As I digest the new offering from the Saint James Society, Bab(a/y)lon Rising, I’m forced to ponder that often used, poorly defined term “psychedelic” that seems to follow this and so many other disparate bands around like the stench of old bong resin and unwashed armpits. Reverb seems to be a common denominator. A vague, dreamy quality to the production and general atmosphere also seems to be a necessary component to a band’s “psychedelic” credentials. Sometimes “psychedelic” just means “hippie band that sounds kind of like the Grateful Dead”. Thankfully, the Saint James Society are not one of these. Other times, “psychedelic” simply becomes a catch-all term roughly synonymous with “experimental”, implying an open-ended, unconventional approach to songwriting that does not chain itself to traditional pop-rock song structure, timing, or instrumentation. This definition, however, does not really describe the Saint James Society on Bab(a/y)lon Rising either.
But there does seem to be a general consensus out there on the Internet, where these things are decided, that the Saint James Society are, first and foremost, a psychedelic band, and I am in no position to argue, nor am I particularly inclined to do so. It is not difficult to imagine this trippy collective from Austin, Texas, playing in a lava lamp-filled basement club that stinks of the aforementioned bong resin and unwashed armpits while profoundly intoxicated people groove and sway to their righteous guitar licks and killer rhythm section. And that’s enough to make them “psychedelic”, right? Right.
At its best Bab(a/y)lon Rising sounds a little bit like the kind of “psychedelic” music that was being made in places like Oxford and Manchester in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s by bands like the Boo Radleys, Ride, the Pale Saints, and even the Stone Roses—those segments of the British shoegazing and proto-Britpop community that still had plenty of crunch in their guitars and did not skimp on the feedback. Opening track “Refractions” sounds like something that people might have rolled to at the Hacienda in Manchester in about 1989 or thereabouts, and it is in these moments that Bab(a/y)lon Rising really makes me want to get out of my chair and move.
The Saint James Society have also taken notes from the more psychedelic corners of the metal world, particularly regarding their rhythm section, which is often delightfully crushing. Now and then the Saint James Society sound a little bit like Boris, or even Sleep. The Saint James Society never manage to make your ears bleed and your head spin like Boris, and they don’t have the oppressive, punishing patience necessary to beat you into the ground and incinerate your mangled carcass like the mighty Sleep, but their bass has plenty of buzz and their drummer knows how to make some noise. There are flashes of coolness throughout this record, moments that remind me of things that I really like.
Unfortunately, the Saint James Society never quite manages to pull these moments together into a coherent sound or keep the audience’s attention with their songwriting. There is not a great deal of variation on these tracks, and by the end of the record I find myself losing interest. One could speculate that the Saint James Society might be what is known as a “live band” whose glory can never truly be captured on record, and this might be the case. Should the Saint James Society play a show in my gray, damp, dreary corner of the world, however, I could easily be talked into heading down to some dank basement club and doing a witchy, psychedelic dance to their blissed-out rock music until the early hours of the morning.