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By Peter Lindblad
This month's Modern Rock in Motion column will be an acid test of sorts
Colder Streams (Yep Roc Records) carried Dallas Good away. A glorious sendoff, The Sadies’ otherworldly last hurrah – Good having sadly shuffled off this mortal coil last February – claims cosmic cowboy squatters’ rights in The Gilded Palace of Sin and steals away in Roky Erickson’s jangly jalopy of untamed ‘60s garage-rock nightmare fuel, scrawling out hieroglyphics on cascading walls of sound as it motors ahead. While the banjo-inflected, dreamy washes “All the Good” and “Cut Up High and Dry” feel the ghostly, countrified presence of The Flying Burrito Brothers and the lovely, yet unsettling, “You Should be Worried” disarms with folky wonder, heady rushes of hallucinatory, vertiginous Thirteen Floor Elevators’ mayhem flood “No One’s Listening” and “Stop and Start,” everything shrouded in mesmerizing mystery and veiled menace. Raucous drag races “Ginger Moon” and “Better Yet” chase the devil back to hell in feverish, marauding fashion, The Sadies – a truly transcendent and effortlessly cool live band – running their freewheeling, well-oiled instrumental machinery hot, constantly pushing the needle into the red. Precious lyrical cargo is transported in the form of fantastical, evocative imagery and earthy tales of barroom paradises lost, deep loneliness and crushed dreams. There are fiery crashes, but The Sadies emerge from the wreckage unscathed time and time again, walking away in the psychedelic haze and swirl of “Message to Belial” to eventually direct the sprawling, cinematic closer “End Credits,” a fitting way to go out. Colder Streams is the album of the year so far, hands down, its impressionistic meditations on life and death delivered by distant, vaporous vocals and tumbling riffs and rhythms – all smeared with vintage sonic Vaseline. We’ll meet again, Dallas.
To heal up after such a tragic ending, the “Medicine” of The Soft Hills’ calming psych-folk gondola ride into the mystic entitled Viva Che Vide (Black Spring Records) gently soothes, undergoing an herbal, mood-altering baptism in the slightly upbeat opener to Garrett Hobba’s stint in spiritual rehab. Visiting the graves of Nick Drake and Hunky Dory-era David Bowie, laying dandelion fuzz and feathery acoustic guitar strum on their tombs, the singer-songwriter works through whatever’s troubling his worried mind in fogs of reverb, keenly aware of the mesmerizing presence of shape-shifting Mellotron galaxies and an aurora borealis of blended vocals, soft keyboard allure, hypnotic bass and pedal steel wraiths in his midst. His motives are sincere and pure, as memories of a special, eccentric friend are recounted in a wistful “Seven Coats for Walter,” with the melodic, slow-moving drifts “Wood Between Worlds,” “The Magic Flower,” “Night Riders” and “Opening to the Infinite” picking up fellow travelers and throwing them headlong into atmospheric expanses. Don’t leave without taking a dip in the jaunty, ayahuasca-inspired charms of a whimsical “Tea Time,” which playfully smirks and steps lively like The Kinks. A heavy-lidded, somnambulant journey, Viva Che Videebbs and flows beautifully, its painted surrealism brushed across lush arrangements, with Hobba surreptitiously experimenting with sounds and textures, seeking to establish a self-care oasis in the coolness and breathy intimacy of The Shins’ leisurely strolls.
For a more renewable source of fuzzed-out, neo-psychedelic energy, plug into a recharged Elf Power, the prolific Elephant 6 collective mainstays returning after a six-year absence with the steady, lysergic marches and melancholic pop confetti cannons of Artificial Countrysides (Yep Roc Records). Anxiety clouds Elf Power’s normally sunny disposition, their serious 14th album predicting the end of the world as we know it. Unlike fellow Athens, Georgia denizens R.E.M., Andrew Reiger and company aren’t feeling at all fine, as they sound the alarm of apocalyptic inevitability in the gloomy, seductive currents and harpsichord finery of “Pouring Hot Water on the Anthills.” Wandering the electronic wasteland of Grandaddy’s classic The Sophtware Slump, affected by its heavy ennui and wide-eyed bewilderment, Elf Power opens spigots of tuneful nectar with the bittersweet, electro-pop surges of “Floods” and “Metal House,” as the insistent “Undigested Parts” is covered in thick, distorted wool blanketing steady propulsion. Lost in nostalgic yearning, swaying to a light wind of simulated strings, with its finely combed acoustic-guitar hair, “Dark Rays” could be the soundtrack to an old silent movie, while the absorbing reverie “Filming the Sequel Before All the Actors Die” creeps down a narrowly defined, rocky path, disoriented and woozy. Artificial Countrysides exists uneasily in a space between natural preservation and futuristic possibilities, and “no trespassing” signs are ignored. In this corrupted garden of Eden, it’s Mellotron and Moog keyboards that beckon, rather than a snake, with marimba, drum machine loops and other assorted downy sounds luring visitors ever deeper into its smoky grey tunnels and woodsy spaces. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind you.
Let’s ask garage-psych revivalists The Harlequins for the Time (Dizzybird Records) and date. Still going by calendars from the ‘60s, even while celebrating their 15th anniversary in the here and now, the Cincinnati power trio whorls through a trippy, Nuggets-inspired free-for-all, while keeping an eye on current affairs. Noisy and wild, yet also unabashedly melodic and mellow, Time wants to live in Haight-Ashbury squalor and find a link between the edgy DNA of The Chocolate Watchband and Ty Segall, whose upbeat, manic episodes are recaptured in catchy, freaked-out bashes like “Hold Your Tongue” and a searing, staggered “Return Home.” The Who’s “Substitute” is reborn with even more urgency. Anger at encroaching authoritarianism rises in the paradoxical “The Cheater” and “Sound of the Creeps,” their dire warnings disguised by blissful, floating sonic ecstasy. Darkness completely envelopes “The Tower,” however, its ominous message about America’s destructive gun culture coming through loud and clear amid deep, rumbling turbulence and flashes of blown-out radiance. Leaving politics aside, The Harlequins escape with Donovan into the sunshine pop circus of “Waves Up,” while the chugging “Down” and its prismatic horns boat happily through a Magical Mystery Tour, the title track looks inward in a dazed and woozy voyage, and a rippling “Tunnel Vision” rolls around in languid Velvet Underground misery. This one is for the true heads hanging out in back alleys bumming gritty, grimy rock ‘n roll dipped in PCP.
Math is something Rubblebucket excels at, that is if the lush, tribal grooves of an engaging “Geometry” are any indication – its summery horns and pristine guitar funk taking over the dance floor, just as they do in a euphoric “Melt Through the Floors” and the infectiously warped “Sweet Spot.” All three tracks eagerly take part in the colorful, psychedelic soul orgy that is Earth Worship (Grand Jury), the vivid and luxurious follow-up to 2018’s Sun Machine. Exuding youthful charm, while siphoning the disco vibes of Blondie and Tom Tom Club’s rhythmic complexity to create vibrant, genre-hopping graffiti of immersive liquidity, acid house bounce and airy beauty, Earth Worship is a fun, orgasmic delight. Even its environmental activism goes down easily, with the irresistibly buoyant “Rain Rain Nature Rain” nodding its head to upbeat, driving hooks. More convincing testimony to Rubblebucket’s exquisite pop sensibilities is offered by the fetching “Cherry Blossom” and its breezy, bittersweet sweep, as well as the blooming, kaleidoscopic “Zeros as Round as the World” and its joyful release of endorphins. Nothing is more relaxing, though, than the smooth, sultry R&B languor of a life-affirming “Sexual Revolution” urging us all to slip into something more comfortable. Isaac Hayes has entered the chat, smiling with eyes closed as Everything but the Girl and Deee-Lite fill his headphones. Groove is in the heart of Earth Worship.