I first came across the excellent PsychoYogi some years ago in 2004, when I saw them in concert in London. They happened to be supported by a band I used to be in myself (that’s a whole other story). I was immediately struck by their sound, bringing to mind instantly some of my favourite musical references, including Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and Primus. I have followed their progression, off and on, ever since, and always enjoyed the albums they have produced. Well crafted compositions, flair in both group and individual performance, charming instrumentation, superb musicianship and engaging themology have been consistent ingredients in the delicious Psychoyogical stew.
So here we are again, with another highly engaging album from the band, Dangerous Devices. As well as the excellent musicianship, often off kilter yet accessible song structures, and irresistible charismatic outsider individualism, another crucial signature element of PsychoYogi is main man Chris Ramsing’s lyricism. I always perceive Chris’ lyrics as featuring a focus on the dysfunctional factors of human post-modernity, including themes of environmental destruction, socioeconomic inequity, and imbalance with nature. Don’t think that this is going to be some kind of terminally depressing doomfest however, as Ramsing’s lyrics always seem to have a positive slant; observing the negativity immediately apparent in our society, yet presenting the potential for positive change. Maybe I’m making it sound more politicised than it is, but I suppose I am just trying to say that, musically and lyrically, this is, for me anyway, inherently positive music.
So that brings us fully to the present – and I dare say when Mr Ramsing wrote the opening title track, he may not have had the current global crisis specifically in mind, but the opening lines seem starkly appropriate in some ways: “Will there be a happy ending, we are descending, everybody in despair; progress, got us in a fine mess, everybody express panic and confusion […] crisis, that is what the price is, dangerous devices, negative collusion”, as well as the aforementioned suggestion of the potential for positive change (“all deeds can be undone”) – let’s hope… I’m not suggesting any propheteering here, just expressing the parallels I can’t help but drawing in the current climate. Themes elsewhere (from my individualised perception) include the obsession on fetishising the new and novel – what I might term ‘update culture’ – (Sooner Than Now), respecting the divinity of nature (New Frontier) and celebrity culture (Common As Muck). Anyway, the focus should be on the musicality rather than the lyricism, but the thing with PsychoYogi is that the two go inexorably together – and the overall musical result is all the more rounded and satisfying for it.
In terms of the performers, Chris Ramsing, with his dextrous guitar style, at once jazz infused and with an avant rock edge, and idiosyncratic vocalising, resolutely holds centre stage. Justin Casey on drums and percussion and Izzy Stylish on bass hold down a solid and supportive rhythm section, and horn duo Toby Nowell on trumpet, alto and tenor saxophone, along with John McNaughton on alto and tenor saxophone provide highly able and entertaining embellishment. The overall result is one of an effortless, well balanced organism, complex and yet somehow almost minimalistic, providing each performer with space for expression. These guys have been doing this for a long time and it shows in spades. They make it sound so easy, yet the more you listen, the more you realise this is most certainly not the case.
There are many highlights, Dangerous Devices with its aforementioned social comment and mercurial rhythm, Words Unspoken with its chiming jollity at odds with its title, Master Plan with its Primus goes jazz vibe and seductively entertaining yet challenging vocal; Moron (actually a stripped back, acoustic-based version of an old song of theirs) with its Primus-like irreverence and idiosyncrasy; I could go on – but you should discover for yourself.
PsychoYogi are one of those bands who have been quietly and steadily doing their thing for years, and keeping the faith in what they are doing being worthwhile. I for one assert that it is indeed very worthwhile, and this is a band and musical project deserving of much more attention than they have garnered. If from the above this sounds anything like your thing, you’ll be doing your ears and soul a great favour in checking out Dangerous Devices (and indeed the rest of the PsychoYogi catalogue).
01. Dangerous Devices (4:45)
02. One Way Track (3:11)
03. Master Plan (4:08)
04. New Frontier (2:57)
05. Sooner Than Now (4:12)
06. Common As Muck (2:27)
07. Shadows (4:22)
08. Moron (1:46)
09. Tender Loving Way (2:20)
10. Lament (0:53)
11. Words Unspoken (4:14)
12. Plastic Palace (0:22)
Total Time – 35:37
Chris Ramsing – Guitar, Vocal
Justin Casey – Drums, Percussion
Izzy Stylish – Bass
Toby Nowell – Trumpet, Alto & Soprano Sax (track 1,2,4,5,6,9 & 10)
John McNaughton – Alto & Tenor Sax (tracks 3,7,9 & 11)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 11th April 2020