This is the sixth year that I have be proud to host the outcome of the Psych Lovers album of the year poll. Psych Lovers is a Facebook group which is generally considered by its members to be one of the best things on the internet, and certainly one of the best groups on social media. It is that rare thing, a collection of passionate and knowledgeable people who also respect and appreciate each other’s views, and basically treat the whole experience as a learning curve. This brings me to the downside of the group: the expense! You can very easily find yourself being sucked down all sorts of musical rabbit holes from a casual post from someone introducing you, for instance, to a new record label that can result in the whole back catalogue arriving in your home or inbox shortly afterwards.
This is something which is amplified during the first weeks of January when favourite albums from the previous year are nominated and voted upon, the results of which you can see here below. It’s one of my favourite times because it not only gives me a chance to catch up on what I might have missed, it also gives the opportunity for members of the group to write about why a particular album has appealed to them.
So sit back, relax and enjoy 20 great reviews of twenty superb albums, with a huge thanks to those who have written them, and to one of the group’s admins, Ian McGlyn, for organising the whole thing
And for the first time this year you can listen to Ian’s podcasts featuring music from this year’s list:
Simon (The Fragmented Flâneur)
1. 10,000 Russos – Superinertia
‘Always different, always the same’. John Peel’s famous Fall quote could equally apply to everyone’s favourite Porto trio. It’s early days, relatively speaking, but no other band sounds quite like 10000 Russos. Over the course of five studio LPs – which all kicked off with the track ‘Karl Burns’, a tribute to The Fall(en) back in 2015 – they are loved by Psych Lovers (and psych lovers) everywhere.
Since 2019’s poll winner ‘Kompromat’, João and Pedro have parted ways with bassist André, but the addition of keyboardist Nils gives them different dimensions and new depths on their latest five-tracker.
STATION EUROPA – Two keyboard stabs at the very top of the LP announce Nils’ arrival, but within seconds the whole band are locked into a fuzzy post-punk chug. João is at his most MES-like with his words and delivery – “you need shiny shoes!” It’s the lyric of the year.
SAW THE DAMP – Industrial machine-like clatter gives way to propulsive groove, with Pedro going almost full-Ripley with the guitars. ‘The children, the money, the house, the tv, they’re gonna destroy you, yeah’ yelps João. Dark!
SUPERINERTIA – Jet-powered psych-stomper gradually overrun by synths and Pedro’s guitar-siren which on record (and even more so live) becomes a hands-thru-lasers techno punisher. It’s the sound of 10000 Ravers.
HOUSE FULL OF GARBAGE – BPMs drop, and a cold-wave pop beauty emerges. Crystalline guitar vs synth wobble. Loneliness and futility laid bare. “It’s just you in your tiny home”.
MEXICALI / CALEXICO – Drifting slowly along the Rio Grande in the moonlight. ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’, growls João. It’s all Cooder-esque twang n’ shimmer when… BOOM! … we have lift-off at the Tex-Mex Space Centre, and everything goes batshit. Space Ritual, duelling banjos – it’s way out there – a seriously epic album closer.
Superinertia is a gem of an LP. There are all sorts of weirdness here for all sorts of weirdos and, like The Fall at their best, Russos keep it varied without losing any of their identity. That it was Psych Lovers’ AOTY by the margin it was demonstrates its brilliance.
Written by Jim Fedrick
2. Upupayāma – Upupayāma
On first listen to this album, it’s hard to get away from the fact that Upupayāma’s self-titled album out on Cardinal Fuzz and Centripetal Force, have been listening to a lot of Kikagaku Moyo. What’s wrong with that I ask you? Absolutely nothing!! We all need inspiration, whether it be painting a picture, designing a house or indeed, creating a piece of music.
This album is of the outdoors and its surroundings, be it people, animals, or the changing vegetation throughout the seasons.
Picture this, if you will. A communal Japanese garden or park, high up on the hills with snow-capped mountains in the distance. When I say communal, consider the final track titled, “Hello Green Man, I am a Tiger”. At the start of the track, you hear crickets and other types of animals almost calling out to the world to wake up and join them in their surroundings. With the additional continuous drone of a big bass drum inviting locals to an early morning martial arts session. Each track being allowed to build up organically with layer upon layer of a variety of instruments, each person representing an instrument moving in unison to the drone and building up to a battle of martial art wizardry. Once finished, one can feel alive, balanced, and ready for what lies ahead in the day. For me, this album does exactly that. You know that feeling when you’ve just witnessed an amazing gig and your body is fizzed up joyful energy? This album does that for me every time I listen to it.
If you are going to be inspired by music, then no better band than Kikagaku Moyo to be inspired by. However, there is one thing that stands out with this album, it is created by one man, Alessio Ferrari, an Italian from Parma who plays a whole range of unusual instruments throughout. For me, that is something to be inspired by.
Written by Ian Mc Glynn
3. Sei Still – El Refugio
Sei Still’s strong self-titled debut on Fuzz Club Records quickly solidified the band as one to watch, carrying the kosmische torch lit by the likes of Can and Neu!. After relocating from Mexico City to Berlin, Sei Still followed up their debut with El Refugio just one year later. As the band jumped an ocean, their sound also jumped; shifting slightly from a heavy influence of the early-to-mid 70’s German underground to a sound that evokes a post-punk nostalgia of the late 70’s. Certainly, one thing that did not change between releases was the band’s ability to produce captivating grooves, placing drum and bass in the forefront, layered with guitar and synth textures, and topped with more-prominent vocals. In a way, El Refugio feels like another step in a cosmic journey and we, the listeners, are lucky enough to be along for the ride. I look forward to our next destination as Sei Still continues to explore and evolve.
Written by Ryan Sweeney
4. Can – Live in Stuttgart ‘75
Can’s use of innovation in the making of their studio albums was founded in their insane powers as a live entity, and yet until recently they had never properly released a live album. The only way you could hear their live performances was through bootlegs, and while the source recordings of Live In Stuttgart 1975 was in itself a bootleg (recording on tape), the absolutely crisp sound quality truly captured the essence of the band’s intricacy and limitless improvisations. Even though this isn’t a live set that features any “greatest hits” as such, there are sections throughout the concert where familiar pieces from previous studio albums are simply used as source material for further experimentation. Even though each of the four members seemed to be given the freedom to explore their own path, they were all so supernaturally unified and communicative in their individual performances that they just sound as though they’re operating as one single entity amidst the impulsiveness and immediacy of their music. Presenting five lengthy jams across 90 minutes, this concert (as well as the follow-up ‘Live In Brighton 1975’) showed that the quartet could translate their creative spirit onto the live stage.
Written by Greg Barratt
5. Kombynat Robotron – -270°c
Having been formally introduced to Kombynat Robotron via much enthusiasm from this group [Psych Lovers] and a tape release from Weird Beard’s excellent tape imprint, -270° C represented my first ‘proper’ Kombynat Robotron album, and as such it was like rediscovering the band to a certain extent, as the production values of this studio LP are understandably better than those of the tapes (I am desperate to ‘rediscover’ them live, too, but that’s another story).
And while it sounds obvious that an LP record comprises of two sides, in this case it really is true in the sense that the A side rocks along at quite a pace, while the B side is a more ponderous and exploratory affair, no less interesting but definitely more pensive in nature.
On side A Compton is a drum led rocket ride into space whose energy finally dissipates and gives way to the piercing guitar of Chandra, an entirely funkier affair, which in turn leads into Spitzer, a headlong rush of drums that boils up and over into some killer guitar. And as I say, if the excitement of the first side is all a bit too much you can flip over to search deep space in a more serene (and slightly trippy) state with the side-long Hubble, although occasionally I find myself playing them in reverse so that the slow build-up is followed by an explosion of energy.
Written by Sean Gibbins
6. Firefriend – Dead Icons
Dead Icons from Firefriend continues the trend of stellar releases featuring the somewhat lo-fi production that they have never abandoned. There is a sort of desperation in their sound perhaps coming from conditions they have described in their home country. Borrowing from such influences as Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground, and various shoegaze acts the music never sets itself in one place for too long yet never really breaks too far away from their sound as they methodically work their way through this record. I think Firefriend is at their best though when they really slow things down and extend the tracks. “Tomorrow” is a perfect example. Just places me in the crowd at three AM as the beer and smoke are wearing off and that gorgeous sound is echoing through the room. But then you kick right into “Three-Dimensional Sound Glitch” with its spacemen “Revolution” vibe or maybe “Things Will Never Be the Same”. Another classic Firefriend LP. They don’t mess around with mediocre. You can be sure this one will be near the top of many end-of-year lists.
Written by John Waskiewicz – The Ominous Drone
7. Smote – Drommon & Bodkin
The album titles themselves seem like the names of two brothers from an old Czech fairy tale, presented by an equally oddly named narrator.
The artwork is something reminiscent of a strange dream world with pagan symbols. The song titles – apparently each brings a chapter from these ancient tales to life. In mantra-like synthesizer loops with chattering string instruments, an under woven, rudimentary beat and interwoven, reverberant psych vocals. Flute birds proclaim shooed folklore that mates with all of this somewhere. Hypnotized you listen to the stories of Psoltice, Fohr, Moninna, Motte, Hauberk (!), Poleyn & of course Drummon + Bodkin.
On Bodkin all songs click in between 8 and 12 minutes, only Fohrt halves the normal lower limit. Drommon Pt.1 & Pt.2 each come as gloomy 16-minute films that offer more fuzz-soaked madness than the first collection of stories in one piece and a tribal war aftermath drum tribunal to close the epic tale, flanked inside by Hauberk and Polyen each in a 5-minute space, two themselves from gentle SynthFolk to insane space fuzzlore increasing losing debauchery and transition to the Drommon parts.
Bodkin was released with Weird Beard on a small edition of 250 copies, Drommen was released on Rocket Recordings limited to 500 copies. In terms of colour, both are quite interesting. Each matching the artwork – Bodkin red: Frosted Clear with Red Blob & Splatter and Drummon green: Green & Black Splatter.
These two works were both released in spring 2021, but Drommon was only released on tape with Weird Beard, which subsequently came out on vinyl release in the autumn.
Written by Holger Schilling
8. Cult of Dom Keller – They Carried the Dead in a UFO
People have asked many times, what exactly is this Heavy Psych music people speak of? Well, my answer is simply, go and check out CULT OF DOM KELLER, and plug yourself in …
CULT OF DOM KELLER are no New Kids on the Block when it comes to messin’ with people’s heads. Now into their fifteenth year, with, including their latest offering, “They Carried the Dead in A UFO, have gifted us with six albums and a whole tote bags worth of hypnotic E.P.’s and Remixes. I can only describe their music as being somewhere between Heaven and Hell on a large intake of Sensory Altering Narcotics. Gothic tinged, Eerie Bass Tones, Disjointed Vocals, Unsettling Rumbles and Squeals. Pure Sensory Overload. This is all enough to unhinge the cortex of anyone but the most Seasoned Psych Fan.
“They Carried the Dead in A UFO” is not an easy album. It is far from being a generic Psych Album. It is not an album to grab your ears on first play at least three is the recommended dose before the effects kick in. Its Complex but it is also a brilliant masterpiece. Produced during times whilst other bands have crumbled and fallen, CULT OF DOM KELLER have been ignited by difficult circumstances, resulting in heightened creativity. CULT OF DOM KELLER have produced an album that sticks its middle finger skywards in the face of a Pandemic.
Look don’t take my word for it, go grab yourself a copy of “They Carried the Dead in A UFO”, strap yourself in and light the touch paper.
Enjoy the trip …..
Written by Brian Dennis
9. Mt Mountain – Centre
I hadn’t realised until after a few listens and getting round to reading up on Centre, that Mt. Mountain had recorded most of this album live in the studio. Listening again thinking about this made me appreciate the instinctive musical flow that comes from creating with others you know well. They remind me of Kikagaku Moyu in that respect.
As has been said elsewhere ‘Tassels’ starts the album with a joyous lift – that wee guitar riff drives the song holding your hand on the journey.
‘Hands together’ sets a more thoughtful, meditative pace, as does much of the album as vocalist and organist Stephen Bailey’s explores his experience of faith and religion as an observer through his life. ‘It must be god’ says ‘The List’, questioning unquestioning faith.
Aplomb is probably the standout track for me – on this listen anyway. The drums guide the way as the guitars, organ, and flute dance around each other.
Mt. Mountain are one of those bands that a good set of headphones and a darkened room make for a full sonic experience, but I do hope I get to see them play at some point somewhere. I want to watch my friends getting lost in them. There’s not been enough of that recently.
Written by Denise Arkley
10. Kungens Man – Innanför Boxen
This is going to be tougher than the time I attempted to review Return Of Son Of Gutbucket in 200 words. At least that was an album. What’s a boxset doing in an album of year poll? Why did I volunteer to try and review this set in 200 words when 2000 would not be enough? One word. Alcohol.
Anyway, back to the box, it’s a marvellous construction containing 5 LPs ranging from 2015 to a previously unreleased LP in 2021. It also contains a brilliant 40 page 12” book that goes into depth about the artists and the works herein.
The music across 5 LPs? If Psych is a wide church, they’ve built an annex and raised the roof. The tunes encompass space rock, motorik, pastoral folk, scuzzy fuzz, and everything in between. It has highs, lows, dark, light, shamanistic chants, disparate solos, but always meld into cohesive band jams. It’ll take you on the crest of a wave and build that up then… Wipeout, in the knowledge that you’ll surface and come up for air again.
The first words in the box explain it all
You are now inside the box.
Turn off your mind.
Written by Peter Baird
11. Acid Rooster – Irrichter
Acid Rooster are a 3 piece from Leipzig, Germany.
Their debut self-titled album released in 2019 was my album of the year.
So obviously I was looking forward to the release of Irrlichter. And Lord it didn’t disappoint.
The album consists of four tracks that take you on a journey of instrumental Psychedelic, Kraut Rock.
Stereofuzz is a guitar driven monster of an opening track. The blistering guitar has you nodding your head to the melody and the hypnotic rhythm.
Secondly Gaze is a slow burner that you really need after the guitar attack of Stereofuzz. Gaze helps you to re centre and although short it does enable you to relax.
I’m now too relaxed to turn over the Vinyl for the second half of this incredible album but you really do need to complete the journey to make it worthwhile otherwise you’re left feeling unrewarded.
Irrlichter is next the title track of the album loosely translated it means Wilo the Wisp. Starts with a mid-tempo groove that blazes to a cinematic climax. This is definitely my favourite track on the album.
Finally, we have Remote Places. A haunting tune that takes me to a green forest full of birds singing while I’m relaxing in the grass with a beer in my hand. This brings the album to an end.
My final thoughts the album is beautiful and uplifting with incredible musicianship. It’s definitely a contender for album of the year in my book.
Written by Krishan Singh
12. Ryley Walker/Kikagaku Moyo – Deep Fried Grandeur
This was, without any doubt, my most played record of 2021. A recording from a one-off live jam that capped the Le Guess Who? festival in Utrecht, 2018, nine players on stage with almost no rehearsal. These sort of spur of the moment jam things can easy be a disorganised shitshow, but this somehow manages to be simply transcendent. There is some postproduction work by Cooper Crain but having seen video of the show I know that he didn’t really do anything major to the music itself, which makes this even more of a triumph. Talking about this sort of exploratory music is almost superfluous – it needs to be heard, not discussed. The music ebbs and flows, by turns delicate and roaring, each musician giving and taking space as needed, with nobody stepping on each other’s’ toes. It’s a delicate dance involving nine people who are listening to each other as intensely as they are playing, and it is a thing of rare beauty indeed.
Written by Mark Burnell
13. Gnod – La Mort Du Sens
A babble of voices, and then that familiar hypnotic pounding beat of Gnod grabs you and gives you a shove in the gut. Continuing in the heavy booted footsteps of Just Say No, Mirror and Chapel Perilous, this album doesn’t break new ground as such, but it does trample it flat for you. This is music with bulging eyeballs and white knuckles, music to pin you back against the wall with an idiot grin on your face. The throb of Regimental is followed by the riff-laden Pink Champagne Blues (great video for this somewhere), with the post-punk scronk of The Whip and The Tongue polishing offside one with a persuasive boot to the face. The slow burn and queasy churn of Town is followed by the monolithic megastomp of Giro Day on side two – a massive heavyweight to finish, finally collapsing under the mass of its own gravitational field. Turn on, turn it up, freak out.
Written by Stephen Bradbury
14. New Candys – Vyvyd
New Candys album Vyvyd caught me by surprise last year.
I had been a casual fan of New Candys prior to this album and thought I knew exactly what I was going to get from this latest offering. What I wasn’t expecting was the immediate energy it filled me with right from the very first pulsing rumbles of bass from track 1 Twin Mime. Something had changed. Suddenly I wanted to go back and re-evaluate the first three LP’s. That was a beautiful trip but that’s a tale for another day!!
Vyvyd deserves, and needs, to be listened to as a whole for maximum enjoyment which makes picking out favourite songs a challenge. But to pick a few I’d say Zyko is the type of track you need to hear on the last lap of long run. Just to drive you over the finish line. Begin Again is fragile and a nice change of pace allowing you time to breath while Vyvyan Rising and The Clockmaker are indie dancefloor fillers.
The production on this album is immense. Every instrument has its own perfect space and each one stands out clearly from the others.
On the whole this album is dark but with a bright light breaking through the cracks. I found it more immediate than their previous offerings and it was definitely in my top 3 most played albums of the year. If you’ve yet to hear it think BRMC with hints of Dandy Warhols (a lazy comparison admittedly but you get the drift!!)
New candys album is cool as fuck proving that the Italians can cut albums just as sharply as they cut designer suits!!!
Written by Andy Marke
15. Dead Sea Apes, Adam Stone & Black Tempest – Dataland
2020 – the year Covid-19 turned the world as we know it upside-down. While many of us were struggling to hold it together and not eat, drink and Netflix ourselves into oblivion, Adam Stone, Dead Sea Apes and Black Tempest were busy writing and recording a soundtrack to our electronic, data-driven, 21 st century existence.
Released in January 2021, Dataland is brimming with interesting, captivating music, laced with observant wit and a punk-rock attitude. Although the album comments on the humdrum of modern-day life, the music itself is far from mundane. The opening track ‘Lost Hours’ is a compelling mix of hypnotic beats, detached vocals and shimmering, kosmische Black Tempest synths. ‘Formica Desk’ is a terrifying descent into madness, with its droning samples and menacing guitars. From the heaviest song on the album, to the head-nodding ‘Time to Eat Again’. Our sanity is rescued! But the melancholy guitar ensures we don’t get too complacent. ‘Shop Soiled’ has Dead Sea Apes’ dark, kaleidoscopic dub underpinning Adam Stone demanding to know ‘what’s going on here?!’ The title track ‘Dataland’ is a perfect balance of synth, vocal and drum loops. ‘Enter in the numbers, see the knowledge grow.’ The album finishes on the dark and eerie ‘Empty Streets’.
Dataland lets its dark, psychedelic tendrils drift into your body and wrap around your brain until it absorbs you. This is a stunning collaboration. Make no mistake, it’s a bleak album. And yet, the second it ends, you have the urge to dive straight back in.
Written by Alison Cummings
16. Gnod – Easy to Build, Hard to Destroy
Even though these early recordings pre-dates most of what I know GNOD to be they still sound vital and visceral. They still challenge and makes sense in equal measure and, perhaps most of all, they arouse and stimulate a gamut of senses to provide you with something of a rounded experimental experience. So while this album perhaps represents a moment in time which could never now be repeated… it represents it and records it very well. Therefore, while I will never know quite what it was like to be there… I now at least have my own version of how it may have been… and that’s more than enough to be digesting. There is an underpinning sense of excitement borne from discovery here… you really get the sense of a group of individuals who are pushing the envelope… who are taking it just that little bit further… who are pushing themselves into something altogether more dimensional and spatial. Seriously, what’s not to like?
Written by Simon Smith
17. The Gluts – Ungrateful Heart
The Gluts have been getting noisier and angrier with each album so far and this continues that trajectory taking us even deeper into their dark and steamy world; channelling all the frustration rage and hope of recent years this is the sound of trapped animals let loose and letting go.
An unholy mix of 70s punk rock ‘n’ roll (loaded with riffs that Steve Jones would be proud of), early 80s militant hardcore and dark and decadent post punk with a dash of that unique Gluts storm of dark twisted psychedelia. As anyone who has seen them live will testify, they have a special way of being both savage and joyous all at the same time and this album demonstrates that perfectly.
To pick just 2 contrasting numbers – ‘FYBBD’ (fascist you better be dead…) is short on lyrics but big on message and catchy as hell – a pure rousing street punk anthem. Album closer ‘Eat Acid See God’ is controlled chaos and the perfect ending, a dense claustrophobic epic freak out that should come with its own smoke machine and strobe lighting! There’s variety all the way through the album and each track is killer – ‘Ungrateful Heart’ is the best way I know to banish those pandemic demons; life affirming stuff!
Written by Gary Powell
18. Goat – Headsoup
GOAT’s newest offering, the lewdly titled “Headsoup,” released by the fine people at Rocket Recordings, offers both overlooked past songs, as well as couple of new ones. Inside a red sleeve adorned with a shrunken head configured as a soup bowl, one finds both a 12” LP containing eleven songs and a 7” with two more. The former reprises b-sides and rarities spanning the bands previous tenure, such as Stonegoat and Goatfizz, while the latter offers two new up-tempo rockers, Fill My Mouth and Queen of the Underground. While the bulk of the offerings document the flipsides of singles such as Its Time for Fun (2015) and I Sing in Silence (2016), the album nonetheless holds up as an entertaining and cohesive listen. Those pining for another platter full of the splendid squalor reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane having a drunken, debaucherous party with Funkadelic and Fulu Miziki will not be disappointed. Present are all the swirling psychedelic guitars, pulsing tribal rhythms, and slightly off-kilter female vocals we have come to know and love. In short, while I might recommend one of their earlier albums such as World Music or Commune as entry points into the band’s catalogue, long-time fans of the group will find Headsoup a most satisfying listen.
Written by David Byres
19. Tibetan Miracle Seeds – Inca Missiles
‘Inca Missiles ” is like a long-lost US, East Coast Classic. What a joy. Who would believe this was the work of just one man? It really feels like a band. The production is wonderful. It has all the air of one of those heady drug fuelled Beatles albums (but with TIM BURGESS on Vocals) and that for me, as a non-Beatles fan, is something to make me use them as a reference point. A Beautiful and Clever album. Just the right thing I need right now to bring some light into my Dark filled Autumnal drenched Soul.
It may be nearly Winter outside but deep in my heart it’s all warm and cosy.
Thank you, Tibetan Miracle Seeds
Written by Brian Dennis
20. The Oscillation – Untold Futures
There are very few bands that are as consistent as The Oscillation, and Untold Futures once again deliver something that will stand the test of time. I can honestly say I’ll digging this out for repeated spins in years to come. As usual the music is fearless reaching out beyond itself not merely happy with pushing boundaries but blowing great holes in them and traveling into unknown territories.
The album opens with ‘Dilated Mind’ which slowly builds itself into an almost dub like groove whilst sneakily unleashing a sonic assault that batters the sense. There is of course no let up with the next track ‘Forever Knowing’ taking a more direct approach with a pummelling industrial beat that had me thinking of the band Suicide. And that is what I have enjoyed the most about this album, the influences are all there on show, but they are just building blocks for the bigger picture. There are countless bands out there that can jam for hours or create the sound of a star going supernova, and when it’s done right it is a wonderful thing. That is the great thing about The Oscillation, they know how to do it and want to take on that trip.
Written by Iain Wiltshire