More grade-A new psych from San Francisco today, with this third album from a quintet bearing the cosmically unwieldy name of Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound.
Obviously, I’m a bit of a sucker for this stuff, not least when, as in this case, it falls so squarely into the slipstream of the Comets On Fire/Howlin Rain axis. While Crystal Antlers have recently capitalised on the multi-limbed freakout heritage of the Comets, Assemble Head here seem to be shooting more for the intricate, classic rock inclinations that came to the fore on “Avatar”.
That album’s producer, Tim Green, also does the honours on “When Sweet Sleep Returned”, making the most of the languid complexities found in these eight misty, keening, often prog-tinged songs. I must admit to having vague, if nebulously fond, memories of Assemble Head’s last album, but this one feels like a keeper; a mellow companion piece, too, to another recent record out of this scene, Sleepy Sun’s “Embrace”.
To keep the healthy incestuousness rolling, a couple of Sleepy Sun actually figure here on “Clive And The Lyre”, a reverberant echo of Comets’ slashing psych-punk style. Generally, though, Assemble Head shoot for something more plangent and wandering, all loping grooves and labyrinthine soloing – check out “Drunken Leaves” – over twinkling Mellotrons (or at least Mellotron effects), and with a lead singer whose soft voice is hazily mixed down, a far cry from the abrasive belting of Ethan Miller.
One other contemporary analogue, straying beyond the environs of Northern California for a moment, is Brooklyn’s underrated Oakley Hall: on “Kolob Canyon”, Assemble Head lock into a very similar kind of country-rock motorik. And one old reference point: maybe it’s because I’ve been playing “Shine On Brightly” a fair bit this past month or so, but there are distinct echoes of Procol Harum in the album’s more baroque, organ-heavy passages (especially in “Two Birds” and “The Slumbering Ones”, maybe), a sense of that brief period where psychedelia – particularly British psych, I guess – started tentatively morphing into prog. A new North Californian Procol to Howlin Rain’s Vanilla Fudge, maybe?
Perhaps not. “When Sweet Sleep Returned” is on the Tee Pee label, and writing about it this afternoon reminded me that I should mention their labelmates Quest For Fire. From Toronto, two of them used to play in The Deadly Snakes, and I think there’s also some overlap with the current lineup of Stephen McBean’s Pink Mountaintops.
Anyhow, their eponymous debut as Quest For Fire is closer to Tee Pee’s usual stoner rock fare, which is fair enough, but there’s a distinct cosmic ambition and artfulness here that aligns them reasonably enough with McBean’s other, bigger band, Black Mountain. Cool record, too.