Sit down and talk to me.
Think of colours, shapes and harmony.
Picture it, the space becomes a scene.
Open up your eyes and start to dream.
The above verse comes from Django Django, young Scottish sojourners in a new wave of psychedelia. Last weekend marked the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s release of Dark Side of the Moon, a landmark work of headphone escapism and, as the band’s Roger Waters has explained, an expression of “political, philosophical, humanitarian empathy that was desperate to get out.” The young psychedelians of today rarely rise to such lofty articulation, but their music does move minds and hearts, albeit with a more rhythmic, groove-orientated approach. Call it the light side of the moon.
When we talk about the current movement of cosmic rock and tripped-out freak folk, it should be noted that bands such as Django Django or Australia’s Tame Impala or London’s Toy or Montreal’s The Besnard Lakes are successful acts, but only relatively. Pink Floyd’s Money begins with an iconic bassline and the sounds of cash registers. It’s a screed against greed – “grab that cash with both hands and make a stash” – and it is perhaps ironic that no psychedelic act has ever piled a stash as high as Pink Floyd. Even now, with the band defunct, Floyd still enjoys cash register sounds as young fans discover the music.
What is it that attracts novices to Pink Floyd? What is it that inspires Tame Impala and wild others? The same things that triggered the original psychedelic pop movement in the 1960s: Escapism, experimentation and the open road ahead.
Rob Bowman, professor of ethnomusicology at Toronto’s York University, has spent the last few weeks lecturing to students on psychedelic music. He notes the music’s variety of unusual timbres and the improvisation involved, but also hits on the more conceptual attractions, including mind expansion, journeying and consciousness raising. Far out, right? “Sure, it might sound like hippie drivel, especially in 2013,” says Bowman, “but those kinds of goals can remain current forever.”
There’s no signature sound or style that tightly identifies the current class of cosmonauts. Toy, for example, moves in fluid, narcotic ways. Tame Impala rocks and riffs, and employs imaginative production and texturing. Django Django has fun with electro-quirks and tropical melodies.
Calgary’s Ghostkeeper probably would not be sub-categorized with those bands, but there’s certainly an eclecticism at work with its artful, unpredictable sound collages. Asked what ties new bands with each other and with Pink Floyd, Yes, Cream or later-era Beatles, the 34-year-old Shane Ghostkeeper suggests it’s all about the search. “We’re interested in dynamic, challenging songwriting and arrangements,” he says. “We’re people who look for adventure, not a two-minute dance.”
So, if the original psychedelians of the mid-1960s were reacting against Herman’s Hermits, today it is a rebellion against Bruno Mars and Maroon 5. Tame Impala in particular engineers its music in mischievous ways, blowing minds with 2010’s Innerspeaker and 2012’s Lonerism. “The last Tame Impala record is mixed so bizarrely, with phasers taking over the entire mix,” says Jace Lasek of The Besnard Lakes, referring to an oscillating, sweeping sound effect. “I love that stuff. It keeps me inspired, as a musician and as a producer and an engineer.”
With their fourth album (Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO), Lasek and The Besnard Lakes continue the mission to ferry the Beach Boys further into the galaxy, perhaps dropping Phil Spector off somewhere along the way. The music is dynamic and grand, propelled by the softest afterburners and with pop sensibilities intact. “It’s our mandate as artists to keep moving, and to keep pushing music as forward and experimental as possible,” says Lasek. “Psychedelia has its heart in that idea.”
Young generations cotton to Dark Side of the Moon just as they do to a book such as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. There’s a freshness to the nonconformity and the thrill of strapping in for the ride. Psychedelic music offered a way out in the 1960s and early-’70s, and it still does today. “I get a sense from my students that they see those parallels,” says Bowman, “and those parallels are important to the music.”