Psychedelic rock reached its peak in the late 1960’s, when bands steeped in LSD became popular all over the world. The diverse musical style starts with the mind-altering experience of psychedelic drugs. The goal is to detach the listener and musician from reality, using various structures, open-ended song formats and an incredible array of instrumentation. Psych rock uses influences from folk, jazz and the blues to classical music, reggae and Indian sounds.
The Byrds, Yardbirds, and Kinks were early progenitors of the form, but the Beach Boys and Beatles also embraced aspects of psych rock. In October of 1966, the 13th Floor Elevators were the first band to use “psychedelic rock” to describe their style. The music became ubiquitous in the San Francisco scene, with Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds and the poets associated with the counterculture.
Although the music is closely linked with the 1960’s, every decade has witnessed a psych rock revival. San Francisco is again at the center of the psych rock scene, with the prolific Ty Segall and maverick John Dwyer leading the charge.
Dwyer is a clever genius who is known for his gonzo take on psych rock, recording an amazing 19 studio albums with Thee Oh Sees. Dwyer has also joined and then broken with Pink and Brown, The Hospitals and Coachwhisps, each of which has learned more on garage rock than psych. Dwyer now releases solo music under the name Damaged Bug. Dwyer is a performance artist and visual maestro in addition to being an experimental blender of many dissonant styles. Dwyer embraces clashing, dissonant noises that can sometimes make the listener cringe.
In contrast, Segall’s songs sound positively melodious. Dwyer recognized Segall’s potential early on and signed him to his label. There’s plenty of messy mashups to go with the 50’s pop melodies. Segall has released six albums that sound like a garageband collided with an acid rock outfit, working closely with Mikal Cronin and White Fence.
Fellow Bay-area resident Mikal Cronin is already turning heads on the scene. He sometimes tours with Segall and is a member of the bands Okie Dokie, Epsilons, Party Fowl and Moonhearts. On his third solo release, MCIII, Cronin nailed the concept album by making the record’s second side a six-song suite called Circle. It pays tribute to an era of great change for Cronin, after he was forced to move in with this parents after having back surgery. During his recovery, he realized the primacy of music and teamed up with Segall. The rest is (recent) psych rock history. MCIII is a big, swinging album that is like candy to the ear. Cronin plays guitar, bass, drums, organ, saxophone, piano and other instruments.
Baltimore’s Animal Collective seems designed to provoke an intense response of either love or hate. Their music is constantly in flux, writing nice indie songs that are then interrupted with shrieking wails. They explore rhythms from world music and have folk and pop influences. With Animal Collective, everything is changing and hard to label, which may be the only defining characteristic of psych rock.
Just as the psych rock of the 1960’s included a strong contribution from the British, today’s scene would be incomplete without bands from across the pond, most notably Australian band Tame Impala. The group is driven by Kevin Parker, who is the frontman and control freak responsible for 2015’s big hit, Currents. Tame Impala haven’t released a studio album in three years, but is rumored to have recorded with Mark Ronson and SZA for an upcoming album.