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Psychic Ills - One Track Mind

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Artist: Psychic Ills

Album: One Track Mind

Label: Sacred Bones

Review date: Feb. 14, 2013

Psychic Ills has been moving away from free-form drone and toward songs for a couple of albums now, starting with 2011’s Hazed Dreams and accelerating with this year’s One Track Mind. If you last checked in around Mirror Eye, you might be surprised by the relative conciseness and structure of the songs, and by the fact that nearly all put their melody in the vocal line. Make no mistake, Psychic Ills is still trippy, still laid-back, still fogged in with effect-driven haze, but it’s more in line with Brian Jonestown Massacre or Royal Baths these days than Bardo Pond or MV+EE.

Consider, for instance, the title track, with its loping, looping guitar line. That’s Tres Warren wandering out on a long tether, spinning the kind of head-nodding licks that arc up and trickle down, that buffet a single note into a mad, dramatic crescendo and then trail off into smoke and dissolution. Underneath, bassist Elizabeth Hart keeps ragged, pick-scratching time, the low notes bobbling and bumping at the under-edge of audibility. There are slow drums, electronic bits, a feedback haze floating in the mix, and over it all, surprisingly clear and dominant, Warren singing, a murmur but not a monotone, the vocals drifting out over lazy cumulous clouds of guitar. The singing’s not a texture, but the wind-up spring that drives the whole song, though slowly, deliberately, without any angst or aggression. It’s like The Jesus and Mary Chain at a hallucinogenic crawl, or Satanic Majesty-era Stones heard through a sandstorm.

Things get even more “Citadel”-Stoney in the single, “Might Take A While,” which has a woozy, not-quite synchronized, all-hands chorus, with Royal Trux’s Neil Hagerty just audible in the background. It’s a honky-tonk in slo-mo, a blues-rock vamp too exhausted to rouse itself, but underneath all that, a damned good song that you could sing along with after a single chorus. Later with the blistered, time-lapse onslaught of “Depot,” you hear a little of Moon Duo’s blend of drift and abrasion, while “City Sun” evokes the mud-caked Gnosticism of Harvest’s Neil Young, harmonica and all. Only “Western Metaphor” is an instrumental, and even this is no loose-limbed, open-ended free-for-all a la “Mantis” from Mirror Eye. Rather it smolders in a contained Kraut-meets-psych-surf way, the drums and bass blocky and regular, while only the guitar swoops out and around and through the mix with freedom.

Hart has said in interviews that Psychic Ills has changed the way it makes songs, doing more premeditated composition and less jamming to come up with the tunes. Hence, these songs are more deftly shaped, more melodic and perhaps a bit more conventional than the extended blow-outs of earlier records. But I have to say, I like the change. These songs stick in your head in a way that 15-minute guitar jams never do, while still maintaining a bit of hoary mystery at their core.

By Jennifer Kelly

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