Album review: ROY -‘Roy’s Garage’: a magic carpet ride around the psychedelic pop globe

The Breakdown

Roy's Garage does things with a deft touch and real understanding. If you're the kind of the person who loves British and American psych circa 1966 to 1968, has many an album on Bam Caruso, Edsel, Sundazed, then you should embrace this record wholeheartedly; if your experience of this particular era of psych - before what scientists call the Iron Butterfly event horizon, when pop melody and brain-feeding sonic exploration sit in balance on the scales and before the freakout totally becomes the event - then this album is a great gateway drug. ROY knows. You'd be wise to let him guide you through.
Idée Fixe 8.0

ROY is how Toronto psych scenester Patrick Lefler likes to get dressed for a night on the town, all paisley finery, hookahs and a knack with a lazily excellent dream of Pepperland.

He plies his excellent trade for Idée Fixe, a label which noted its first encounter with ROY’s aesthetic while ploughing through the demo stack one fine day. “Out slid two 5” reel-to-reel tapes wrapped in tin foil,” someone over at the label said.

“A solvent smell signalled the name ‘ROY’ had been written on its packet with a chisel tip marker only hours before.”

What emerged was ROY’s first album for the label, last year’s Peace, Love And Outer Space: a glimmering and conceptual LP about government conspiracy and omniscient alien beings named Sky Brother and Sky Sister, with a message of peace to save humankind. That included howls of psych from beyond Earthly realms such as “They Are Watching”, the stoned immaculacy of “The Man Doesn’t Want You To Know” and the more laidback, Brian Wilson-gone-Carnaby Street trippy haze of “Love (Sky Sister)”, full of Byrdsian three-part harmony goodness and Moogy wonder; in fact, it also comes with a supplementary cassette of synthesiser compositions, Synth Waves While You Sleep, to aid your dream world and to become, we would wager, more like ROY. That brings to mind the excellent Olivia Tremor Control and their (even) trippier instrumental side project, Black Swan Network, who took the former’s acid pop songs so much furthur.

Wind the clock forward from 1968 last year and ROY’s ready to beguile us again, as he passes the well-rolled cone of new album Roy’s Garage across the rug to you. He wants you to turn on with him. We think that’ll be good place to go.

Patrick says of this new ‘un: “Roy’s Garage exists inside everybody’s mind. It is where you keep your fondest memories and your darkest secrets.

“I hope it is a place of exploration and healing; also a space to hold yourself accountable and learn how to be new again; there is never a bad moment to go to the Garage.”

Over at Roy’s Garage, he hosts an album – a proper album, of two sides, one more perky, Anglophile psych-pop, the flip freer wig-outs. Patrick says: “I’ve been through changes in my life and wanted to create a snapshot of my feelings through 60s and 70s sounds.

“There’s something about the inherent freak-out style inspiring us all,” he says. “Whether in rock, jazz, post-punk or something more raw, it’s always psychedelic.”

And create he does, drawing on friends and fine fuzzy associates from the Toronto psych scene, the Oscillitarium creative hub. In fact, if it weren’t for the depradations of the ‘rona, Can legend Damo Suzuki was scheduled to appear on the record before the restrictions bit.

Nevertheless, Roy’s Garage saw such scenesters as Robert Planet, Hieronymus Harry, and Professor Cosbo and members of Toronto bands Peeling, Dark Trip, King Creep, Kaleidoscope Horse, Jet Dread Stone, Possum, rock up to be part of the grand acid vision; in the studio where, among the patterned fabric and handmade sound absorption baffles, the incense and coffee mugs, they set gleefully to work a treasure trove of percussive trinkets, flutes, synths, tom-toms, harmonica, guitars, violin, a rented harp, and kazoos; all fractured and remade via cassette decks, speakers, analogue consoles and pedals. Modular synthesizers wow and flutter with abandon, courtesy synth guru Ross Werlick.

“I had this keyboard progression sounding like the blues on barbiturates, ” says Patrick. “I invited my friends over, wine flowed freely, and the take was captured.”

Best get y’self arranged comfortably on that beanbag over there, you’re amongst friends; as the good Doctor Leary observed, set and setting are so important when you’re setting off on a trip.

Patrick Lefler, aka ROY, photographed by Sam Maloney

Side A opens with “In The Garden Defeated” all psych-bluesy tremolo shimmer ‘n’ bongos, raising its hat to Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman”; and it’s a finger-clickin’ shimmer ripe to suck on a sugarcube to. It speaks of freedom, of earthy and unearthly delights and isn’t afraid to let its hair down and freak into a slow dissolve at the end, heavy with perfumed smoke and guitar hallucination.

“All The Time” stays headswirling, a russsh of garage psych in one hundred whole seconds that really should be on that Pebbles tape your mate made for you all those moons ago. It would have a blast there, and has a blast in your head in any case as organs stab, guitars fuzz and hurry. Think The Electric Prunes’ “Long Days Flight (Til’ Tomorrow)”; that kinda hectic, headlong pace.

Phew … lie back now, as “Nowhere To Run” chills your boots into a bass-led, open atmosphere of mystery, over which ROY sings of “Looking for the place / But there’s nowhere to run / What if I find the place that I’ve seen in my dreams?”. Just to keep that psych originals analogy going, herein think maybe more Chocolate Watchband’s “Voyage Of The Trieste” meets some kinda Strawberry Alarm Clock vocal purity. It’s got bags of atmos, synths playing about like comets; and gets all ready for some good ol’ hoedownin’ Texas garage punk in the manifesto-setting “I’m Not Afraid” – he really isn’t; ROY is ready to “break away, to live today,” his self-activating lyrics all smothered in harmonica skitting and organ. Yep, ROY gets this music. You’re gonna miss him, babe; but he’s not afraid. YOWWWW!

“Time To Love Myself” sees him advance that personal manifesto further over spooky, reverb-drenched organ, with a declamatory, spoken style, and it sounds like maybe you’re listening down a dark Interstate in 1966 and due to some weird atmospherics, that radio signal has bounced around space for more than half a century and straight into your mind.

“Power Of Three” lets the trippy analogue synths loose to declaim the theme, as ROY recounts finding his own head in a box down in the Garage, his vocals crisp, detached, as the music swirls with a grand, blurred majesty, picking up a little jazzy vamp at the end. How did he manage to cram that into one minute thirty?? Not that the brief two-chord blast of “Let Me Tell Ya” hangs around much longer – well, four seconds longer, but it still manages to cram in some filthy fuzz bass and harmonica that sings a raw, siren blues.

“When The Man Wants You To” has this pretty, harmonic placidity, the gentlest caress of wah-wah, baroque strings, before suddenly lurching into a wonky Barratt march, all comic Edwardian – and back out again, with sweet cooing. When you learn that this run of three tracks lasted under five minutes in total, you know ROY has to be seriously screwing with the space-time continuum to get this many pretty and trippy ideas in. Pretty much every one of these warrants a 7″ of its own, on Deram or Elektra or Reprise, maybe already centre-popped for the jukebox when you find it in that crate.

“Where Did My Mind Go?” emerged from the seductive herbal fug as a first single in March, so we’ve been kind enough to embed that little beauty for you. It’s a proper three-part harmony slice of psych pop, drawing on a lineage of Harpers Bizarre, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, those abortive Smile sessions. It casts a dreamily yearning eye back over its shoulder at wherever its mind might actually be these days. “It’s warm because I did the bass on the Farfisa organ, then electric bass and panned them wide like a big hug,” Patrick says.

It’s time to flip the disc now, and to travel further, deeper; ROY has designs to really let it loose. And so he does, with “Where The Mind Meets The Eye” maybe needing that optic pyramid thing as a crest, an odyssey into Tim Buckley 12-string psych-folk bliss, territory that’s hard to conquer and which is barely attempted these days outside Ryley Walker. A very fine and enthralling canvas he paints too, modal, loose and harmonic as you could wish, warm Rhodes shimmering away very much in the hinterlands of Buckley senior’s “Strange Feeling”, which is a wondrous place, you’ll know. It gets even more expansive as lead guitars call and respond with pastoral elegance and precision. Tune.

“Find The Light” stays out in that shimmering folky territory, guitar and organ bringing the acid technicolour in an understated and delicious fashion, as ROY holds forth about the darknesses of the world: “I’m troubled by the people who think they own the world / I see them walking round the corner, just waiting for me to fall flat.” There’s a sprawling, gospel shimmer that brings mid-period Spacemen 3 to mind. Which again, excellent thing. ROY has to find the light somehow; this track certainly lights a blissful path out.

“Universal Truth” takes ROY’s garage, which to my mind is something maybe of a magic carpet, infinitely mutable in location and able to nd sets course firmly for the heady psych of San Fran and the West Coast circa ’67; it fair glides with a 6/8 organ swing, Jefferson Airplane bluesy acid guitars dripping and interjecting, ROY himself floating both above and within in a tune that’s made for a big, big outdoor gathering of like minds. Just don’t touch the brown acid.

A hell of a ride around the psych world concludes – for now – in “As Long As You’re Feeling”, a parting exhortation to stay out there, stay connected, for autumnal 12-string, Moog bubbling, organ looseness; “When it is time to leave, you will feel at ease, wait and see / You will control the time, you will probably cry, that is perfectly fine as long as you’re feeling,” that wise psychedelic pop guru imparts as the music fuzzes and expands around that acoustic guitar anchor.

As a listening experience, ROY does nothing exactly new with Roy’s Garage, but he does everything with a deft touch and real understanding. If you’re the kind of the person who loves British and American psych circa 1966 to 1968, has many an album on Bam Caruso, Edsel, Sundazed, then you should embrace this record wholeheartedly; if your experience of this particular era of psych – before what scientists call the Iron Butterfly event horizon, when pop melody and brain-feeding sonic exploration sit in balance on the scales and before the freakout totally becomes the event – then this album is a great gateway drug. ROY knows. You’d be wise to let him guide you through.

Brothers and sisters: the time hath come to make a little more room in your psychedelic pop heart for a Canadian songsmith sure to seduce your Carnaby Street-lovin’ synapses; please, if you would, put your hands together for ROY.

ROY’s Roy’s Garage will be released by Idée Fixe digitally and on vinyl on May 14th; pre-orders are being taken now over at Bandcamp and at Idée Fixe.

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