Say Psych: Album Review, Magnetic North (Drone Rock Records)

Drone Rock Records is a Brighton-based label that has been steadily building up a reputation amongst Psych fans. A series of releases from the likes of Kill West, <><>)))), Space Spectrum and Psychic Lemon, all of them excellent, means that the label is now getting well-established bands knocking on the door asking about the possibility of doing releases.

This, according to label owner Adam Harmsworth, is how the idea for this ‘Magnetic North’ compilation came about: “Vert:X and Earthling Society both got in touch independently of each other to enquire about the possibility of releasing something on Drone Rock Records. At the time I was tied up with the Space Spectrum record and so couldn’t really commit to anything else. I believe the material that Earthling Society sent me ended up forming their Sweet Chariot album [an excellent album, reviewed here] on Clostridium Records.”

Adam originally thought that a split between the two bands might be a possibility but then came up with the of expanding it to a four-track compilation of contemporary Northern psych bands, as he says: “I am a big fan of the Dead Sea Apes and I was seriously chuffed that they agreed to submit a track. The fourth and final act, Blown Out, was just a case of me being desperate to release something by them after being totally blown away by their three previous records. They certainly ticked the boxes of a)being northern and b)being a really impressive sounding contemporary psych act. I truly believe the four tracks fit so well together and I am really proud for Magnetic North to be the fifth release on Drone Rock Records.”

So he should be because this is a great compilation which brilliantly showcases some of the best ‘psych’ acts operating in the North of England at the moment. Vert:x kick things off with ‘Drill’, a brilliant bass line emerges out of a wall of feedback, the the guitar surfacing amidst the throb and fuzz building up the tension, waiting for the release which thrillingly arrives sending the track off into a cosmic ride that lives up to its title as it bores its way into you head…and the just keeps on going. Thrilling, there’s no other word for it.

After that ride, and the decent back into the mire of fuzz and feedback, I was ready for the intense synesthesia of the Dead Sea Apes to emanate from the speakers. I’ve written about this band a number of times before and usually manage to say something different because their music always seems to bring up different ideas for me. ‘Lupine Wavelength’ is a track that is one one level down tempo which initially feels improvised. Listen more closely though and you begin to hear that there is nothing here out of place. Whereas the Vert:x track gouged its way into your head ‘Lupine Wavelength’ somehow treats the wound in a way that is both soothing and troubling. It is a really beautiful track, but with a sinister edge to it. That lesion feels ok but somehow you don’t want to look at it in the mirror.

Flipping over the record and you immediately get hit by that wall of sound that is Blown Out, a band so heavy that when I saw them live recently the drinks were jumping off the tables from the vibration of the bass, either that to they just couldn’t take the spaced out intensity any more. ‘Transportation Ventures’ is up there with Blown Out’s usual uncompromising style which settles into a real groove early on with bass and drums just pounding out the rhythm, every so often dropping out into a pit of fuzzed-out chaos only to come back again harder and stronger. Glass on the floor…windows blown out…listener pinned to the back wall.

After that utter pounding it comes as some relief to hear the bucolic Eastern tones of the Earthling Society’s ‘Mountain King Blues’ kick in. This is perhaps the most nuanced of the tracks here with elements of light and shade combining to provide something that takes you all over the psych firmament. Here East meets West (and I don’t mean Scarborough meets the Earthling Society’s native Fleetwood) and there are some wonderfully intricate moments to this track where sitar lies over some Middle Eastern grooves punctuated by some really ace heavy rock, which eventually brings the track home in a cacophony of feedback. I really like the way that Earthling Society do this and this is a great example of their art.

This, then is the key thing about ‘Magnetic North’. It is the sound of four great Northern bands at the top of their game, this is certainly not a compilation of album cast-offs. This is a proud illustration of some of the brilliant music that is being played here in the North. The album left me wanting to listen to more music by all four groups, but as I can’t decide which I’m just going to have to listen to ‘Magnetic North’ again…and dream of a gig where these four all play, what a night that would be!


Release details:

This pressing is going to be a total of 300 copies with 100 of these going to the bands involved. Like the last three previous releases on Drone Rock Records, Magnetic North will come in two editions and I will have 100 copies of each for sale. The records are expected to be back with me front the pressing plant at the end of September :-

Blue & red splatter on transparent orange vinyl (sold out with the label)

100 copies on transparent orange vinyl with red and blue splatters to match the colour scheme of the striking front cover artwork (created by Neil Whitehead from Vert:X)

Transparent orange vinyl

100 copies on transparent orange vinyl, available here.

Vert: X – Drill

Vinny C: guitar
Neil Whitehead: bass, guitar
Barry Mart: synthesiser
The Other One: synthesiser, oscillators
Nick Raybould: drums, percussion

Dead Sea Apes – Lupine Wavelength

Brett Savage – guitar
Nick Harris – bass
Chris Hardman – drums

Blown Out – Transportation Ventures

Mike Vest: guitar
John-Michael Hedley: bass
Matt Baty: drums

‘Transportation Ventures’

Recorded by Mark Wood @ The Soundrooms, Goatshead
Mixed by Mike Vest

Earthling Society – Mountain King Blues

Fred Laird – vocals, coral sitar, guitars, Mellotron, Gakken synth
Kim Allen – bass
Jon Blacow – drums, Turkish percussion & Timpani

Track written by Fred Laird

Arranged by Laird/Blacow
Recorded at Foel Studios Wales in April 2016
Engineer Tom Wild
Mixed and additional recording by Fred Laird at Shugden recording Fleetwood

All 4 tracks were mastered for vinyl by Chris Hardman (Dead Sea Apes)


You can find my other writing for Backseat Mafia here.

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