Some predicted it would be a natural progression. The garage-rock explosion of 2001 and the subsequent resurgence of new wave were supposed to segue into a boon for psychedelic rock. You know, the genre full of musicians either too high to be rhythmically constrained or too busy listening to the Nuggets box set to bother worshipping Velvet Underground or Duran Duran. Bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Secret Machines and The Caesars were supposed to lead the way, with bubbly acts like The Blue Van and The Sights waiting in the wings.
Despite the buzz, the press, even The Caesar's inclusion in an almighty iPod commercial, the genre's marketability quickly fizzled out. It's not completely surprising-the record-buying public can only take so much "underground" music before it goes running back to the sweet comforts of U2 and Mariah.
But it is a pity, because there are genuinely good bands amid the fuzz-such as Australia's The Morning After Girls. In addition to having one of the coolest names in modern rock, the band adds a Brit-pop edge to the psychedelic repertoire. It's a bit like Brian Jonestown Massacre without the inane pretense, or Oasis high on mescaline rather than pounds of blow. Guitarist Martin Sleeman says such a combination of influences is a result of living in Australia, between the two epicenters of rock 'n' roll.
"Being exposed to various sorts of music from Britain and America," he says. "That whole Grateful Dead/Haight-Ashbury sort of time-we really like mixing that with that '80s and '90s British sound."
Originally formed by Sleeman and frontman Sacha Lucashenko in Melbourne, the band moved to Sydney after the release of their first EP. There, they added three members and released another EP that, along with the band's anfractuous live shows, started to generate serious buzz. An indie label quickly snatched them up and re-issued their material on one CD titled, appropriately, Prelude: EP's 1 & 2 .
Prelude is almost two different bands: pop hooks one minute, jam-band drones the next. Still, it works.
"We have wild mood swings everyday," Sleeman says. "I guess that might happen with the songs sometime."
The faster songs, like the singles "Hi-Skies" and "Run For Our Lives," seem destined for a high-art commercial trying to hype the revival of a classic car. But it's when the Girls slow it down that they really showcase their pop skills. Songs like "Chasing Us Under" and the somnolently gorgeous "Hidden Spaces" are both ambitious, with tons of music going on. They're also soothing, in the same way police sirens comfort a lifelong city dweller.
And in a genre in which the words often play second fiddle to the lysergic meanderings of the music, Lucashenko strikes a balance between profundity and inebriated musing. On "Slowdown," for example, he repackages the Freudian concept of transference to explain to an old lover that he was " Chased away by your uncovered secrets/ You stayed behind while I was faced with your demons ."
If their psych-rock counterparts are any indication, The Morning After Girls may not be destined for much more than critical acclaim. But Sleeman says they'd be perfectly content with what may have been Haight-Ashbury's original mission.
"We want to reach people emotionally and spiritually. Hopefully, people can get more in touch with the things that make them passionate and real."
That is, they're in it for the long trip.
The Morning After Girls open for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Elefant at the House of Blues on March 11. Doors open at 7 p.m. $16-$18. 619-299-BLUE.