In March 2017, retro rock band King Black Acid released their ‘Twin Flames‘ EP. Despite ’17 barely being a few months old at that point, it was clear that the EP was special enough to potentially be one of the year’s best releases. Bringing together the sounds of Crazy Horse, Band of Horses and more besides (not necessarily horse related), its three tracks dropped the listener into a twenty minute musical cycle that was both other worldly and pretty much timeless. If ever there were a great example of music being utterly satisfying, then ‘Twin Flames’ most assuredly fit the bill.
Two months on, KBA head honcho Daniel Riddle returned with more music. 2017’s second wave of material – a collaboration credited to King Black Acid & The Crystal Unicorn – while most welcome, couldn’t be farther away from its predecessor in places. In fact, on first listen, there are elements of the first two tracks which could raise a quizzical eyebrow. That said, the very fact that the opening number is called ‘Welcome Home Down The Rabbit Hole’ suggests we’re going somewhere unexpected. It doesn’t really get the release off to the most immediate start, but instead works multi-tracked voices and high harmonies against bits of electronica with an almost world music bent. This spacious piece allows various drones and tinkles to weave magic, but doesn’t go anywhere too quickly. Eventually, with some hefty drums grudgingly making a dramatic entrance at the halfway point, it becomes a loving homage to The Flaming Lips circa ‘The Soft Bulletin’…and just makes you wish that Wayne Coyne and his entourage would go back to making proper music instead of dicking about with cover tunes and marketing novelties. ‘The Best Lies’ moves into a pop-ish haze – a solid tribute to 90s psych throwbacks – where the blend of hushed lead vocal meshing with swooning female harmonies sets up a great melody, even if the lyrics are intermittently odd. With keyboards aplenty, a few saxophone swirls and a soft yet solid groove, things are sometimes indebted to Mercury Rev, but this seems to be more than just a mere homage to alt-pop past; Daniel Riddle and his revolving band of collaborators really mine their influences to bring forth a track where elements of previous King Black Acid works are given room to roam among twee pop flourishes. After a few listens – as always with Riddle’s work, time is its own reward – this track asserts itself as both an album highlight and an underground summer classic.
By track three, listeners are given something a touch more immediate, without losing too many of the previous vibes. ‘Ain’t Nobody Gonna Drink My Blood’ immerses itself in a hazy world of acoustic guitars overlaid by neo-psych electronic sounds. A solid bass and heavy backbeat are on hand to make sure things don’t float away under their own helium inflected trippiness, while a heavily treated vocal adds to the general spacey quality. The psychedelic sounds are soon tempered by a light reggae stance – something which allows various reverbed guitar noises to add extra textures – while the steady beats and dual vocal provide constant entertainment. For those who still miss the older Flaming Lips, much like bits of the opener, this will definitely provide some consolation. Further into the album, ‘The Good Life’ works some great downtempo and chillout sounds, fusing treated vocals with muted trumpets and hefty beats. If The Flaming Lips joined forces with Massive Attack, the results might sound something like this…but that said, the subtle addition of jazzy guitar noodles deeply buried within and the cinematic keys which eventually cut through are a logical continuation of ‘Twin Flames’ so there’s so much here for fans to enjoy, before the first half of ‘Spirit’ contrasts the beats with swirling keyboard sounds, Hawaiian guitars and soft harmonies. Eventually settling into another downtempo groove, this will be the moment where this hotchpotch of rock, pop, electronica and soulful sounds begins to seem more natural for most – assuming, of course, they’ve made it this far.
After various other wandering and grand ideas, including (but never limited to) more electronica and a touch of jazz thrown against soft alt-rock, this trip ends with a suite of songs suitably centred around a dream. Across almost seventeen minutes, ‘Oh, You’re Tired’ / ‘I Had a Dream About A Friend’ / ‘Always Dreaming’ combines most of this albums best ideas into one coherent, proggy epic. The first movement presents a world of treated vocals against a Mercury Rev-esque ambience, as clean piano notes play against treated guitars. This eventually morphs into something that sounds like Zero 7 playing ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, and somewhere behind the drones and the trickery, there’s a very, very pleasing melody – perhaps the closest this release comes to revisiting ‘Twin Flames’ at its most obvious…until, that is, the second movement takes a hold. With swirling keys and big beats aplenty, Riddle achieves the ultimate in downtempo cool, as a heavy backbeat anchors varying dream pop and retro rock elements. Of the greatest appeal here is his use of wordless backing vocals, wisp-like sounds that, in contrast with the bass and drums, really lend the piece a somnambulist flair. The final part of the dream features over six minutes of keyboard drones, leaving the listener hanging amid purely ambient noise. Less electronic than The Orb and less focused than Jarre, this is a fantastic tribute to the kind of elastic soundscapes that Edgar Froese perfected in the earlier twenty first century, long after the more casual fan had given up on Tangerine Dream. Okay, it’s not ground-breaking or new in any way, but Riddle’s gifts for giving even the most slight of sounds a feeling of genuine depth are more than evident and – in so many ways – it gives this wandering and experimental long player a perfect and familiar closure.
This album is more of a slow burner than the prior King Black Acid EP, despite that EP hardly ever trying to make an instant impression. With these thirteen pieces of music, Riddle conjures up a world of neo-psych and electronic prog that’s sometimes bewildering and sometimes brilliant, but pretty much always entertaining. Sure, none of it would be the same without that obvious influence from The Flaming Lips, but since at the time of this release, The Lips are a both a spent force and somewhat embarrassing specimen [their Sgt. Pepper is a particularly misguided affair…and while we’re on the subject, Wayne, the word ‘Fwends’ is neither quirky or cool, stop being an idiot – grow the fuck up], it’s great that someone is out there and more than capable of picking up some of that audience. If you want something thoughtful, creative, familiar and yet still pretty trippy, it mightn’t grab you straight away, but there’s so much to like once you’ve disappeared down this particular rabbit hole for a while. Don’t be afraid.