Galkin – Clear Customs

Galkin – Clear Customs

There hasn’t been quite so much of what I used to call psych-rock around recently, or so it seemed. The third album from the Toronto-based Galkin certainly qualifies as that, and while his influences appear to include Beck, Steely Dan, The Asteroid #4 and – somewhere inevitably – the assorted works of Anton Newcombe, the ten tracks that make up Clear Customs are a harder-edged take on the folksy meanderings that the whole psych oeuvre became associated with. Perhaps this is my own memory playing a slight prank on me, as some other musicians and bands that I could also connect to this review, such as the solo work of Ian Broudie, the Stevenson Ranch Davidians, right back to the mid-’60s experimentation of The Grateful Dead and The Jefferson Airplane, are all music of a type that sounds louder, more energetic and occasionally a lot more downright gnarly whenever I listen again. Clear Customs balances its folksy, psych and rock sides successfully, for the most part, perhaps as the centrepiece of the album is very much Mikhail Galkin’s guitar-playing.

There are tracks on this album that may have begun their life as improvised guitar solos that had songs then written around them, and as electronic and other elements make their presences known, and as I listened to Clear Customs it occurred to me that actual guitar solos, or developed six-string extemporisations within songs of this particular genre haven’t really been considered acceptable, ever. Realising this, that the entire psych scene, while it has given us so many great songwriters, isn’t where you are going to find present day Garcia’s, Santana’s, Kaukonen’s or whichever historic guitar maestro you can name, has perhaps given Mikhail Galkin’s music an added impetus. That isn’t to say that his guitar work is obtrusive or overly prominent in the song arrangements, just that right from the album’s first and title cut, it’s the precision-timed lead part that sneaks into the track at near the halfway mark which gives the song an added depth and timbre in a similar way to how Graham Coxon could lift any Blur song above the ordinary, or Rob Campanella could provide a similar backup for the classic BJM recordings of fifteen years ago.

If any of this is suggesting that Clear Customs is something approaching a full on exercise in metallic string shredding, then that is some distance away from what sort of album it actually is. The overall atmosphere is a decidedly mellow one, albeit with some subtly-paced percussion and electronics to keep things on edge, such as on the ever increasingly developing “In October”, the only superficially laidback “Drift”, the claustrophobic electronica of “Sleepy Driver” and lastly the swirling, reverberating ballad “On You”, four highlights of an album each of whose tracks are redolent of the type of songwriting and musicianship that the best psych bands built their reputations on. Whether Galkin’s music actually reaches such levels of acclaim isn’t yet decided. I do expect that in a year or two from now, I’ll be listening to Clear Customs with at least as much appreciation as when I first played it.