SPANISH FOR HEAVY PSYCH?
by Lance Barresi~
Ever feel like bands that get tagged with the PSYCH descriptor just aren’t very psychedelic? Or heavy? Or any good at all? Well, have I got news for you! There’s a whole scene of HEAVY PSYCH bands happening down in San Diego right now worthy of that tag, and then some. These bands are the real deal. Pop-psych geeks with atrophied ears might wanna go ahead and insert their earplugs now. The San Diego Psych scene is raging full on, borderline metal-style. But this ain’t metal proper we’re talking here. These bands are living in the land of heaviest of heavy stoner rock, where guitar solos reign supreme, mid-to-up tempo rhythm sections lay down solid foundations that can withstand quakes way up there on the Richter Scale, and vocals, when there are any, are so reverberated and buried in the mix that they only serve as a reminder that this music is being played by real humans, not high-tech robots from a psychedelic galaxy far, far away.
San Diego is a beautiful beach city complete with some awesome music venues. The Casbah is a legendary downtown club that’s hosted shows almost every night of the week for 25 years. The Soda Bar and Che Café regularly host rad shows and Bar Pink is the place to go if you’re looking for a mellower night out, unless somebody like Thee Oh Sees are playing there of course. (I once watched Endless Summer with live Hawaiian Slack-key guitar accompaniment at Bar Pink: pure bliss.) And there are loads of other cool spots as well. San Diego is also home to some fantastic record stores. My favorites are Record City and M-Theory. Unfortunately, one of San Diego’s best record stores, Thirsty Moon, recently went out of business. Thirsty Moon, named after the obscure ‘70s Krautrock band, was started by Earthless’ rhythm section back in 2005. The store was impeccably curated and carried, almost exclusively, esoteric Psych, Krautrock, Garage, and Punk reissues. Their stock in the Soul, Jazz, Funk, and International genres was limited, but quality. Again, mostly reissues and new records, but nothing but the best and most far out. The store was tiny and went for a quality over quantity strategy, which was rad for customers who didn’t wanna get their fingers dirty, but I think they were a little ahead of their time for San Diego, and without the margin benefit from selling loads of more common used records, Thirsty Moon must’ve had a tough time of it. However, like many of the most influential underground artists from the past, their legacy lives on. I imagine most of the members of the San Diego Psych bands shopped at Thirsty Moon, and got turned on to a lot of incredibly rad records. And obviously, Earthless was already hip to some far out sounds.
Earthless has been around the block. This POWER trio formed in 2001, but didn’t release their first record Sonic Prayer until 2005. Even then, it went widely unappreciated, partially because it came out on Gravity Records, a label better known for releasing post-hardcore sounds from San Diego. Many of the Gravity bands sounded nothing like Earthless and have not aged nearly as gracefully. Sonic Prayer however, can already be classified as a classic 21st century Heavy Psych record. The LP is comprised of two side-long instrumental jams cheekily titled “Flower Travelin’ Man” and “Lost In The Cold Sun.” Fans of Jap-anese Psych and Dark Shadows will recognize the blatant references. Over the years, Sonic Prayer has been repressed on wax again and again, and I’m sure as become one of Gravity’s best sellers. Then again, maybe not. As incredible as these sounds are, the record’s heaviness is chest cavity crushing and the majority our ADD addled society might not be able to sit down long enough to take it all in. Earthless returned in 2007 with their second LP Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky, this time on the more genre appropriate Tee Pee label. Rhythms was, and still is, one of my favorite records from 2007. The hype sticker on the front of the jacket aptly proclaims “Their Tee Pee Records debut displays a plodding, jam-heavy, guitar freakout, with bass throb echoing everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Flower Traveling Band (sic), to Hawkwind.” Not on the LP, but included on the CD version of Rhythms is Earthless’ spot-on cover of the Groundhogs’ classic “Cherry Red.”This is also the only place you’ll find vocals on an Earthless record. This record is basically a two-side long jammer, the A-side being divided into a five-part suite. I saw the band in Chicago on the Rhythms tour and the experience was absolutely mind-blowing. Tragically, Earthless left us high-and-dry aside from a few random split releases and live recordings for the following six years, but 2013 brought Earthless’ triumphant return on Tee Pee in the form of a massive double LP entitled From The Ages.The band picks up right where they left off, again only inhibited by the length of a side of 12” vinyl. These guys are the seemingly at the height of their abilities, but continue to amaze with the endless amount fuel in their tanks. Not that it matters much, because Earthless’ tunes speak for themselves, but among the members of band are alumni of Nebula, Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt and a current member of OFF!
The last time I saw Earthless was at the Casbah, with LA favorites Zig Zags. My pals and I toked a joint on the walk from the car to the venue and upon entering were stunned by the noise coming from the stage. The band drew us in like a white light and pummeled us into submission. The bass from the kick drum felt like it was punching me in the chest and the guitar was endlessly ripping. The experience was so intense, that I had to back up from the stage for a moment and get my feet on the ground and grab a pint. I stepped back up to the stage for the finale, but to be honest the whole set felt like a grand finale.
Once the band was revved up, there was absolutely no slowing down. I discovered afterwards that these dudes were the ones billed as Harsh Toke, which was surprising because their set was more intense than the jams I’d on their Bandcamp page… which also blew me away. I dug it so much that I immediately got in touch with the band and asked them to do a record on Permanent. Much to my dismay, they’d already worked out a record deal with, you guessed it, Tee Pee Records. Their debut LP came out late last year and it’s just as good as I hoped it would be. The vibe is very similar to Earthless’ but there’s a bit more variety in the instrumentation and some heavily effected vocals. The tracks are also slightly shorter, two jams per side instead of just one. It’s definitely one of the best records of 2013, Psych or otherwise.
Joy is another Heavy Psych band from San Diego making waves. They self-released an LP back in 2012 and the local label, Under The Gun, pressed it to cassette tape shortly thereafter. Both formats are out-of-print, but the tunes are available digitally at joycurestheblues.bandcamp.com. Joy is a bit more blues-based than their aforementioned compadres, but they take the blues about as far out as they can stretch ‘em and they’re far more psychedelic than a band like Blue Cheer ever was, even in their most lysergic moments. That said, Joy may be the most accessible of these bands and might be a good gateway drug for the timid. Live, however, I’m sure earplugs would still be required.
For more on the San Diego Psych scene, keep your eyes peeled on the future output on Under The Gun Records. Evert seems to have his finger on the pulse and has plans to release the best of the best. Hope you don’t mind tapes.