“There's something happening here….”—or so the song goes. In the liner notes of the 1972 box set Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, song curator Lenny Kaye writes, “This is the story of a transition period in rock and roll, of a changeling era which dashed by so fast that nobody knew much of what to make of it while it was around, only noticeable in retrospect by the vast series of innovations it would eventually spawn, both in the way music would be listened to and the way it was constructed.”
Or, perhaps, Lenny, the drugs were just really good.
Either way, subsequent box sets were released, including Nuggets II (focusing on the British psychedelic scene), San Francisco Nuggets and, naturally, Children of Nuggets (focusing on 1976 to 1996). Some years from now, if the current indie-music scene persists, another set could be compiled that consists of a current crop of heady American bands like Deerhunter, MGMT, Brightblack Morning Light, Horse Feathers, Animal Collective and, maybe by default, Brooklyn quartet Yeasayer.
“Yeah, there's a real need for Spin to be able to say, ‘This is a freak-folk thing,' when they want to lump these bands together,” says Yeasayer frontman Chris Keating. “‘This is the new Brooklyn psychedelic bullshit!' It's a joke. If you have any weird sound at all coming out of your amp, it's called psychedelic rock.”
Keating is correct that it's inaccurate for the media and music fans to pigeonhole his band's music. But what's more important is why there's even a compulsion to do so. The time seems ripe for a new psychedelic movement—not in any pejorative drug sense, but rather, for many of the same reasons that Kaye wrote about. The social and political events of the late '60s seem parallel to many of the problems we face today. We're at the dawn of a new epoch. We have a new president, a seemingly endless war and most certainly new kinds of escapism. These new bands are the children of the children of the Age of Aquarius—too young to remember the fear of a draft yet still rebelious in the face of wars on terror. They're not overtly political, though, like their musical forefathers, perhaps a result of watching the children of the '60s abandon their dreams in the post-Watergate era.
“I don't know. I really felt excited about ushering in a new era of politics, but now I feel that it opens up the discussion even more,” reflects Keating on the recent election. “It's like now you have a president that you can have legitimate disagreements with, as opposed to Bush, where you just smacked yourself in the head and went, ‘This guy's an idiot.' There's still gonna be wars, Proposition 8 or some bullshit that people have to fight that's completely unjust. The honeymoon's gonna wear off.”
This concern and sometimes even dystopic outlook is clearly reflected in the band's lyrics. “I can't sleep when I think about the times we're living in / I can't sleep when I think about the future I was born into,” Keating cries on Yeasayer's apocalyptic breakthrough single, “2080.”
And while bands like MGMT (the poster boys of the movement) garner rave reviews for being poppy and unthreatening, Yeasayer's debut album, last year's All Hour Cymbals, plays out like an unbalanced career retrospective. The harmonized “2080” and the proggy assault of “Wait for the Wintertime” are both amazing, but they hardly sound like they're from the same band. Their music extends way beyond the old psychedelia's sonic conceptualization of harmony and melody, using synthesizers, loops and fretless bass guitars for a sound that's more doom-and-gloom.
Their live shows may not help them escape the psychedelic milieu—they sometimes resemble the old acid-test parties in '60s San Francisco, with projectors and LCD grids, plus samplers and exotic electronic percussion.
“It's not just standing up there and emoting and expecting people to be excited by that,” Keating says. “I like the idea of half of the show being a dance party and also trying to interject some kind of earnest sentiment.”
And whether Yeasayer will be remembered for these performances or for a song on a future box set, Keating seems to think that whatever they are, whatever is indeed happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear.
“I don't know—I mean, the first person to come up with a really good term for the sound that's coming out right now, maybe that term will be really appropriate and get used widely, but no one's really come up with it. I don't know how I'd define Grizzly Bear or TV on the Radio's music.” He then adds, “I think that's the best compliment when someone says, even if they didn't like it, ‘Man, you guys really sucked, but you didn't sound like anything I've ever heard.'”
Yeasayer play with Icy Demons on Tuesday, Nov. 25, at The Loft at UCSD. 858-822-3199. www.myspace.com/yeasayer.