Inner Journey Out has a cracked but unbreakable zen demeanor as it searches for serenity along a desert roadside.
As a band’s recorded catalog grows deeper, the easier it becomes to find enough of the right pieces to assemble a narrative you might imagine playing out in their body of work. Such a tale of Psychic Ills’ journey so far could be seen as coming in two acts that coincide with the two labels they have been on, the Social Registry and, currently, Sacred Bones. In the first half, singer/guitarist and Texan son Tres Warren teams up with bassist Elizabeth Hart in Austin, they sling their guitar and bass over their shoulders and head for New York, and over time the two find a series of musicians to explore different modes: desert road rock, improvised space jams, heady drones. The second half starts in 2011 with Hazed Dream, where Psychic Ills arrive at a sun-fried psychedelic valley and decide to set up camp, build a fire and stay a while.
If the differences between Hazed Dream and its follow-up from 2013, One Track Mind, are incremental, that isn’t to say that they are not also substantial. For a group who established themselves among NYC noisemakers and former label mates like Gang Gang Dance and Blood on the Wall, subtlety has become one of Psychic Ills’ strengths. Or you could call it a weakness, depending on your perspective, particularly if that perspective is one that doesn’t hold their sonic consistency as a virtue. What might the band themselves think about their own trajectory, and how Inner Journey Out fits into the puzzle?
Digging for clues in the lyrics quickly uncovers contradicting sentiments. The gently waking “Back to You” leads in with a call to come home: “I keep running away / Keep trying to hide / Every single day / I can’t wait ‘til I get back to you tonight.” Immediately after, the Americana Spiritualized of “Another Change”, aloft on gospel backing vocals and pedal steel, rebuts the notion of return or even sustained stasis: “Don’t know if I can handle what I got coming / I’m going through another change / Spent all my time trying to make sense of my life / Going through another change.” That line could also be a friendly caution not to spend too much time looking for a logical, linear narrative where there isn’t one to be found.
Inner Journey Out is an open book that is also resistant to interpretation. Pleasures like the duet with Hope Sandoval, “I Don’t Mind”, are simple but rich. Brent Cordero’s Wurlitzer and Farfisa enrich the hues of the horizon-kissing terrain, as do the numerous guest musicians and drummers such as Harry Druzd of Endless Boogie and Derek James of the Entrance Band. The album is drawn out in length (14 songs over two LPs) but glides by without drag. Its melodies are mostly free of dramatic tension, but there is something continually compelling about its cracked but unbreakable zen demeanor. If at times Inner Journey Out seems to repeat itself, perhaps that is just a reflection of life’s own circularity. When “Coca-Cola Blues” admits there is nothing left to look for in the bottom of a sticky soda bottle, “No Worry” searches for serenity along the roadside in a pair of dusty worn jeans: “I don’t worry anymore / About the things outside my door / I don’t worry about the things that I can’t change.”