The Psychic Paramount


The Psychic Parmount – II
[No Quarter; 2011]

It's been almost six years since the Psychic Paramount's last album, Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural. Normally a hiatus that long indicates a need to reform, retool, or in some way restart. But apparently this New York trio just gestated, growing their music into something wider, thicker, and harder to define. In huge jams that soar, crash, and smolder-- often at the same time-- the band pumps extra blood and muscle into their sound, as if stretching a balloon into a blimp.

If you're familiar with Gamelan, you might wonder how the Psychic Paramount could make their sound any bigger; their crunchy noise and rumbling rhythms already filled speakers. On the surface, II is actually pretty close to Gamelan, at least in volume. But the way it plays out is more widescreen, more 3-D. The songs encompass more moods and tempos, more shifts and builds, more ideas and moves. And the rippling guitars, cloudy bass, and exploding drums create sonic lava that coats the stereo space.

Given that scope, it makes sense that the Psychic Paramount have been called post-rock. (The same tag was laid on the band that guitarist Drew St. Ivany and bassist Ben Armstrong previously inhabited, Laddio Bolocko.) After all, they're instrumental and they like to build to crescendos. But where most post-rock bands rely on quiet/loud shifts to create dynamics, these three manage to ebb and flow while sticking to a maxed-energy attack. So while they may ascend at one point and descend at another, they never sound like they're retreating.

Which puts II closer to the relentless psych-noise of Japanese bands like Fushitsusha and Marble Sheep than the cine-drama of Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Mogwai. It also has the bluesy immolation of Comets on Fire and the hammering weight of Lightning Bolt, but the impressive thing about II compared to all of these groups-- even compared to Gamelan-- is how controlled and confident it sounds. It's as if they decided to make fire by patiently rubbing sticks rather than violently striking a match. And just as Glenn Branca forged an Ascension by pounding at one chord, the Psychic Paramount find fuel by drilling to the bottom of single riffs.

They can get complex, too-- songs like the chopping "RW" and jazzy closer "N5 Coda" share a math rock vibe with Don Caballero and Oxes. But they're rarely just connecting dots. They're more interested in following intuition than patterns, and II is way more physical than mental. Its density, pace, and exuberance are, for anyone that likes to get lost in sound, basically a sonic amusement park. Still, even if you can close your eyes on this roller coaster, you can't turn off your brain. In fact, the way the Psychic Paramount infiltrate your ears, they're more likely to switch that particular organ into overdrive.

— Marc Masters, March 16, 2011

The New York Times
“Smash the Windows, Bang the Cowbell”
By BEN RATLIFF Published: February 18, 2011

The Psychic Paramount
Are you ready for “The Psychic Paramount II”? Have you checked your hydration, nerves, attention span? Been jumping rope, taking your Omega 3? This is instrumental power-trio prog-rock for those who never had time for Rush and find the Mars Volta a bridge to nowhere; it’s greasy and physical and incredibly loud. This New York band’s new album, on No Quarter, feels like constant minimalist crescendo and tension building. It’s the kind of thing Glenn Branca used to do so well in the 1980s, but with elements he denied himself: psychedelic side roads, flexible rhythm, and only one guitar, played by Drew St. Ivany, as opposed to many. The drummer, Jeff Conaway, is a beast, or has at least been recorded that way, his cymbal sounds like smashing windows; the effect is more Zach Hill than Neil Peart. See them at Death by Audio in Brooklyn on March 5.

"Best Album of the Month"
No Quarter

If the world of extreme/experimental music weren’t so far up its own ass with the personae and triangles and other extraneous bullshit, Drew St. Ivany would be on the covers of the Wire and Decibel like nine months out of the year. His 90s band Laddio Bolocko was some of the most out-there shit to come from New York since the no-wave days, and in terms of pure fuckedness, the Psychic Paramount is every bit its father’s son. Only instead of Laddio’s schizoid pan-directional jazzalanche, the band now hones it into one crystal-sharp stroboscopic guitar blast that feels like someone pointing a laser (an actual science one) directly into your brain. This album is pretty much musical Adderall, and I have gotten so many emails taken care of since putting it on this morning you wouldn’t even believe.

03/2011 Issue


Zoned In: The Psychic Paramount: II
By Arturo Darvishire
April 5, 2011

For a certain class of people interested in Cosmic Transcendence via The Psychedelic Rock Music, the mere mention of Laddio Bolocko is enough to set hearts aflutter, precipitate spontaneous high-fiving, and, on occasion, be the beginnings of actual friendship (for the disbelievers: I've lived it). This, despite a short career, limited-run, low-budget releases, and a somewhat catastrophic early break-up. And all because that band's debut LP, Strange Warmings Of Laddio Bolocko-- issued in a cheap paper sleeve, with the liner note, "Recorded while living in utter poverty under the Brooklyn Bridge"-- is sort of a before/after moment in the history of music that attempts to fuse "out" and/or "free" music to the bona fide "rockness."

Laddio Bolocko followed up Strange Warmings with another LP and EP, which No Quarter included in a pretty essential 2-disc retrospective, The Life and Times Of Laddio Bolocko, in 2003. Laddio's members had graduated from living in "poverty" in DUMBO, Brooklyn to a more pastoral existence in the Catskills Mountains of Upstate New York; as we all know, it can be hard to be Angry Young Men when gazing out your studio window onto a scene of forests and mountains. In Real Time, their second and final full-length, was like a sigh of tranquility after the tightly wound, nails-on-chalkboard screech of Strange Warmings Of, and it was good.

Such was the state of things on one cold night in 2001, when I arrived at a music venue in the West Village to catch what was to be my first Laddio show, only to find the following hand-scrawled words on the door: "Laddio Bolocko won't be playing because they broke up." And well, that was it.

It became clear later that the band had essentially split in two, with Blake Fleming and Marcus Degrazia forming the significantly more pop-friendly Electric Turn To Me, and Drew St Ivany and Ben Armstrong returning to the outer reaches of atonal rock wizardry with their new project, The Psychic Paramount.

And what wizardry it is! No one else, alive or dead, can play the kind of screaming psychedelia that flows from Mr. St Ivany's guitar-- always on the verge of spiraling out of control, but actually a mere product of the man's mastery of the instrument. We hear this effect in its most distilled form on The Psychic Paramount's second record, Origins & Primitives Vol. I + II-- actually a collection of solo guitar sketches recorded by St Ivany prior to the band's formation-- but it’s no less present on any of the band's recordings. Bassist Ben Armstrong and drummer Jeff Conaway deliver a combination of pummeling repetition and beat tweakery; the result falls squarely within the rather rigid boundaries of "music that rocks the fuck out," while still sounding totally unique. Perhaps most impressive, the band always seems to be reaching for the next highest plane of dissonant, cosmic inspiration; they may make close to a dozen transitions per song, but they Never Drop The Ball. And it is this combination of elements, wrapped up in a slightly less chaotic/noise-centered approach to songwriting, that is pushed to the forefront on their new record, II.

History is littered with the corpses of bands who've attempted a sort of progged-out, Tower of Babel approach to songwriting; speaking as someone who is usually skeptical of this overly thoughtful musical genre, I never cease to be amazed at how effortless The Psychic Paramount make the climb up psych-rock mountain feel. In an earlier draft of this review, I considered describing their music as "freedom rock," but was loathe to even sarcastically associate them with the antediluvian titans of "jam on, bro" rock that have stalked the earth since people discovered it was fun to get high and play music. Still, when I had a chance to ask Drew and Ben to sum up what The Psychic Paramount was all about, "freedom" was one of the first words out of their mouths. And listening to even the opening notes of II, I think anyone would agree that it's undeniably the right word.

II is out now on No Quarter - disqus_thread