It's hard to pin down what exactly makes for a GREAT record. If only some mathematical wizard could condense some sort of algorithm to sort out the qualities that make the hairs stand up on end on our forearms, that make our eyes roll back in our heads and fill our minds with sweet visions. If only we could quantize the sublime, perhaps we could abolish mediocre music for good.
No matter how many records one listens to, a GREAT RECORD is a complete surprise. What is it that makes an album like Alice Vs. The Magnetic Ocean Floor by Austin, TX's Yogi Chiron so thrilling, energizing, imaginative and well-executed, while so much psych/indie/shoegaze sounds thin, tepid, watered-down and uninspired?
Alice Vs. The Magnetic Ocean Floor is the culmination of eight years work from Chris Balch. Instead of forcing himself to rush to completion, Balch took the time to craft careful, considered, realistic-but-poetic reflections "from the trenches of life," as he puts it.
Had Balch rushed Alice Vs. The Magnetic Ocean Floor to the printers during that near-decade, perhaps Yogi Chiron might've ended up shoehorned into one of the above-mentioned genres. Until the recent modulations and mutations of the shoegaze revival in the 2000s, the 'gaze remained gauzy, the post-punk was minimal and threatening and paranoid, the psych was rose-tinted, and the indie was slick and cosmopolitan.
There is a real risk of under-representation in these narrow definitions. What does a psychedelic warrior do who loves to trip out but hates tie-dye? Or the punk that also loves to read and has a great sense of style? In the late '90s and early '00s, any/all of these things would leave you as an outcast from those subcultures, leaving you equally bitter and alienated.
Yogi Chiron is turning back the clock to the early '90s, when indie/college rock, psychedelia - via shoegaze, The Paisley Underground, and early Britpop - and even punk and metal - via grunge - were all playing nice.
So is the beguiling mixture of visionary poetic lyrics; thick, crushing, distorted guitars, sparkling acoustic and deadpan but emotional lyrics that make Alice Vs. The Magnetic Ocean Floor such a thrilling hit of ephedrine when so much shoegaze seems paint-by-numbers and boringly detached?
It's hard to say, but if you value both moody energy and melodicism, delivered with a keen wit and a great sense of style, you'll return to Alice Vs. The Magnetic Ocean Floor again and again.
Austin, TX may have done more to preserve real psych rock in the 21st Century than a museum full of Owsley acid, thanks to purveyors of garage-y doom like The Black Angels. Yogi Chiron's take on Austin Psych is like a desert-fried variant on Beach Goth with mescaline visions and sun stroke replacing the distracted haze of wave watching of bands like Thee Oh Sees, The Growlers or Ty Segall. Austin-brand psychedelia has always seemed a little meaner, like barbed wire fences stretching to the horizon or poetic ruminations in the midst of carnage and bloodshed in a Cormac McCarthy novel. It's a reminder that sleep deprivation, starvation, poverty and alienation are as vision inducing as good hash or mushroom caps; it is just darker and more jittery, is all.
So if you like to trip out watching Paris, TX or No Country For Old Men instead of Sesame Street or Head, welcome to your new favorite band!
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