Not long ago, last week in fact, I determine what divides psychedelic music into Me-Likey and Me-Not-Likey (terms to be pronounced in a silly accent). Did I come up with that insight all by myself? I did not. I found this wisdom listening to The High Frontier, the newest release from San Francisco psychedelic band Lumerians. If you would be so kind as to listen to them, you too could see how right I am … or how wrong you are. It’s OK if you’re wrong. I still respect you.
Skipping all the history and fancy transitional stuff, let me tell you the key factor in liking Lumerians: they are two bands that somehow merge into one. The bass and drums come from a funk band background somewhat like anything George Clinton (a right funky fellow!) has been in. The guitar/vocals, however, are pure psychedelic with the swirliness and reverb you’ve come to expect. Mix well and you have a lively brand of psychedelica where you can sit, with headphones, in your recliner and happily look out on the world, not at your ever mystical belly button. If your belly button is more entertaining, by all means, keep looking. Personally, I don’t care about your belly button … but that’s beside the point. To the point, Lumerians embrace a particular portion of psychedelica, that of tribal ecstatic ritual. I don’t they conjure anything, but I’ll let you know as soon as I know.
From the beginning, you can hear the 60s influence in “Dogon Genesis” as the vocals have a kind of we’re-on-drugs-talking-about-mystical-things intensity layered over repetitious swirly guitars/synths. It starts almost prototypical hypnotic psychedelica typical of, say Wooden Shjips, but with a little added sonic sharpness (the guitars are well-tuned) and variety. During the bridge, I swear I heard flashbacks of Dead Can Dance’s Spiritchaser. Lyrically, though, it feels like an astrologically-based science fiction novel. In the title track, the two-bands concept is extremely visible as the drums keep up a vivid beat and the bass sets the table for each move to a new section, allowing the guitars to just be texture. At this point, too, Lumerians show a nice bit of the unexpected as a decidedly energetic musical track is combined with slow motion, semi-dronish singing. Also, the instantaneous changes of pace feel decidedly like what I remember from late-60’s early-70’s heavy rock. If you wait to be hypnotized, each change will jar you back to full consciousnesses, if the tribal drums will even let you get hypnotic in the first place.
If you’ve been keeping track or are the blogging Hubner, you know I’m attached to ring modulation effects. I’ve not clearly heard them on anything, but, on “The Bloom”, there it is. For the uninitiated, a ring modulation effect turns a sound into something much more mechanical and much much more dissonant than it began. As it combines the played sound with a fixed tone, it creates the sum and difference of those frequencies (take my word for it, I did the math) which results in something that sounds different for every note, harsh for some, smooth for others. But, there it is, a variant of the ring modulation where, I think, they take only the high frequency of that sound (the sum part). It’s quite the mechanical spacy sounding bunch of weirdness, mixed in with the rest of the tracks space goth vocals and uncharacteristically hyperactive guitars.
Not content with mere ring modulation, Lumerians follow that up with “Koman Tong” where modulation effects are applied to almost everything, vocals/guitar/bass to create a mechanically electric cartoon disco in the middle of the space Raja’s satellite lair. Too complex a metaphor? OK, it’s a psychedelically improved analogue of Styx’s “Mr Roboto.” Better? Good. Domo arigato.
Question: What if psychedelic music just avoided some of the swirly guitars and used more experimental sounds? Answer: “Smokies Tangle” where you might here tinny piano, modulated drum sounds and other oddities that eventually evolve into seriously spacy weirdness. The experimental vein continues in “Life Without Skin” where the vocals are a woman’s voice saying something sultry in Italian … [sigh] … so sultry.
So, you get the picture, I suppose. In this album Lumerians take a sound that I already liked, tweak it a little with added experimentation and added bass/drums emphasis and turn it into the kind of ecstatic psychedelic celebration I crave.