The new psychedelia

Thursday, February 2, 2017 - 5:56pm




Psychedelic rock — or acid rock, to be straighter to the point — wasn’t just born in the ’60s and ’70s; it exploded then. The reason is obvious: LSD was in wide use, especially as San Francisco, its epicenter, grew in cultural and political importance. Alongside the burgeoning black power movement in Oakland a counterculture movement in the city across the bay instructed as eastern-inspired hippies to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” San Francisco was a new city on a hill, albeit for a new generation of supposedly listless youngsters and slacker-precursors decked in tie-dye and flowers listening to the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane play.

Foxygen may be the closest we’ve come to truly reliving that golden age of psychedelic music, and may be a sign of things to come. Their imperfect fifth album, Hang, is a lovingly erratic mixture of David Bowie and George Harrison, Frank Zappa and Electric Light Orchestra, with vivid orchestrations guiding poppy piano rhythms through unpredictable chord progressions. Even the tempo, always-changing on the highlight song “Avalon,” is like a fitful time machine to the effervescent days of yore, when the music business’s pressures were lighter and songs could run for four (or more) times as long as they do now. The group’s vocals croon like a seductive showman on a wild trip, slobbering over words as one would over life itself.

And even before Hang, Foxygen gladly placed themselves within the grand tradition of western sound. Their song “San Francisco,” off their 2013 album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, shares its DNA with “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & Papas, one of the anthems of east coast deference to their new California brethren in rock ‘n’ roll.

Foxygen’s sound and style is spreading. A hidden gem this past fall was the release of Do Hollywood by The Lemon Twigs, a duo of teenage brothers from Long Island, whose record was produced by Jonathan Rado of Foxygen. Their music sounds as if all of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” — that tremendously wicked and bright McCartney-Lennon collaboration (or, more aptly, battle between two widely divergent songwriters) — collapsed into itself, so that McCartney’s acid-washed bright pop and Lennon’s philosophical brooding create an exquisite soupy mix of theatrical baroque rock. It can sound like Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber picked up a Stratocaster.

This pastiche and genre blend might be the future of rock. Kishi Bashi’s relatively lackluster album from this past summer also featured Jeff Lynne-like orchestrations. Father John Misty has been all cynical psychedelia since he branched out as a solo artist, and he’s got another album, Pure Comedy, on the way. Mac DeMarco is also on the cusp of another record.

It all hasn’t been perfect so far — there’s a fine line between inspired and copied — but there’s a bright, promising future ahead for those who need to create a new psychedelic reality.