By Andrew Jones | Published September 2019
On record, Elephant9 sounds like a band you’d want to see live. The Norwegian trio’s marriage of exacting musicianship, thunderous improvisational trips and grinding electronics begs for proximity to its source. And two volumes of Psychedelic Backfire, albums featuring highlights from a four-night residency at a small Oslo venue, take listeners there.
I opens with “I Cover The Mountain Top”—off the band’s 2008 debut—a suitably droning, dirge-like spell presupposes the main theme’s sudden, rumbling interruption. Then, keyboardist Ståle Storløkken intercedes with a nightmarish slice of distortion before the song collapses into a stew of interlocking rhythms and stacking harmonies. It swirls hypnotically, Nikolai Hængsle’s bass binding everything together and allowing Storløkken to pluck the occasional poetic phrase out of the morass.
Reine Fiske—a versatile guitarist best known for his time in Dungen—joins the trio on II. Tracks like the album’s closer, “Freedom’s Children/John Tinnick,” a suite combining closing tracks from Atlantis and Walk The Nile, demonstrate his closeness with the ensemble. After tearing through the first portion’s endearing dinosaur-rock stomp, Fiske and Storløkken dialog above drummer Torstein Lofthus’ simmering percussion. As “John Tinnick” reaches its crescendo, Lofthus’ contribution shines through, easily transitioning from ambient to propellant. II’s opening track, “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,” follows the quiet-loud progression ubiquitous across most of these performances. It also features some of the most striking harmonic interplay between Storløkken and Fiske.
Psychedelic Backfire I/II: Cover The Mountain Top; Farmer’s Secret; Habanera Rocket; Skink/Fugl Fonix; Actionpack 1; Dodovoodoo; You Are The Sunshine Of My Life; Skink/Fugl Fonix; Habanera Rocket 2; Freedom’s Children/John Tinnick. (71:16/62:19)
Personnel: Ståle Storløkken, keyboards; Nikolai Hængsle, electric bass; Torstein Lofthus, drums; Reine Fiske, guitar (II).