When thinking of psychedelic music, there are a few specific motifs that people tend to have in mind. These include instruments from other countries and cultures, like the sitar or the tabla; unusual time signatures, melodies and drone effects not found in most pop music; surreal or fantasy-based lyrics focusing on introspection and counter-culture; and long instrumentals featuring all kinds of electronic instruments like keyboards, Theremins and synthesizers. Although a piece of music doesn’t necessarily need to include all of these things to be considered ‘psychedelic’, these features are usually good indicators.
Despite the fact that psychedelia has been around since the 1960s, there are several artists keeping the spirit alive today whilst making contemporary and modern sounding music. Although classic bands like the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and the Beach Boys will always remain influential in the scene, new names such as Allah-Las, Tame Impala and Moon Duo are putting their own stamp on the genre in 2020. Whilst many of the recognisable features of psychedelia are present in their work, the new generation are injecting brand new ideas into this well-loved and successful type of music.
When psychedelia first appeared in the mid-20th century, the only way to listen to music was through a record player or at a live concert. Nowadays, music is so much more accessible, leading bands to new avenues of inspiration and introducing them to larger audiences. Since the world went online, we’ve become used to accessing entertainment via the internet, whether that’s documentaries on WatchDocumentaries.com, classic table games at PokerStarsCasino.com or, indeed, new music via SoundCloud. With artists now able to collaborate freely from opposite ends of the planet using new technology, the possibilities truly are endless.
Despite its love of Eastern instruments and other imported sounds, psychedelia as a whole has continued to rely heavily on guitar music, particularly the electric guitar. Whilst there are now hundreds of different subcategories to the genre – ranging from psychedelic folk to acid trance – and artists utilising everything from acoustic instruments to advanced computer programs to create new music, guitars still play an important role. In part, this is because of their accessibility, but it is also due to the adaptability of an instrument that can create screaming feedback one minute and soft, gentle melodies the next.
Bands like Khruangbin, Tame Impala and Temples are, essentially, standard guitar bands at the heart of their make up; they just happen to wield those guitars as instruments of free-flowing, intricate psychedelic melodies, rather than crashing out the same three chords like pretenders to the Ramones’ crown. When it comes to these new psychedelic bands, long instrumentals using the electric guitar and surreal flowing lyrics are guaranteed, with inspiration gleaned from modern guitarists around the world including countries like Mali, the DR Congo, and Japan.
Speaking of foreign influence, the modern cohort of psychedelic artists still take their biggest inspiration from cultures that lay outside of standard North American and European music. Khruangbin, for one, have spoken at length about their love of Thai music and how it has influenced their own style; their work is a heady mix of flowing Eastern rhythms and unique Texan delivery, marrying two sun-drenched parts of the world together into one cohesive sound. The band members’ own Mexican-American heritage also plays a part, as well as their love of Asian pop, Nigerian reggae and Japanese mellow groove.
On the other hand, Thievery Corporation are well-known for their love and appreciation of Jamaican dub, Brazilian bossa nova, and Indian classical music. The lyrics in their songs have been sung using any of eight different languages, ranging from Romanian to Hindi, highlighting their interest in sounds from different cultures all over the world. However, much like other bands on this list, they don’t like to pigeonhole their music, instead preferring to follow inspiration when it strikes and taking a truly global approach to the creative process.
Psychedelia wouldn’t be the same without surreal, fantastic and sometimes confusing lyrics. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker started off with words like, “Lucidity, come back to me, Put all five senses back to where they’re meant to be,” on his first album Innerspeaker, released in 2010. Nowadays, he’s more likely to croon, “Breathe a little deeper, Should you need to come undone, And let those colours run,” suggesting that he’s found more stability within himself but is still pursuing concentrated introspection through his music.
He is one of the tamer examples of the vague, soul-searching words that often crop up in psychedelic lyrics. Far-out ensemble band King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard oscillate between shouting the word, “Rattlesnake!” over the chaotic gallop of a microtonal guitar, and singing, “I saw you in the carpet shades, Then I felt you like a baby’s face,” on a drifting, floating 7 minute-long epic. They also have a song dedicated to the terrifying fictional beast from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, the Balrog, and another that speaks from the perspective of the Devil himself; classic themes in psychedelic music through the ages.