New York’s Psychic Ills are celebrating ten years as a band in 2013, and along the way they’ve bridged some interesting waters. From post-punk to psych-drone to touches of ambient synth-pop, there’s always been a hint of adventurous questing to the Ills’ pursuits, and on their second full-length with Sacred Bones, One Track Mind, they’ve arrived at a pleasant harbor of 4/4 stoner-blues intersecting seamlessly with Nuggets-esque jams. The results are more than simply pleasing.
One Track Mind has one thing going for it above all else: it’s easily the most consistent and rewarding of the Ills’ LPs. There’s a unified sense of purpose here that forgives some of their back catalogue’s rustic meanderings into side genre excursions and half-cocked rambles. After ten years, the Ills seem to have cozied up to their accepted identity in the canon of indie rock, and here they live in it like a dusty pair of well-loved thrift store jeans. There’s a sense of shimmering desert heat in this disc’s ten songs, and a push-pull tension of slight danger that serves the material well. “Depot” chugs along at a formidable pace while “FBI” oozes with funk color. At other times, the Ills slow things to an ominous, snaking crawl. There’s an abandon to the high melodrama of “Might Take Awhile” and the searing guitars of “See You There,” while “Western Metaphor” burns with sullen twilit intensity.
Diving deeper into the disc reveals even more rough-hewn gems. “I Get By” slithers along with 3AM barroom menace, in no great hurry to get anywhere in particular, all purring Keith Richards licks and slack-jawed Tom Petty drawl. “City Sun” is a blissed-out acoustic pit-stop on the album’s freeway of bluesy excess, bolstered by a forlorn harmonica and lazy shaker work. The closing five-minute rumble of “Drop Out” is probably the dreamiest, most haunting song that One Track Mind has to offer, guitars vibrating and shimmering like a Magic Fingers bed in a flophouse, pouring west through the white expanses of the map like oil. Though some of these tracks may bear similar thematic hallmarks, there isn’t a weak one to be found in the mix.
One Track Mind aims for the feel of a great dusty road-trip album, and only through its staggering consistency does it slightly fall short of such heights. But when it hits its highs, as if often does, the collection is a transcendent experience, conjuring all sorts of heady associations: Arizona highways, double-barreled bongs, haunted strip clubs, and blood-spattered motels. That a few guitars and a sturdy backbeat can paint such a vivid universe is a testament to how compelling this album comes across. I can think of no current LP that would sound better in a ’79 Trans Am.