Your new favourite cal­i­for­nian cult. By John Mul­vey

UNCUT - - New Albums -

What would an La band sound like whose ranks have in­cluded terry Reid, Mike Watt, Spooner Oldham and David hood, a clutch of mi­nor in­die-rock lu­mi­nar­ies led by avi Buf­falo, a drum­mer who’s fig­ured in Pharoah San­ders’ band, a mem­ber of Philip Glass’ ensemble, and a bassist, Max Ben­nett, whose CV in­cludes Joni Mitchell’s stel­lar run of mid-’70s al­bums?

Con­fus­ing, would be the most sen­si­ble an­swer. On pa­per, Psy­chic tem­ple sug­gest a record store nerd has gone crazy with a vin­tage a&R Rolodex. In prac­tice, their low-key run of LPs th­ese past few years have been re­mark­ably co­he­sive, even as their front­man and net­work­ing mae­stro, Chris Sch­larb, dips into as many gen­res as he has con­tacts. Jazz, coun­try-rock, folk-soul, im­prov and am­bi­ent all play key parts on Psy­chic Tem­ple IV, but what binds them to­gether is a cer­tain be­atific take on SoCal pop. It’s the sound of a fan­tasy La made flesh; one of those rare LPs where its maker can cite Brian Wilson’s “teenage sym­phonies to God” am­bi­tion and be more or less jus­ti­fied in his pre­sump­tion. the heav­i­est Beach Boys ref­er­ence comes at the end of Psy­chic Tem­ple IV, as the in­stru­men­tal “Is­abella Ocean Blue” takes a sim­i­lar mea­sured path into the sun­set as “Pet Sounds”, down to the sigh­ing horn charts and a per­sis­tent twitch of Latin per­cus­sion deep in the mix. For all the for­mal grandeur, though, there’s also a sense of free spir­its be­ing al­lowed the space to ma­noeu­vre, most no­tably when Sch­larb him­self lets rip a 12-string guitar solo, a splat­tery ac­tion paint­ing of notes that’s closer to Sonny Shar­rock than Jerry Cole, but which still doesn’t un­der­mine the pre­vail­ing calm.

It’s an in­di­ca­tion of how Sch­larb’s vi­sion for his band has evolved from rel­a­tively avant-garde be­gin­nings into the nu­anced, clas­si­cal song­forms that grace …IV and last year’s Psy­chic Tem­ple III, with­out los­ing that ex­per­i­men­tal im­per­a­tive. a Long Beach stu­dio owner and com­poser for video games, Sch­larb em­barked on the first Psy­chic tem­ple project want­ing “to hear an am­bi­ent record with two jazz drum­mers on it”. Grad­u­ally, the songs came into fo­cus, via cov­ers (the Beach Boys’ “’til I Die”, Joe Jack­son’s “Step­pin’ Out” on 2013’s Psy­chic Tem­ple II), ses­sions at FaME in Mus­cle Shoals, and those aus­pi­cious guest play­ers.

Psy­chic Tem­ple IV was born in the same 2016 ses­sions that pro­duced another ter­rific al­bum, Psy­chic Tem­ple Plays Mu­sic For Air­ports, in which Eno’s am­bi­ent med­i­ta­tion was reimag­ined by a large band of jazz im­pro­vis­ers, and came out sound­ing akin to In A Silent Way. that same air of con­cen­trated non­cha­lance pro­vides the back­drop for the 10 lovely songs on …IV; a cool space in which Sch­larb can dis­play his in­creas­ingly fi­nessed song­writ­ing.

again, it’s hard to pay full at­ten­tion to Sch­larb’s skill when one is con­stantly dis­tracted by the dis­creet vir­tu­os­ity he en­cour­ages from his guests. Most no­tably, terry Reid (who Sch­larb met when record­ing one of Su­per­lungs’ live shows) drops by to add wa­ver­ing har­monies to “Dream Dic­tionary”, “turn Off the Lights” and “If I Don’t Leave, they’ll take Me away”. Reid is a little more ragged than in his youth, but there are some tan­ta­lis­ing mo­ments, es­pe­cially in “Dream Dic­tionary”, when he jousts with and seems about to soar away from the gen­tler, unas­sum­ing tones of Sch­larb. Such small ten­sions add shade to the mel­low­ness.

Even Reid is up­staged on “turn Off the Lights”, as Dave Easley coaxes an un­canny sitar ef­fect out of his pedal steel, a rare ex­am­ple of Pt liv­ing up to the psy­che­delic ex­oti­cism of their name. In­evitably with mu­si­cians so his­tor­i­cally aware, com­par­isons keep pre­sent­ing them­selves – a min­i­mal­ist Steely Dan, per­haps, on “SOS” and its rav­ish­ing se­quence of mi­cro-so­los; the jazz-club sad­core of early sides by another un­der­val­ued La band, Spain. But the dex­ter­ity with which Sch­larb con­ducts his af­fairs, and the crafts­man­ship and spon­tane­ity un­der­pin­ning all th­ese be­witch­ingly hazy pro­gres­sions, make Psy­chic tem­ple a lot more than the sum of their con­sid­er­able parts. Bet­ter than the av­er­age cult band, for sure.

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