Songs from the Pale Eclipse will surprise few fans of neo-psychedelia, but it can stand in until the next bold psych release.
Similar to Bobby Hecksher's former band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Warlocks features only one surviving founding member. While BJM's Anton Newcombe makes mostly solo records now under his group moniker, Hecksher continues, for eighteen years, leading his own neo-psychedelic, Los Angeles-based ensemble.
Both groups feature a familiar blend. The heavy rhythm section of the Velvet Underground, the moody vocals of The Jesus and Mary Chain, and the sonic layers of My Bloody Valentine serve as the dependable template. With Songs from a Pale Eclipse, their seventh album, The Warlocks keep the five-piece line-up of Skull Worship, released in 2013. That album, recorded after a hiatus, felt draggy and dulled.
How intentional this spirit may be depends on one's frame of mind, as a hearer's altered state may reflect the circumstances under which Songs From the Pale Eclipse was composed and created. Hecksher and his associates favor a somnolent, druggy state of delivering their dirges and drones.
"Only You" begins the new album in signature style; in fact, it could have appeared on BJM's debut, Methodrone, back in 1995. That strong album set its controls for the heart of the space-rock sun, kindling Spacemen 3's fuel to fire up a maelstrom. Elsewhere, "Lonesome Bulldog" reverberates with acoustic guitar, giving a slightly country feel to this tune. Sadly, "Easy to Forget" lives up to its title. It's not terrible, but on this, the anguished nature of Hecksher's vocal delivery lacks tension.
"Dance Alone" fits its name, too. Six minutes of a narcotic journey, heard sober, may lull you in, but again, the pace gets glacial despite the tambourine. "We Took All the Acid", which appears at the halfway mark, hits a stuttering keyboard over Earl V. Miller's drone machine to recall that instrument deployed on The Black Angels or Comets on Fire's lighter moments. It offers a livelier contrast to most of this album.
"Love Is a Disease" muffles the voice. Miller, Hecksher, and John Christian Rees represent a triple-guitar density that few of their contemporaries match. Yet, the striation of this potentially promising assault finds itself compressed rather than expanding. Beginning with Jason Anchondo's simple drums, "Drinking Song" shuffles along, into feedback, in a distantly Spaghetti Western ambiance.
"Special Today" turns out ordinary. Hecksher keeps sighing and moaning, and this sucks him down into the mix rather than allows him to rise above. For a few songs this might be tolerable, but it repeats on ten tracks. "I Warned You" tries for an airier swirl, as with Spacemen 3's spin-off, Spiritualized. For much of Songs From the Pale Eclipse, Christopher DiPino's bass is nearly inaudible, but it surfaces here.
Finally, closing a brief set, "The Arp Made Me Cry" conjures up Grandaddy, both in Jason Lytle's hesitant lyrics and the childlike, tinny keyboards. This may be a nod to The Flaming Lips' own brand as psychedelic punks turned whimsy merchants. It's a great song title, but reading it tells you half of what the tune sounds like. Perhaps more experimentation, and more daring, might have resulted in a record as acclaimed as some by the bands name-checked in this review. Songs From a Pale Eclipse will surprise few fans of neo-psychedelia, but it can stand in until the next bold psych release.