A riverside ranch, a three-day weekend amongst nature and a stream of psychedelic music may sound like a cult happening (and it kind of is) but more to the point it's the scene of Austin's Psych Fest, a musical celebration of all things mind-bending. In seven short years, Psych Fest has grown from small local concert to internationally attended blowout, big enough to lose yourself in, but small and weird enough to make you mourn SXSW's glory days. The bill for 2014 is stacked, plump with enough trip opportunities to last a lifetime, rich enough, even, to suggest that Psych Fest is Texas' new top-shelf festival.
It's time to start prepping. The May 2-4 event is just around the bend. While the list of acts is huge, ranging from underground electronics to art-pop and neo-psych, there are 10 that stand taller than the rest. These are your Psych Fest 2014 essentials:
10. The Black Angels
Austin's gold standard of psych, The Black Angels, have a sound that harks back to early acid-rock and garage progenitors, specifically fellow Texans The 13th Floor Elevators. While the label "neo-psych" has fallen on deaf ears as of late -- a tag incorrectly slapped on every new band with a vague sense of experimentation -- The Black Angels give the subgenre a good name and then some. Far from mere revivalists, The Black Angels have that rare intuition for kaleidoscopic arcs, and hold their own alongside their aesthetic forefathers. Their live shows are notoriously incendiary, and if their recent gigs are any inclination, 2014 finds the group in stellar form.
9. The Horrors
Psychedelic bands often lose their way in tired experimentalism and unmusical misadventures. The Horrors are no such band. Their aesthetic is aqueous but visceral, driven by blurry melodies and narcotic flourishes. Masters at consumption, The Horrors implement everything from new wave and krautrock to shoegaze and brit-pop in their quest to find rock's pleasure-center. The results are far from watered-down either, maintaining a consistently rewarding romanticism despite the band's knack for borrowing. It's refreshing to have a psych band embrace pop sensibilities rather than drown trying to avoid them. The Horrors add welcome depth to Psych Fest's left-of-center lineup.
Art-ravaged, vomitific and mind-bending, Tobacco's shade of DIY psych is a sonic lobotomy set in cannabis ash and analog fuzz. The figurehead of no-fi maximalists Black Moth Super Rainbow, Tobacco's omni-genre mutations range from campy to grotesque. Yet somehow his maneuvers always swing with musicality, a funky sort of traditionalism -- like bubblegum pop refracted through a meth trip. Fans of Wavves, Jay Reatard and Ty Segall will find plenty to celebrate at Tobacco's Psych Fest set.
From neo-post-punkers to indie darlings, then synth-rockers and now full-on dance, Liars are not ones to sit still. The sharp turn reflected in new release Mess, and foreshadowed by previous outing WIXIW, is an odd but welcome shift that adds depth to Liars' art-rock formula. After the band's 2007 coming-out party, the trio has flown, comparatively, under the radar, only seeming to get better as a consequence. For a band whose only constant is consistently admirable ambition, Liars are a sure bet for big things on Psych Fest weekend.
6. The Zombies
Guilty of producing one of rock's greatest artifacts (Odessey and Oracle), The Zombies are one of the last bastions of psych's golden era. Classic British psychedelia at its finest -- florid structures, shades of reverb, sublime harmonies -- The Zombies marry tranquility with heady immediacy: a warm middle between The Kinks and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Subtlety is the staple of their arrangements, with their organ haunts and trailing echoes always buoyed by ironclad melodies and reels of hooks. To see the Zombies is to witness a frozen groove in time, a rare chance to see history unfold before your eyes.
These legendary and recently reformed space-rockers are essential to the nth degree. Their debut Heaven's End remains a shoegaze rosetta stone of sorts, distending the dissonant wails of Jesus and Mary Chain to a trancy endpoint -- think Spacemen 3 meet Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." Given that frontman Robert Hampson is an audiophile and sound technician of the highest order (see Main, and his solo electro-acoustic work), you can expect only the very best from Loop's set.
4. Mark McGuire
With more than 40 releases since 2007, the former Emeralds guitarist is as prolific as they come, proving more resilient than his one-time bandmates who years ago lost their spark. Where Emeralds wired into nostalgia and synth patterns to cosmic effect, solo McGuire builds bucolic, slow-burning guitar-scapes that move with a meditative elegance. Endless and pastoral are the touchstones of the layers here, linear, windswept strumming that wafts serenely, as if proceeding from a distant memory. It's with this hypnotic beauty that Mark McGuire colors the most brilliant scenery -- musical pictures that grasp for virginal nirvana.
3. Acid Mothers Temple
I caught these guys in Fort Worth last year, and what a spectacle they are. The free jazz, avant prog-rock that spills from their recordings is but a glimmer of the firestorm they deliver live. Their records are sublime, but their live gig is a towering vortex of energy and noise that overshadows their own sprawling discography. There's really very little this group of Japanese psychsters can't do. Their guitar-play unfolds like exorcisms, while their percussion and electronic elements treat metronomy like an endless film dissolve. Acid Mother's Temple is truly one of the most imaginative and, sadly, undervalued acts in the world.
2. Panda Bear
Panda Bear's magnum opus Person Pitch begins with the crunchy rumble of a train moving along its tracks, a not so subtle ode to the album's explicit influence, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, which, in like fashion, ends with a snippet of railroad noise. This hat-tip would be of little consequence were Person Pitch not so excellent. Instead, we have an artifact that quite literally bridges the gap between golden era psych-pop and its modern equivalent, a fact that makes the context of Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) all the more fascinating.
A Brian Wilson obsessive, Lennox knows how to turn reference into creativity, and then build on the results. His swirling, narcotic take on pop is lush and time-stretched, bordering on the absurd. Hooks are extended into drones, choruses become looping mantras, then both melt into the melodies and ripple out into forever. There's a womb-like quality to Panda Bear's music, a numbing sensuality that resonates with warmth and emotional embrace. With a new release in the pipeline, and the promise of new material in the set list, Panda Bear is a must-see this year.
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1. Oneohtrix Point Never
Oneohtrix Point Never is the alias of electronic composer Daniel Lopatin, a high-low art futurist continuing in the traditions of artists like Brian Eno and Klaus Schulze. Amidst a swarm of commercial ephemera, cultural memory and cubist tendencies, Lopatin sculpts portraits -- abstract, concept-heavy, liquid yet grid-like -- that persist in a strangely beautiful center between new age and kosmische rock.
OPN's synthesized landscapes are as redolent of alien space as technologic nostalgia, uniquely informed by contemporary existence, yet postmodern and inhuman in a manner remote from reality. This sensation of remoteness is Lopatin's trademark, an element both liberating and frightening -- the bliss of physical escape and the nightmare of existential imprisonment. In this way, OPN is transcendent, a slipstream through innerspace, dream-space and back, an edgeless music adrift in cool geometric minimalism and ever-tunneling drones. Sounds from the future about the past delivered in the present. Does it get more psychedelic than that?