Psicomagia, Psicomagia: Convening el Congreso

From the very start of opener “El Memorioso,” the self-titled El Paraiso Records debut from Psicomagia is an album that makes short work of assumptions. In both their sound and in their situation, the four-or-five-or-six-piece offer surprises throughout the four tracks/39 minutes of Psicomagia, veering seemingly at will across stylistic borders. To look at their name, the fact that all the song titles are in Spanish and considering they’re on El Paraiso, one almost expects them to be European, but no, they’re based in San Diego, and while they cast off a lot of the heavy psychedelic swirl one might find in West Coast space rockers Mammatus, the jammier Harsh Toke and the ever-glorious Earthless — of the many things Psicomagia are, you would not call them “gnarly,” at least on record — they maintain a progressive mindset that shows up in the crisp execution of these cuts. Comprised of “El Memorioso” (5:19), “El Congreso Pt 1” (14:37), “El Congreso Pt. 2” (12:36) and “Simplõn” (6:20), Psicomagia present a rational and a symmetry even unto the album’s structure that’s mirrored in their fitting sonic balance. At times, their guitar-less blend of Tyler Daughn‘s keys and organ, the tenor sax of Brian Ellis (also of Astra), the drums of Paul Marrone (also of Astra and Radio Moscow), Trevor Mast‘s bass and Bernardo Nuñez‘s spoken word can be dizzying, but they are never without a sense of texture or melody, and the depth of organ tone fills the place where a guitar would no doubt otherwise loose an apparently needless barrage of solos.

So if you think looking at the cover or seeing the tracks that you might know what you’re going to get from Psicomagia, be prepared to be delightfully wrong. While they retain a deep sense of creativity throughout — the rhythmic block hits that start “El Memorioso” give a cinematic beginning to the engaging atmosphere that unfolds — they are never out of control, and while parts may have been developed in jams, they’ve since been purposed into precision jolts of switched-on jazz. Ellis‘ sax and Daughn‘s keys often work in tandem effectively on bop runs while Marrone and Mast lock in heady foundations, and even in a freaked out movement like that which begins “El Congreso Pt. 1,” they retain a sense of direction if not to-the-second plotting. Most of the album is instrumental, but Nuñez‘s delivery — he’s credited in the liner of the digipak with “Poetry,” and the band further credit Daniel Guttierez with “words” online while listing only “…” with the disc — adds to the personality, his voice even for someone who doesn’t speak Spanish giving a human anchor to the musical leaping and cavorting of the instruments behind. Psicomagia is not the kind of album that happens without a consistent and fervent level of confidence behind it, but even as “El Congreso” moves in its immersive reaches between its two parts, none of the indulgence feels unwarranted. It seems like no matter which instrument one might choose to focus on at any given point, there’s something happening that’s worth paying attention to. That could just as easily fall flat, but for how well the musicians worth together.

It’s hard to gauge whether Psicomagia benefits from the make-it-work-for-vinyl split between “El Congreso Pt. 1” and “El Congreso Pt. 2,” but if you’re listening on CD, you’re probably listening to the whole album anyway, and on LP, it seems like the momentary break might allow you to catch your breath before diving into the B-side, so I don’t think it necessarily hurts the flow, which moves along at breakneck speed as “El Congreso Pt. 2” shimmies to its massive payoff, seeming to cap during the last three minutes with a bigger and bigger finish of cymbal washes and swirling noise. Even here, Psicomagia keep their heads, though, and where there isn’t the kind of spontaneity prevalent that a jammier outfit would proffer, there’s enough twisting and turning in this material to trade that expectation for the sheer thrill of getting your head around it. Some of the most impressive runs are saved for “Simplõn,” with the keys and the sax locked into up-down-up-down dashes that call to mind Hypnos 69‘s King Crimson fetishizing played at 1.5 speed. They stand out at the front end of the mix, but the fact is the drums and bass are the foundations of these tracks and Psicomagia need the one as much as the other to work as well as they do. And they do. The San Diegans won’t have the same kind of surprise factor in their corner their next time out, but they make it easy enough to believe that with the precision they bring to life here they’re more than up for the challenge of a follow-up. It’ll be one to watch out for for sure, since there are few on the West Coast or anywhere else who’ve come out of the gate with as impressive a take on classic prog without losing themselves in soulless technicality.

Psicomagia, “El Congreso Pt. 1”

Psicomagia on Thee Facebooks

Psicomagia at El Paraiso Records

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