A psychedelic journey
The past few decades have seen a significant shift in the world of psychedelic music. Popularized in the ’60s and ’70s, psychedelic music largely cribbed from Middle Eastern modes of music in an attempt to capture the trance-like rhythms that those cultures had long been producing. Somewhere along the way, this style fell out of favor, finding itself replaced by testosterone-laden bro rock and tight-jeaned glam rock. It retreated into the underground, where it was readily snatched up by worshippers of psychedelic drugs and disciples of ’60s rock. Now, the modern understanding of psych-rock sits somewhere beneath the influence pyramid of The Flaming Lips and Animal Collective. And this is where we find Figueroa, a side project of IDM legend Amon Tobin, sitting and plucking away under their oddly shaped tree, plucking a guitar as if the world were just a dream outside the shade.
At first blush, The World As We Know It feels like a Japanese math rock cut. The opening track, “Weather Girl,” blends influences from traditional psych-rock, math rock and modern psych-rock all at once. It does so rapidly and without any interest in spoon-feeding the listener, and the track quickly gets off to the races. It’s easily among the best cuts on the short album. It’s so good that the rest of the album struggles to hold itself up to the same standard, but there are worse crimes than firing your best song out of the cannon first.
The next few tracks, specifically “Put Me Under,” “Do Right” and “Better Run,” continue the mixture of influences. “Put Me Under” is distinctly American. The whole track smacks of the influence of great western films. Its slower, more deliberate pace drives the album into a more peaceful, if slightly less interesting, space. “Do Right” picks up the speed again but leaves people standing outside of a dusty saloon, waiting for the inevitable crack of gunfire as yet another sheriff is shot dead. And the song makes use of a fittingly somber tone to communicate its tension and sadness.
Finally, listeners reach “Better Run,” which pulls them back into the realm of the psychedelic. The guitar wails a woozy tone as if half-drunk and stumbling around the recording studio. Vocals wash out toward the background, and thumping drums drag the drunk guitar along the length of the track, parading its lack of moderation to anyone with ears. It’s a tremendous showing that nearly lives up to the introductory track and pushes people toward the solid closer, “Back to the Stars,” on an interesting note.
Figueroa does not reinvent psych rock. They will not appear in a future essay alongside Merriweather Post Pavilion or The Soft Bulletin. But fans of the genre will recognize The World As We Know It for what it is: a stunningly pretty amalgamate of all its chosen influences. There are worse things to be, and few that are much better.