Recently I’ve been immersing myself in the Radio 4 podcasts ‘Soul Music’. Each episode focuses on a particular song or piece of music which has meant something to someone. All kinds of people are interviewed and it’s a bit of a tearjerker sometimes if I’m honest. On one particular episode the classical pianist James Rhodes talks about what music means to him and is quite frank about his past problems with drugs. He discusses how he now regards music as a safer option when it comes to satisfying the yearning to alter one’s mind and there is also another episode where an interviewee refers to music as a “holiday from life”. I can really relate to these points of view. As I’m at a time in my life where the freedom and absence of any real responsibilities I had when I was young is something I am not able to enjoy, music provides a really valuable and healthy means of escape.
My interest in psychedelic music has also been very much reignited in recent years, perhaps this being linked to the aforementioned reasoning – it gives me a means of going somewhere else in my mind for the duration of an album. I am then able to come back to reality and get on with whatever I have to do, without needing a day to sleep the experience off. I loved and continue to love psychedelic albums by artists such as Pink Floyd, Hendrix, and, of course, The Beatles, whilst in more recent times bands such as Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra have made really valuable additions to the genre. So where does the band Steady Sun fit into all of this with their new album ‘Indifferent World’? I’d wholeheartedly advise you listen to it yourself to find out. If you’d like to continue reading this whilst doing so then, please, be my guest.
The first thing you’ll notice about this record is obviously the punchy intro. Many a band would perhaps dine out on this riff and keep repeating it but the title track immediately goes somewhere completely different, a drum fill ushering in a lush arrangement with a certain, initial, orchestral quality. This already neatly encapsulates the type of listening experience this record offers as a whole. ‘Indifferent World’ will change direction and whisk you off somewhere else at the drop of a hat, but not in an abrupt or jarring way, rather, somehow, in a way that feels completely natural. For me this is precisely what I want from a psychedelic record so this is an extremely promising start.
The second song, ‘Life At One Twenty Two’, is similarly expansive and also an early sign this is the type of songwriting and arranging that will allow for instrumental sections to swell and woozily take the tracks in trippy directions. Fine by me. Next up is ‘Television Eyes’. This is the song I heard before the album was released which made me determined to check out this release the moment it came out. There’s a pleasing amount of wow and flutter on this track which conjures up that feeling you’re listening to a slightly warped tape, something which in fact permeates much of the album. Also notable is the fact although the tone of this record makes it feel like it could have come from an earlier era, little quirks such as the guitar occasionally stuttering through the looping of tiny sections, reminds you the author of this record is more than happy to exploit modern digital recording to paint the desired picture rather than simply being fetishistic regarding the techniques of the past.
What hits me next with ‘Red Alarm’ is that a very promising record is in the process of unfolding before my very lucky ears. The previous song was obviously deemed of a particular quality that warranted its choice as being released before the album was released but this song is easily its equal, if not better. This points to Steady Sun having the type of problem most groups would kill for. So much good material it’s hard to know just which songs to push. This, happily, makes for one hell of an LP experience and this is brilliant to be able to write in an age where so much emphasis is placed on singles and playlists. If Steady Sun are a group who still place a lot of value in the album experience I hope they can gain some encouragement from the fact there are people such as myself who would much rather listen to a whole album, providing it’s good of course, than skip from track to track or from band to band.
‘Far’ provides a nice change of pace with a more delicate acoustic-based touch with some lovely work on the toms and additional sonic wizardry which is beautifully placed in the mix rather than being laid on too thick. Sometimes of course psychedelic music can run the risk of simply being pastiche. Perhaps the biggest risk Steady Sun take is with the intro to ‘Day Alone’ which has a very George Harrison Indian feel about it. Screw it though. If it works, it works. And this most certainly does. ‘Radish’ continues with the same kind of vibe and is no less enjoyable for it. What’s fascinating about ‘Benthos’, and we learned this from our interview here, is that it was recorded onto cassette after first residing purely in the digital realm (if I have understood correctly). How’s that for turning the medium on its head?
With ‘Imaginary Resource’ we’re back to acoustic strumming complete with outside ambience to create a penultimate sense of peace before this opens up into a big explosion of noise. Final track ‘Under The East River’ provides a fittingly drowsy end to close out this astonishing record, with a rich sounding synth carrying the weight of the audio traffic. If you’re not into psychedelic music then perhaps steer clear of this album. If you are I see no reason why you won’t be extremely happy listening to it. And I’d go so far as to assert this band deserve many more plaudits than they currently have, given there are far less talented acts trying their hand at this type of genre and enjoying more hype. On the surface many of these types of bands can sound a little contrived. What you get with the driving force behind Steady Sun, Dylan Nowik, once you scratch the surface, is an artist and recording enthusiast who is wholly sincere in what he does and relishes the musical journey. I’m grateful to be able to experience that journey too whenever I have half an hour to myself and feel inclined to press play.
Photos of Steady Sun by Elizabeth Ibarra.