One of the tricky aspects of psychedelic music is that, in many respects, the genre is often defined more by production than any particular musical element. You can take any old pop song and add some hazy effects and ping pong echo and you got yourself a psychedelic record. This is especially apparent with a lot of so-called psychedelic pop and rock artists who seem content to write bog-standard indie rock songs, make them “trippy” in the studio, and release it for all the little hipster kiddies to enjoy. I love the first Tame Impala album, but with their latest two, I feel like the excessively spacious psychedelic sheen has sort of become a cover for lazy songwriting. I sort of felt a similar way about the way Thee Oh Sees were going for a while. Until they sharpened up their sound on their latest two albums, it seemed as if the band were gonna just write the same album of riffy jams every six months for all eternity.
Where am I going with all of this? Well, there’s this band called Temples, and I think they get it. On their sophomore outing Volcano, the band has put together the best psychedelic pop album I’ve heard in quite a while. The reason for this comes back to what I was talking about earlier; they get to the “trippy” vibe through their songwriting just as much the production. As a baseline, they fit pretty nicely into the classic 60s British psych mold, taking a somewhat folksy melodic approach and articulating it through a smorgasbord of instrumental textures. Temples’ use of restless key changes and a bit of uneven phrasing in spots makes me think of Syd Barrett specifically, a comparison I make in only the most positive way. One track in particular, “Mystery Of Pop”, has a complex overall structure, winding its way through a busy main melody line and a gaggle of key changes, yet it’s one of the most catchy songs on the whole record. It really is a fascinating piece of music to me beyond its enjoyability as a song.
The sunny melodies on every track really capture that intangible appeal that draws me toward the psychedelic sound like no other genre, but they don’t rely on quirkiness like some of their peers. That being said, they really go for some bizarre instrumental combinations on some of these tracks. It’s not uncommon for modern sounding synths and electronic percussion to share space with harpsichords and Mellotrons. I’ve always felt that psychedelia thrives on anachronism, but all these elements gel together into a unique sound overall. And while I’m on the subject, I wanna give a bit of praise to producer James Bagshaw, who has a great grasp on when to bring forward the ambient haze and when to rein it in for a tighter mix. The whole record is punchy throughout without losing any atmosphere.
This was a pretty gratifying listen overall. I love it when artists really nail this type of music, as some of my favorite records of all time stem from that 60s British psychedelic sound. If you love The Zombies or Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Temples’ will most definitely hit your psychedelic sweet tooth.