The beauty of psychedelic rock in its purest state is that the music is about art and expression first, and then everything else (be it community, statement-making, even simple performance presentation) comes second. That can mean a psychedelic rock album takes an unwieldy form (check out The Flaming Lips’ album Zaireeka – which requires that four CD players play a different disc simultaneously – for example) or present itself as awkward but, for those brave enough to follow a band down the proverbial rabbit hole, the magnitude of the aural rewards can be phenomenal. With an open mind, good psychedelic rock can totally reframe one’s perceptions and inspire a complete re-thinking of convention – all for no other reason than to be in service of a muse. For those who haven’t heard it yet, making such a claim of Life’s A Garden – the third full-length album by New York psyche-rockers Worthless – may seem laughably unbelievable but the group’s ambition and inspiration is plainly apparent from the moment the music on the album begins and the fantastic impression that it leaves is undeniable.
In keeping with the “expression over common sense” drive detailed above, the A-side of Life’s A Garden opens with “Soil It” – a vast and sprawling 21-minute overture which features a multitude of dramatic swells and turns and which gives an all-in-one impression of what listeners can expect of the band this time out. Along the way, listeners may find their mind’s eye pushed toward dim (and at least occasionally) desolate spaces as the guitar meanders between sounding lonesome but delicate and flat-out resentful, the bass in the song throbs along both urgently and inevitably and the drums simply offer a framework which contains the sound. In “overture” fashion, real vocal parts are very limited through the whole side, but ghostly and only partially intelligible voices fade in and out of the mix unexpectedly and without warning. The overall impression left is a genuinely disconcerting one; this beginning feels genuinely haunted and, when it ends, listeners of the correct mind will find themselves flipping the record over hurriedly to see how the whole thing resolves.
What listeners find on the B-side of Life’s A Garden stands in perfect opposition of the album’s A-side in many ways, but it also plays in a perfectly complementary manner to its counterpart. Where the A-side features a dark but smooth and roiling sonic movement, the B-side features a brighter and more tuneful drive which favors brevity (calling it ‘poppy’ would be too great a reach) and more tuneful designs. Granted, the side-opener, “Tunnel of Gloves,” seeks only to condense the overture of the A-side down into a succinct sampling of the same wares first (at just less than five minutes, the song achieves a similar vibe to the A-side in a quarter of the time), but a different drive begins to develop as the track fades out and the more carnival-feeling “Interstate of Affairs” segues its way in. There, while the song’s lyric sheet is still pretty disjointed, the ghostly voices of Life’s A Garden‘s A-side seem to take on an ever-so-slightly more collected thought process and play closer to pop in form – well, at least closer in form to The Flaming Lips’ approximation of pop, anyway. Much of the subject matter revolves around a fairly nihilistic impression that nothing is new and nothing ever changes which would be a little trite on its own, but the keyboards included really save the track from that fate by adding the sensation of the song being the score to a really twisted carnival. That keeps the whole thing afloat until the song ends, and then everything changes again as “My Favorite Flower” begins.
Now, it could easily be argued that nothing about “My Favorite Flower” is particularly original. Many of the sounds which populate the song fit with what listeners already know about the album – it’s the manner in which everything is assembled which changes the song and style here. In this case, the song moves along methodically with a melodic and aquatic sensation powering it courtesy of the bass performance complemented by a sighing vocal and surreal woodwinds. The results are as weird as they are warm and welcoming; in much the same way which was the case in “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “My Favorite Flower” is dominated by a surreal sense of poppy sadness – and that change in demeanor proves to be permanent for the remainder of the running of Life’s A Garden.
After “My Favorite Flower,” “Tonight You Belong To Me” trades pop qualities borrowed from The Beatles and replaces them with Ween’s postmodern take on similar structures while still pulling Flaming Lips comparisons for good measure before finally closing down the proceedings with “24 Carat Mold” – which seeks to bid listeners farewell, wish them well and plug the band’s fan club one last time. The song doesn’t exactly change tone of tenor from what the group has laid out elsewhere on the album, but there’s no arguing that there is an upswing in mood as the side closes; “24 Carat Mold” is a little brighter – regardless of whether that brightness was chemically induced – and it leaves listeners feeling pretty good.
After “24 Carat Mold” has faded out and the needle has lifted from Life’s A Garden, the most common reaction from listeners will likely be one of surprise. “How can that be all,” they’ll gasp. “There must be more!” Therein lies the proof at how good Life’s A Garden really is: the extra trimmings (like the DVD disc of a liquid light show included with this album) prove to be of only peripheral interest compared to the desire for more music that those who have gone front-to-back with Life’s A Garden will feel. After they’ve heard it, listeners may feel compelled to hunt down Worthless’ other releases (there are several – check their Bandcamp page) but those discoveries will likely not leave those won by this album satisfied. No, they’ll want more new music from this band – they’ll need it. Here’s hoping that the band is ready for the tidal wave of attention that Life’s A Garden seems destined to send Worthless’ way.
(Green Way Records)
The Life’s A Garden LP is out now. Buy it here – directly from Green Way Records: greenwayrecords.storenvy.com/products/19918310-worthless-lifes-a-garden-splatter-vinyl-dvd