Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Psyatics: “Cease To Exist” (2023) CD Review

A few weeks ago, I saw The Psyatics back Fur Dixon in concert at Maui Sugar Mill Saloon, and was impressed with their playing, with their energy. After Fur’s set, they did a short set of their own material, which I was totally into. So after the show I picked up a few of their albums. Their new album, Cease To Exist, isn’t yet available on vinyl, but I imagine at some point there will be a record release, as there has been for the band’s other albums. In the meantime, we can enjoy the music on CD. When I saw them perform, they were a trio, but on this album there are four band members: Rob Bell on bass and vocals, Jack Ball on guitar, Rich Coffee on guitar and Ron Hudy on drums. Gene Howley joins them on saxophone, and Danielle Bell provides some backing vocals. This album features all original material, the music a combination of rock, punk, garage and even surf elements.

The band kicks off the album with the title track, “Cease To Exist,” in which they sing, “I am done for, I’m on the wrong side of the grass.” Yes, they open with a song about death, something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately. It feels like it’s in the air, doesn’t it? And I appreciate that a song about death contains a reference to Hamlet: “shuffled off this mortal coil.” (Hamlet says, “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/Must give us pause.”) Although we do start to wonder if, as the therapist who is mentioned in the lyrics believed, his demise might be all in his head. For someone who is dead, he certainly is quite vocal about his condition. This track features some good work on electric guitar. That’s followed by “Guttersnipe,” which features a cool instrumental intro. One thing I dug about this band in concert was their sense of playfulness, and this song is certainly a good example of that, with some plays on words, such as the phrase “chic to cheek.” It’s also an odd sort of love song, with lines like “She’s guttersnipe…just my type” and “Slovenly’s the one for me.” Hey, there’s someone for everyone, right?

“Tapeworm” begins with a very cool bass line, and is another playful song. Many years ago, I wrote a little dialogue in which a woman says she’s eating for two now, and her companion asks if she’s pregnant. The woman replies, “No, I have a tapeworm.” I could never find a story where that bit would fit. These guys do something along those lines in this song, singing “Intent to carry full term/Bundle of joy, this tapeworm.” This track is one of my personal favorites, and it features some great stuff on saxophone. Death continues to play a part in the material of this album, the first line of “We Are The Disease” mentioning Azrael, the angel of death. And that main line, “We are the disease,” feels about right, doesn’t it? Sometimes it seems like the human race is the virus, and the earth is trying to rid itself of this illness. This track also features a really good bass line. “So nature pushes through the pavement day by day/Reclaiming rights to her lands, long taken away/The earth slowly awakes, and forcibly retakes/Correcting our past mistakes.”

“Phantom Limbs” has a delicious groove. This is a strange one, and, yes, death certainly plays a part here too. Check out these lines: “Swinging his phantom limbs/Bumping off his whore/Garroting his crew/Cops could not ignore/Nor could they follow through.” This track contains a wild vocal performance, and some guitar work to match. That’s followed by “Howl.” When I see the word “Howl” in print, two things usually cross my mind: Allen Ginsberg’s poem, and that incredible moment when King Lear enters carrying the body of Cordelia. The Psyatics’ “Howl” has a cool, bluesy vibe, and features one of the disc’s most powerful vocal performances (as a song titled “Howl” should, I suppose). Check out these lyrics: “Propaganda designed to distract/Propaganda designed to distract/Undismayed, ‘cause they’re not swayed by facts/Propaganda designed to distract/In my thoughts, I’m caught burning it down/In my thoughts, I’m caught burning it down/Vote him out, elect another clown/In my thoughts, I’m caught burning it down/While they howl, bay, bark, growl/They assail, scream, shriek, wail.” The guitar acts like a siren, carrying a warning, soon after those lines. Then in “Tabula Rasa,” these lines stand out: “A fiery ambition is curbed on suspicion/That my best years are far behind/I’m a blank mind, I’m a blank mind, I’m a blank mind.” This track has a heavy punk vibe, and drives forward with a good force.

“Tainting The Crime Scene” is an interesting one, with an unusual approach to its subject. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Discredit witnesses that threaten our defense/Their story, a pretense/Tainting the crime scene/Create a smoke screen/Corrupt cop workshop toils for you/Wiping the prints clean/Douse in gasoline/Then seal the records when we’re through.” I can’t help but wonder what the person has done. Who should we root for here? Perhaps no one. That’s followed by “Anyone Can Hypnotize,” another cool number, with some psychedelic vibes. Gene Howley again joins the band on saxophone, delivering some great stuff. “The thrill of imposing your will/The thrill of imposing your will on someone/Devilish fun/Turn women into helpless robots/Feed desire with your mystic eye/They may have dismissed, but now cannot resist/Money back if you’re not satisfied/Anyone can hypnotize.” There is some exciting and interesting work on guitar, but it is that delicious rhythm that I especially like. As the song is concluding, they are in the process of counting backward from ten to bring us out from under. But they don’t get to one before the song ends, so we are still under their spell as we go into the next song, “Prison Wallet.” In this energetic number they sing, “Dirty deeds, now an inmate/No special cells for businessmen,” and of course I’m thinking about Donald Trump. If there is any justice still in this country, he will die in prison, But will he get a special cell? He shouldn’t, of course, but who knows? I do not trust the legal system of this country. This track features some excellent work on drums.

“Thirteen Reasons Why She’s Gone” features saxophone, that instrument with a smoother sound on this one. Something about the vocal delivery of this song reminds me of certain songs by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. That’s followed by “The Mark Of Cain,” another energetic number featuring some great work on drums. Then “Our Song” features a delicious bass line. It has a deep, mean groove from the start, and in its first line he imitates a record skipping: “Don’t mean to sound like a broken re-re-re-re-record.” There is something playful in the way this song uses music jargon to make its point. I especially like this line: “Your refrain, it sustains my migraine.” Gene Howley returns on saxophone for the album’s final track, “The Prose Of Cons,” which he begins with a cool solo. The song soon kicks in, becoming a conversation between man and god, and is another of the disc’s highlights. I love the wild work on guitar and sax over the steady, great rhythm. This track also features a strong vocal performance, and has a fantastic ending.

CD Track List

  1. Cease To Exist
  2. Guttersnipe
  3. Tapeworm
  4. We Are The Disease
  5. Phantom Limbs
  6. Howl
  7. Tabula Rasa
  8. Tainting The Crime Scene
  9. Anyone Can Hypnotize
  10. Prison Wallet
  11. Thirteen Reasons Why She’s Gone
  12. The Mark Of Cain
  13. Our Song
  14. The Prose Of Cons

Cease To Exist was released on June 9, 2023 on Outhouse Eagle Records.

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