I can still vividly remember my first encounter with stoner rock all those years ago. It was the first track on a label sampler for I Used to Fuck People Like You In Prison Records by a now largely forgotten band called The Awesome Machine. Now this might surprise you, but back then I wasn’t the effortlessly cool hipcat (as I believe the kids say these days) that I am today. Instead, I’d mis-spent my youth listening to the dire local radio station 210 FM and taping their weird radio-edits of songs that seemed to be popular solely because they’d featured in adverts for jeans.
Anyway, the track, and indeed the whole label sampler, was a real revelation for me – I don’t think I’d ever realised just how truly life-affirming a down-tuned guitar played through a ton of fuzz could sound. I loved everything about that CD: the cool spacey artwork; the photos of bands in flares taken through fish-eye lenses; the slightly strange English-as-a-second-language-English band descriptions. But most all I loved the tunes; the pounding, head-nodding riffs and the lyrics that took you floating off to a desert I’d never been to.
I thought I’d share that with you, not just because I’m feeling nostalgic, but because on Venus Skytrip, Psychlona take me back to 2001 nand remind me of why I fell in love with stoner rock in the first place. Considering how many thousands of bands have tried, and failed, to recapture that magic, I can’t quite put my finger on what it is about Psychlona that makes them succeed, but succeed they do. The album could easily pass as a long-lost gem from the vaults of Man’s Ruin Records, replete with those weird back-to-front CD covers they did and the digital space font Frank Kozik was so fond of.
I appreciate that I’ve gotten a bit carried away and jumped in at the deep end, so let’s take a long, slow breath and get back to basics: Psychlona are a four-piece hailing from the cactus-strewn, dusty desert dunes of Bradford, West Yorkshire and Venus Skytrip is their second album. I’ll freely confess to being late to the Psychlona party and only picked up their excellent debut Mojo Risingonce it had been out for over a year. I’m going to speculate that it’s become a deserved word-of-mouth hit since then as the second vinyl pressing has recently sold out. It’s also worth noting that Venus Skytrip is being jointly released by Cursed Tongue Records and Ripple Music, which seems to be as cast-iron a guarantee of quality rock as you can find at the moment.
One of the things that puzzled me over the years is how few supposedly desert rock bands understand what a desert rock record should sound like. It’s even more puzzling when you consider how simple it is and that it doesn’t even require a fancy production job – I’m sure I read somewhere that Dozer’s In The Tail Of A Comet was recorded for $500. And what’s the magic ingredient? Fuzz. Lots of thick, soupy fuzz, delivered at high volume, backed by thumping drums and with some vocals (singing ability entirely unimportant) lurking low in the mix. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask and Psychlona are kind enough to oblige.
Venus Skytrip starts of in fine style with Blast Off. For the many people, myself included, who have ever wondered whether they really need to hear another desert rock track featuring NASA space mission speech samples, Blast Off provides definitive proof that, perhaps surprisingly, you actually do. After the requisite spacey intro, Psychlona put their foot to the floor and hit you with the delicious wall of guitar fuzz you’ve been craving. Its high energy stuff, but the band marry it with enough groove to get your head nodding and your feet moving. As with pretty much everything else on the album, it’s nothing you haven’t heard before, you just haven’t heard it done this well for a very long time.
It’s fifty minutes of pure awesomeness that should make even the most jaded listener fall back in love with stoner rock…
Next up is 10,000 Volts, which demonstrates Psychlona‘s uncanny ability to conjure early Fu Manchu more effectively than Fu Manchu seem capable of nowadays. Everybody loves a quiet-verse-loud-chorus workout, especially one delivered as expertly as this. Blow picks up another favourite stoner rock staple and totally nails it, kicking into a palm-muted shuffle groove riff that opens up when it reaches the chorus. The lyrics here aren’t exactly Kerouac, but frankly the odd ropey lyric just adds to the charm and is very much in line with the turn of the millennium aesthetic.
Star is further proof of Psychlona channelling Fu Manchu to great effect. With its tar-thick fuzz it sounds like something recorded during the sessions for In Search Of… and then inexplicably left off the final record. Everything about it screams RAWK, from the scuzzy Eddie Glass guitar to the cow bell that crops up halfway through. Edge Of The Universe also sounds like it’s stepped straight out 1997 with a tale of driving too fast and sticking it to The Man. As with everything else on Venus Skytrip, it put a big goofy grin on my face and makes me wish that I still had enough hair to make headbanging seem more like I was rocking out and less like I was having a funny turn.
Resin is another excellent quiet-loud exercise, but with a more mellow, spacey feel to the verse that makes the pulverising wall of fuzz you know is coming even more satisfying when it finally arrives. Tijuana provides another dose of high-energy desert rock that would sound at home on an early MeteorCity compilation.
The band wind up an awesome album with a suitably epic track, The Owl. I like to think of the intro as a friendly tip of the hat to Scott Hill et al, with the tastiest use of a flanger since Fu’s Blue Tile Fever. Intro over, Psychlona launch into a darker main riff that plods and swings its way through nine minutes of heavy rock destruction, leaving nothing standing in its path before trailing off into space.
Mojo Rising was such a good record that I was half-expecting Venus Skytrip to be a bit of a disappointment in comparison, but Psychlona have really outdone themselves. It’s fifty minutes of pure awesomeness that should make even the most jaded listener fall back in love with stoner rock.
Scribed by: Liam Blanc