February 23, 2006

Beautiful Noise

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Audiophiles looking for their next fix should direct their attention to the uber-hip, NYC-based label, Social Registry. A string of successful releases last year, including records by the Cornell-bound Gang Gang Dance and Blood on the Wall, nabbed the young label’s endemic independent music press. Social Registry’s first proper release of 2006, the Psychic Ills’ Dins, is also their first glaring success in a string of anticipated releases.

The Psychic Ills is a cadre of urban musicians torn between open greens and cracked concrete. Though their music may get bottled with the folk and psychedelic underground, Dins has a much harder bite than the whole of their “wyrd” folk contemporaries and hooks uncommon to the shamanistic drones of the latest psychedelic sound explorers.

The Psychic Ills’ sonic stylings resonate somewhere between the fuzzy riffs of Sonic Youth and the psychedelic distortion of Spacemen 3. The album manages to weave gauzy vocals, lush Eastern strings, marching drums, and cavernous guitar licks together into an eight track package all while maintaining an impressive song-length economy.

“January Rain” is the album’s encompassing cut, employing lightly static vocals, percolating electronics and a 4/4 drumbeat. The track segues into a hellish Steppenwolf loop that teeters precariously until snapping back into the rock structures of “I Knew My Name.” This stellar track opens with the interplay of throbbing strings and shimmering guitar chords glued together with mid-tempo percussion. The familiar tempo abruptly gives way to marching drums and crashing high-hats. Desperate vocals cough out “I found God” repeatedly as the instruments crescendo and then breakdown into a Sonic Youth guitar exercise. In moments like this – when the walls of sound deftly complement the lyrics – Dins elevates itself into epic territory.

The rock structure present throughout the album lends Dins the immediacy sorely missed from most spaced-out rock and ambitionless drone music.

But there’s also a sense that the patterns restrain the Psychic Ills from exploring other compositional methods. With a less than 40 minute running time, Dins doesn’t give the argument much merit. Nevertheless, its brevity perhaps makes the album all the more powerfully unique. Still, the insistence on using only hushed vocals becomes irritating when the lyrics are overly muddied by distortion, as heard in the album’s closer, “Another Day Another Night.” It’s exasperating to think that the group is holding back on the talent they clearly possess – but the effect is, in the end, positive. Each song is so expertly crafted that individual flaws – not entire songs – are canceled out by the sum total.

For listeners who find the latest “wyrd” or “freak” folk records infuriatingly unstructured, the Psychic Ills may yet save your perception with their gradual, catching hooks. The album’s eclectic influences make it a stand-out amongst the recent slew of innovative recordings.

Archived article by Andrew Meehan
Sun Staff Writer