Graded on a Curve: Psychic Ills &
Gibby Haynes,
FRKWYS Vol. 4.5: Nowhere in the Night

‘twas back in 2010 that Psychic Ills of NYC took part in Vol. 4 of RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS series of intergenerational collaborations. The resulting three track EP offered remixes by Juan Adkins (pioneering Detroit House producer/DJ), Hans-Joachim Irmler (founding member of Krautrock kingpins Faust), and Gibby Haynes (founding member of Texas psychedelic punk maniacs Butthole Surfers). Released with the intention of honoring the life of Psychic Ills guitarist-vocalist Tres Warren, who passed in March of 2020, FRKWYS Vol. 4​.​5: Nowhere in the Night holds a full studio session between Psychic Ills and Haynes. It’s available now on vinyl in an edition of 400 copies.

The collaboration documented on FRKWYS Vol. 4​.​5 stems from solid roots, as Psychic Ills and Butthole Surfers were touring partners in 2009, a connection that went so swimmingly it spurred the request for that remix from Haynes for FRKWYS Vol. 4 (the track getting mixed; “I Take You As My Wife Again” from Psychic Ill’s second full-length, 2009’s Mirror Eye), with Haynes’ handiwork oozing an unsurprising and highly attractive fuckedness, so that a full-on studio shindig with the tape rolling was all but inevitable. The gathering took place in 2010 between 10pm on February 4 and 4am the next day.

Psychic Ills debuted in 2003, so by the six hour stretch that spawned Nowhere in the Night they were far from greenhorns, though RVNG Intl.’s intergenerational objective is fully realized on the recording, as those Buttholes released their first record in 1983, 20 years prior to Psychic Ills’ formation, when Tres Warren was roughly five years old.

But the connection between Haynes’ work in the Surfers, which helped to bring psychedelia into close contact with punk-era racket, and Psychic Ills’ own brand of heavy, at times experimental, and occasionally Krautrock-informed psych, is strong on Nowhere in the Night, and right away in the opening cut “No Way,” with its ominous pulse-throb, reverb drenched faux-Eastern guitar, and the spoken voice loop of the title phrase.

It’s exactly the sort of audio snippet repetition the Surfers might’ve had running at length from the stage during their ’80s heyday as smoke filled the air, seizure-inducing strobes flickered, video monitors alternated footage of car accidents with a film of a tribesman slowly sticking his arm all the way up the ass of a cow, and all the while, Kathleen danced.

A big difference is that “No Way” is only 77 seconds in length, leading directly into the slow building tension of the nearly ten minute “At Long Last,” a selection that falls pretty firmly on the Ills’ side of the spectrum. With its menacing swirl of controlled feedback, “Clone” has he stamp of Haynes firmly imprinted on it, as does the layered wordless voice loops and rhythm of  “Schizo Fez.”

But it’s not like Psychic Ills’ personality is falling by the wayside here. Side two’s opener “Shakin’,” also brief at 79 seconds, is potent 21st century u-ground psych-rock in league with The Oh Sees, Wooden Shjips and their ilk. “Lude” works up a bit of a sideways (and again, Eastern influenced) groove; it’s not hard to imagine individuals gyrating to it.

The body moving situation persists into “Something Like That,” as the remix by Juan Adkins on Vol. 4 suddenly becomes very clear. Haynes’ presence is heavily felt in the album’s finale “Where Is the Beginning?” When the slowed down voice enters in the midst of the track, I was briefly transported back to soaking up Hairway to Steven through the tape deck in my buddy’s beat-to-shit Chevy Chevette, while parked in a field on the outskirts of town. A good memory, for sure.

As is the norm for these sorts of collabs, Nowhere in the Night falls a little short of a masterpiece. But it’s still a highly worthwhile work. And please note that a portion of the proceeds from Nowhere in the Night will benefit Project NIA, an organization that works to end the incarceration of children and young adults by promoting practices of restorative and transformative justice.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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