10 Psychedelic Albums To Blow Your Mind

By The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne
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The textured and obscure sounds of Animal Collective that we’ve been immersed in this month have sent Clash into a kaleidoscopic spin, and we’re inclined to venture further down the lysergic lane to see what delights might be in store. But we need a guide - a transcendental wizard whose blotted paper is ticked with the many experiences of sonic trips.

Enter Wayne Coyne, frontman and theatrical warlock for The Flaming Lips, a band not averse to thrilling adventures in sound or space. Asked to recommend ten of his favourite psychedelic albums, his list contained a few surprises - how does he define ‘psychedelic’? “It’s something that evokes something besides a style,” he says. “It sounds like you’re going internal. It sounds like music that’s coming from within, as opposed to musicians making music.”

So join us now as we venture within the warped world of Wayne. Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream...

PORTISHEAD - ‘THIRD’ (2008)



Eleven years after their second, the reinvented trio returned with an amazing album of electronic and mechanical layers of sound.

“I’m not sure what people think of this choice, but for me it definitely is psychedelic. They do that thing with distortion and atmosphere probably as good as it can be done; you know, like cool sounding drums, strange rhythm tracks, and cool hypnotic bass stuff. Part of what I like about it is what in the beginning I didn’t like - I was expecting another normal Portishead record, and I thought, ‘There’s not any songs on here!’ I think it hit me at a time when I myself was hoping to be able to abandon song-structures, so it was a great coming together of what I was hoping for but they were more ready for.

To me the best psychedelic music is like a bad drug experience. It evokes a little bit of fear, a little bit of death, a little bit of ‘I’m not sure if I’m sane anymore’. Portishead, I think, does that well. It’s never a celebration of ‘look how beautiful life is’ - I think Beth [Gibbons] shows how beautiful life is even when it’s coloured in greys and blacks and a little uncertainty.”

OOIOO - ‘FEATHER FLOATS’ (1999)



All-female Japanese group formed by Boredoms drummer Yoshimi P-We, their second album is bilingual soulful and joyously liberating psych.

“A lot of it is instrumental; a lot of it is pieced together. I think most of it was done by Yoshimi - I think she’s doing most of the overdubs on that one herself. It’s just completely free-form and it bypasses song structure. It’s not built on chords and dynamics, it just takes its own path. This kind of music is not in the world unless you grab these records and sit there and listen to them. And sometimes I sit there and get immersed in it. It was because of this record that we were so interested in having Yoshimi sing and do stuff on a record that we ended up calling it ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’. There’s a lot of connection to that record with what influenced us in the next couple of years after hearing that record.”

MILES DAVIS - ‘BITCHES BREW’ (1970)



Perhaps influenced by his friendship with Jimi Hendrix, here Davis continues his disregard for traditional jazz in favour of unconventional electric adventures.

“I’d probably heard and dismissed this record the first hundred times someone put it on. I’d be like, ‘That’s just formless stuff. I can’t follow that!’ And then, I think, as my tastes changed or I changed or I had a desire for something else, I would hear it again and suddenly I’d be like, ‘Oh, well now I like it’. I’ll admit there was a period where I couldn’t listen to anything else - I’d put on ‘Bitches Brew’ almost exclusively for two years. Part of what I was wanting was to be brave enough to make music like that myself. I’d sit there and think, ‘There’s no danger in making music like this. It’s fine if you want to do that’. I was trying to convince myself that we could do that too.”

KING CRIMSON - ‘IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING’ (1969)



A building block for prog music, the experimental King Crimson’s debut is dark and surreal - a reflection of the late-’60s post-acid comedown.

“The first song, ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’, from the first time I heard it, I just thought that was a fuckin’ wicked druggy, futuristic song. It’s just a menacing, evil, but very fucking tripped-out seven minutes of music. It feels like it’s music from another dimension. When I say ‘psychedelic’ that’s what I mean: something bad is lurking as well - we’re not just free to be ourselves. Once we become ourselves there’s some danger lurking, there’s some fear. Sometimes what’s great about music is you kinda know what’s going to happen before it happens. But sometimes what’s great about music is you can’t know why it’s happening. And it’s pulling you in - not because you’re confused, it’s just you’re intrigued because you can’t quite know why this is happening. We don’t alway want to know when we turn a corner what’s going to happen there.”

JOY DIVISION - ‘CLOSER’ (1980)



Second and final album from Manchester’s most haunting export. Dark, despairing and ethereal, it was released six weeks after Ian Curtis’ suicide.

“They’re cold and simple, but man, they really hint at this other world. I can totally understand how Ian Curtis could walk in on one of the times when they would’ve been rehearsing one of these songs and just very easily sing this heavy shit over it. Because even before Ian comes in on a lot of it, it’s fucking heavy, depressing, death-oriented, dark, freaky, bad drugs music - which I love. They aren’t doing a style, they’re creating an atmosphere that you can be in. It’s not a sound, it’s an atmosphere, it’s a world.”

PINK FLOYD - ‘PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN’ (1967)



The debut album from the UK’s arch psych pioneers, steered by the visionary genius of future acid casualty, Syd Barrett.

“Some of ‘Piper’ to me is kind of unlistenable in it’s just too ‘English eccentric’ - I think that was Syd’s greatest thing and also his worst. But some of it does this other thing. Even the beginning of the record is just like, ‘What the fuck are we listening to?’ When I hear it even still, it’s like, ‘What the fuck?! How did they make this record?’ It’s those fucking weird sounds, that weird way they recorded. The stuff to me that’s good is worth going through the stuff that isn’t as good.”

SUCIDE - ‘SUICIDE’ (1977)



A paranoid and fear-filled debut from the NYC No Wave outsiders. Hard and industrial, it’s harrowing and nihilistic - yet melodic and deep.

“That is just such a singular fuckin’ bleak, defeating piece of atmospheric fucking bad news, you know? To me it definitely is like the drug experience: it’s as bleak as it can get but still evokes a lot of joy. (Laughs) I mean I guess that’s part of what we like about music, that it’s not trying to tell you, ‘Look, the world is great!’ It’s like saying: ‘The world is fucking horrible too, but isn’t this amazing? Isn’t it fascinating and amazing that it’s horrible?’ It’s like the thing that is the deepest thing that’s in you, the deepest, darkest most horrible secret that’s in you, is the one that you want to scream the loudest. That’s just what music is. So sometimes your joys are not that deep in you - they’re happening to you on the outside. It’s your fears, the things you fear that you’ve done wrong, the fear that you’re going to go insane, or even the fear that you’ll kill yourself; all that stuff is so internal. I like hearing songs that are about that when I feel that way.”

RADIOHEAD - ‘HAIL TO THE THIEF’ (2003)



Emerging from epic experimental escapades, the Oxford quintet drew from lessons learned to redesign rock music.

“I like the more abstract ones that came before, but I think when Radiohead does rock it still is fucking weird. There’s something about [Thom] Yorke’s style, the chords he picks, the finger-pickings... It’s just like, ‘Fuck!’ It just evokes this other thing. There’s something - I don’t know if it’s in all of Radiohead’s music - but there’s definitely something in Thom Yorke that is perpetually unsatisfied and apologetic for being so loathing all the time. I’m not like that really myself, but there is something of that longing in there...”

THROBBING GRISTLE - ‘20 JAZZ FUNK GREATS’ (1979)



The most misleading album title ever? The third outing from Hull’s avant-garde anarchists is ominous, distorted synth-pop.

“This probably is of the calibre of the Suicide record. When you’re young and you hear music like this, you really go, ‘Oh my God, what’s wrong with these people? Why do they do this?’ Because you think you wouldn’t want to make music like this if you were normal! But the more I make music the more I realise you could be normal and still love hearing weird shit like this, because the more we listened to it the more we loved it - even though some of it is punishing and depressing if you really want it to penetrate you. They just have such a fuckin’ cool take on things. And plus they’re called Throbbing Gristle! It’s just so disturbing! What a great exploded imagination it takes just to call yourself that.”

THE BEATLES - ‘REVOLVER’ (1966)



The Fab Four’s gateway to psychedelia; a masterpiece of clean production, expansive imaginations, and innovative song writing.

“This is where this type of psychedelia that I’m interested in kind of begins, or where you start to become aware of it. There’s just no possible way anybody would ever be able to top ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ - that’s just the perfect combination of magic happening in the first minute of that song. When I hear ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, we just get right up to speed and we don’t get out of it. We don’t come back down, we don’t crescendo back up; we just go right to speed and say ‘This is exactly where I want to be’.’ And I think that’s just a great intense, druggy moment. You just soar there. You’re just hovering there. And, you know, it’s bleak - I’m sure [John] Lennon intended it to be disturbing. He’s talking about the [Tibetan] Book Of The Dead and all that sort of stuff, and it’s fucking cool shit to have your mind swim around in. It’s wonderful.”

‘The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwends’ is out now.

Words by Simon Harper

This interview appears in the September 2012 issue of Clash Magazine. Find out more about the issue.

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