When talking about psych music it may happen to be a bit confused about what can and about what can not be called psych. Lately we’ve witnessed a complete shift regarding the entire genre of psychedelia and its plural subgenres: from neo-psych to garage to psych noise and so on. We are sure that the word itself has been overused and made functional to define and make more appealing a lot of stuff that certainly is not psychedelic, to exploit the trend that psych music became these last couple years.
Things sure aren’t simpler when you come across any musical entity that tries to merge psychedelic guitar improvisation with a complex and various tradition such as folk music and traditional finger-picking in its entire form.
Musicians who want to face these two almost shapeless and indefinable genres should always know precisely why they think they’re part of these noble musical heritages, trying to experiment and understand few elements and few inspirations at a time. Long story short: the probabilities to fail and record a shitty album with reverb and delays are very high. Luckily, in this review we’re not talking about some newcomer or teenager that discovered wah-wah. Today we talk about Elkhorn.
Elkhorn is a psych-folk guitar duo formed by Jesse Sheppard on twelve-strings acoustic and Drew Gardner with my all time favorite electric guitar: Fender telecaster with which the guys try to deepen and explore folk and psych in almost all their forms.
In the homonym tape, as it’s written on the press kit, Elkhorn “interweaves the extended folk tradition with psychedelic improvisation” and again “They move freely between American Primitive to Psychedelic Rock, From Hindustani to Mauritanian, From Krautrock to Jazz; pulling from players as diverse as Robbie Basho, Sonny Sharrock, Ben Chasny, Buddy Guy and David Gilmour”. The guys surely know what they’re talking about. The cassette, composed by five long well curated and defined tracks that shows the total control and force of expression that the musicians developed over the years. In fact the biggest merit the work and the duo have is to bring everything in its right place at the right time, merging melodies and atmospheres that reminds the most diverse things.
The guys sure call things with their name. Of course, as they say, you can feel the full influences of Basho’s “Seal Of The Double Lotus” and “Visions Of The Country” (Seed) as well as “Dance Of Death And Other Plantation Favorites” by Fahey (Seven Arrows) and Sharrock’s “Ask the Ages” and definitively “Guitar” for their folkloric open chords and the harmonic choices but with a more focused attention you can also feel the presence of other musical ambiences. Stuff like Peter Walker’s Rainy Day Raga, OM for their liquid, desertic mood (Conference Of The Birds) but also a more relaxed version of heavier bands of the space, prog-rock and stoner-blues scene like Samsara Blues Experiment, Lunar Dunes, Liquid Sound Company and, of course, Stoned Jesus (Earthbound). Am i going to far?
From their last release (Colonial Park), the duo seems to have developed a much mature sound and style forgetting almost totally the modern folk shape of their songs and their emotional drift to go back remarkably to the roots of a blackened and distant folk past, venturing deeper and deeper into the woods with a good balance between dynamics (who said that psych has to be that slow?) and improvisative impasse. Of course people who are not really into this very recognizable and specific sound or that aren’t big fans of Gilmour’s bluesish psychedelic guitar could still say that the work it’s a bit mannerist or nothing really new but with no doubt the duo has a sound with a history and a strong consciousness of this specific and long path. For me that’s enough to say that this it’s a good album for all lovers of the genre.
After all this, sit back, relax and enjoy this long vintage liquid trip.