Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Drone Head - The Janitors (album review)

After Drone Head's release on Cardinal Fuzz Records on the 24th of June, D.Y.E.P catches up with the Swedish duo's latest sonic outing.

In the past, psychedelic music used to be a bit of an obscure obsession. I remember those driven pre-digital days, traipsing across town and dale in search of the latest EVA '60s garage comp, the hours spent lusting after the ridiculously expensive in-store used copy of Kaleidoscope's Beacon from Mars at the local hip record emporium, or the excitement I'd feel hearing "Tomorrow Never Knows" getting a rare spin on the radio. But with the dawning of the internet all that has changed, with today's generation becoming spoiled for choice; music of a psychedelic persuasion(in addition to just the original '60s stuff) is hard to miss any more and, as the sold out crowds at Tame Impala's US tour bear witness, it all suddenly threatens to become a bit too predictable. 

Music of a psychedelically inclined nature is what Sweden's, The Janitors, deliver in spadefuls. Their new double-LP Drone Head (Cardinal Fuzz, CFUL008), pairs the duo's two 2012 EP's Head Honcho and The Worker Drone Queen into one glorious gate-fold package on white vinyl. Hailing from Stockholm, this duo play what they claim is "Swedish evil shoegaze boogie woogie and stökpsych a go go!" Now my Swedish is a bit rusty these days, but last time I checked, stök roughly translates as "mess." Although I'm not entirely sure what mess-psych is, based on repeated listens to the menacing beauty that is Drone Head, I'm fairly certain these boys are fully cognizant of the messy and messed up legacies of their preferred musical genre. Indeed, they create a convincing and recognizably "psych" sound on this record, and one that fans of the likes of Spacemen 3 and Wooden Shjips will feel instantly familiar with.

Other reviewers have also taken note of the dark edge to this duo's distorted sound, their penchant for overdriven fuzz and reverb, the booming and sinuous throb of the low end that anchors the buzzing whip of the chainsaw whine throughout each of the record's songs. Take note: if you like your psych-rock heavy and dark, with a bit of demonic quarter-speed Bo Diddley pounding through the wash and wave of the froth and fuzz, then there's much to like here. Take the booming drum-driven intro of a song like "Strap Me Down" for example; its propulsive howl, perfectly timed pauses, and horror-echo vocals are so pitch-reminiscent of the epic psych melodrama of the Angels that you'll be sucked in from the outset. The song ends with a swirling, crashing tide of hypnotizing technicolored shimmer that puts me in mind of the sort of 'we-have-lift-off' opus that is the Austin Fab Four's luminous speciality. The last song on Drone Head is "Nevereverism," surely an homage--surely?--to the tune of nearly-the-same name on Directions To See A Ghost, and as it builds from a deliciously menacing stomp into a shredding, sparkling, guitar driven whirl we're snaking our way to the back of the blue bus and beyond. 

Listening to this, and tracks like the magisterial "A-Bow," all twelve-and-a-half elemental minutes of it, I'm dragged up that familiar kaleidoscopic psych-rock road right to the top of Holy Mountain, and it's clear that The Janitors ride their influences for all to hear. There are a few surprises on this record. The "Strssmmnt Remix" of "Coming Down" for instance, strays from the tried and tested formula of most of the rest of the songs for a slow hybrid burn that fuses electronica and shoegaze and puts me in mind of some of the more fanciful Tame Impala Innerspeaker remixes. And although I say "few surprises" like it's a bad thing, for a lot of psych-rock fans of course, 'few surprises' isn't a bad thing at all. We are after all fans of psychedelic rock. We enjoy its signature moves.

But isn't that surely a part of the problem of the aforementioned main-streaming of psych, it running the risk of becoming a set of musical cliches (reverberated vocals here, drone bliss-out there, backwards guitar bit over yonder, nirvanayada, yada), sonic transcendence rendered as corny cosmic shorthand? Holy Mountain as theme park. But also, wasn't it ever thus( . . . The Black Angels, Spacemen 3, and Wooden Shjips, after all . . .)? Or just maybe I'm one Binson Echorec shy of becoming a psych cynic? For all that, however, I'll always ever be the sucker for the epiphanic psychedelic catch phrase, and The Janitors do these up in style, and then some--and with heart too, it must be said. Simply put, if you love the flourishes of heavy psychedelic drone-esque spacerock and shoegaze then you'll absolutely love this record too.

Critics Rating: ★★★ - Good, no new suprises here, but ticks all the boxes for someone looking for straight up fuzz-heavy, drone rock to relax to at the end of a long day.

Written By Grow Fins (Phil Dickson) on 19:38, 13/08/2013.

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