Psychic Ills, a group of four New Yorkers who operate in a hazy middle ground somewhere in-between Spacemen 3 and Om, understand that it’s as much about what you don’t play as what you do. Their discography may be sparse, but Mirror Eye, released on the always-intriguing Social Registry label, is the finest embodiment of their drone-adelic sound to date.
The band members freely admit that much of their music is improvised, but we’re far removed from jam-band territory when opening track “Mantis” begins. Much of Psychic Ills’ music relies on repetition, building up from a simple looping riff and taking on many different forms and shapes as each song progresses. Their music is tight and controlled, with acres of space for the band members to stretch out in. As “Mantis” progresses it almost sounds like they’re taking it in turns to show us what they can do, as clouded, echo-y vocals give way to analog synth noises, which in turn give way to carefully plucked guitar.
Clearly krautrock is an influence here, but only as a raw base from which other ideas can be eased into the mix. There’s also an Eastern influence, reminiscent of the kind of experimentation labelmates Gang Gang Dance indulged in around the time of their God’s Money album. At times there’s very little instrumentation at all, with the band using silence and space as key components in its sound. Occasionally this hush is broken by thick waves of din, such as on “Eyes Closed,” which uses heavily treated vocals to obliterate the silence.
The nine-and-a-half-minute long “I Take You as My Wife Again” is Mirror Eye’s centerpiece. The song initially resembles the kind of sparse experimentation practiced by Amon Düül II or Ash Ra Temple. Halfway through the song the arrangement becomes so thin that the track almost disappears completely, with the band again ushering eerie silence into the fold. The song’s coda is a mixture of beatless trance techno and electronic sounds that could have been directly transposed from Brian Eno’s Another Green World. It’s impressive stuff, and opens up an avenue that the band would be wise to explore further.
Occasionally Psychic Ills revisit ideas, with the tremoloed guitar of second song “Meta” resurfacing on “Fingernail Tea.” When the band members shackle their ideas to pop structure, as they do on “Fingernail Tea” and “The Way Of,” they make a pleasing return to the kind of territory mapped out by space rockers Flying Saucer Attack and its various offshoots (Crescent, Amp). Mirror Eye closes with “Go to the Radio,” which revisits the trance influence that surfaced on the backend of “I Take You as My Wife Again,” and provides Psychic Ills with plenty of new space to explore on future recordings.