Subscribe to Cloud Daze here, an regularly updating playlist that features a heady mix of ambient house, cloud disco, recombinant techno and other genres that we’re making up on the spot. This week’s offering revolves around the latest Koze release, Knock Knock.Over the past five years, DJ Koze has become one of electronic music’s greatest narrative producers. All songs tell a story, to one degree or another, but instrumental electronic music tends to evoke a vibe or push its listener towards the ecstatic highs or darker recesses. It’s rare that this emotional coloring gains nuance and texture or shifts from track to track or second to second. But Koze knows this track. This world-building, narrative-driven approach was there in the woozing shifting textures of the German producer’s epochal 2013 album Amyglada, and it’s evident on his two remix compilations -- 2009’s Reincarnations and 2014’s Reincarnations, Pt. 2. His 2018 Knock Knock finds the DJ as technically capable as ever, but it also marks his evolution as a storyteller. This maturation is clear in the album’s first two minutes. On lead-off track “Club der Ewigkeiten” (roughly translated, “Club of Eternity”), tangled strings, bubbling synth taps and a squealing vocals conjure a taught, anxious space before a warm, round melody appears and the track takes on different, brighter characteristics. Throughout Knock Knock, there is a constant ebbing and flowing. Like the best psychedelic music, the music creates its own internal logic, and it uses that logic to guide the listener through a journey. This isn’t to say that Knock Knock is a difficult listen. The songs congeal and groove, and the tension is generally soft-lit -- a warbling dissonance creates a creeping, unnamed anxiety that cuts through the smeared slice of Bon Iver vocals in “Bonfire,” while “Pick Up” positions a lovely and sad sample of Aretha Franklin next to the euphoric disco beat from Melba Moore. For long stretches, things are light and breezy, and the album frequently achieves lift-off, especially towards the end. The opening stuttering, boom bap-era rhythms of “Lord Knows” sounds like a lost, mid-’90s Pete Rock joint, while the space-age modular synth lines of “Seeing Aliens” is sublime and ecstatic. It’d be easy for Koze to end the album on that high note, but then he cuts to “Drone Me Up, Flashy” -- 6 minutes of floating disjointed Kraut ambience that feels heavenly and lost. It may not be exactly the place we wanted to land after this 78-minute journey, but it feels honest.
In the 2000s, a number of artists on the noise scene gradually swapped ear-scouring feedback for more dulcet synths and arpeggios rooted in the Berlin school of the 1970s. Chief among them were Emeralds, whose dozens of cassette and CDR releases, and subsequent spin-off projects such as Steve Hauschildt, Mark McGuire Imaginary Softwoods, Outer Space, Mist, et al (not to mention scores of releases put out by John Elliotts Spectrum Spools label), generated a prolific cottage industry in psychedelic burble and shimmer. At the same time, Oneohtrix Point Never and other artists tagged as "vaporwave" were channeling yesterdays VHS fantasies into a retro-futurist uncanny valley, where Windows 95 startup chimes served as doorways to new dimensions of perception.
Psychedelic music emerged in the mid-60s as a mutant offspring of the British Invasion and American garage rock, but has since morphed into so many different forms that it is more accurate to describe it as a feeling than a sound. Be it the the brain-melting feedback of Jimi Hendrix or Ty Segall, the dreamy reveries of Spiritualized and Tame Impala, or the heady, head-nodding beats of Flying Lotus and J Dilla, psychedelica is hard to pin down—but you’ll know you’re hearing it when you feel your mind altering. Heres our curated guide to the best head music to help you chase the rush, including our genre-spanning psych playlist (at right) and links to past Dowsers mixes for even deeper trips.
PSYCH FUNKPsychedelic music has traditionally been used as a way to explore the inner workings of your mind. But if you take off the headphones, its also a great way to explore your body on the dance floor. Soul, funk and R&B have a long tradition of making music that rocks the hips and the third eye at the same time, from Eddie Hazels righteous riffing on Funkadelic’s Cosmic Slop to Dâm-Funks alien synth-funk bangers.Recommended Listening:A Deeper Shade of Psych SoulThe Afrofuturist Impulse in MusicInto the Nite: Synth-Funk Fantasias
PSYCH RAPPsychedelic music has drifted into every form of music, and since any worthwhile hip-hop producer keeps their ears open, its only natural that it’s became part of the mix. Revered producers J Dilla and Madlib have made hip-hop tracks that oozed with so much mood and shimmer that they didnt even need MCs to rewire the listeners brain, while the genre’s heady offshoot, trip-hop, has been obliterating genre lines and listeners’ minds for more than two decades.Recommended Listening:Great (Post-Donuts) Instrumental Hip-Hop TracksBehind the Beats: Madlib and DillaBest Trip-Hop Tracks
PSYCH JAZZAt its mid-’60s moment of origin, psychedelia immediately found a natural host in jazz. After all, both are concerned with evoking a feeling and a mood, and following inspiration wherever it leads—from the spiritually searching compositions of Alice Coltrane to Mulatu Astatke’ slippery Latin-flavored explorations to Flying Lotus dedication to feeding brains with jazz-damaged trance whispers.Recommended Listening:The Black Experimental Music MixtapeChampions of Ethiopian GrooveThe Best of Brainfeeder
PSYCH-TRONICAWhy settle for rocking minds and rocking bodies when you can do both at once? From the Chemical Brothers to Neon Indian to Boards of Canada, many of the most cutting-edge electronic-music producers spend equal amounts of time focussing on booming beats as well as keyboard lines, sine moans, and digital gurgles designed to tickle the mind. And if you need to rest after a night out, theres plenty of trippy ambient chillout tracks for that as well.Recommended Listening:Essential Acid House TraxThe Art of Psychedelic Disco-RockThe Best Electronic Shoegaze
INDIE PSYCHPsychedelia never dies, it just keeps getting weirder. Animal Collective threw down the gauntlet with 2004’s Sung Tongs, their childlike, free-spirited update of psych rock, and a generation of indie artists have taken up the challenge. From Deerhunters fearsome ambient punk to Zombys scrambled dubstep to Ariel Pinks wounded daydreams, the youngest generation continues to push music inward.Recommended Listening:Animal Collective’s Outer LimitsDreamy Noise Sounds: The Best of Kranky RecordsNew Tropics: The Modern Los Angeles Underground
PSYCH ROCKWhen rock first got psychedelic in the 60s, the most obvious proponents were self-professed freaks like Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. But nearly everywhere you looked, you could find someone trying to access their inner mind via some radical noise, from cult acts like Love and The Fugs to icons like The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Since then, every generation since has found their own way to look inside, from the Dream Syndicate in the ’80s, to Slowdive in the ’90s, to My Morning Jacket in the 21st century.Recommended Listening:Bad Trips: The Dark Side of the ‘60sSpace Rock: A Cosmic JourneyHow Psychedelia Reclaimed Modern Rock
PSYCH FOLKIn the beginning, psychedelic music was associated with guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix and waves of feedback. But that big bang was soon followed by generations of artists—from 60s Greenwich Village folkie Karen Dalton to Bert Jansch and his 70s British folk group Pentangle to modern dreamweavers like Devendra Banhart— who used acoustic guitars, pared-down arrangements, and dexterously plucked melodies to pull the listener into their headspace without the need for amplification.Recommended Listening:Way Past Pleasant: A Guide to Psychedelic FolkReligion, Rock, and LSD: A Brief History of Jesus Freaks
PSYCH PUNKThe common myth about punk is that it formed in opposition to bloated 70s rock, and rejected Pink Floyd and anything associated with psychedelia. But the truth is that plenty of punks, such as restless hardcore purveyors Black Flag and volatile noiseniks the Butthole Surfers, not to mention punk-adjacent acts like the Jesus & Mary Chain and Dinosaur Jr., looked back to the ‘60s when deciding how to expand their sound and beguile their fans.Recommended Listening:When Punk Got WeirdPsychedelia in the ‘80sThe 50 Best Shoegaze Albums of All Time
This post is part of our Psych 101 program, an in-depth, 14-part series that looks at the impact of psychedelia on modern music. Want to sign up to receive the other installments in your inbox? Go here. Already signed up and enjoying it? Help us get the word out by sharing it on Facebook, Twitter or just sending your friends this link. Theyll thank you. We thank you.When broaching the idea of psychedelic hip-hop, the first thing you need to do is abandon the belief that there is a rap music scene similar to the rock movement of the late 1960s. A few artists have successfully paired the kind of melodically wistful, lyrically naïve, acid-fried spiritual yearnings that typify garden-variety psych-rock with modern-day beats and rhymes—most significantly, Madlib’s Quasimoto alias, Edan with his underrated 2005 masterwork Beauty and the Beat, and the Alchemist and Oh No’s Gangrene project (not to mention Al’s 2012 release, Russian Roulette).But Gangrene is a good example of why the parallel often falls apart. The duo is mostly concerned with rhyming about the funky effects of psychoactive drugs, not abandoning themselves to a higher state of consciousness. Generally, rap artists are too jaded and pragmatic to truly indulge in Jimi Hendrix-like tie-dyed frippery. As soulfully as A$AP Rocky and Kid Cudi croon about being stoned, it’s unlikely they’ll abandon their rare sneaker collections and Instagram models for an extended stay at a remote Buddhist retreat. (Correction: Kid Cudi might.)Perhaps the closest analog is De La Soul’s Da.I.S.Y. Age era, which sounds as musically fanciful as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the early 1990s, a number of rappers influenced by the liberating effects of heavy marijuana use—like Leaders of the New School and Organized Konfusion—recorded tracks about cracking open their third eye and seeing the world for what it really is. Lyrical jabberwockies such as Divine Styler’s “Grey Matter” and Latyrx’s “Latyrx” explored modern-day society as a mist ready to be dispersed—and perhaps overcome—with the right amount of esoteric knowledge and florid vocabulary. Justin Warfield’s “B Boys on Acid,” and his shout-out to Timothy Leary, seems dully literal by comparison.Much of what passes for psychedelic hip-hop can also be classified as weed rap (see Redman and Cypress Hill), dystopian science fiction (a la Deltron 3030), and/or Afrofuturism. Ishmael Butler’s Shabazz Palaces collective epitomizes the latter; in turn, their catalog has grown increasingly abstract and bizarre, eschewing distinct narratives for gauzy, metaphysical sounds. They’re the evolution of psychedelia, even if their musings may seem incomprehensible to a Deadhead.
This post is part of our Psych 101 program, an in-depth, 14-part series that looks at the impact of psychedelia on modern music. Want to sign up to receive the other installments in your inbox? Go here. Already signed up and enjoying it? Help us get the word out by sharing it on Facebook, Twitter or just sending your friends this link. Theyll thank you. We thank you.Following punks back-to-basics mission in the late-70s, psychedelia crept back into rock in a big way in the ’80s. In the process, it unleashed a million different shades of fuzz, reverb, and echo. Storming out of the deranged underbelly of America’s heartland, the Butthole Surfers and The Flaming Lips created acid-drenched alt-rock that conflated consciousness expansion with (Reagan era-inducing) madness. Though not nearly as eccentric (damaged, in other words), The Jesus and Mary Chain, Loop, and shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine all were no less committed to inducing altered states of mind through deafening levels of distortion. In contrast, neo-psychedelic acts like Echo and the Bunnymen and Paisley Underground denizens Rain Parade created atmospheric and catchy pop by blending dark, jangly new wave with lysergic-spiked tropes unique to ’60s psych-pop. Madchester pioneers Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses blended a pop-focused aesthetic with hypnotically funky rave grooves. And let’s not forget the long list of swirling, squalling outfits—Dinosaur Jr., Soundgarden, Cosmic Psychos, Mudhoney, and Jane’s Addiction—who rekindled the greaser ethos of vintage psych through thanks to a love for hard rock riffing and brain-vibrating wah-wah.
This post is part of our Psych 101 program, an in-depth, 14-part series that looks at the impact of psychedelia on modern music. Want to sign up to receive the other installments in your inbox? Go here. Already signed up and enjoying it? Help us get the word out by sharing it on Facebook, Twitter or just sending your friends this link. Theyll thank you. We thank you.The neo-psychedelic impulse is now so deeply embedded in modern rock that it’s damn near impossible to single it out as a trend at this point. Everything changed when The Flaming Lips’ cuddly, fuzzy, Kermit-the-Frog-gone-shroomin’ freak-pop entered mainstream consciousness in the early ’00s. It wasn’t long before bands as diverse as Animal Collective, My Morning Jacket, Tame Impala, and MGMT—all of whom certainly spent considerable time tripping balls to the The Soft Bulletin—began filtering indie pop, electronica, folk-rock, and beyond through their own, unique neo-psychedelic lenses. But while most of these groups do fall on the cute and fuzzy side, there also exist outfits like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, who prefer devastatingly mind-bending riff and roll.
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.