Five Good Psychedelic Pop Albums

Junior’s buddy expressed an interest in psychedelic pop. Here’s a selection of good albums, one for each decade. There is of course also heavier psych rock with prominent blues guitar in the tradition of Hendrix.

  • 60s. Beatles, Revolver
  • 70s. This decade produced a treasury of psych rock, prog rock and space rock, but I haven’t got a recommendation for something both poppy and psychedelic.
  • 80s. Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
  • 90s. Olivia Tremor Control, Music from the Unrealised Film Script ‘Dusk at Cubist Castle’
  • 00s. Of Montreal, Aldhil’s Arboretum
  • 10s. Tame Impala, Lonerism

See also my blog entry about good Swedish psych rock.

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In My Earbuds Lately

For months I subscribed to too many podcasts, and so wasn’t listening to a lot of music. But lately I’ve made an effort to rectify that. Here’s what I’ve been bopping to.

  • Apples In Stereo – Travellers In Space And Time (2010). Lots of vocoder!
  • David Bowie – Pin Ups (1973). Glam covers of 60s British pop tunes.
  • Brimstone Solar Radiation Band – Solstice (2005). Norway’s finest psychedelia!
  • Jet – Shaka Rock (2009). Stonesy, amazingly derivative and amazingly good.
  • Midlake – Courage of Others (2010). Mournful, close two-part harmony, guitars, flute, always on the brink of over-earnestness.
  • Norm Sherman – Esoteric Order of Sherman (2012). Masterfully genre-spanning geek comedy songs.
  • Sword – Age of Winters (2006). Black Sabbath devotees lamenting the passing of the aurochs.
  • Tame Impala – Lonerism (2012). Australian Lennon soundalike plays spaced-out pop under the direction of ex-Mercury-Rev producer.
  • Yes – Fragile (1971). Exuberantly intricate prog rock.

Now tell me about some more good albums!

Depeche Mode Meets Tom Lehrer

In your room
Where time stands still
Or moves at your will
Will you let the morning come soon
As we dance to the Masochism Tango

I ache for the touch of your lips, dear
But much more for the touch of your whips, dear
There’ll be times
When my crimes
Will seem almost unforgivable
I give in to sin
Because you have to make this life livable
As we dance to the Masochism Tango

You caught my nose
In your left castanet, love
I can feel the pain yet, love
Every time I hear drums
And I envy the rose
That you held in your teeth, love
Strangelove

Will you take the pain
I will give to you
Again and again
And will you return it
As we dance to the Masochism Tango

Your eyes cast a spell that bewitches
The last time I needed twenty stitches
To sew up the gash
That you made with your lash
Dangerous
When I am in your arms
Dangerous
Know I will come to harm
As we dance to the Masochism Tango

There’s a new game
We like to play you see
A game with added reality
You treat me like a dog
Get me down on my knees
Which is why I perspire
When we tango

For some background, see my blog entry La Vice Anglais.

Making Peace With Kraftwerk

I used to be kind of angry and disappointed with Kraftwerk. The only album they put out after I started listening to them was 1986’s Electric Café which is OK but not great, and after that, no new material. But now I look at their catalogue and think, hey, from 1974 and for seven years on, they released five amazing albums. The stellar Computer World appeared in 1981, the year when Hütter & Schneider turned 35 and 34. In terms of the normal productivity and creativity arc of a band, Kraftwerk have nothing to be ashamed of. And there is that nagging question of what Ralf Hütter’s 1983 cycling accident did to his head.

I guess as a kid I had no good idea of time. My friend introduced me to this amazing band in the early 80s and I just assumed that “this is happening now” — when in fact I was listening to some of the most innovative music of the preceding decade.

Inexplicable Millas Mirakel Lyrics

I’m bothered by odd redundancy in an 80s song lyric. Millas mirakel advises us that “It is better to light the fire of life than to never be allowed to be yourself”. Yes, and? That turn of phrase should compare two undesirable things, like “It is better to lose one toe than to lose both eyes.” Here Milla, who I might add is overall a strangely schoolmasterly and archaic pop lyricist, is basically saying “It is better to win the lottery than to lose both eyes.”

This is why we shouldn’t have freedom of speech.

Flute Clock Reborn

My part-time employers the Academy of Letters are charmingly unworldly in a muscular way. They’re not a government body and are beholden to nobody except King Gustav III who laid down their bylaws in the 18th century. He hasn’t cramped their style in quite a while. And they are quite comfortably funded indeed through various bequests and donations they have received through the centuries. The Academy is essentially an invitation-only club for professors in the humanities and social sciences, and their priorities are not of this world. Edit and publish the correspondence of a 17th century royal chancellor? Sure. Re-paint one of their manors in the baby pink colour it had in the 1820s? You got it. Renovate a 200-year old automatic flute clock that plays Mozart for five minutes every hour? Yep.

I attended a demonstration of the flute clock the other day. It’s a squat neo-classical obelisk-like cabinet with a clock at the top and an 66-pipe miniature organ in the base, built by Pehr Strand’s firm in Stockholm. All of the machinery is powered by a 43 kg lead weight that you crank up by hand. But for the past century it hasn’t been working. The clockwork was gummed up. Most of the organ pipes and the entire gear box were missing. Importantly though, the data storage medium was still there: a collection of log-like wooden rollers covered with little metal pins and staples. On each roller is a label bearing names like Haydn, Mozart and Naumann.

So when musicologist prof.em. Jan Ling comes across this piece of pretty but dead machinery in the Rettig collection (into which I run the constant risk of being acquisitioned, as my office is on the same floor), what does the Academy do? They commission an organ builder, a barrel organ builder and a watchmaker to renovate the thing. To replace the missing parts with period materials and make it work again. Make it able to play those rollers. But the rollers of this tech tradition followed no standard. Every machine was unique. The artisans have to reverse-engineer the whole thing, starting from the extant rollers and general principles known from similar surviving contraptions.

And they got it to work. At 14:55 it started playing, sounding fluty indeed, performing every little flourish of the Mozart piece on the roller slotted into it, before chiming three times. And when I heard it, I immediately thought of the Beatles. Because the 18th century technology of that organ clock survived through the 19th century, when the counterweight could be replaced by a steam engine, and those calliopes survived in English amusement parks into the 20th century, where some of the last ones were recorded on tape. And when John Lennon wrote a song based on a poster for a Victorian fun fair, George Martin got the idea to put a collage of calliope recordings into the song, “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”. That’s what the Academy’s flute clock sounds like.

People still build flute clocks! Check out Matthias Naeschke.

Bill Doss of Olivia Tremor Control Dead at 43

My musical taste spans half a century, but like many people I have a particular soft spot for musicians of my own age and the albums they made during our 20s. I really love 90s neo-psych. It was disconcerting when these musicians started putting out divorce albums (of Montreal’s brilliant 2007 Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?) and organising reunion tours (The Olivia Tremor Control in 2005). And now they’ve started dying.

Bill Doss of The Olivia Tremor Control and The Apples In Stereo died on 30 July, aged 43. He brought the 60s sunshine pop element to OTC’s mind-bending musical stew, put out some fine tracks with The Sunshine Fix and finally joined The Apples In Stereo for their two latest albums (the Apples being the main vehicle for Robert Schneider who produced OTC’s albums).

Thank you for the music, Bill! You were truly great!