Swedish psych artist ST Mikael cut his teeth on a run of home-recorded albums spread across the early to mid 1990s. Released by Xotic Mind/Subliminal Sounds (who you gotta trust for their Merrell Fankhauser/MU fixation alone), they were periodically flashing documents, always promising slightly more than they ended up giving, and the times I’ve listened to them I’ve always come out the other side feeling underwhelmed. Actually, maybe I was closer to being flummoxed; there’s something in there, but it ain’t making it past the period-piece obsessions and the platitudinous lyrics. When Forced Exposure described ST Mikael as “Fairly interesting loner psych” back in 1993, I thought it was damning with faint praise, given their tendency to shine private-press excrement, predetermining your rapturous response to anything with a bong-hit and a wah-pedal. But it really is just that: “fairly interesting,” definitely; “loner,” well, mostly…
Mind of Fire’s a weird one. It’s front-loaded with five studio recordings, the ‘album’ itself. That they’re vaguely listenable is often the best praise I can muster, and even the presence of Dungen members and/or collaborators can’t get me too hyped about the ordinary psych-lite of songs like “Into Your Mind” or “Gyrax.” Genre signifiers, they are all present – crazy wah, doomy organs, portentous winged animals scything through the sky (that’s lyrics, not exegesis on how the music sounds, by the way) – but they don’t add up to much more than a vaguely ‘on’ but largely off-putting slab of studio bland-out. As a return to action after 11 years, it feels pretty skimpy.
The second half of Mind of Fire is the ST Mikael you’d expect: after a spoken intro thanking the listener and instrumentalists, Mikael tells you how sometimes he gets “lonely…,” and then dives into the heart of the matter – home recorded slop from the mind’s-eye 4-track. The warbly organ miniatures are undercooked, and “Dr. Terror’s Chamber of Horrors” is about as scary as a Care Bears movie, but Mikael top-and-tails these home-buffed bits with two lovely acoustic laments – “Did You Feel?” (easily the best thing on the record – imagine a socialised Jandek having guzzled a few pints of Satwa) and “Sinbad Song.” That the latter eventually descends into agrarian funk-folk isn’t quite so charming, but every Tim Buckley acolyte has to record their Greetings To L.A. someday, I guess.
It’s alright – some good outsider vision, some bad studio jams, and some messy bedroom noodling, which is par for the course for a lot of the modern psych retro vibe that’s floating around currently. I just wish the guy would focus and make something consistent. You know, an album you’d listen to all the way through, no grimaces or flicks to the fast-forward button. It ain’t too much to ask.