With countless blogs posting obscure records on a daily basis and a robust reissue market, music lovers are spoiled for choice. The most intimidating aspect of this onslaught is not how much of it is mediocre and skippable but how great so much of it is. In theory, the time when the entire history of recorded music is available on a palm-sized hard drive is not far off, but if the monthly appearance of compilations like Psych Bites: Australian Acid Freakrock 1967–1974 Volume 1 continues apace, it is hard to imagine that the history of recorded music will ever be fully documented.
This 20-track compilation from reliable reissue outfit Past & Present is a distillation of Australian groups inspired by the nascent hard-rock scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The promise of a compilation like this is to unearth rare gems on par with well-known classics of the era. Psych Bites succeeds as much as it fails in this respect, with monsters like the strong-voiced, percussion-driven “Then I Run” by Doug Parkinson In Focus coming off like a heavier version of work by The Grass Roots. On the other hand, proto-prog curiosities like Pirana’s “Here It Comes Again” leave no question as to why some bands have remained undiscovered.
One issue that prevents Psych Bites from being completely satisfying is its rather broad scope, covering eight years — 1967 to 1974 — in which the dominant mainstream-rock style transformed. This is reflected in the rather schizophrenic change in tone from track to track. Another issue is the stated genre focus: “Australian Acid Freakrock.” This designation is so broad it includes everything from Sabbath copyists like Ash to “No Need To Cry” by the Dave Miller Set, a convincing interpretation of the proto hard-rock sound The Beatles perfected on “Come Together “ and also one of the standouts here. On the other hand, “Awake” by Ticket is a study in amplifying the most cliche tendencies of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Acid rock is a rather useless genre designation, applicable to Iron Butterfly as much as to The Grateful Dead. Although Australia is a geographically isolated country with a healthy music history of its own, pioneering British and American groups of the classic-rock era that reached the country in the ’60s and ’70s left a lasting influence. The resulting tunes are typical rather than exceptional, played with conviction and technical proficiency but lacking a distinct cultural spin.