New Psych Folk

Here’s some relatively new music, all released within the last few months, that combines folk and psychedelia. It’s one of the more interesting of “genres” for me, both adventurous and  listenable. A lot of it harkens back to the late 1960s (particularly Beautify Junkyards and Mark McDowell), but that’s not a bad thing – and these particular artists, I feel, are still doing creative things with those sounds and inspirations.  So, pour yourself a bowl of granola and dive in (to the music, not the granola…)

Beautify Junkyards: The Invisible World Of
This collection of songs is a long dreamscape, from a Lisbon band who have covered Nick Drake and Os Mutantes in the past (which gives you an idea of where they’re coming from musically.) Most of their songs are in English, though a few are in Portugese, giving the whole thing a more exotic feel (at least for non-Portugese speakers).  Subtle electronics and occasional field recordings are mixed in to a primarily acoustic palette, with male and female vocals shared by Joao Branco and Rita Vian.  Vian’s voice is wistful and a little melancholy, which ties in perfectly with the dreaminess here. “Golden Apples” and “Aquarius” drift by like wind blown melodies through the trees, while “Cabeca Flor” (which translates to “flower head”) is a magical, more upbeat cut.

Seabuckthorn: A House With Too Much Fire
Seabuckthorn is the alias of U.K. guitarist Andy Cartwright. This is his 9th album. Much of the music here is very liminal, existing in some mysterious dusk/dawn half-light similar to Ry Cooder‘s soundtrack to Paris, Texas or to Bruce Langhorne‘s The Hired Hand soundtrack. Much is also informed by Indian music and ancient England. “Inner” employs vaguely sitar-like guitar (think the intro to The Doors‘ “The End”) while “What the Shepherds Call Ghosts” has echoing fingerpicked patterns, overdubbed stringed instruments and a faint background drone fading in  and out. “It Was Aglow” features banjo, again with echoing fingerpicked patterns, riding on waves beneath a scattered sun, while “Figure Afar” is almost a chamber classical piece.  While ghostly drones weave through this album, there’s no sacrifice of melody in these haunting compositions.

Mark McDowell and Friends: Dark Weave
As with Beautify Junkyards, McDowell’s modus operandi on Dark Weave is to mix electronics and acoustic guitars. This helps give an updated sound to a collection of songs indebted in large part to British psychedelic/acid folk of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Touches of garage and acid rock figure in too, such as in “Look in the Dust”, which features a gloriously fuzzed out electric guitar solo. “Colequiem” is an acoustic fingerpicked, haunted woodland instrumental swathed in tasteful electronics and distant birdsong.  Another highlight is “Elizabeth,” at it’s heart sounding like an olde folk song about a woman accused of witchcraft, but ornamented with spacey synths and an earworm of a repeated short electric guitar riff.

Sitka Sun: Sitka Sun
A project led by bassist/arranger Patrick Murphy with a cast of guest musicians on everything from electric cello to clavinet, Sitka Sun makes instrumental music with a mid-tempo exploratory consistency of mood. It never gets too crazy, but it also never gets too quiet. Lead track “YesYes Forward” combines West African music with 60s psychedelic jazz in its fluid guitar and organ. “Desert” is a spaghetti western, an anchoring slowly swaying bass line in conversation with inventive drum and cymbal interplay while the guitar comes in in melodic snatches. “Shapeshifter” takes us to that desert sky, moving like lazy clouds with quiet wood block percussion, violin and piano.  “Blood Diamond,” on the other hand, is an organ showcase, replete with jazz trumpet, and would work well as the theme to a James Bond film.

Itasca: Morning Flower
This is a combo work, between Itasca (nom de plume of singer/songwriter/guitarist Kayla Cohen) and poet/artist/ecologist Gunnar Tchida. Tchida provided the titles to all the tracks and the  lyrics to the two sung songs,”Morning Flower” and “Wet Meadow” (the rest being instrumental).  Cohen/Itasca is an accomplished guitar player, her work folky but with a deep “psych” feel, which pairs well with her deep, darkness-laced vocals. “Canyon Wren” has a field recording background (perhaps recorded in an actual field) with a contemplative, melodic guitar overlay. “Snow Melt” features hazy electric guitar, dense textures echoing the acoustic melody line. “Bitter Mollusk” rings with plucked steel string guitar, but is the taste of the mollusk bitter or is it just an angry mollusk? These are the kinds of questions we can contemplate as we listen to Morning Flower


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