(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Recording review - Acid Baby Jesus, Selected Recordings (2014)

Psychoactive dandelion seeds propagated from the past

Imagine the scattered groups in the 1960s that invented the various flavors of psychedelia. Even in their wildest trips, they probably never dreamed their legacy would still be around some 50 years later, popping up all over the world. Driving that point home, Greek tripsters Acid Baby Jesus have taken up the retro freak flag, adding their own modern touches. Selected Recordings shows that they've studied the past for more than just the surrealistic band-naming conventions and that they can occasionally rise above their sundry influences. Fragmented reflections of The Animals, It's a Beautiful Day, and the Zombies flicker around the edges, but Acid Baby Jesus also tap into more modern garage psych sounds like Thee Oh Sees and Nobunny. While Selected Recordings is a pleasant retreat from reality, the first half of the album is strongest, with better production and arrangements.

The trip peaks early with "Diogenes", which is full of the jangled chimes of sunshine psychedelia. It offers a good mix of Beatlesque meditation, Northern California haze, and Pink Floyd disorientation. The initial guitar riff is reminiscent of The Velvet Underground, but the vocals quickly take us into the direction of "Within Without You" and the instrumental breaks slip into "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" angst. The band meanders around the droning Indian scales and windchime rhythm, but the song never loses its pop orientation. A purist might complain that it's all a bit derivative, but it's a pleasant introduction to the band.

The sound gets a bit heavier with "Row By Row", which is a bit more typical of the album, with bass driven grooves providing the foundation for the guitar to provide the sonic warpage. The real gem of the album comes a few songs later with "Ayahuasca Blues (Unmanned Drone)". The droning sitar buzz, detuned guitar, and pensive bass conjure up a dimly room, fogged with incense smoke. The vocal chants create a tribal tone, but the classic psychedelic elements are accompanied by a more modern industrial edge. There's a low hum of chaotic grey noise that builds throughout the all-too-brief four minutes. A paranoid ear might hear it shift from mere sitar feedback to shouting children, birds massing, or brakes squealing. While it's not a recommended soundtrack for bad trips, it is the most intense piece here.

The rest of the album is filled out with plenty of messy garage rock and the occasional change up, like the folk psych simplicity of "You & Me". While Acid Baby Jesus never quite break enough fresh ground to become my new favorite band, Selected Recordings stands up well to repeated listening and they've got a few more tricks than some of their peers in contemporary neo-psychedelia. The only change I'd make is to drop the closing instrumental, "All of Your Love". It opens with ambient reflections of detuned guitar that promise a dreamy surrealism, but it quickly resolves into a shuffle beat space-folk vamp with jaw harp boings and a quirky feel. The bait-and-switch colors my opinion, but the truth is that title never finds a home in this cartoony tune. That's a minor gripe, though.

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