Flip on your radio these days and you'll likely hear zealously polished vocal melodies accompanied by synthetic instruments, digitally programmed beats, and looped samples. Lo-fi sensibility, improvisation, and general creativity seem to have vanished from pop music altogether.
Look closely enough, however, and you'll see that a handful of experimental pioneers are keeping the tradition of 60s-style psychedelia and musical craftsmanship alive, doing for psychedelic rock what The Strokes and The White Stripes did for indie rock just a few years ago.
The Philadelphia-based five-piece Dr. Dog may have a name like a hip-hop act, but they are in fact a rock band whose songs echo the likes of the Beach Boys with hauntingly catchy vocal melodies and instrumentation. Easy Beat, Dr. Dog's 2005 LP, is recorded with stark simplicity. Fat bass tones and stripped-down drums lay back in the mix as wandering guitar riffs and stacked sing-along vocals climb to heights reminiscent of the Beatles' "Let it Be."
Dr. Dog followed "Easy Beat" with the aptly titled We All Belong in 2007. While this album demonstrated the band's growth as songwriters, it maintained the free-spirited style and lyrical content of five young gentlemen born just 40 years too late. The mixes on "We All Belong" are more robust than those of previous recordings, incorporating string arrangements, fuller percussion, and more prominent keys.
Not all artists within the burgeoning modern psychedelic movement stick so strictly to traditional instruments and songwriting styles, however. Bands such as Caribou, the current project of Canadian electronic pioneer Daniel V. Snaith, provide a modern take on 60s style experimentation. Caribou's latest album, Andorra, interweaves synthesizers and woodwinds with entrancing vocals that are often run through various effects processors. As a result, "Andorra" is chock full of grandiose soundscapes that are as captivating as they are innovative.
Other acts joining the movement take varying approaches to the genre. The Black Angels of Austin, Texas, are highly influenced by the Velvet Underground and rely heavily on something known as a drone machine, which sounds basically like its name implies. On the other hand, artists like Devendra Banhart, also of Texas, take a folk-oriented approach to field. Banhart sounds something like a cross between Bob Dylan and Marc Bolan of the 70s glam band T. Rex.
With such diversity, some might wonder how these acts and others can be united under the same banner. Quite simply, more than just drawing influence from revolutionary artists of the 60s and 70s, these bands all embody a resurgence of free expression, artistic integrity, and experimentation. The label "psychedelic rock" isn't essential - just convenient.