From hazy mirages to towering surrealistic succulents to billowing heatwaves, the desert screams psychedelia — and Phoenix, The Valley of the Spun, is no exception. For as long as there have been musicians in this area, many have turned to altered states for inspiration in their music. Here’s a list of some of our favorites who do their best to alter our consciousness.
Slow Moses (F.K.A. Wooden Indian)
Slow Moses is like puffing on heavy indica under a pollution-tinged sunset, complete with evening birds chirping and purplish clouds. It’s a slow, sleepy wake you find yourself adrift in, where colors seem brighter and certain tones are more electric than usual. From earlier dirges like “Gas Station Glow” to more recent “Fever Dream,” listening to this band is a lazy river ride on a belly full of special brownies. Their newest album,Charity Binge,
is their third full-length offering, and the first under the changed moniker (which was altered to distinguish from another band called Wooden Indian Burial Ground). The album title reflects times the band had to deal with the “sun-stroked, meth-addled” dudes who used to hang around the Droom, Slow Moses’ downtown rehearsal space. At firs,t it was cool letting street folks listen to them practice, but then too much stolen gear and too many guys trying to smoke rocks in the bathroom made the charity binge stop.
If Slow Moses are indica, HotRock is all sativa, baby. He’s the spiraling, THC-infused giggles you get from putting a little too much Durban Poison in your gravity bong. You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger ganja lover than SupaJoint. The dude was even born on 4/20 (allegedly), and he rarely raps about anything other than God’s green herb. Whether it’s “Weed Weed Mothafucka,” “#Weed,” or “Just Another Weed Song (JAWS)” SupaJoint’s vibes will leave your jaws aching the next day from too much grinning. His self-directed B-movie, Fakest, is the local equivalent of Cheech and Chong, a movie that if you’re not watching high as fuck, you’re not watching right.
The Meat Puppets
Back when they were haunting local venues in the '80s, The Meat Puppets were some of the few locals who learned how to channel mescaline so well. Helping to pioneer “cowpunk,” a genre combining high-tempo garage rock with Americana roots, The Meat Puppets crafted surreal tunes perfect for lonesome desert highways. Even their name is one of those quasi-enlightened things you’d realize while stoned out of your mind: Holy shit, everyone is made of meat! Their sophomore album, aptly named Meat Puppets II, featured far-out classics like “Plateau” and “Oh, Me,” which were complemented by trippy instrumentals. These tracks came from folks who had heard the desert’s warbling, hallucinogenic throat loud and clear, even if some of their later work, such as Huevos, would explore genres less expansive. Bassist Cris Kirkwood took the title of their 1994 album, Too High To Die, pretty literally, developing a dependence on heroin and cocaine after hanging out with Stone Temple Pilots too much. Anyway, he’s got his drug use under control now and The Meat Puppets are still going strong 26 years young.
Listening to D-Unit feels almost exactly like they (probably) write their songs: heavily amped up on amphetamine, grinding teeth like a diamond drill to yak cheese. Their droning noise punk first took its strongest dosage with 2013’s Deep Trip, an immersive record that plays like a sleepless four-day bender. Now the Arizonans, who used to play with the late Jay Reatard, spend their time cruising Europe. Plus, they played Austin Psych Fest in 2014. It’s no wonder Destruction Unit feel right at home on Sacred Bones Records, alongside acts like Moon Duo and David Lynch. Adult Swim took notice and paid the recording bill for the band’s 2015 album, Negative Feedback Resistor, which was somehow even more dizzyingly mind-bending in its execution.
If you’ve ever been visited by the Ambien Walrus, you’re familiar with the absurdist throbbing pulse that will lull you into sweet, psychedelic sleep. Throw in some mid-'80s nostalgia and some distorted VHS visuals, and you have yourself Glob, an ambient project that includes video installations, 'zines (aptly named Globject) and of course, sweet, distorting aural head trips. When Glob opened for Treasure Mammal and Prince Rama a month ago, they played their set straight through without any breaks, with multiple vintage TVs hooked up to some kind of melted ice cream dysmorphia. One moment you felt like you were floating above a wall of clouds; the next minute, you splashed into a slowed-down advertisement for stain remover. But you always felt “Globby.”
Listening to Sleep Money is not unlike slipping into a K-hole, the echo of ego chipped away and tucked into geometric oblivion. A mixture of goth, post-punk, and witch house (though the band might disagree with that last one), Sleep Money are one of those penetrating bad trips that end up working out anyway. “I Need You” is a proto-industrial track filled with haunting riffs, while “Snide” suggests we “sterilize the nation” over crashing drums. Lead singer Adam Lovelady steers his vocals somewhere between Bauhaus and Ian Curtis, but the droning and dark vibes make them an ideal fit for Ascetic House, an art collective run by J. S. Aurelius of Destruction Unit. After recently opening for Protomartyr in Tucson, releasing two EPs in the last year and with a full-length album on the way, Sleep Money are keeping pretty busy.
Compared to everyone else on this list, the members of Draa are pretty young — two-thirds of the psych pop quartet (formerly a trio) are fresh out of high school. But don’t let their age fool you. They’re an incredibly tight group who, for a long time, didn’t have any online streaming music, yet grew a sizeable reputation just from their live shows and word of mouth. “Afterglow” is the kind of reverb-heavy free fall that you can get from inhaling DMT but has some positive, coming down off 2-CB vibes on tracks like “Losing My Charm,” which was recently featured on Noisey. It’s a trippy, tingly sound that immediately evokes shoegaze, but Draa has distanced themselves from the label. That’s OK — they’re equal parts dream pop and melodic post-punk.
Bacchus and the Demonsluts
No other band on this list lives up to their name quite so well. After all, Bacchus named itself after the Roman god of wine, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theater (gotta have theater in there). The ensemble, self-described as “filthy doomfunk,” has gone through a few lineup changes, but the members go by names such as Poet of Rhythm (bass), Andreasaurus (drums), Dallas Milkshake (sax), Toto (trumpet), and Herb (keys). It’s like if the cool kids in high-school marching band, the ones that sat in the back and smoked weed through their tubas, got together outside of class and created one classy-as-fuck, give-no-shits jazz band inspired as much by John Coltrane as Odd Future.
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Whether they’re mocking cops or contemplating suicide (sort of the same thing, really), Pro Teens produce some incredible slow-tempo moods that jive great with LSD, which I may or may not know about from personal experience. Either way, I had their self-titled album constantly on repeat when it came out last year. From start to finish, it’s a smooth combination of cascading synths and jangly garage rock. Lead singer Andy Phipps has an old-school R&B swagger, crooning about getting too drunk and losing “Control.” When bassist Isaac “Ike” Parker packed it up and moved to the Big Apple, Eamon Ford of the band Lai (who also recorded Pro Teens' first album) joined the fold. With hints of a new album around the corner, Pro Teens are not slowing down — their trip is just getting deeper.
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