Psychedelic Backfire II

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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

The second volume of Elephant9's Psychedelic Backfire II was recorded live over the final two evenings at Oslo's Kampen Bistro. They were joined by frequent collaborator, guitarist Reine Fiske (Dungen, the Amazing), co-billed on their studio albums Atlantis (2012) and Silver Mountain (2015). This sprawling double-length release is offered sans overdubs, edits, or corrections. Like its companion, the material performed is drawn from the band's studio catalog with and without the guitarist.

The set opens with a cover of Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." The studio version appeared on Silver Mountain, but this one is quite different, and longer by half. While the studio read opened with an abstracted, dissonant intro, this one, after some initial droning of guitar and organ, offers a hypnotic vamp suggestive of Miles Davis' "Shh/Peaceful" from In a Silent Way. Keyboardist Ståle Storløkken uses an organ and a mellotron that evoke a classical flute, while Fiske's economical finger-plucked strings rise above the gently pulsing, hypnotic vamp from Nikolai Hængsle's bass and the shimmering hi-hat and pulsing snare of Torstein Lofthus. They persist with this groove even as Storløkken introduces a languid take on the melody. The frontline players begin to stretch the melodic frame as the rhythm section ups the intensity and the tune veers off into a trippy, delicious jam. Fiske's solo is snaky, labyrinthine, and spiky. His playing adds textural dimension, heft, and depth to the trio's dark drift. This is underscored by repeat performances of the medley "Skink"/"Fugl Fønix" and "Habanero Rocket." The former is more aggressive than the version on PSI, melding prog rock à la Soft Machine with the cavernous psychedelia of Träd, Gräs och Stenar's (another band Fiske plays in) and the Grateful Dead's outer-dimensional jamming. The latter involves Fiske as a third player in a bass and organ exchange that, in the opening minutes, actively engages melody to be fleshed out by the guitarist. His shard-like lyricism extends the reach of the rhythm section's pulsing vamp toward a conversation that eventually erupts into an overdriven collective force. The closer, "Freedom's Children"/"John Tinnick," melds a bluesy hard rock riff to funky interplay with Fiske and Storløkken going head to head as Lofthus breaks and fills with constant friction and Hængsle pushes the funk into the red near the six-minute mark. Before it dissolves into complete chaos, a trio of power chords and rumbling, droning bass notes center it in dissolve; it's a complete reversal slipping seamlessly into spacy, languid improvisation. Some six minutes later, it's turned inside-out and shapeshifts into a heavy, prog-psych groover -- think Deep Purple's "Space Truckin'." Fiske's participation makes PSII even more compelling than its fine companion album. It is arguably Elephant9's finest live offering to date, and a guidepost to other bands showing how it's done.

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