There are seekers and there are reapers -- those who head out into the ether with an open head to whatever magic they might find, and those who would wait until the light of day to cherry-pick only the spangliest bits for future broadcast. Psychic Ills are most certainly seekers, but with their third album and Sacred Bones debut, Hazed Dream, the New York outfit discover a rare alchemy that's as thrilling for the journey as it is for what it delivers: eleven psychedelically surging platters awash in warm tones, imbued with a tangible ease, and anchored by Tres Warren's eternally unruffled voice.
The man's own explanation says as much as a dozen press releases could, even if he says relatively little: "Some developments in our lives led to new approaches. The music came out the old fashioned way ... a way that had been avoided for a while. It was about putting some words to some chords and keeping it simple. Getting back to something. Feeling a feeling. Shaking out the NY brain boil. Movin' away from some old bad vibes, by creating some new good ones. Dreaming out the bad. Takin' it easy on ourselves, and those around us. This album lives in a sunny place. A half memory. A hazed dream."
But Tres, bassist Elizabeth Hart and drummer Brian Tamborello have been winding their way to this beatific space for a good while. Psychic Ills was born as an experiment in home recording in 2003, and quickly evolved into an exercise in all-night full-band exploration in a neighborhood where noise wasn't a problem. Their earliest travels-on long-lost vinyl or otherwise unreleased-were eventually rounded up in Early Violence, but it was 2006's LP debut Dins (also on Social Registry) that captured the squalling guitars, tribal rhythms and molasses-thick atmosphere the group was known to summon live.
The clang and chaos dissipated for 2009's Mirror Eye, which found the Ills with all hands on a synthesizer at some point. The album was a sonic palate cleanser, an oft improvised dive into deep drone and electronic buzz that earned them road time with Butthole Surfers and the Melvins, as well as shows with spiritual forebearer Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3, who the band first came in contact with when he remixed a song for one of their first releases. Over the next year, a handful of small-run releases (Astral Occurrence, Catoptric, Telesthetic Tape) displayed a band loyally free-wheeling their way toward some ineffable nugget of truth, while a FRKWYS remix EP saw the Ills reworked by the likes of legends: Gibby Haynes, Juan Atkins, and Faust's Hans-Joachim Irmler.
Enter Hazed Dream, which trades the hypnotic for the happily narcotic. Recorded live to tape by Mitch Rackin (Gang Gang Dance, Black Dice) at Brooklyn's Seaside Lounge, the album shows the Ills' evolved ear for divine songcraft, from lazily ambling opener "Midnight Moon," held together by whirring organ tones and hand-smacked percussion, to the vaguely samba-like closer, "Same Old Song," which gets its groove from loping bass and fuzzed-up guitar. In between, of course, are sunburned mantras colored by Eastern melodies ("Incense Head"), blues-damaged come-ons complete with blasted harmonica solos ("Mexican Wedding"), and humid, dust-caked tributes to nomadic living ("Travelin' Man").
"I was walking down the highway in Heaven," Tres sings on the pastoral rambler, "Ring Finger," and before long he adds, "It was an easy time." We can always count on Psychic Ills to remind us that no matter what shape the destination takes, it is, truly, the trip that matters.
STREET DATE: OCTOBER, 18th 2011
1. Midnight Moon
2. Mind Daze
3. Incense Head
4. Mexican Wedding
5. That's Alright
6. Ring Finger
7. Travelin' Man
9. Dream Repetiton
10. I'll Follow You Through the Floor
11. Same Old Song