Psych rock. Or neo psychedelia, if you’d prefer. From what I can tell the definition of this particular genre is any band, or album, that takes the psychedelic sounds of the mid-late ‘60’s and ‘modernizes’ them in some way, shape or form. I have always had a soft spot for these types of bands, ‘cause they’re different, they’re weird and often wildly creative. It doesn’t always work, though. Sometimes it can come across as trying too hard. But when it does work it can be transcendent.
Go back to the late ‘60’s to find the perfect example of it ‘not working’. The Rolling Stones and Their Satanic Majesties Request was a horrible album but a great example of the above. Attempting to emulate The Beatles Sgt. Pepper was never a good idea, but luckily the Stones didn’t stay there for long.
A million bands a year try for this and 999,998 fail miserably. The genre hit it’s peak in the mid to late ‘90’s and has been sputtering ever since. Even the bands that made the pest psych albums of that time have pretty much failed to replicate their amazing successes. Primal Scream, The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Grandaddy, any of the Elephant 6 collective, the list goes on and on. To be considered a psych band, to me anyway, means that your album as a whole has to reflect this creativity and have an overall psychedelic vibe about it. You just can’t put a sitar or bongos on a track and call it psych. Believe me, after a few years being a proponent for this type of music I can spot the phonies.
Yes the term is subjective, and bands jump around from genre to genre all the time, which is fine, good even, as a band that stays with one particular genre for a number of albums gets very boring very quickly.
Psychedelic rock evolved in the 60s as an offshoot of the rock and roll movement combining elements of rock, reggae, and other diverse elements. Inspired by the use of mind altering drugs like cannabis, mescaline, psilocybin, and especially LSD, psychedelic rock broke with traditional rock and laid the roots for psychedelic metal and experimental rock genres. In the USA bands like the Doors, the Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane lead the way for later bands like 13th Floor Elevators, Bubble Puppy, and Third Bardo (of “I’m Five Years Ahead Of My Time” fame) to name a few. A few years later The Who and The Beatles picked up on the psychedelic movement with tunes like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”, but were not strictly classified as psychedelic rock. Cream and Pink Floyd (with original founder Syd Barrett) embraced psychedelic music fully becoming two of the first truly psychedelic bands.
Psychedelia could also be interpreted as simply a “surreal and dreamy feeling” in a particular song, instead of a specific genre with rules to follow. In some cases this simply requires writing one coherent song, then to experiment recording that song in the studio while under “psychedelic influence”, yielding very surreal musical results.
Neo-psychedelia is a broad term used to describe groups with overt psychedelic influences. Much like traditional psychedelia, neo-psychedelia is associated with experimental and jam-oriented music. Many modern bands incorporate elements of traditional psychedelia into their music, such as the Boo Radleys, Primal Scream, the Orb, Air, Olivia Tremor Control, Caribou, Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev along with an endless list of others. In addition, many jam bands, like Umphrey’s McGee, Phish, Califone and Rusted Root, play psychedelia-influenced music. However, the art-rock band Tool leads the pack commercially in the neo-psychedelic genre, maintaining number one albums and sold out stadium shows. Much like Pink Floyd, they have over the top psychedelic shows, but with a darker edge.
The shoegaze genre of the late 80’s, mid 90’s also bordered on the psychedelic with its drones and ethereal dreamlike qualities and odd feedback. My Bloody Valentine and Ride were two of the best progenitors of this sub-genre of psychedelia.
Primal Scream made 3 great psych albums with the spaced out bliss that was Screamadelica, the dubby mind trip Vanishing Point and the sonic assault of XTRMNTR.
Mercury Rev had See You On The Other Side and Deserters Songs, then lost the plot by singing about unicorns and fairies.
Flaming Lips have been the most consistent of the bunch losing the plot only once with At War With The Mystics, but even that misstep was better than most and highly underrated.
Spiritualized has now released 3 great psych albums: Lazer Guided Melodies, Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating In Space, and the 2012 effort Sweet Heart Sweet Light.
Super Furry Animals have made a career of it, but have never gotten boring as they’re about as restless as you can get and are always adding new twists and elements to their albums. At this they are, without a doubt, the best.
Psychedelic music in general is a great diversion, and you can find elements of the best of it in any decade you choose. You just have to look for it.