Psychic Ills have carried the psychedelia tag around with them for some time, and while it might once have been applicable to their work, it’s something that they seem to be shying away from in their latest album. When music is described as psychedelic you expect it to swirl around and twist itself into outlandish patterns and colours, just like those brightly distorted pictures and videos that are apparently intended to roughly signify hallucinogenic experiences. Rather than swirling and twisting, One Track Mind motors and grooves.
If one was to approach the album as if afflicted by synaesthesia, then the vivid yellows and pinks of those acid-inspired images – think of the sleeves of Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced and The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour – are notably absent. Indeed, the cover of One Track Mind is conspicuously colourless, and while the music should not be described in the same way, there is a certain restraint involved.
‘Experimental’ is another word that’s often been used to describe Psychic Ills, but here they seem to have undergone a transition from experiment to formula. That’s not to say that they have become formulaic, however. This is the sound of a band who have established what it is they need to do in order to achieve a certain tone and mood – presumably through a process of extensive experimentation – and who have maintained that modus operandi for the duration of an album.
In case you think all of this sounds like a polite way of saying that One Track Mind is not particularly exciting, then it must be said that you are partially correct. If Psychic Ills have turned away from psychedelia then what they have adopted in its stead is blues – and not the kind of blues that howls and flexes its way down a fretboard, but the kind that lurches along over a slightly sludgy sequence of riffs.
It’s nonetheless a solid record. That down-tempo blues-rock feel, combined with Tres Warren’s loosely drawling vocals and a few judiciously placed harmonica parts, makes for a sound that calls to mind the more brooding material of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. But there is also a sense of distance and disaffection that recalls slacker pop, and – perhaps it’s because of those harmonicas – a hint of slightly crumpled Americana. This is an interesting combination of moods and Psychic Ills have certainly created a compelling sonic template here.
But the album’s strongest tracks are those that deviate from that template. FBI strips the groove back closer to the bone than any other song here, and the result is a sense of menace that’s intriguing and even sexy. Western Metaphor is a reminder of Psychic Ills’ willingness to innovate and experiment. The riff that opens it is not far removed from those that begin many of the songs included here – but instead of stepping aside for the entry of Warren’s drawl, it keeps going, chugging along for the next five minutes in a churning instrumental that recalls Krautrock but which somehow manages to sound more Detroit than Düsseldorf.
While there is a satisfying absence of polish, there is a feeling of substantial professionalism to the whole of One Track Mind. In a way, this is a good thing: Psychic Ills come across here as a band who have pursued a number of different directions and who have the confidence and chops to produce something a little more self contained. But more so than professionalism, music should be about innovation and excitement, and while these elements are not entirely absent here their presence is felt a little less keenly than it might be.