An excellent new long-player from Cambridge experimenters Psychic Lemon arrives on the back of their coruscating live album released in May this year.
Dedicated to the late Stephen Hawking,‘Freak Mammal’ is five tracks of force-field intensity, beginning with the statement of intent that is ‘Dark Matter’ – astronomers say that this is the stuff that makes up most of the Universe and much of that substance seems to be present in this enormous track.
It all seems so calm at first as a soothing electro-keyboard repeats over the steadily building drums until the arrival of a sky-soaring guitar. One of the great attributes of an electric guitar is that it can be made to sound like anything but a guitar and this track proves that, especially at high volume.
Seven and a half minutes in and the music starts to dismantle itself into component parts; the drum pattern breaks into a rush of cymbals underneath a guitar solo of improbably sustained notes until the whole mighty machine crashes in again for the rest of the song.
The slower ‘Seeds Of Tranquility’ is a more contemplative thirteen minutes, driven by the bass octave stretching and muted complex percussion. Perhaps inspired by the unchanging melancholy of the lunar surface it feels timeless and far away.
Then ‘Afrotropic Bomb’ steps back up a gear, this time a distorted keyboard and bass riff is the musical chassis that the song is built on (a song without words; like all of this and their last LP Psychic Lemon have dispensed with the vocals and evolved the psychedelic experience into its purest form).
The ambiguously titled ‘Free Electron Collective’ is a relentless drum pattern workout, in some ways the most immediate track on the album and would certainly be a highlight of their live show.
The Velvet Underground reference in the title of ‘White Light’ gives a clue to the hammerhead pounding of this finale but I don’t know if the VU ever quite mustered this energy level on their recorded instrumental digressions. Previewed on Psychic Lemon’s ‘Live at the Smokehouse’ album this track shows how adept the Cambridge three-piece are at recreating not just the sound but the whole all-consuming onslaught of their live performances.
Recorded at The Smokehouse, Ipswich’s venue for the discerning listener and pursuer of truth and authenticity in music, here is a new live album from Cambridge-based Psychic Lemon.
This consists of three tracks from their second album ‘Frequency Rhythm Distortion Delay’ (see review below) and two new tunes. The band have dispensed with vocals on this live performance, distilling their psychedelic onslaught into its purest form.
This is clear from the opening ‘Interstellar Fuzz Star’; as the guitar effects go crazy in the first minute like an ending to the track instead of the beginning, but fear not! the drums and bass lay down their groove and propel the sound along at a mighty pace for all of its ten minutes.
Straight into ‘Satori Disko’, a more mellow-ish, languid offering with a looping guitar figure and some extravagant cymbal smashes as the bass spans the octaves. There is a conventional guitar solo too to tempt the palate. Favourite track of mine ‘Hey Droog’ is driven by a pounding drum pattern with some dark choral sounds adding an atmosphere of doom. Like all of their live performances, the music seems to take on a life of its own, the band merely servants of the greater cause.
New track ‘Jonny Marvel at the Milky Way’ is a pastoral interlude, like an instrumental from mid-period Pink Floyd the keyboard provides the texture for grand guitar experimentation over an unhurried rhythm backing. As the atmospheric colours fade away, the finale bursts in; ‘White Light’ is a frenetic work-out – a high energy end to an immersive and impressive performance with the music firmly embedded in the walls of this excellent venue.
Psychic Lemon continue to challenge the senses with this new long-player; their sound has moved on substantially from their first album which now seems almost light and song-based in comparison.
It is an accurate recording of their live sound; as when I saw them perform this album at the Portland in Cambridge last year, comfortably holding their own against headliners Scandanavian psych behemoths Flowers Must Die. In December they were enthralling a freezing crowd once again at Cambridge’s Mill Road Winter Fair, and now here at last is the new album release.
‘Exit To The Death Lane’ begins with moody ritual drums then the layers of guitar and bass creep stealthily in, including some incomprehensible vocal chants. A jarring guitar solo ensures the vibe does not become complacent and at eight and a half minutes there is time for the groove to be fully explored.
The establishment of the rhythmic shape of ‘Hey Droog!’ (the slang term for friend in cult novel ‘A Clockwork Orange’) is pile-driving drum and riff, a distant choir fills in the texture and the effect-laden guitar does the rest before ending the piece in a solo riot of feedback.
‘You’re No Good’ is definitely not the early sixties hit for the Swinging Blue Jeans, but it does have a more sprightly pop touch than what has come before, also with the bonus of a manic saxophone and a bit of singing at the end; this is the nearest they get to their debut album sound. The last two tracks are nine minutes plus; the band have been opening their live sets recently with the paradoxically named ‘Interstellar Fuzz Star’, the fuzz of this celestial object being the guitar effect inextricably pulling the listener towards its gravitational centre. Some impressive bass playing on this track too.
The final track is ‘Satori Disko’, a reference to a state of spiritual awakening, in this case waking to the sound of a hypnotic undulating drum pattern, rock solid bass and a guitarist ripping up the effects pedals and reassembling them randomly.
Overall, listening to this is a unique sensory experience, a combination of you feeling like you are weaving amongst the buildings in a flying car as part of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or being plugged into the endless pulse of primal signals emitted by distant galactic objects…
Frequency Rhythm Distortion Delay Space Rock Power!
On the hottest day of the year so far and as the summer solstice approaches a double header of psychedelia featuring Swedish collective Flowers Must Die and Cambridge band Psychic Lemon.
I have followed the career of Psychic Lemon and reviewed them several times, hearing them satisfyingly evolve into the mighty trio on show here tonight. If ‘psychedelic’ conjours up images of trippy acoustic interludes and 60s keyboard solos the band are well removed from that, instead we are hearing space-rock power; relentless drums and slicing bass lines with unpredictable raw guitar and the effects pedals becoming instruments too. There are occasional vocals (and some keyboard too), a contrast with the songs on their debut album. The four extended tracks played tonight presumably form the substance of the highly-anticipated second long-player due later this year.
This band are totally immersed; it is like they are a conduit for pre-existing natural and technological sounds somewhere in the ether. They have tapped into the source and the audience are completely pulled in too. Enthralling, primal and hypnotic!
Flowers Must Die show a similar no-compromise approach to their music, from the stage setting with a single backlight and revolving colour dome keeping the six members as outlines and shadows for the whole set (not quite sure how they could see to play, but it all sounded fine!) to the build-up of musical ideas within the tracks. The two guitars, bass and drums line-up is enhanced by added electric violin, keyboard and the extensive use of that always fascinating electronic marvel the theremin!
‘Don’t You Leave Me Now’ was a standout song, with impressive vocals over a mutated disco-funk backing. ‘Hit’ was a complex groove, another track from their 2017 album titled ‘Kompost’ with its enigmatic mixture of Swedish and English titled songs.
Flowers Must Die have finely honed their live sound but they have still retained an effervescence and sheer enjoyment in their performance.
Billed as a ‘Psych Spectacular’ the Blue Moon continues to enhance its musical offering for the discerning music fans of Cambridge.
Opening the show was singer/songwriter Naomi Randall. Describing herself as “a middle-earth beatnik folk singer“, she played timeless songs accompanied by her own gentle acoustic guitar with subtle extra textures added from a semi-acoustic (wielded by the guitarist from Moonstrips). Lyrics about the changing of the seasons and wildlife with dark overtones when added to descending arpeggios and the beautiful clarity of her voice were an intoxicating brew. This was a good contrast to the louder sounds that followed…
DiG are a blast of space-rock glory, the two guitars, bass, drums and strong lead vocal keep pushing the sound to the limits. This is psychedelia to lose yourself in, self-penned tunes topped off with a great cover of ‘Waiting For The Man’, one of my favourite Velvet Underground songs.
Psychic Lemon have featured on this site before, it is always a pleasure to see them live. Since the release of their excellent debut CD they have lost a guitarist/vocalist so the sound has now evolved into sparser vocals and extended instrumentals with a remarkably full sound from the remaining trio. Luminous back projections reminiscent of the end of 2001 : A Space Odyssey add to the atmosphere. Songs from the album such as ‘Good Cop Bad Cop’ and the closing ‘Ticktok’ pound your senses to great effect, with little allowance for some of the quieter moments from the album.
It may never be possible to stage another sixties-style psychedelic “happening” in these cynical times but this was still a great night out…
At last, the debut long-player from premier Cambridge consciousness-expanding rockers Psychic Lemon arrives on the scene.
‘Ticktoc’, a song they have been honing live for a while is a strong opener, a solid bass riff and punching drumming then some vocals airily drift in, countered by walls of sound from their double guitars. I last saw them in December at the Mill Road Winter Fair, with a flute player really adding an extra layer….and here he is on this track too! An unexpected bonus as the flute fizzes through an energetic coda.
From a pastoral acoustic guitar and choral introduction, ‘Death Cult Blues’ bursts into life, with more starry flute. The sound on this track and most of the album is intricate and multi-layered, it must have been compelling to stand outside in the garden listening at the home-built Psychic Studio “5 minutes down the road from Syd Barrett’s old place”….. and I think his spirit lives on in the instrumental ‘Analogue Summer’, from the birdsong bookends to tremendous slide guitar this is a beautiful season indeed.
‘Good Cop/Bad Cop’ is another live favourite from their current set as is ‘Dilator’, a rocker with an epic feel and strange paranoid punkish lyric. The final track ‘Horizon’ is more than ten minutes of many of the elements from the rest of the album, woven into a widescreen psychedelic spectacular.
This album has captured the experimental dynamic of the band very successfully; it draws on their influences from a much loved style of music and then adds some powerful edges with the as-live feel of the recording.
Free entry to the Corner House pub to see two Cambridge guitar bands of individuality and distinction, that’s a good night out!
The British IBM (named after a line in a TV drama about the aspirations of computer pioneers in Cambridge) were minus their drummer and so chose to play with just acoustic guitar and bass.
I have seen the full line-up previously and heard many of these songs so I knew they are sharp and impressive, even in the ‘unplugged’ mode. The opening two songs ‘Animal’ and ‘Sugar Water’ are short segments of pop zest, with interesting lyrical ideas (…do you want to sell sugar water or do you want to change the world?…). ‘3 Years’ and ‘Cannibal’ are heavier and angrier and promising new songs from their delayed second album were also featured. The stately final song ‘The British IBM’ is exceptional, the recorded version with strings (and exemplary drumming!) has the feel of Oasis and The Beatles with an aching lyric of disappointment and longing. And a great hook-line chorus that lodges into your brain. Tonight it was the perfect finish to a great set.
Psychic Lemon, reviewed previously on this site, have a contrasting sound, twin effects-laden guitars and long instrumental sections recreate the atmosphere of heady 1960s experimental shows and they do it incredibly well. Opening track ‘Dilator’ blended seamlessly into the next two. ‘Good Cop/Bad Cop’ was lighter, then the rest of the set built up to the explosive finale of ‘TickToc’.
I think their intensity (especially the formidable drumming!) had increased since the last time I saw them, perhaps the bass and drums were a little muddy in the mix this time, but I love the music and the dedicated way they play it.
Hopefully an album is appearing soon?
I saw Psychic Lemon playing recently at the Mill Road Winter Fair, an event that is one of Cambridge’s best kept secrets. It was a challenge to entertain at 11am in freezing conditions in the car park in the shade of the railway bridge but the appreciative crowd gradually grew and stayed. The Grapes on a Saturday evening was a more comfortable prospect, a welcoming pub with stage and dance floor at one end, bathed in red and green spots of light throughout.
They opened with ‘Dilator’, a strong statement of dual guitar, pulsing bass and drums (interesting to see an electronic drum kit). As in many of the songs tonight, the vocals are often short and to the point, the sound is dominated by a compendium of guitar effects recreating and updating the psychedelic vibe, usually establishing longer instrumental passages.
‘Good Cop/Bad Cop’ and ‘Skin’ strayed into dance funk territory with some shades of Talking Heads, the amiable Grapes audience responded by being far more animated than Cambridge audiences can tend to be. Some songs showed darker, claustrophobic edges, the bass becoming more anguished and prominent in the mix as the set proceeded. Final song was TiCkToC, already released as a single and blending many of the elements from the other songs into a satisfying whole.
To quote from Psychic Lemon themselves….
‘The band got together at the end of 2013, everyone looking for a new musical challenge — to write and play the music they want to play, and not be held back by the expectations of others. However, if other people like it too, then that’s great: The band’s goal is to entertain without compromise.’
On the evidence so far, this seems to be happening…