Psychic Heat, the garage rock outfit from Lawrence, Kansas, has released a new album on High Dive Records. “Sunshower,” the second record from Psychic Heat, delivers a balance of reckless energy and thoughtful nuance.
The lead-off track, “Anxiety Eater,” tips a hat to one of the progenitors of all things heavy and trippy: Black Sabbath. This is evident immediately as the song begins with a variation on the “Iron Man” guitar bend, as learned by virtually all midwestern guitarists of a certain age, and moves right into a fuzzy half-time stomp that feels like it came from the second side of Paranoid. True to that vibe, the band plods and swings at the same time, sliding and dropping riffs over which frontman J. Evan Herd places measured vocal phrases that add interest and personality but never crowd out the real strength of the song—the monster riff.
Things get a little punky with the second tune, “Black Radio.” The bass chugs along with distorted abandon as dueling guitars alternate twisting lead work with high chord stabs. The end effect is akin to Motorhead and Gang of Four having a nice jam session.
“Elixir,” the third song feels like it was designed (and placed) to be the money shot of the record. A hard driving bass and drum groove powers along behind a high guitar hook, harmonized vocals and the glorious sound of guitar chords windmilled out and let ring until they feed back. In summary, “Elixir” is a well constructed earworm that showcases the band’s strengths effectively.
“Here Again” (track 4) provides a moment to breathe, and “Des Tortion” (track 5) sounds like Jon Spencer ripping through a Ventures cover. “In Two” (track 6) brings back the punk feel ala “Black Radio,” culminating in a guitar solo that feels as if it was just out of technical reach for the poor bastard trying to play it (in other words, my favorite kind of solo).
This all brings us to “Whale Falling,” the seventh song on “Sunshower,” and to my ears, the centerpiece of the record. It is a study of ambition and ability going head to head in conflict. Underpinned with a tom-heavy drumbeat, guitar licks stretch upward to their limit. The angular and shifting dynamics of the track have the band showing off the full extent of their chops (and a bit of what happens when they write beyond said chops). It is always on the edge of coming apart and it is thrilling because of this. Listening to “Whale Falling” feels like a ride on a rusty tilt-a-whirl whose operator has gone AWOL in search of corn dogs and funnel cakes.
“How Many Licks” is a greasy rocker of a song with iffy lyrical pedigree (as in, who gave acid to the tootsie roll owl) and “Sunshower” recalls the minor key instrumental interludes I would find on metal records of my early adolescence.
The closer, “And the Moment Moves On,” is a noisy and repetitive jam. It is a strong closing statement that channels a bit of the Velvet Underground’s “European Sun” in its raucous guitar drones over steady pulse setup.
Though owing a large debt to sonic explorers of the ’60s and ’70s, as all psych and garage rock outfits do, Psychic Heat have done well to take their influences and make the music their own. They carry the torch admirably into our time and onward to the future. So, if fuzzy guitars and heavy globs of echo get you going, I recommend you give a listen to this new record from Psychic Heat and revel in its chaotic, nostalgic glory.