Expansive, personal and for the most part highly enjoyable
Jack Vincent
12:29 21st June 2021

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I have a complicated relationship with psychedelic music. On the one hand, the genre by its very nature encourages an unparalleled freedom of expression that drives to bring music to places it's never been before. However, there’s also the side I like to call ‘Harpsichord shit’; a reverence to the past that stymies the creative heart of psych.

Albums like Sgt Peppers and Pied Piper At The Gates Of Dawn haven’t aged well, and to copy those sounds in all their corny, nigh-unlistenable glory is folly. Which is why John Grant’s latest album Boy From Michigan has thrown me for a loop as it manages to somehow reconcile these two opposing sides of psych and offer an expansive, personal and for the most part highly enjoyable take on modern psychedelic music.

Aside from two tracks, Boy From Michigan is really great. Boy From Michigan is a psych album that takes heavy inspiration from the '80s. The record is full of John Carpenter synths and sultry late night jams. The opening title track is like chilling at one of those fancy lounge nights in a dystopian, cyberpunk future, cigar in hand while the world burns outside. The lyrics on the song (and a lot of the album) deal with the American Dream and Grant’s place in it. The fact that Grant manages to make psych so personal and intimate is a wonder in itself.  The beautiful duo of tracks, ‘Mike and Julie’ and ‘The Cruise Room’ are probably the best tracks on the record. Being gorgeous and melancholic, these two tracks offer incredibly personal and affecting narrative of regret and leaving a life behind to start a new one, while the instrumentals feel like floating down a river. With all the great flourishes and grandiose musicianship throughout the record, these two tracks bring everything to back to earth and are all the better for it. 

However it’s not all good news. ‘County Fair’ drags despite being one of the shorter tracks on the album, with its uninspired instrumental pallete and lyrics about going to the fair or something. It’s weird and disappointing because the songs that are actually 7-9 minutes don’t feel anywhere near as long and in a Shyamalam twist for the ages, the rest of Cate Le Bon’s production on this record is actually amazing. The other major misstep on the record is ‘Rhetorical Figure’ which has a great instrumental but absolutely horrendous vocals.

Overall, Boy From Michigan is a fantastic album. Though there are a couple of missteps, Boy From Michigan is a unique, expansive and highly personal take on psych, combining the old and new with amazing results. 

Boy From Michigan arrives 25 June via Bella Union.

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Photo: Press