“There’s too much monkey business,” slurs frontman Tres Warren on ‘Mixed Up Mind’, “and I can’t keep it away from me.” With their fifth EP Inner Journey Out, Brooklyn’s Psychic Ills have delved deep into the record rack, pulling out a narcoleptic mix of Americana, blues and gospel to repackage it all in a well-worn psych-pop shrink wrap.
Eagle-eyed shoegazers will have noticed the presence of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval on the album’s debut single ‘I Don’t Mind.’ “Mazzy Star are a great band,” Warren nods, ahead of the Ills’ recent show at London’s Lexington pub. “Hope’s got such a one of a kind voice. After opening for them a couple years ago we decided to do something together.” Opting for a yearning croon over his usual strung-out snarl, Warren’s vocals entwine wistfully with Sandoval’s languid whispers, narrating a pastoral chug that goes full Harvest when the swooping pedal steel guitar shimmys into gleaming centre-stage. Still, the album’s finest guest appearance comes on ‘Another Change’: the gospel backings adding a driving Primal Scream spirit which does a good job of detracting from Elizabeth Hart’s frustratingly anaemic bass line.
With its Stooges pulse and peripheral Wurlitzer drone, ‘Confusion (I’m Alright)’ is perhaps the album’s most atmospheric song. Song with a capital S, that is, because Inner Journey Out’s instrumental compositions are the only moments in which the album’s decidedly introspective title really seems justified. In ‘Ra Wah Wah’, Warren’s fluttering guitar lick oscillates in and out of focus under the weight of Brent Cordero’s Farfisa organ, chimes guiding you into an alto sax solo that echoes Zero 7 at their most Café del Mar. The foggy meander of ‘Hazel Green’ also foregoes conventional structure in favour of nuanced variation; its sloping bass and hot, boxy drums a fitting soundtrack for hazy couch-locked evenings.
But the point that Psychic Ills have missed is that when it comes to song-writing and ambiance, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Take the candlelit free-psyche of Talk Talk’s ‘I Believe in You’, seductively hypnotic in its resolute aimlessness. The main reason Inner Journey Out fails is because it’s aimlessly resolute. Determined to tip cap to the luminaries, it falls short on both intrigue and assertion.