade, mixing hard rock histrionics, with proggy keyboards, funky beats and lots of those great sounding Turkish instruments that you don’t get to hear very often in the Western World. Favorites include “Arabam Kaldi Yolda” with its instrumental section sped up from manipulated tapes (like “War Pigs”), and “Adam Olmak Dile Kolay” which features an amazingly in-the-pocket instrumental section that pretty much rules. In addition to psych-heads, cratediggers should check this out too, as there’s wealth of funky beats here waiting to be turned into hip-hop tracks.