Psycho Tree – Black January

Artist Psycho Tree
Album Black January
Genre Post-Rock / Progressive / Experimental
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Label Independent
Release 2013
Rating Very Good

(IamHop note – A BIG thanks for Erich Heider for writing this review. This release is truly a gem.)

Thanks to the gods of the internet (and IamHop) I have the distinct pleasure to review a release from what might be THE most remote group of people playing post- music ever.  The members of Psycho Tree hail from the cities of Tomsk and Krasnoyark, located in fucking Siberia! Now, a word about that, before you think its some dudes in a hut in the snow, or a work camp, or something. Almost a million people live in this area, and none other than Anton Chekhov chose to proclaim it the most beautiful city in Siberia. Take that for what you think it may be worth, but acknowledge that it probably isn’t what one would think of as a hotbed of musical experimentation.  Yet that’s exactly what the gentlemen from Psycho Tree are offering on their new album, “Dark January.”

This trio claims to be highly improvisational, making no performance the same. Although due to the fact that this is the only work I’ve heard from them I can’t verify that, I can say that the music lends itself to such jammed out explorations and musical alliteration.  Much of this feeling comes from the great amount of “swing” Psycho Tree exhibit in the moody tempo variations and super organic sound.  These guys can swing in the jazz sense, although the music itself isn’t very jazzy. I would also assume that this means most, if not all, of the songs on this album are single takes. If that’s truly the case, its magical, and something to be quite proud of.

In point of fact, like any post- band that doesn’t fit in with a certain wave or “camp,” it’s a challenge in itself to classify the music on “Dark January,” except to say that it can be both starkly beautiful and surprisingly rocking. Everyone here really knows how to play, and the interesting things pop up because of the sometimes divergent styles of the players. Sure, there are a few signature post rock EITS moments, but where Explosions sometimes sound distant to their melodic storytelling…looking from the outside, Psycho Tree’s pastoral moments feel more inhabited and living, fetid with the humid breath of biomass. Really that’s just part of the picture though, because when these guys start to pour on the “rock” part of post rock, they actually do. They “truck.” Bass slithers a bit like early Tool. Drums cross the spectrum from a bouncy Neal Pert-ian jaunt to more straight ahead metal feel without taking it too far. Guitar goes from ethereal to narrative to police siren with ease. When needed, these elements can really fill up the spaces, making one forget that it’s just a trio, which is impressive in its own right.

Even song length is deceptive on “Dark January.” At around a bit over five minutes average, each composition is so enchanting that nothing drags on, and no motif ever overstays its welcome, but instead mutates into a variant of a variant. I imagine this fertility of metamorphosis would also lend itself to the improvisational characteristics of the band’s performances.

In some ways this band is like a great secret, though I don’t think they try to make it that way.  Even with the translations on, there’s not too much information floating around about Psycho Tree, and the music is a little harder to get then your standard Bandcamp type of release. I really hope that will change, because this music deserves a wider audience. In the meantime, I guess if you want to be a post- hipster, drop the name, because these guys are unfortunately pretty obscure.

Besides that, the only real negative I feel that I should mention is that, while passable, the production could be better, and the music would certainly benefit from it.  There are no glaring problems with the sound at all…in fact for what I can imagine being only a semi-professional production job (just my speculation) it holds up very well, and may well capture the energy and improve abilities of  PT better than a more sterile studio venture. The mix is very well done, and every instrument retains its individual space while being clear. Bass is particularly well recorded, with a very old school familiarity that shades the overall musical landscape nicely. I have a feeling this was all done in one big room, because at certain moments the guitar sets of a slight buzz from the drum snares, which a noise gate could have helped with. The guitar is occasionally overpowering in certain listening situations, but issues like that are a problem with any mix for any band.

If you enjoy what by word definition (as opposed to scene definition) post rock, you will enjoy Psycho Tree. They truly deserve the attention, so if you dig it, spread the word. It can only help shine the light on other hidden nooks of good listening.