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Music Review: Psychic Heat's 'Sunshower'

Courtesy High Dive Records
Psychic Heat

Psychic Heat
Sunshower (High Dive)

The first impression Psychic Heat makes is volume, no matter how high you have the dial turned up. That’s volume in the auditory and spatial senses of the word: loudness, fullness and energy. Psychic Heat is a garage band, a rock ‘n’ roll machine, an uncaged beast.

As its debut album, Sunshower, opens with “Anxiety Eater,” the band’s not running but stomping, pummeling its way through a confession that’s wearing a razor-sharp exterior, prickly with raging electric guitars and pounding drums.

The Lawrence, Kansas, foursome of J. Evan Herd (guitars, lead vocals), Tanner Spreer (guitars, keys, percussion), Sam Boatright (bass, keys) and Ricky Barkosky (drums) first made an impression with the 2013 digital EPr Lighter & Brighter, reissued last year on cassette. The band’s fuzzy psych-blues, with an undercurrent of wild pop, reveals itself on Sunshower to be even more expansive, loud and overpowering.

Some songs recall the straight-up garage rock of decades past; others dream and drift within the structure. Sometimes the band seems to be driving fast down a remote highway, and other times it seems prepared to evaporate, leaving only a puddle of nails.

The title of the fast-paced rave-up “Des Tortion” playfully acknowledges these musicians’ aptitude for an amplified sense of chaos. “Whale Falling” moves at a similar clip, its chorus of "whale falling/I'm calling" and supporting narrative of a seafarer's journey imposing a nautical-mythological angle that feels rock-historical.

Easier to comprehend are the classically psychedelic lyrics of “How Many Licks”: “How many licks does it take to get to the center of the universe,” Herd sings, stretching out “uuuniverse” so at first it seems like he’s singing “you.” From there, it’s no surprise when “trips” replaces “licks” and Herd delivers a retro-but-not superficial psychedelic worldview, singing with stars in his eyes while his band is on fire.

For all of the record’s volume and breakneck pace, silence is a constant presence. It’s in the pauses and transitions these musicians work into songs, constructing and recording this music to balance noise with an awareness of its absence in a way that gives a sense of the room – it’s as if we’re hearing quiet corners, the space taken up by air, even as the band is raging.

The title song is a brief instrumental interlude, “Sunshowers,” that serves mainly as a bridge between “How Many Licks” and the showstopping finale, “Moment Moves On.” The interlude incorporates the sounds of a beach scene – birds, waves – with sad, pretty and anxious music. It embodies the spirit of Sunshower through antithesis, sounding unlike anything else on the album but drawing the other songs’ emotions out into the light.

Kansas City-based Dave Heaton writes about music for PopMatters. He can be reached at erasingclouds@gmail.com.

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