Perhaps people are finally starting to get a little bit fed up.
Mainstream pop music has become incredibly bloated over the past 15 years or so, in the process fully embracing an assembly line mentality that now sees recordings routinely pieced together like so many plastic widgets. The whole microcosm has become very Las Vegas-like in its insistence on selling style as substance, in its white-knuckled demand that we accept this “more is more, and less is for losers” ethic as groovy entertainment.
Following Rihanna’s tour-opening concert at First Niagara Center last Friday, I received a few dozen letters from attendees who shared a feeling of righteous outrage after having paid fairly steep prices ($125 for the best seats) for a show described by these writers alternately as “a debacle,” “a travesty,” “a terrible rip-off,” “a complete phone-in – she didn’t even pretend to be lip syncing to the tracks, that’s how little she cared!,” and “a terrible joke, and the joke was on us, who paid for it.”
It should be noted that most of the sold-out house appeared to be loving Rihanna, and further, that anyone who forked over that kind of cash must have known what they were in for – what possible empirical evidence existed prior to the First Niagara show to suggest a Rihanna concert would be anything more than poorly sung spectacle and pop burlesque? Still, the outpouring of outrage – some of it directed at me, with the suggestion that my review of the concert went too easy on Rihanna, an assertion we’ll have to disagree on – brings up an interesting point.
Style and spectacle are apparently not enough for everyone. The people, some of them at least, are starving for some substance.
This may partly explain the emergence of a fresh crop of bands and artists who are eagerly and effectively pushing a post-millennial form of trippy, Technicolor-soaked psychedelic music. This is music for the head and the heart more than the eyes, which stands in opposition to the strictures of modern mainstream pop. An artist like Rihanna gets by mostly on visual appeal, and she’s far from the exception to the rule. The new psychedelia, by contrast, is not made by folks who are glamorous or particularly good-looking. These artists don’t dress up like strippers, be they male or female, nor do they perform unison dance moves. Instead, they conjure sounds that encourage the imaginations of listeners. Ideally, these listeners take in the music with eyes closed – preferably not while driving – and summon a movie of the mind based on the imagery suggested by the music.
The patron saint of this type of mind-expanding, slowly unfolding, psychedelic epic is Pink Floyd. Its 20-minute sonic film “Echoes” is the very definition of progressive psychedelic music, and that tune’s influence is all over this latest class of post-millenial psych-rock, much of which is being crafted by British folks. America did beat the Brits to the punch a bit with the Flaming Lips, whose June 1999 release “The Soft Bulletin” is the shot fired across the bow for this new form. But the British were hot on the heels of the Lips, and by this point, have as many entries in the post-millennial psychedelia sweepstakes as do their American counterparts.
Here, then, are five artists whose finely detailed, lysergic-soaked sounds are tailor-made for the listener who has had it up to here with prefabricated pop. Their music suggests a trip around the cosmos, rather than the trip to the mall that modern mainstream pop is offering.
Time to turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream, kiddies ...
This duo marries its obvious prog-rock fascination to trippy blends of electronic music and the flat-out psychedelia of its two most brilliant albums, “Spirit Animal” and “Surface To Air.” Zombi’s controls are set squarely for the heart of the sun.
The Black Angels
This Austin, Texas-born quartet released a mind-melting new-psych opus in the form of 2010’s “Phosphene Dream,” and is prepared to do it again with the April 2 release of the follow-up effort “Indigo Meadow.” These guys can get heavy, but they love to employ dreamy drone notes, and their sprawling, spacious tunes are perfect fare for some serious headphone listening.
The youngest of the bands I’m recommending here, London’s Toy treads the line between shoegazer alternative and Syd Barrett-like trippiness. The band’s 2012 self-titled debut offers plentiful candy for the head. Witness the brooding mini-epic “Drifting Deeper.”
The Canadian entry in the new-psych canon, Elephant Stone picks up where ’80s psychedelic pioneers the Church and early ’90s psych icons the Stone Roses left off. Gorgeously jangly guitars, liberal doses of reverb and swirling, headphone-friendly mixes abound on the band’s just released self-titled album. Simply spin album opener “Setting Sun,” and drift away.
The groovy drone of acid rock meets the elegant sludge of Explosions in the Sky on this San Francisco quartet’s “West” album. Fans of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club will find this wall of sound easy to climb.