One Track Mind
[Sacred Bones, 2013]
Jeff Pearson, January , 2013
Listen: “Might Take A While”
Let me preface this by saying that Sacred Bones Records does not pay blogs like us to rave about their albums; everything you have read (and will read for the foreseeable future, as things would appear) about the label’s output is straight from journalists’ hearts. The Brooklyn-based label have put together a stellar roster of artists who all–somehow–seem to repeatedly outdo themselves and continually turn in the record of their career. The last we heard from their hometown heroes Psychic Ills, it was the sound of a punk outfit finding their sea legs in an opium den; Hazed Dream brought together the rawest sonic elements of the punk spirit without the rebellion–they were a band too focused on watching the smoke swirling around the room to go make noise in the streets. One Track Mind isn’t Psychic Ills lighting the fuse to their molotov cocktail, but at least they are throwing on the leather jacket necessary for such brutish behavior. It’s the sound of a band standing firm behind their sound and delivering it with a punch.
It’s been a long road for Psychic Ills to find this confident voice. In their pre-Sacred Bones days, they toiled in obscurity–perhaps a product of their ever-shifting styles and unwillingness to hover in one place for too long, sonically–until landing on the bare-boned blues psychedelia of Hazed Dream. The record touched on some major ideas, paving the way for the much more fully-realized One Track Mind. Part of the evolution of the band comes from the road; the record expands on the sound in a way that can only come from translating songs to the stage, trying to rattle eardrums across the country. When asked about the song’s heavier tinge, Bassist Elizabeth Hart said, “…it was just sort of a natural direction, especially in considering how the songs would translate live.” The record has the feel of a live performance, with an air of joyful sloppiness to the playing that is endearing in its honesty and rawness.
It’s evident right from the start that this is going to be a more expansive effort; “One More Time” starts with a sun-spotted surf guitar lick and punchy rhythm that were largely absent from the wispy Hazed Dream. Singer/songwriter Tres Warren’s familiar raspy voice introduces the record with a sort of ambiguous message, “I know it didn’t always work out right / But we could try it one more time.” The rock critic in me wants to say that he’s referring to the missteps along the way in the band’s career, but the song seems to be primarily a breakup song, as the rest of the lyrics would suggest (“I see you when I close my eyes / I see your face in the mirror of my mind”). The evolution of their sound to the heavier domain in which One Track Mind suggests that there was a shift in Warren’s life. The days of strumming a guitar down a bumpy road don’t seem quite so appealing as bowing his head and getting lost in any of the myriad of guitar grooves present on the record.
Psychic Ills have never been a band to stretch their records out to the outer limits that a piece of wax can hold, but even for the barely over thirty minute timespan on One Track Mind, the presence of those rich textural guitar interludes allow things to breathe and take a fuller shape. “See You There” is a groove-based jam that sees Warren practicing the fine art of saying a lot with a little–both the short lyrical bursts and the flanging guitar shooting through the mix are incredibly effective in their brevity. It seems that Warren has really settled into an identity both as a vocalist and a guitarist; his songs were perhaps asking too much of his limited vocal range prior to One Track Mind, but actually come off with brilliance in the context of thick, smoky guitar licks.
“Might Take A While” is perhaps the closest to the song-based mold of Hazed Dream, with a tight linear structure, but Psychic Ills make sure it doesn’t come too pre-packaged with blistering interplay. It’s true that the best moments of One Track Mind seem to be when they’re just not thinking too much; perhaps learned from all the years of practice that being perfect isn’t what they’re practicing for. The live energy of tracks like “FBI” and “Tried To Find It” are some of the band’s best work to date, and in setting the focus on putting their heads down and jamming, One Track Mind is the record of their careers. Then again, they’re on Sacred Bones. The next one will probably be better.