31 Dec Psychoactive Soundscapes: Top Psychedelic Records of 2015
This world is just our bullshit day job, but man, talk about some tedious shit. I don’t honestly even want to harp on this stuff really, but 2015 might just be the year music “journalism” officially died. It’s getting beyond absurd and apparently exactly no one else is going to mention this other than me, but we’ve just hit another all time low on that front recently. What we should be learning from information technology is that in any given year, roughly a million or so amazing albums are released onto the internets. It’s a number that’s literally incalculable from the standpoint of individual consciousness. We could quantify it as beyond human comprehension, which is a variable hard science types need to start recognizing before they doom us all with imperialist kill bots. If you want to find like Guatemalan electro death polka stuff these days, it’s probably out there and within your quick reach.
Which is why it’s so unbelievably creepy that all the major taste making magazines and websites are now doubling down in their attempts to control the headspace of trend conscious Joe Six Pack and Suzie Strip Mall. I mean, I’m guessing they’re all owned or in bed with the same corporations. Almost all the major labels and major indies are. Hell, we all are in a way (hey, subscribe to my YouTube channel). So what you get in year-end lists is a bunch of identical countdowns informing you that the exact same fifty records, out of millions, are somehow the best by some objective form of critical measurement. It’s frightening, and I’m not sure what’s more depressing – browsing these articles or the comments sections, where everybody agrees about the selections but proceeds to argue about the order. Operation mind controlled robot populace is in full swing, and sadly, it’s actually probably much better than it ever was in decades past, before the web. I mean, at least now one can access smaller independent sites that aren’t just churning out label payola passed off as journalism. It’s just that very few people do so percentage wise.
I first noticed the phenomenon that I like to call monoculture music writing back in 2010 when Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was somehow the album of the year across the board pretty much everywhere. I’ve never really understood Kanye’s arty bling rap myself, and maybe it’s really amazing, but fuck, nothing is that fucking good unless it’s an album that somehow forgoes your ears and broadcasts pictures and orgasms directly into your mind. If a band does that, then I’m like, okay, gotcha, hard to argue that isn’t the best thing that came out last year. Not long after, while bored at work, I actually mapped out exactly how similar the top 50 year end lists for Pitchfork, Spin, and Rolling Stone were. I came up with roughly 65% the exact same stuff, and the top 10 reflected an even higher percentage of sameness. I mean, the order was honestly the only thing that was different, and it wasn’t that much different.
Unbelievably, since then it’s been getting even more bleak. Look, I’m not going to say Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is a bad record. I quite like it, although I must confess I find myself skipping tracks here and there, especially that whole cry rapping thing. But fuck, really? It was the number one album on every single major year end list in 2015. Seriously. It was number one on Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Spin, Vice, The Guardian, Onion AV Club, Sputnikmusic, etc. Where it didn’t end up number 1, it was number 2. Again, even I didn’t realize how deep this mind rape propaganda campaign even ran until I stumbled on this year-end list aggregator last week. Soooo creeeeepy. It’s all the comprised of the exact same albums. Insidious, and the message is so crystal clear; you know what albums are great kids? Albums that make increasingly interconnected conservative media corporations fat cash on the backs of a tiny number of largely underpaid artists. Again, I like Kendrick Lamar (although I could do without the materialism and misogyny), but even if To Pimp a Butterfly was my favorite album of all time, I’d still be disturbed on a fundamental level by the sheer mind control factor going down.
The beauty of art is its sublime subjectivity. (Editor’s Note: This is why you will never find a comprehensive year-end list on REDEFINE; what you’ll find is an interconnected wonderland of our individual tastes from year to year, and it’s always pretty weird.) What sounds amazing to some people might come across like auditory torture to others. It’s these difficult to fathom concepts that the hard sciences will always fail to comprehend. That kind of automated thinking is good for marketing, not art, and that’s all one album being declared the best of millions to come out in any given year signifies, precision marketing. If we’re to ascend towards godhood, which is our most logical trajectory as cosmically aspiring monkeys, we have to start putting spells on ourselves that pull us out of our consumerist trance rather than reinforcing it. It’s happening, but on a macro level, the good stuff is still falling largely under the monoculture media radar, on purpose.
So rather than going out shopping for useless shit you don’t need this weekend, as you’re being unconsciously commanded by sexy-looking advertising passing as journalism, why not smoke a “quite possibly legal in some capacity where you live” joint and space the fuck out to some of these mind-manifesting records? Culture is not your friend, my friend. This music is designed to help you resist it.
15. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier (4AD)
If this wasn’t a list dedicated specifically to psych music, Fading Frontier might have ended up a bit, errr, higher, because this really is an amazing collection of tunes, and probably the best Bradford Cox has penned at this point. While dude sort of lost me with the down-to-earth, grit-your-teeth weird Americana vibes of Monomania, I had to confess that he was in fact progressing as a songwriter. He just toned down the trippy, and I’m high most of the time so, you know, what the fuck? Fortunately, Fading Frontier gets just delay shoegaze-y enough to satisfy the heads, while again, being a flat-out incredible collection of songs. Would it be nice if there was like a 5-minute patch of electro reverb noise thrown in for effect like the third track on Cryptograms? Sure, but that brand of Deerhunter may never be coming back at this point.
What we do get here is 9 fantastically crafted earworm stoner cuts and that’s nothing to scoff at. In one interview I read that he was going for a timeless songwriter-y vibe with Deerhunter these days. Like how it’s sort of impossible to go: “turn that Tom Petty the fuck off, man” without coming across like an overly cynical asshole. He’s getting there. It’s funny; as much of a DH fan as I am, I also admit that sometimes he goes into this lazy whispering thing that I’m not super stoked on, which he does on track 6 of this disc. At first, I thought it was a dead spot, but then I realized it sort of ties the album together like Lebowski’s rug did his apartment. Sets up the song “Snakeskin” perfectly. There’s sort of a cool video that for that track too, so you know, check it.
14. Contact Cult – Hylozoist (Translinguistic Other)
With a name like Contact Cult, if your music didn’t sound like something one might use to summon extradimensional forms of intelligence in an empty field at sunrise, while wearing white robes and gesturing wildly at the sky, I’d be the first one to call bullshit. Fortunately, Hylozoist sounds like it could quite effectively be used for this exact purpose, and it was good. I mean, it’s hard to go wrong with droned out trance fare. There are certain universal constants that are just inherently awesome, and hypnotic trance drone is one of them. This album is particularly fun because it goes from beat-driven tabla style head-tripping into sprawling synth waves before briefly weaving its way into almost ’70s horror soundtrack vibes – but uplifting ’70s horror soundtrack vibes if that makes any sense. Certainly conjures forth the feeling of profound inner contemplation. Like something you’d take bong rips to and then meditate in the lotus position. Come to think of it, I’m not really sure why I’m not doing that right now.
13. XUA – Mekong Moon (Debacle Records)
Did I mention in the Contact Cult blurb that it’s a solo project from Troy Micheau who’s also a member of the band formerly known as Swahili? Well, it is, and this is the side project of another dude in that act who calls himself XUA. I didn’t want to cause too much inter-band conflict, but I had to pick one over the other, and if pushed, I suppose I’d give this the slight edge. Unlike Hylozoist, it’s a bit more short attention span and unpredictable. Exotic synth concoctions spring forth from the ether and lay a quick beat foundation before fading back out, then you get hit with some samples in languages you don’t understand (at least, I don’t), then the sequencers rope you back into the sound swirl again. It’s a cool effect, and the whole thing was apparently inspired by XUA’s travels throughout Asia. Definitely gives you that sense of confusion and wonder that comes with traversing a foreign, unfamiliar, and infinitely complicated environment. Makes me daydream about getting really baked and wandering around the Cambodian countryside, even though I have no idea what that would be like because I’ve never been there, which I think is sort of the point.
12. Rose Windows – Self-Titled (Sub Pop Records)
This is a bit of a bittersweet album in that the band broke up shortly before it was officially released. They had a minor tour planned and everything, which is always awkward. What are you going to do? The good news is that they managed to get one more fantastic collections of tunes cut to disc before they suddenly imploded. And while I don’t think their dissolution is necessarily a bad thing on the creative front, as primary songwriter Chris Cheveyo already has a new project called Draemhouse, I have to confess that there was certainly something unique about the chemistry these cats had going on while it lasted. I mean, they had 7 members and each one brought something unique to the project. Normally I’d sort of call bullshit on a band having a member who did nothing but play the flute, but RW’s flautist was actually essential to what they did, weirdly enough.
The big loss is the creative partnership between Cheveyo and superhuman vocalist Rabia Qazi. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until their first album came out that I realized, oh, wow, these are really well-thought-out lyrics. In a live setting, I was just sort of mesmerized by the sheer power of her bazooka pipes, but what makes this particular disc so delicious is in fact the lyrical depth. Really clever ruminations on the spiritually deadened state of society as viewed through the lens of the chronically stoned. After listening to this several times one weekend, I actually had a metaphorical vision where the lyrics –
“Cuz’ when you finally learn to live in peace,
Here comes the man to shoot you down”
— were fleshed out as a dream where soulless corporate executives on the top floors of office buildings sniped out their low level khaki wearing minions on the streets of Seattle, all Grand Theft Auto style. I had to duck for cover as I went to grab my lunch. All my way of saying that this is some powerfully soulful shit, and you know, stylistically very similar to Black Mountain, while not really sounding much like Black Mountain at all. They certainly put their own spin on the whole psych folk/stoner metal hybrid thing and will absolutely be missed.
11. Weird Owl – Interstellar Skeletal (A Recording)
Hmmm, how would I describe Weird Owl? It’s like a combination of Brooklyn style hipster-y electro indie rock mixed with tranced out delay-guitar stoner jams. Now, this isn’t something I’d honestly think would work much at all, but it absolutely does. I suppose you had me at delay-guitar stoner jams. As a matter of fact, I sort of couldn’t believe how often I kept coming back to the pleasant mind-frying experience that is Interstellar Skeletal. You know what? Psilocybin jams might be a bit more accurate here, as it goes a tad deeper than your average stoner fare. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a billion more times before I die: sometimes the simplest shit is the best. I mean, this band doesn’t do anything particularly well, and yet, it’s somehow arranged with such a concise precision that it rules. Like, take this video, I mean, it’s just some crazy lo-fi layering shit:
And yet…I could watch that roughly a hundred times in a row without getting bored. Fantastic. Although it is odd that as much as like the extended instrumental breakdowns, Interstellar Skeletal‘s finest moments actually come when they’re at their pop-iest. Cuts like “God” (above video) and “You Are a Spacecraft” are so catchy it’s obscene and make me think that if the singer amped up his vibes just a bit in the mix, they’d probably kick it up to the higher realms with an even more effortless sense of efficiency.
10. Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (Domino Records)
Probably the only other mainstream-ish album (aside from Deerhunter) on this countdown and it’s not like I intentionally avoid mainstream stuff. I’ve said it once before but it bears repeating, I’ve tried to get into Animal Collective for years now and have never gotten past the “sometimes that trips me out a bit when I’m high, but it’s also sort of annoying” stage in my assessment of that project. On the other hand, I find main dude Noah Lennox’s solo shit in Panda Bear freaking brilliant. Go figure. I mean, this isn’t surprising. Panda Bear is about a gajillion times more likely to get stuck in your head than AC, and that’s something I admittedly have to confess about the ‘Collective. The fact that they got popular on shit that’s too weird for even me is something I have to respect, even though I don’t necessarily understand it entirely.
And that weirdness certainly spills into Panda Bear, it’s just, as mentioned, cut finely with identifiable catchiness so it sticks in your memory a bit better. One of the most radio friendly cuts on this disc starts with spasmodic electro gurgling and an off key sample of a dog whining looped into the mix. Then all of a sudden you’re singing along to a chorus that’s all “a smong menan a big gag a say-ay-ay-ay-ay” or some shit. And it owns. Like the Beach Boys on acid. Oh wait, the Beach Boys were on acid. So like, the Beach Boys on acid if it didn’t lead to crippling agoraphobia…and there was no pressure from the label for singles. Not sure where I was going with that metaphor, but I’m quite sure this is the second album by Lennox that I consider a bit of a classic. Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper and Person Pitch are some untouchably out-there stuff.
9. Master Musicians of Bukkake – Further West Quad Cult EP (Important Records)
If you were going to say: “take hallucinogens ritualistically as a means to siphon information from the higher realms”, this would probably be your best bet for a soundtrack, as far as this countdown goes. Like much of MMoB’s work, Quad Cult is all pretty free-form and designed with a trance-inducing intent first and foremost. There’s an emphasis on ominous. Emphasis on ominous. People should say that more often. People should also listen to the Bukkake boys (man that sounds awful) more often, because it’s some seriously mind-altering tunage. I’ve often joked that main dude producer Randall Dunn (who produced like 4 albums on this list) must interrupt recording sessions and go, “Yeah, doesn’t sound mystical enough kids, we need to kick the mysticism up a bit; maybe if I burn some sage in the studio.”
For some reason, this particular disc makes me think about taking peyote and climbing to the top of a mountain then throwing up my hands to the sky and cursing the gods all: “Is that all you got, motherfuckers!? You didn’t think I could make it up here! Keep underestimating me, you fucks!” But maybe that’s just me.
8. SunGod – Cahokia b/w Red Atmosphere (Self-Released)
Oh the wonders of the internets. I literally stumbled on this Austin band at complete random earlier in the year because I happened to click on a link a psychedelic website that’s seemingly since gone inactive posted on Twitter (@Thad_McKraken). I was like: SunGod, that’s an obvious and cool name for a psych band. 6 months later and I’ve downloaded all 7 of their albums, because they’re just that good. There are a lot of kind of krautrock revival-esque groups floating about these days, but SunGod stand out from the pack, largely due to the diversity of their sound palette. As mentioned, they have 7 albums out and they don’t really repeat themselves.
Some of them sound like amped up Pink Floyd-y space rock. Others like extended electro acoustic ambient synth freak outs. A couple of their discs are a combination of both of those things while always pushing the formula in novel directions. This particular EP is built largely on oscillating synth sounds, but later some blues guitar gets thrown into the groove to give it a decidedly “stoned in a planetarium” flavor, whatever that means. It’s a genius EP, but ranks so high here mainly due to me just discovering their entire back catalog this year and freaking out about it.
For the uninitiated, I’d probably recommend checking out their 2013 LP Contakt first, as that’s where they’re at their most coherently rocking. If you’re hooked, grab 2014’s Vision Space as that’s more a slice of the experimental trance ambience at work. That album took me a while to get into, but ended up being something I consider rather genius in its boundary pushing after repeat listens. All music to implore a person to advance in their pursuit of internally willed solar theology.
7. Failure – The Heart is a Monster (Failure Records)
Not only did I never think in a million years Failure would follow up their absolute classic Fantastic Planet nearly 20 years after the fact, but I certainly didn’t think they’d be able to maybe one up themselves when they did. Consider my sense of disbelief suspended. As a matter of fact, I actually have to admit that the only reason I can’t say The Heart is a Monster is better than Fantastic Planet has to do with nostalgia and little more. That disc is just so embedded in the history of my subjective microverse that it’s impossible for me to look at these matters objectively.
Truth is, on a lyrical level at least, it’s certainly superior. Fantastic Planet was a bit off in that it was a sort of feel good/numb space rock record about heroin. I’d always find myself singing along and simultaneously being a bit creeped out by the fact that I was essentially singing a love song to smack (oh, the ’90s). Fortunately, they’ve moved onto more natural ways of freaking out like lucid dreams and hypnagogia on Monster. Fantastic.
Lord, part of what was so amazing about these guys back in the day was front man Ken Andrews’ production, which he’s since made a career out of. Because of that, this is in fact one of the slickest sounding rock albums I’ve heard in ages. Expert level craftsmanship. For a bunch of older dads from the ’90s, they’re certainly upping their game on the novel guitar sounds front. They’ve learned a few new tricks over the years, and man, I can’t even really tell you what other band sounds like Failure exactly. So original. They really nailed it out of the park with this, following a classic album no one thought there’d be a sequel to 19 years after breaking up, and dropping yet another classic. On the other hand, if it wasn’t for heroin, maybe we would have had this album 15 years earlier. Let that be a lesson kids.
6. Wind Burial – We Used To Be Hunters (Self-Released)
After finding myself grooving on this album for several months, I ended up stumbling on an article about the witches of Seattle on Vice and realizing that the lead singer of this band is actually a practicing shaman, which is apropos. All 8 tracks here could certainly be used to uplift the listener to a higher state of experience. The vibe this album puts off does in fact get me in a headspace where I visualize myself separating from normal waking consciousness and into a higher macro state. All of a sudden, I’m seeing myself looking down on the earth and its inhabitants from up on high ,and being a bit weirded out by how far my perspective can stretch. Very compelling, because it’s really just basic guitar rock in structure, and yet, the way it’s all put together makes it sound like something far beyond those constraints. The female shaman vocals and lyrical mysticism kick it up into the higher stratospheres of awesome.
The titular track here is one of the best electrically aided drum circle jams I’ve heard in ages. When the rhythm ramps up a notch midway through and the guitar starts screaming in unison, I imagine spectral entities could be channeled quite easily under the right circumstances. It’s some deliciously witchy shit for sure.
5. THEEsatisfaction – EarthEE (Sub Pop Records
It’s sort of embarrassing how little hip hop there is on this countdown, but I often have a hard time finding quality psych rap out there, as much as I try. THEESatisfaction certainly brought it in 2015 with this album, though. I mean, it essentially sounds like ancient space goddesses beaming exaltations of cosmic love from the alien stars. What I dig most about what’s going down here is that the lyrics are like magick in their execution. You can tell there was a calculated fixation in regards to intent, and the intent is to uplift the listener quite specifically. EarthEE also includes one of the best disses of Macklemore on record: “I don’t really wanna hear no sober raps”. Classic.
It’s funny because I think EarthEE might have lost some people as it’s not quite as overtly catch as their Sub Pop debut, but I personally like it quite a bit better. In general, it’s slower, more laid-back, and zoned out. It’s so monolithic in its chill pace that you can’t help but roll a joint to this thing, and you gotta give props for moving in probably the exact opposite direction most labels would have wanted them to. Takes balls. It’s an album that rewards repeated stoned listening and that can be a hard sell in this day and age. It should have come with instructions: Take mad bong rips and tune into the black constellation. Repeat process.
4. Mammatus – Sparkling Waters (Spiritual Pajamas)
I know it’s a cliché to refer to pretty much anything as epic in the year 2015, but in this case it’s going to be unavoidable so I apologize in advance. Sparkling Waters if fucking EPIC. It’s a 4 song album where every track runs for more than 15 minutes and the first two spill over the 20 minute mark. The point to an album like this is to take the listener on a journey. Sort of the opposite of the short attention span theater our culture loves to force feed us. Also, it features lots of guitar tapping. Lots of it. There are points where I find myself wondering, am I like a million years old for still digging on this unflinching ode to calculated guitar wankery? Quite possibly, but if sprawling guitar rock’s going to go out of style, it’s going to go out fighting. Unlike Mammatus’ first 3 albums, they move away from sparse vocal stoner doom territory here, forging right into instrumental ambient prog-ville, which is a new trick. The second song is an endurance test of keyboard sounds, which at first I almost called bullshit on until I realized that if you pay attention it builds to a gloriously angelick bliss crescendo. Justifies every second.
Which is sort of what Mammatus do here. Just like the waves on the coast of their home town of Santa Cruz, their tunes endlessly crest and wane in intensity. It’d seem like a cheap gimmick, but instead comes off as the precise opposite, a well thought out exercise in mimicking the glories of timeless elevated perception. Also, it’s sort of amazing how these tracks just sound like natural wonder. You can see the beach and mountains of Northern California on a perfect sunny day in your mind’s eye while listening to this shit (well, I mean, they literally put in sampled wave sounds at one point to push you in that direction). It’s impressive, and the gargantuan scope of the project makes it even more evocative of being overwhelmed by forces obviously much greater than one is capable of comprehending while locked into puny human form. Far out doesn’t even cut it.
3. Swahili – AMOVREVX (Translinguistic Other)
So since this album came out, the band formerly known as Swahili have announced that they’re changing their name for reasons of basic political correctness. Understandable, but as far as I can tell they haven’t decided on what their new moniker will be at this point so I guess I’ll refer to them as the band formerly known as Swahili or tbfkaS. Rolls off the tongue. Anyway, regardless of the current state of the band’s name, what’s important is that their latest record absolutely destroys. Well, maybe destroys isn’t the best choice of words, as it destroys in an intergalactic psilocybin disco sense, which probably isn’t the connotation that word conjures forth, necessarily.
Psilocybin-infused future disco isn’t really a genre I thought I had a need for in my life. As a matter of fact, the band’s first outing was more in the tripping balls agitated electro drum circle vein, which was in fact primal and entrancing. This moves straight from the neo-hippie drum circle to the ecstatic dance floor. What’s of even more significance though is that these kids went from far more experimental mumblecore territory to full=on catchy coherence in their song writing over the course of one release. Classy. All these cuts simultaneously weird you the fuck out while getting stuck in your head something fierce. Sometimes I find them reminding me of a future Blondie, if Blondie stretched their songs twice as long with extended instrumental high strangeness. Also, the lyrics are made from fantastic stoner poetry that gives off the precise essence of being locked in the midst of a super hallucinogen frenzy. One where you wake up the next day and think, why are my legs so sore? Oh yeah, I danced at full on intensity the entire time we were listening to that album, didn’t I? That ruled. Also, they made a really cool short film/video about a tarot reading gone horrible weird. Enjoy.
2. Monster Magnet – Cobras and Fire (The Mastermind Redux) (Napalm Records)
How to best explain this? So Dave Wyndorf is a guy who got signed back in the late ’80s to make some of the most excellently deranged acid rock albums ever cut to tape. This continued into the mid-’90s, but that stuff didn’t sell super well, so he toned down the trippy effects a bit and ramped up the straightforwardness of the song craft. This worked, and he actually ended up selling a bunch of records with the crossover disc, Power Trip. He then put out a series of releases in a similar vein that were more straight up rockers with lyrics about tripping and sex, but lacking the feel. After years of those albums failing to resonate with a wider fanbase and completely losing the American market, he realized that as time had gone on, more people wanted his acid rock stuff than his intentionally commercialized fare. So he came back with an amazing return to inner space rock form in 2013 with the album, Last Patrol. Then he re-imagined that album a year later, which was far cooler than I expected it to be in all honestly, but not entirely essential, as Last Patrol was already pretty fantastic in the first place.
This album is basically Dave taking one of his non-trippy records (Mastermind) and saying, what if I took those songs and produced and arranged them to maximize stoner potency? Oh how the man’s career has come back around full circle. The results are my favorite Monster Magnet album since Dopes to Infinity (a largely unheralded classic that turned 20 earlier in the year to exactly zero fanfare I might point out). What’s awesome about this re-imaging is the way it’s cleverly constructed in a classic expanded attention span sort of way. It starts off with 3 fairly straightforward mid-tempo catchy MM cuts. Then the outro jam at the end of the 3rd fades out and then back in for a bit. It’s like a signal that the disc is going to go off the deep end into Weirdsville from there on out. And it does. All of the next tracks have extended bong-friendly breakdowns, and the fact is, no one can pull of lyrics like –
“If you’re selling me hallucinations, give me cobras and fire”
— other than Sir Wyndorf. The difference is that in the reworked version, the song proceeds to cascade into slow mo multilayered trance jam territory following this declaration, which makes way more sense than the original version. The whole record is just mellow and slower than anything else in the Monster Magnet catalog, and Cobras and Fire is essentially most acid-fried thing he’s done since Spine of God. Which is interesting because as we discussed when I interviewed him earlier in the year, he hasn’t actually taken psychedelic drugs in years — even weed. Yet there are like 15 different effects filters on the vocals and guitar in the album’s final 9-minute freak out. It’s fucking incredible. Elsewhere, he takes a Temptations track and makes it sound like Hawkwind at their druggiest. Probably the only person on earth that would even attempt such a thing. All and all, it’s fairly great to have the Space Lord back on team psych I must say. He’s a freaking ringer.
1. Midday Veil – This Wilderness (Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records)
With their 3rd studio full-length (in addition to many more lower fi experimental releases), Midday Veil might have just narrowly edged out Soundgarden to become my favorite Seattle band of all time. I’m still maybe a bit on the fence about that one, but whereas I’m not entirely willing to bestow them that illustrious title as of yet, I will say that This Wilderness was certainly my favorite album of last year. Alan Moore is famous for opining that:
“It’s not the job of the artist to give the audience what the audience wants. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn’t be the audience. They would be the artists. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.”
Which sums up what’s so great about this album in a nutshell. Whereas it’s wrapped in a slick veneer of danceable electro groove rock, there’s far more going on beneath the surface than the mind can consciously comprehend. It covers a wide spectrum of delectably wicked auditory mysticism. For every life-affirming heavenly jam, there’s a silver tongued dark condemnation of imperialism. The entire thing is structured pretty much with one after the other in progression as if intentionally presenting both the dark and the light or angelick and daemonic in equal balance quite purposefully. It’s a powerful spell, and truthfully, even though I’ve listened to this a hundred times now, I bet if I actually read along with the lyrics I’d catch a bunch of Easter eggs I’d never even considered.
As if intentionally living up to the retro metal labyrinthine album art, you could get lost in the magnum opus that is This Wilderness forever and still catch new and exquisite sound trinkets. It’s an impressively deep record both sonically and thematically. In truth, I never would have thought these cats would go so dark, but the album’s final track, “Universes” (which is a reworking of a song on their debut as a 2-piece, “End of Time”) contemplates the rise and fall of supergalaxies from the perspective of a higher dimensional entity. Every time lead vocalist and sacred art lecturer Emily Pothast doubles the word “universes” (in the background, upon the word “empires”), it gives me the freaking chills.
There’s some profoundly supernatural vibes going down here, and a foreboding sense that the album’s giving you want you need as a listener – not necessarily what you want as a consumer. In fact, it’s pointing out to you that what you want in that capacity is a self-destructive joke. As Alan Moore also likes to say (and I like to quote): “Art is Magick because art transforms consciousness.”
Along those lines, This Wilderness is as consciousness-transforming as it gets. Essential.