A near death experience being sucked into an active sandstorm during a US road trip is enough to make you think about life. Being immersed in a swirling vortex of sand, dust, tumbleweed and detritus whilst trying to keep control of a speeding car might have only been a brief flash moment in Steven Dove’s life but it was enough for the Psychic Markers man to question life. “These things impact you,” he says. “I got thinking about human nature, our proneness to mistakes, imperfection and the implications of reactionary decision making.”
The results of such lyrical reflection, and broad spectrum of thought, can be heard throughout the latest Psychic Markers album, one that Dove describes as, “Imagine a David Cronenberg-style movie in which each morning you awake to find your brain merged inside someone else’s head - you see life from a totally different angle.”
Approaching things from a different angle was also the objective sonically. “We wanted to make an album that was 100% us,” says Leon Dufficy, who heads up the band with Dove. “With zero dilution from other influences.” This natural, intuition-led, direction is something immediately apparent on the album, one that weaves seamlessly between pulsing groove-locked electronica and psychedelic pop as frequently as it glides from sparkling melody to rich cinematic ambience.
“Cohesive yet diverse,” is what the band have said of their music and it fits their personalities too, with members coming from as far afield as Australia and Yorkshire. Dufficy and Dove wrote and produced the record together, the sultry yet subtle bass comes from Luke Jarvis, who also did the band’s artwork, whilst the glowing backing vocals of Alannah Ashworth feature alongside the shared percussion duties of Lewis Baker and Jim Wallis.
The opening track ‘Where Is the Prize?’ is a perfect opener that encapsulates Dove’s introspective yet existential lyricism, as well as the band’s expanded sonic terrain. It’s written from the perspective of an old person who sees friends die off until only they remain. “We strive for old age but what’s even there if you make it?” asks Dove. Musically, it opens with gently lapping waves of electronics that sets the tone for a more electronically-leaning record.
A total electronic overhaul this is not, however. Instead, their third album sits in a sweet spot between evolutionary and revolutionary step; retaining the core essence and personality of the band but also moving into new territory. It embellishes and emboldens the band’s pre-existing palate, one that still nods to 1970s Germany on the careering ‘Clouds’ (a song that, antithetical to the opener, looks at life from the perspective of a child) and one that still exhibits their seamless knack for immersive melody via the gorgeous Yo La Tengo-like closer ‘Baby It’s Time.’
Amidst the engulfing soundscapes of ‘Juno Dreams’ is a sample of an old Texan psychic that cannot foresee a future for its subject, whilst the serene-to-nightmare psychedelic noise trip that is ‘Sacred Geometry’ is a direct exploration of the moment Dove was caught in the sandstorm. “The track is that nanosecond you have to make an important decision – the second part of it being the knock-on effect of making the wrong one.”
Playing with structure and form, and the overlapping role between lyrics and music, is rooted in the album. “I was tired of writing within the constraints of a verse/chorus structure and wanted to be expressive in alternative ways,” says Dove. “It’s like walking the same route to get from a to b - eventually it becomes mundane and for this record I wanted to try walking a different way.”
Dufficy also found himself going down a rabbit hole of old gear for the album, exploring four tracks, micro cassettes and drum machines. “I wanted to see how it would impact our writing and recording process,” he says. “By taking away the endless options you have in the digital world.” The result is one that adds to the already deeply textural world of the band - an approach that has previously reared its head via doo-wop-esque harmony vocals, thoughtfully layered immersive guitars or enveloping atmospheres - as well as adding a further sense of diving into the unknown.
The dodgy motors of the four-track led to drums and keys being all over the place on the track ‘Enveloping Cycles’, creating its own woozy, distinct rhythm of gently fizzing beats. That is before the machine gave up completely. “The four-track died right at the end of making the album, so its quirks will only ever exist on this album,” Dufficy says. “I like that, it's kind of romantic to me.”
Much like being caught in the middle of a sandstorm, or a piece of equipment holding out until the final sputtering moments of musical completion, there’s something unique, engulfing and encompassing about the latest Psychic Markers album. A beautiful bottling of time and place that magically ends up somewhere completely new
01. Where Is The Prize?
02. Silence In The Room
04. Enveloping Cycles
05. Sacred Geometry
06. A Mind Full And Smiling
07. Irrational Idol Thinking
08. Juno Dreams
10. Baby It's Time