Psykobilly – Black Candle – Album Review
I think there’s going to be a ton of you out there that love this record; consider yourselves warned.
“Light The Black Candle” and turn this album up will ya? The haunting & eerie atmosphere of this intro-style tune is interesting right off the drop when you hear the dramatic piano keys and thick bass opening. Soon enough, you’ll have the organ & the drums join in to strengthen the sound even more – and before you’re even thirty seconds in, the guitar comes ripping in to dominate your attention, and rightfully so – Psykobilly sounds absolutely wicked on “Light The Black Candle.” If this is your first impression like it was for me, you’ll find this minute-long track has all the right ingredients to keep you listening and more than curious about what’ll come next. Key choices like the synth-voice effect at the end raise the stakes to give it even a bit more of a finale within a short timespan…but even the differences made in the production stand out right away…like, LISTEN to the freakin’ fantastic tone in those guitars will ya? It brought me right back to…and I mean this in the best of ways…right back to those late nights staying up to watch Kids In The Hall here in Canada on the CBC at like one o’clock in the morning. Obviously the comedy was gold…but there was something about the music on that show that was such an incredible part of what made it all work & flow so perfectly; again, specifically in the guitars and the way they sounded. I don’t know how many people out there ended up watching The Kids In The Hall for the ten-second interludes as opposed to the comedy sketches…but honestly, I think I did. There’s an addictive quality to the right textures in sound…the way they resonate and bounce off of our minds & souls as we listen…what I could hear in just the one-minute of length on “Light The Black Candle” as the album began, already tipped me off that I was about to embark on something really rad.
You’ll find that there’s a couple of main gears that the songs on Black Candle will shift between along this adventure…something in the realm of high-art-meets-the-desire-to-rock – and there’s no doubt about the results of this combination coming out with gigantic wins as this set-list plays on. “Leave It All Behind” which was originally released as a single in 2019, makes a reappearance here on the full-length record…and that’s usually a solid approach that usually confirms an artist has road-tested a tune or two and has included some cuts on the album that are already known to be a hit with the people out there. “Leave It All Behind” likely falls more towards the ‘desire to rock’ part of the formula I mentioned when it comes to the overall sound…and the allure of this cut would be pretty easy to catch from a listener’s perspective, especially when you consider the big chorus hooks to be found. The verse has plenty of’em as well mind you…and ultimately, that’s what makes “Leave It All Behind” work and a great choice as a lead-single…there are lots of ways into this song for the everyday listener out there and you always want that strong gateway into a record when you can get it. Personally…I might be going against the grain here…I like what I hear, and I get what the appeal to others would be…but I’d be full-on lying by omission if I didn’t say the lineup of songs will go on to reveal much more depth as the album plays on. By comparison to many of the cuts on this record, I felt like “Leave It All Behind” was a good tune, but not necessarily a great one…I was never 100% sure about or sold on the bridge, though I loved how it led into the breakdown/bring-back, which worked perfectly right afterwards. It’s got great lyrics, and it’s definitely got a gripping & mysterious vibe I dig…but having heard the record, I’m also now fully aware of the straight-up award-worthy songs that Psykobilly is capable of creating with all this potential. But hell…when you consider the lay-out of a record, it’s also a really smart idea to not give everything away at once too…in which case, bonus points for “Leave It All Behind” being so upfront in the set; I’m not saying it’s a song you wanna speed past to get to the rest that follow, but if you’re like me, you certainly won’t object either as you continue to move through these tunes to get to the album’s core.
I’ll get into the vocals a bit more when it comes to discussing “We Are The Lost” later on in the set – for now, I’ll simply say you’ll find moments of pure melodic brilliance, and others that’ll make you question a moment or two from the microphone, like on “As I Drown.” I think there will be a lot of ears out there that’ll wonder about the verses and whether or not they got the maximum potential out of Psykobilly – but if you’re trying to tell me you wouldn’t trade that for the absolute magic being created in the chorus with guest-star Beth Newton, I’d tell you that you’re crazy for sure. “As I Drown” becomes one of those interesting conundrums in music…there’s an argument to be made that the strength of the verses need to rise to a level on par or close to what you’ll find in the chorus to create that balance we need as listeners…but a song often comes out how it comes out, pure & simple as that. So when you stumble into the incredible awesomeness of a chorus like this, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to tweak it too much, lest you damage the most special part of the song in the pursuit of making it even better, you following me? And so we don’t…and we accept it as artists…and we kind of roll the dice when it comes to public opinion, gambling that the portion of amazing sound preserved as organically as possible will outweigh the impact of anything else that’s not quite up to that same level of appeal. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of songwriting…sometimes you just can’t help but write a verse, or a chorus, or a bridge etc. etc. that stands out head & shoulders above the rest; it’s still a victory in its own way and something to be proud of. When I hear the universal appeal and the emotional pull of a moment like you’ll find in the chorus of “As I Drown,” I downright marvel at the fact that most bands or artists could go their whole careers and never come close to finding the kind of magic you’ll discover in how this song connects, and what an achievement it really is for Psykobilly to have written such a memorable moment so early on into this project’s career. Because no lie…listening to the vocal melody shared between Psykobilly and Newton is something I could do all day long and never get tired of hearing them…and hearing the guitar line bend so sweetly in the distance of the mix as they sing is every bit as essential. So…again, if I’m being truthful…Psykobilly has gambled a bit on the strength of the appeal of the main hooks on “As I Drown” to carry this song to the ears of the public…but I think it’s a gamble that pays off.
“I’ve got five thousand feelings…and none of them good” – I could quote from this next cut all day long – “Five Thousand Feelings (No. 1)” is a seriously rad jam and one of the cuts on this record early on in the lineup that comes together brilliantly from beginning to end. I mean…c’mon now…if you can’t FEEL this jam, you’re made of stone – “Five Thousand Feelings (No. 1)” is the kind of Psych-Blues-Rock inspired cut that immediately takes its hold on you & never let’s go. SO MUCH personality, charisma, and charm at work in this one cut it’ll make your head spin trying to take it all in at once…which is exactly what makes the repeat-value of a song like this end up right off the charts entirely. You want to go back to catch the sonic awesomeness of the tone in the guitars…the brilliant contributions from the keyboards…the vibrant & lively vocals…I mean…ALL of the ass is kicked & then-some when it comes to how “Five Thousand Feelings (No. 1)” came out – this is the kind of cut that’ll catch everyone’s attention for one reason or another…or another…and another… You get it I’m sure – this is a feeding frenzy for the ears and it’s executed with confidence, precision, and radiant passion from the lefts to the rights. When you hear the roll through the chorus, you can hear that “Five Thousand Feelings (No. 1)” is almost like the more laidback, wildly groovy & cool cousin to a track like “Hard To Handle” by The Black Crowes.
Of all the songs on this record, I felt like “Fireworks” was the track that ended up taking the most time for me to form a bond with, but over the course of repeated trips through this lineup, I found that each time its brighter sound & sunnier disposition was more & more welcome. What I really like about this cut is that…if you’re listening really intently here, you can hear the roots of respect for a lot of music’s history within this one cut, from the fundamentals that established the UK’s rock-scene, to a lot of what would likely be considered 80’s-era influences running under the surface as well…it covers quite a bit of the map while still presenting something that’ll work for the people out there today. The contrast you’ll find here works really well too…like I pointed out already, “Fireworks” has a brighter demeanor than many of these tracks on Black Candle will latch onto, but lyrically, that depth you’re looking for still thrives and exists to balance the songwriting with a variety of levels of emotion. There’s always an inherent value in that. The call & answer approach to the chorus yields positive results as well here – I think the pre-chorus is super-strong to begin with, but I also think the payoff right after is definitely there. Psykobilly’s actually put together an oddly danceable tune with “Fireworks” that could very well appeal to one of the widest audiences in terms of the range of the age of listeners this cut could draw in.
Here’s where I’m at…I can hear a track like “We Are The Lost” is going to be an interesting topic to discuss amongst the people out there, and perhaps a more polarizing tune than you’d first expect it to be. For myself personally, this cut became pretty damn addictive really damn quickly – and in my opinion, you’ll hear a ton of highlight vocals from Psykobilly along the way that are among the best you’ll find on the rest. That being said, I’d understand it if the everyday listener out there felt like the performance on the mic overall was a bit more uneven than it might appear at first…sometimes the tone drips nothing but pure sonic honey in the melody, sometimes it’s just a fraction wide of the mark. How we interpret that sound is going to be a much more individual thing…again, for me, the approach here gave “We Are The Lost” an inherent humble charm that I felt really connected in a sincere & honest way that most songs don’t. Maybe it is perfect…maybe it isn’t…but I doubt any set of ears listening would argue that its nowhere close – if this song doesn’t immediately seep right into your soul, chances are with a couple more spins you’ll find that it does…believe me, this is a hard melody to try to resist. There was something sincerely special about this cut that really felt like an audible line in the sand had been drawn somehow…like as if Psykobilly had flexed a lot of great approaches to songwriting so far on Black Candle, but was audibly shifting gears beyond expectation into something seriously fantastic now. When it comes to the vocals, Psykobilly gets it right every bit as much as other singers I love like you’d find in bands like The Editors or The National…those kind of projects, where the tone can wander away from what’s ideal every so often, but when it snaps into place, it’s a transcendent experience altogether. In terms of “We Are The Lost,” you’ll hear some of the most undeniably bold & brilliant melody, sung with pure confidence and stunning tone that’s unmatched by arguably any other tune; and in terms of songwriting, I think you’ll find this song is equally impressive on every level. This is Psykobilly nailing it. I don’t personally need every moment to be 100% on the mark to what my brain thinks it should be – that’s the beauty of music, art, and individual choices – and I like to be surprised more than anything else. “We Are The Lost” raised the stakes for what I could hear in Psykobilly’s potential in every way; it was that unexpected surprise…and the bouncy, subtle-electro/piano combo was so freakin’ addictive! It’ll be open to interpretation for sure…for some maybe a bit uneven, for others, it’ll be perfection for the gripping dose of raw, humble, honest, and pure emotion that drips from every piece of this tune.
Loving the piano-led sound of the beginning of “Colourblind” and the wicked way it expands around the 1:10 mark; and I easily feel just as strong about the harmonies/backup vocals that come in to strengthen the melody about ten-seconds or so later on. All-in-all, this is a high-quality cut that brilliantly explores a sound somewhere in the realm of David Bowie meets The Beatles…perhaps a sprinkle of Pink Floyd in there too for the additional drama & atmospheric style you’ll find at the core of this cut. If I’m being 100% truthful…I was never fully sold on the song’s biggest note…each time that moment came up, I felt like it was just missing that mark Psykobilly is searching for by just an inch in the brightness of the tone – BUT…again, it’s damn close – and in my opinion, with everything around that moment from beginning to end of “Colourblind” being so interesting, bold, & powerful…I think the balance needed is still achieved. With the assistance of James Walsh, Peter Kirby, and Smiley Barnard – the same successful combination of talent that led “Five Thousand Feelings (No. 1)” to success, reach and expand more ambitiously on this hybrid tune. As far as the harmonies come out on “Colourblind,” that’s another serious highlight on this whole record and a very memorable moment; chorus-wise, I think Psykobilly should be fully stoked on the results achieved here. “Colourblind” is a smartly atmospheric cut that pushes to the fringe of multiple styles & sounds in search of a composition that’s as creative as it is compelling to listen to. Highly enticing guitars, clever use of keyboard melodies, the harmonies are brilliant, and the lead-vocals are excellent for the vast majority of this inventive & innovative tune…overall, the songwriting remains most impressive and definitely shines a bright light on the fact that Psykobilly can create uniqueness.
“My Way Back Home” actually has a lot in common with early R.E.M. tunes…anyone out there that knows me, knows that’s more than OK with me. It’s not directly derivative by any stretch…it’s a lot more based in Pop despite its acoustic nature…ultimately, there’s a quaint comfort to this tune that’s bound to appeal to a lot of people listening out there. Even as Psykobilly’s singing about having “never been down so low,” or having “never felt so alone” – you’ll find there’s an odd pleasantness and warm glow to this song that’s unexpectedly friendly for such a theme…but you’ll find it all adds up solidly here. Psykobilly’s examining nostalgia, self-reflection…or perhaps lack of both if you’re listening closely; it’s a cut that questions what’s real & what’s not. If you’ve ever had that feeling of wondering whether or not you really have control over your own life, or if you’re somehow living in your own version of The Truman Show…you’ll probably find yourself relating a bit more to this cut than some of the others for sure. Same thing applies to those of you out there that know the feeling of being out of place, just trying to find that place where you fit in, or “trying to get back home” as Psykobilly points out. Bottom line is that added ability to reach out & relate through the music you create gives it another advantage; while a track like “My Way Back Home” appears on the surface to be largely internal, you’ll likely find that what Psykobilly sings about on this track applies to many of you out there. It certainly did me.
If you don’t get chills from the very moment that the piano chords start to ring out on “God Knows I Know” – you’re broken…go get yourself fixed or checked out by a doctor, asap. The song is originally found on an EP that Psykobilly dropped online last year called Social Media Influenza from 2019 – and I think Psykobilly’s chosen extremely wisely by adding this cut to the official full-length record in the lineup of Black Candle. I mean, straight-up, it’s a genius cut…I almost don’t even know what else to say. I wrestled back & forth between WHAT makes it as amazing as it is…but it really didn’t matter what part I picked at or examined…everything about this moment in time is remarkably gorgeous & echoes that true magic you’re looking for in the low-key charm of Indie music. The only thing that was tough about this track for me was trying to decide if I really did like it just a bit more than “We Are The Lost” earlier on…ultimately, it’s a really tough call to make, they’re both significant highlights you’ll find on Black Candle. I went back & forth between them…and if I had to make a call, I’d probably say that “God Knows I Know” came out more spectacularly complete & whole, even if I might think the hooks on “We Are The Lost” or the chorus of “As I Drown” might end up connecting stronger to the hearts, minds, and ears out there listening. I just don’t think there’s much of an argument to be made when it comes to the final results…you can hear that Psykobilly hit the mark at every opportunity on “God Knows I Know” and put all the right emotion & passion where it needed to go, note for note. It’s a beautifully sad song, or a sadly beautiful one…just depends on if your glass is half-full or half-empty I suppose…I think what we can all agree on collectively however, is that “God Knows I Know” is one of the record’s most powerful cuts and outstanding moments. Lyrically, musically, vocally…it’s got it all goin’ on without question.
Quite honestly, this is a project capable of extraordinary things. Black Candle is capturing a ton of that for sure – but trust me when I say, a sound like this is gonna continue to age like a freakin’ fine wine over these next years to come. Composition, songwriting, and production-wise…good lord…LISTEN to the final cut on this record and then try to convince yourself that there isn’t something seriously special at work here…”Remains” shows all the hallmarks of a timeless artist in the making here. And again, if I’m being as truthful as I always am with you, dear readers, dear friends – then it should be pointed out that this feeling of uncovering something incredible in the music of Psykobilly is stamped all over this record. “Remains” is more of a confirmation that, beyond the bold emotion in the music & vocals, beyond the conceptualization of a powerful idea & the stunning execution of it all – you’ll find that Black Candle goes even further in the way it flows; as in, it’s a lineup of songs that make sense together from start to finish. “Remains” is that…conclusiveness you want in a record…the sign of maturity in an artist or band that we seek out…one that understands the essence of what makes an experience worth taking. The chorus of this last cut is pure magic…it has like…all the blissful harmonies & sound of like…those incredible moments where Soul Asylum actually got things right for a second or two…that kind of comforting down-home vibe that’s just a little odd but a whole lot beautiful. And I like that, while it’s a totally different sound than you’ll find in the verse, the captivating flow in the sound & progression through this highly poetic tune made every bit of sense to my ears. I could argue a lot of things when I listen to a record with as many great moments as this one has…I can go back & forth and debate what I think stands out and for what reason…but it’s tracks like “Remains” that speak on their own behalf much more strongly than I ever could. This last song is like a virtual clinic on composition and great songwriting…and the attention to detail you’ll find in every moment that comes along with it from the music to the microphone proves that Psykobilly has everything it takes to make an impact on the people listening out there. Throughout the length of Black Candle in fact, Psykobilly has given you every reason to believe that you can fully expect spectacular things in the future to come…there’s something uniquely special here that perhaps none of us listening could put our finger on to describe, but we can all feel it.
Find music by Psykobilly at Bandcamp right here: https://psykobilly.bandcamp.com
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