If I really supported local music, I’d have braved the rain tonight and gone out to Musikfest. Instead, I’ll sit dead on my duff and pound out another in my series of reviews of recent releases by Lehigh Valley-based bands.
Here’s a music writer’s dilemma: How do you approach writing about somebody’s side project?
Do you give the artist credit for extending their creative scope? Or, do you criticize them for wandering too far off their usual path?
(After all, most performers have a familiar “home sound” for a reason. That’s what they’re good at, and probably what’s closest to their hearts.)
Do you take the diversion as seriously as you take the other stuff? Do you judge it by the same standards? Or, do you give the artist a little critical slack, to recognize the fact that they’ve spread their wings?
I ask for a friend … yeah, someone very close to me who listened to Sounds of Psychedelic Horror: Vol. 1, released this week by the Bethlehem-area band Television Blood, and now has to write about it.
The following YouTube clip suggests that Television Blood, at least on stage, is a heavy, punky, noisy power trio.
I’m stretching for comparisons here — and comparisons are a poor man’s crutch anyway — but they remind me a little of a stripped-down MC5, or Blue Cheer with better chops. (Both of which are compliments, or meant that way.)
Sounds of Psychedelic Horror, Vol. 1, on the other hand, is 10 mostly short and generally repetitious tracks of instrumental music, heavy on the keyboards and synths.
The band’s Facebook page includes the following explanation: “The title explains it all. A series of sounds I made for an imaginary psychedelic horror flick…Enjoy!!!”
So, based on the use of “I” rather than “we,” I’m assuming Sounds of Psychedelic Horror is a sort of side trip under the Television Blood umbrella by one of the band members.
(I could have it backward. Maybe the electronics are the home sound and the power trio is the digression. But I’ll stick to my hypothesis until someone slaps it out of me.)
The music on SoPHV1 is passably psychedelic in a Floydian sort of way, but it’s not tremendously horrorful (or horrible).
There’s nothing wrong with SoPHV1. It’s well-produced, and appropriately dissonant, and it has its moments, like the lumpy, off-kilter beat of album-closer “End here” and the shuddering, tremeloed Big Midnight-Movie Riff that makes up most of “Vacui.”
Fans of electronica will like this, and some horror fans might find it starts movies playing inside their skulls, too.
Ultimately, though, it seems kind of cold and inessential compared to what I hear on the YouTube clip. Some of those guitar bursts and screams sing more about “psychedelic horror” — to my imagination, anyway — than the synth tones and textures at play on SoPHV1.
I also sense a lack of contrast or drama in SoPHV1.
Think about in “Jaws,” how the shark theme gets louder and softer as the shark comes and goes, then bursts in fortissimo unexpectedly.
That kind of surprise and pacing is part of what says “horror” to me — the hand that bursts from behind the door. And it doesn’t seem to be present much of the time on SoPHV1, where many of the songs kinda ascend to a certain volume level and stay there, varying only in the layers of synth-wash and burble that come and go.
I’m not a horror aficionado, so maybe that’s skewing my consideration of this music.
Or, maybe I’m just one of those jerky reviewers who can’t allow a band to travel down a new path without criticizing it. I might be guilty of that.
At any rate, I prefer the live Television Blood to the electronic incarnation; no getting around it, I guess. But if they ever come out with Sounds of Psychedelic Horror, Vol. 2, I’m willing to give it a chance.
Sounds of Psychedelic Horror, Vol. 1 is available as a name-your-price download on Bandcamp here. If either of the band’s incarnations interest you, they’ll be playing at the Coven in Bethlehem Aug. 17, someplace in Stroudsburg Aug. 25, and at the Seed in Lancaster Aug. 31.