Under the Spell of JOY (Tee Pee)
San Diego can lay claim to being the birthplace of one of the most iconic bands of the acid-rock era: Iron Butterfly. But there's arguably never been a more psychedelic period in San Diego music history than today.
I don't necessarily mean that people are taking more drugs; in fact, the region's biggest psych-rock band, Earthless, told Spin last year that they just drink a lot of coffee. But there's a certain disorientation that's been seeping into local music, be it through the hazy post-punk of Tropical Popsicle and Barbarian or in the lava-lamp fuzz of Wild Wild Wets, who recently launched the San Diego Freak Out in the service of bringing purveyors of trippy tunes together on one stage.
And then there's JOY. More than simply an indie-rock band with psychedelic elements, JOY have a dense, freewheeling sound that harks back to the early-'70s era of heavy psych. There's more than a trace of Blue Cheer or Flower Travellin' Band in their fat layers of distortion, bluesy melodies and instrumental dazzle. This music doesn't just take the listener to strange and unfamiliar places—it straight-up rocks the fuck out.
On Under the Spell of JOY—the band's first for Tee Pee Records—the average song length is between six and seven minutes, and each song features some combination of effects-treated vocals, meaty riffs and wild soloing. If you're averse to indulging in some hot-dog guitar-wizard showmanship, then JOY probably isn't for you. But for those who can't get enough of the sound of Big Muff distortion coming through vintage Orange amps, this album is an embarrassment of riches.
Under the Spell is loaded with highlights, from the upbeat shuffle of "One More Time" to the slower and more sinister dirge of "Evil." And when Zach Oakley fires up his wah-wah on "Driving Me Insane," the group is more Funkadelic than Grand Funk, which is just fine by me. Even when they appear in danger of getting sucked into a vortex of impossibly acrobatic fretwork, their instrumental dazzle rarely grows stale or redundant. There's a good reason for that; JOY add fiery solos to already good songs, and not the other way around.