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Psychic Ills - Mirror Eye

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Artist: Psychic Ills

Album: Mirror Eye

Label: The Social Registry

Review date: Jan. 12, 2009

Psychic Ills slips a bit further from songcraft, a bit deeper into shadowy ethno-drones in this, their second proper full-length, splicing the tribal sounds of caravan percussion to space-age guitar effects and synthesizer sounds. Though usually compared to interstellar overdrivers like Spaceman 3, here the band sounds more like NNCK, improvisatory, foreboding and tethered loosely to Middle Eastern and African rhythms.

Nearly everyone from 2006’s Dins has returned – old hands Tres Warren and Liz Hart and later recruit Brian Tamborello – but there’s a new element with the addition of Jimy SeiTang. SeiTang brings in many of Mirror Eye’s freakier elements, synthesizers that sound like aircraft and ritual chant, interplanetary navigation systems and shepherd’s horns. The long opening cut, “Mantis,” for instance, somehow invokes the glottal weirdness of Tuvan throat-singing, its vibrating haze of synthesizer, coalescing in a tone that sounds like the song a chromium machine might sing if it were learning transcendental meditation. Later, “The Way Of” sways and jounces like a desert trader on camelback, its primitive rhythms joined to serpentine Middle Eastern guitar. The synthesizer in this piece sounds like either an aerial sonar device or a goat bleating, depending on how you come to it. It is perfectly ambiguous, either older than time or as new as tomorrow’s technology, but either way, fitting seamlessly into a groove.

This groove turns out to be important, because no matter how many fascinating sounds you create, they sound better on top of a beat. “Mantis” can sustain its freeform meditation on vibration and tone because it pulses with Hart’s barely there, under-the-skin buzz of bass and Tamborello’s hand-slapped drums. “Eyes Closed” binds freaky oscillations and stick-figure percussion to the slow undulations of rhythm, a hallucinogenic belly dance embedded in the experiment. “Sub Synth,” on the other hand, is all sound fuckery and no song. If you want to replicate the whine of flight simulators in your car, just put it on a loop and turn the volume up. “I Take You As My Wife Again” is also abstract, but a bit more layered and varied. Ghostly metallic buzz saws arc through a percolating, rotary-fan pulsation in an imagined space that is interesting, but not especially welcoming.

“Mantis” and “Eyes Closed” occupy a sort of middle ground on this album. They are not as purely experimental as “Sub Synth” and “I Take You As My Wife Again.” Still they are also less accessible and more challenging than Mirror Eye most song-like cuts – “Meta,” “Fingernail Tea” and “Go to the Radio.” Of these, “Fingernail Tea” is the best and most memorable, its insinuating groove winding in and amongst viscous, elastic-stretching bass lines, tremulous guitars and faint, hazy vocals. Other cuts use vocals, mostly as tones rather than vehicles for imagery, but this one integrates singing fully into the fabric of the composition. It is still dreamily otherworldly, but structured with an internal logic and full of forward motion.

The balance – between groove and experiment, organic and synthetic sound – shifts constantly on this very strong album, sometimes prodding listeners to think, other times comforting them with familiar sounds and, occasionally, overwhelming them with ephemeral beauty. It’s best heard in one sitting, with plenty of time for reflection and no interruptions, so that all these elements can assume their rightful place in the whole.

By Jennifer Kelly

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