Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Psychic Paramount - II (2011) REVIEW

Alright, let's take a goddamn rollercoaster ride and be teleported on the roof of a high-speed train wheeling at 350 km/h (218 mph), I wonder how the hell I can still be standing with that hurricane wind pushing against my chest, rubbing my crotch, pulling my hair out, eroding my ears off, squeezing my cheeks and engulfing my eyeballs, but I am standing, I'm not sure how, while I'm surfing left, then right, then up over that hill, then down into this valley, on both sides the landscape became horizontal parallel lines while at the front side "darn, that bridge is low", I've got the time to close my eyes but not to duck and CRRRAAASSSHHH!!! I'm in it and already out, I'm still standing, looking behind, "holy shit, that bridge collapses!", it was only made of bricks, another bridge hits my back full force, I feel the impact huge BBRRROOOOKKKSSHHH, this one was badass, it was made of concrete, and I'm still standing, "fuck me, this bridge just crumbled down!", looking at my hands, touching my face, everything's there, and the railway goes right, then left, then down into that tunnel, all sounds are muffled for a nick of time, then out again, going up, going up, going up, going up, going up, then suddenly down, I'm riding that cannonball of an iron horse, "YEEEHHAAAAAA!!! I'm the post-apocalyptic cowboy, I'm invincible, I'm the Paramount of mankind and Superman's a sissy!"

The monumental guitar riff that greets you right at the beginning of the first track "Intro/Sp" from the second album by The Psychic Paramount could be terrifying at first, that loudness is hard to compete with, the velocity is stupefying, while the drummer is hitting everything around and the bass is frantically counterpointing the guitar. Eventually, through the freeform quality of this "intro", everything takes shape, the chaos becomes cosmos and a groove slowly emerges. Despite all that fury and noise, you end up taking that colossal wave of sound and surf inside and on top of it not knowing where it will carry you but feeling like nothing can hurt you. The impression left by this first track "goes beyond the possibilities defined by natural laws", which is one definition of the word 'psychic', and that band is called The Psychic Paramount. This was only the first track. For the fifth track "N6", I was teleported on the back of a F-16, riding the jet fighter going through acrobatics while reaching Mach 1, then Mach 2, during a vertical acceleration and all that without carrying a parachute.

The Psychic Paramount is an instrumental rock trio from New York with Drew St. Ivany on guitars, Ben Armstrong on bass and Jeff Conaway on drums and the three of them got the power and the impact of a tidal wave : a tsunami for the ears. It took them six years to issue a follow up to their first and fantastic album "Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural" (2005), Drew St. Ivany explains : "our creative process is both lazy and ambitious, so it takes a long time" (1). That so-called laziness is hard to believe when you hear the energy dispensed in their music, but concerning how ambitious their music is, there's no doubt at all. That first album contained its large part of post-Hendrixian/pro Kawabata Makoto (more Mainliner than Acid Mothers Temple) guitar freak-outs and all extended over-saturated psychedelic jamming. It was a very confronting affair if near always irresistibly groovy without ever sounding funky. This second album however is far more disciplined, more compact, extremely focused all along. Furthermore there are few if no guitar solos, and it retains little of the psychedelic elements which placed them somewhere between the already mentioned Mainliner and fellow Americans Comets on Fire.

On this second studio album, the focus is obviously on the texture and the structure of their compositions, something far closer to post-rock or even math-rock aesthetics. Sound-wise The Psychic Paramount now recalls Don Caballero without the heavy metal riffs and the constant change of rhythm keys, and something of the first Battles' EPs, without the cartoonesque virtuoso pyrotechnics. From them on we can get back in time through Slint, Bitch Magnet and Sonic Youth for their guitars sound, bands like Can, Neu! but also This Heat for their 'motorik' kinda rhythm, to finally arrive to The Red Crayola and John Cale solo experiments by the time he was in The Velvet Underground for their punctual cacophonous noise and their repetitive and minimalist approach.

On former recordings by The Psychic Paramount (there are also a live album and a double cd collection of solo works by guitarist Drew St. Ivany), both elements, these very spontaneous and wild free improvisation freak-outs and those brainier more intellectual minimalistic music influences (Steve Reich or LaMonte Young through John Cale's grittier spectrum), were living side by side or fighting each other but they only very rarely coalesce. I believe they have succeeded to finally fuse them all in their last album "II". The real miracle is that they absolutely didn't lose one bit of their energy nor an inch of their incredible grooviness (drummer Jeff Conaway is simply amazing), not even the length of most of their tracks. They also abandoned that over-saturated sound, they maybe realized that their sound is loud and powerful enough, if not more, in complete high-definition. Finally, and the seventh and last track of the album, the quite short and surprisingly jazzy "N5 Coda", a slower motion bass line of the fourth track "N5", is like a reminder to themselves of where they are coming from, at least Drew St. Ivany and bassist Ben Armstrong.

Before founding The Psychic Paramount, both guys were members of the experimental noise band Laddio Bolocko (in short This Heat-meets-Albert Ayler and more) whose short-lived career (1996-2001) left us with three LPs and EPs compiled into one double Cd aptly called "The Life & Times of Laddio Bolocko" (2003). I discovered this band while investigating the past of The Psychic Paramount's members, and the least I can say is that if this band could have lasted a little longer, they would have become a legend, now they are cult for a handful of people who had the chance to discover them live and/or on records at that time. Their drummer, Blake Fleming, ex-Dazzling Killmen (for the ones who knows, I don't), also played in Zeni Geva for a short time and helped start The Mars Volta just after leaving Barrio Bolocko. That band was already experimenting with all those above mentioned sounds, textures and influences plus elements of free jazz, the band included a saxophone player who was also throwing some electronic splashes here and there.

"N5 Coda", which slightly resembles Barrio Bolocko's jazzier moments, is a bit like The Psychic Paramount's members acknowledging and assuming their former band's work and legacy. They even did better than that. After drifting slightly away through wild psychedelia and explosive free freak-outs in order to find themselves and their own musical expression, The Psychic Paramount got back to the more focused last rails posed by Barrio Bolocko, with their own sounds and visions and experiences, to produce one of these miraculous records combining extreme musical adventure and challenge with absolutely enjoyable and blissful results.

8.5 out of 10

(1) http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2011/02/download_psychi.php

  • Live 2002: The Franco-Italian Tour CD, Bewilderment and Illumination Records/Public Guilt Records - The Psychic Paramount at their wildest - 6.5
  • Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural CD, No Quarter Records (2005) - 8
  • Origins and Primitives Vol. 1 & 2 2XCD/LP, No Quarter Records (2006) - basically Drew St. Ivany solo, very interesting, at time compelling document - 7


  1. Just stumbled on your blog today. Amazing music, excellent reviews!

  2. Thanks echoexst, and welcome!


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