West Indian Girl: self-titled

Katie Zerwas

West Indian Girl

West Indian Girl

Label: Astralwerks
US Release Date: 2004-08-24
UK Release Date: Available as import

It's probably fair to approach a band that names itself after a derivative of the hallucinogenic LSD with a modicum of skepticism. For those of use who remember the escapades on Haight-Ashbury or have at least seen the movie "Hair", the free love and free drugs ethos of the California based West Indian Girl feels more than a little dubious. Band-mates Robert James and Francis Ten are openly drug-addled musicians rooted in the rave scenes of Texas and transplanted into the cannabis clouded city of Los Angeles, where they built their own private studio and set to work in 2002 setting their psychotropic trips to feel good pop music inspired by early '90s shoegazer pop and classic psychedelic rock. Their debut self-titled release makes strides toward the realization of their utopic vision of expressive music laden with mystical imagery that gets listeners high on bright glistening synths and upbeat danceable rhythms, but more often their music sounds as though it actually requires psychotropic stimulus in order to be enjoyed. Alternately ambitious and lackadaisical, the album is a patchwork of sunny approachable soundscapes and droopy hedonistic trip-pop.

Drug-inspired music is hit-or-miss by its nature, since doing anything in altered states can either produce unimagined creativity or unthinkable meaningless schlock that only gets worse as the come-down mania sets in. Some argue that certain kinds of art can only be truly enjoyed under the influence, but it has always seemed to me that if art can't be enjoyed without substance abuse, then it's probably not the art that one is in fact enjoying. That said, and with the assurance that this music critic is wholly sober at the time of this writing, West Indian Girl does indeed have its moments of musical brilliance. The album opens with a heavy classic rock beat and a dreamy, reverb-laden harmonica trumpeting the entrance of gritty, multi-layered vocals reminiscent of early '90s Blur. The song, "Trip", reflects to perfection the band's ethos of mystical union and liberation, a freewheeling track that is breezy and upbeat with shimmering synth tones, an exuberant chorus, and a tenacious hook. The following track, "What Are You Afraid Of" adds to the growing sentimentality with the addition of a euphoric romanticism and a vaguely political invocation of revolutionary liberation. The song weaves together raunchy guitar solos and soaring feminine harmonies, forming a sound that is uniquely its own, one that features a dreamy call and response lyrical form and many layers of contrasting vocal timbres. The group has at their disposal a diverse palette of sounds and influences that comes out on "Green" as they use vintage synth tones to create the effect of a dissonant sitar drone while the guitars rasp out tinny electronic shreaks, producing organic sounds with purely mechanical timbres that ingeniously paint the image of a slightly off-color journey through memory that's mirrored in the lyrics. Their musical sophistication occasionally lifts them out of their self-imposed anachronism, as on "Lay Down", where the rhythmic quotation of a human heartbeat and the freeform expansive sound melding Robert James's raw vocals with the polished keyboard tones recalls present day soundscape artists like Sigur Ros.

Unfortunately, the album's midsection collapses in on itself under the weight of its own lofty ideals. "Miles from Monterey" quotes from the same musical palette, but loses its balance, the sweet ethereal vocals fighting for air beneath the overpowering disco funk beat. Trying to adopt the stance of Pink Floyd's fusion of gritty synth experimentation and delicate emotional openness, they come off sounding more like Brian Adams stumbling on stage with Astralwerks label-mates Air. Perhaps in an attempt to push the sound envelope of their own digital fingerprint, their use of synth tones sounds increasingly more forced and campy, as does the use of pre-pubescent choral harmonies which cease to sound angelic and begin to verge on abrasive and just plain pretentious. What sounds like grade-schoolers singing into a tin can on "Northern Sky" feels about as pathetic as the syrupy mush of reverb-smeared acoustic guitars, cherubic vocals, and hippy, twirl-inducing synths on "Leave Tonight".

Whether their debut album is an accurate representation of the revolutionary aural soundscapes tripping through the neurological passageways of West Indian Girl's collective genius is difficult to discern without further psychotropic experimentation. However, it is safe to say that in the absence of altered mental states, the album is a decent to mediocre attempt at reviving the early '90s optimism oozing from the fusion of brit pop and new wave, while recalling the free love and liberation of '60s rock. Where they succeed at creating the sense of mystical union through upbeat refrains that seduce with electronic ingenuity, it is possible to forget the rest of the album's cannabis-induced slouch. In the main, however, the album suffers from its own hedonistic pleasure-seeking, which takes precedence over attempts at creating lasting and meaningful music.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.