Following a promising, even idealistic start to the new decade, it didn’t take long for 2020 to take a turn for the absolute worst with the global spread of COVID-19 barely two months into the year. By March, it became frighteningly clear that a global shutdown of the concert industry was inevitable. The initial postponements of festivals and tours in North America by the end of the month would mark the first of many defeats for a once-lucrative industry, which is still on hiatus while tens-of-thousands remain out of work.
As typical for times like these, many turned to psychedelic remedies in desperation for an internal escape while the outside world offered little to counter the bleak and depressing headlines revolving around police shootings, mounting COVID-19 deaths by the hundreds-of-thousands, and a dangerously polarizing American election season. The desire to “Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out,” as the late Dr. Timothy Leary once phrased it, seemed to be embraced by anyone determined enough to mentally journey their way out of what has been a dismal and depressing year.
Psychedelia in all of its colorful and mystic forms continues to firmly re-establish itself within both youth and adult cultures, thanks in large part to the growing legalization and decriminalization of cannabis across the country. In the case of Oregon, for example, citizens are now (mostly) free of criminal repercussions for the possession and personal use of all drugs. What a time to be alive.
2020 was a phenomenal year for psychedelic music. The carefree lifestyle fueled by cannabis once embraced primarily by jazz musicians and unkempt hippies has since oozed its way into a wider range of genres from hip-hop to country music. An American culture that for decades turned to alcohol as the stress-relieving vice of choice has now appeared to almost fully embrace cannabis and other psychedelic substances (i.e. medicines) which can now be found almost everywhere in pop culture entertainment from Netflix documentary specials to hit television shows.
Without any further delay… delay… delay… delay… here are Live For Live Music’s selections for the premier psychedelia-inspired album releases of 2020 (in no particular order). Feel free to turn on, tune in, and drop out to whichever album seems to fit your desire for escapism at any point.
Black Lips – Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart (Fire Records)
Released way back in January, the latest full-length release from the punk-rock misfits known as the Black Lips provided a wild west escape to cosmic cowboy country. Just the album’s title itself, Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart, seemed to be the perfect choice for global events that would soon come to pass in the weeks following its arrival. From the first few meters of the uber-catchy opening track “Hooker Jon” to the faster-paced, more punk-like “Odelia”, the band doesn’t waste a single minute of tape time on this album as they deliver a one-of-a-kind, exciting listening experience.
Black Lips – Sing In A World That’s Falling Apart
Rose City Band – Summerlong (Thrill Jockey Records)
Portland’s Rose City Band arrived onto the scene with their debut studio album in 2019, and returned with a successful sophomore follow-up with 2020’s Summerlong. The laid-back jam outfit led by Ripley Johnson—who many fans will recognize as a member of the noise-rock/psychedelia band Wooden Shjips and one half of Moon Duo—guides viewers on a dreamy ride through lush melodies and catchy chord changes, notably on tracks “Only Lonely”, “Morning Light”, “Reno Shuffle”, and the two-part “Wee Hours ” > “Wildflowers”.
Rose City Band – Summerlong
Butcher Brown – #KingButch (Concord Jazz)
The five-piece Butcher Brown from Richmond, VA fit right into the space-jazz/funk scene established by contemporaries like Lettuce or Soulive, as evident on the 13-track #KingButch released back in September. Soulful rhythms, shiny horn leads, smooth guitar lines, and even some hip-hop inspired vocal performances all fuse together from start to finish on the album, which wonderfully showcases the band’s collective abilities to prove they belong in a jam scene in desperate need of more talented Black artists. This album should act as an indication that fans will be seeing the name Butcher Brown on plenty of concert and festival posters in 2021 and onward.
Butcher Brown – #KingButch
Sven Wunder – Eastern Flowers (Light In The Attic Records)
Sven Wunder dives deep into the mystic realms of psychedelia on Eastern Flowers, which was the first of two studio albums released by the adventurous Swedish artist in 2020. The listener’s consciousness is eased down a wormhole of lush instrumentals which pull from a wide variety of instrumentation for an exciting and entrancing listening experience. The title Eastern Flowers does justice to the selection of Eastern culture instruments used throughout, which are played masterfully and incorporated appropriately into each piece without over-selling any specific theme or timbre.
Sven Wunder – Eastern Flowers
Bananagun – The True Story of Bananagun (Full Time Hobby)
Anyone who’s been paying attention to the psychedelic-rock scene throughout the past decade will likely be quick to agree that few parts of the world are doing a better job at pumping out mind-bending music year after year quite like Australia. Whatever they’ve got in the water down under, the Aussies have treated North American audiences to breakout bands like Pond, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Babe Rainbow, and now Bananagun, who earned some well-deserved attention with their debut full-length album earlier this year. The band’s bubbly use of feel-good, hippie-like vibes takes flight on the tracks “Bang Go the Bongos”, “People Talk Too Much”, “Freak Machine”, “Out of Reach”, and “Modern Day Problems”.
Bananagun – The True Story of Bananagun
Khruangbin – Mordechai (Dead Oceans/Night Time Stories, Ltd.)
The 2018/2019 breakout trio known as Khruangbin hit yet another home run on their 2020 studio album, Mordechai, which marks the third full-length studio effort from the Texas “Thai-funk” outfit. The group’s trademark recipe of root note bass licks from Laura Lee Ochoa, simple breakbeats from drummer Donald Ray “DJ” Johnson, and reverb-drenched, Dick Dale-esque lead riffs from guitarist Mark Speer is given some extra substance with the incorporation of more lyric-focused songs rather than just lofi-inspired instrumentals, which has been their go-to style up until now. For a band currently basking in newfound popularity, Khruangbin charges forward with an innovative creative identity on this 10-track masterpiece.
Khruangbin – Mordechai
GoGo Penguin – GoGo Penguin (Blue Note/Decca Records)
British jazz trio GoGo Penguin continues to collect fans around the world thanks to their progressive, instrumental sound as captured on their 2020 self-titled studio effort. Having spent the past five years harnessing their collective power via complex compositions and minimalist production strategies, the music heard throughout GoGo Penguin catches the listener up in a whirlwind of new-age jazz at its best. “Atomised”, “F Maj Pixie”, and “To The Nth” all stand out as some of the premier tracks on the album.
For fans hoping to hear some of the new material heard on GoGo Penguin in a live performance setting, the band’s recently-released Live From Studio 2 also delivers a sublime listening experience.
GoGo Penguin – GoGo Penguin
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – K.G. (Flightless Records)
Another fantastic Australian band that has set the standard for work ethic in the studio over the past few years, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard kept their fans satisfied with two live albums released their year in Chunky Shrapnel and Live in San Francisco ’16. It was the surprise release of K.G. in late November, however, which reminded fans of how creative and innovative this band can be. The songs heard on K.G. made for a noticeable and enjoyable change-up from the more intense, hard-rock sounds and styles heard on their last few studio projects, thanks in large part to the band utilizing quarter-tone tuning and notation from microtonal scales often heard in Indian classical music. The combination of their psychedelic styles mixed with Eastern influences made K.G. quite the mesmerizing cyclone of peak rock and roll excellence.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – K.G.
Circles Around The Sun – Circles Around The Sun (Royal Potato Family)
Following the death of Neal Casal in August 2019, fans of Circles Around The Sun along with the rest of the jam community weren’t sure how the band would carry on without the fan-favorite guitarist. Thankfully, the quartet-turned-trio still managed to release their third studio album, simply titled Circles Around The Sun, in early March, which features the band’s final recordings with Casal. The album includes singles “Babyman“, “Money’s No Option“, and “Leaving (Rogue Lemon)“, which have since found new life during live performances earlier this year with help from guitarists like Eric Krasno and Scott Metzger.
Circles Around The Sun – Circles Around The Sun
The Bright Light Social Hour – Jude Vol. 2 (Self-Released)
Austin-based outfit The Bright Light Social Hour continues to explore and create mesmerizing psychedelia-inspired rock music on the indie radar. The group’s 2020 follow up to Jude Vol. 1 brings listeners a dreamy, yet energizing soundscape, where genres and labels dissolve into the perfect listening accompaniment for a blissful ride through the cosmos.
The Bright Light Social Hour – Jude Vol. 2
Deap Vally + The Flaming Lips – Deap Lips (Cooking Vinyl)
Garage rock queens Deap Vally joined forces with psych-rock veterans Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips for this one-of-a-kind album released under the fitting pseudonym Deap Lips back in March. The album hears a usually-noisy Deap Valley ditch their overdrive pedals for spacey folk-rock and dreamy melodies, as Coyne’s ageless and mystic production style is upfront and evident on each recording. Deap Lips is a great choice off the shelf for fans who enjoyed Coyne’s unorthodox and creative influence on Miley Cyrus‘ anti-pop masterpiece in 2015’s Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz (with noticeably less sexual innuendo this time around).
Deap Vally + The Flaming Lips – Deap Lips