When Psychic Ills made the move to Sacred Bones, they notably left behind the wildly experimental improvisations that characterized their early albums. In lieu of 10-minute songs and deafening drones, on Hazed Dream, the New York City band transitioned into a more structured state with a stripped-down sound that derives its psychedelia from a dream state rather than through the chaos of improvised jams. The band has taken yet another step toward accessibility on its latest album, opting for a more rock ’n’ roll approach, fit with bluesy guitars, harmonicas and singer Tres Warren’s vocals emerging from the mystifying haze into a more pronounced, Jeff Tweedy-esque vocal showing. On One Track Mind, the trippy sounds and manipulations are still there but are found further in the atmosphere of the music, created through production from Royal Trux’s Neil Michael Hagerty.
As its title suggests, the album feels like a single mood being dissected through its 11 songs. Warren assumes the role of a down-and-out derelict, wandering the dusty roads in search of an answer. Titles like “One More Time,” “See You There” and “Tried To Find It” suggest the prevalent feeling of continually grasping for something else. It’s not anything tangible or in the present but a longing for another chance to make things right and a belief that anything subsequent has to be better. On “One More Time,” he sings, “I know it didn’t always work out right, but we could try it one more time,” expressing the type of hopeful nostalgia we place on anything we’re away from long enough to forget the bad parts and convince ourselves that things would be different this time.
Like the mood, the music carries along at a similar pace throughout. It’s a particularly sun-burnt, Western-tinged sound that has Tom Gluibizzi on acoustic guitar playing the lead for a good portion of the tracks and Elizabeth Hart steady but mesmeric on bass. With its harmonica solos, repeating patterns and piano chops, “See You There” plays like an old saloon shuffle that invites you to come down for the ride to their doomed destiny. The reverbed and distorted guitar overlays play the role of psychedelic ambassadors, elevating Rolling Stones-type rock songs like “Might Take Awhile” into trippier territories. Often though, it’s the sense of space created from instrumental drops that leave just Brian Tamborello’s drumbeats carrying along that creates the greatest sense of desertion consistently found on the album.
On “FBI,” the attitude translates to a spooky melodramatic noir that reflects on the fictional hardships of a life on the job. Regardless of its reach for better or simply different times, the ultimate proclamation of optimism on the record is mustered on “I Get By,” with Warren singing, “I’ll be fine when the morning comes along.” It is carried through on “City Sun,” which finds hope in the earthly pleasures of the sun shining on amid simple strums on the guitar and howls from the harmonica.
Ten years into their career, Psychic Ills have tamed themselves, refining into a form, but the result remains a hypnotic set of songs that consistently achieve an introspective and cerebral kind of psychedelia. On “Western Metaphor,” they bring back an instrumental jam that may nod to their foundations, but ultimately the guitar vibratos are held in check enough to maintain a structure that fits within the album. The ideas and philosophies behind One Track Mind may be wandering, but the Ills’ music is as focused as ever.