Over the years, I’ve found myself eagerly devouring each album guitarist/vocalist/bandleader/cult leader Chris Schlarb releases with his group, Psychic Temple. His progressive melding of jazz, folk, and hazy rock has a laid back sensibility that can only come from Long Beach, California. In that regard, it’s hard to nail down exactly what kind of music Psychic Temple makes, especially as each successive album embarks on new territory, yet it is also in this regard that Psychic Temple continuously dazzles. The group’s fourth official album together maintains this same excellence.
Honestly, it’s hard to even call this group jazz anymore. Schlarb continues to meld together hyper-talented musicians to execute these lightly folk-pop-inflected tunes, bringing together legends like Max Bennett with the young drummer Taborn Allen and making magic. The group’s full, warm sound and rich arrangements feel akin to mid-aughts Iron and Wine (which Sam Beam and Co. were themselves channelling Chicago). However, tight arrangements and well worn, sleepy vocals from Schlarb, steadily more comfortable singing on his albums, don’t detract from a horn section including Danny T. Levin and Jeremy Trezona. As Schlarb has spent the last few years expanding his skills and connections at his own Big Ego Studios, while this has long been the case, it’s never been more clear that Chris Schlarb knows how to put together a talented group of folks. The ever-shifting personnel listings on each of these songs is certainly a testament to that here.
The songs themselves are treasures– compact, direct, with just enough room for embellishments without losing their focus. These are folk songs at heart, but folk songs are made for folks, they’re made for the enjoyment of people and the Psychic Temple never forgets this. “Turn Off the Lights” feels made for sweeping thunderstorms over wide plains where the word “windswept” feels just a bit too on the nose. “S.O.S.” is so smooth a tune it should be criminal. It’s hard to figure out the coolest song on an album of altogether cool songs, but this one may just fit the bill. Closer “Isabella Ocean Blue”, dedicated to Schlarb’s young daughter (who is quite honestly cute as a whole desk drawer full of buttons) sounds like a triumphant march full of all the musical motifs IV had exhibited for the last half hour, as if to say that all these feelings were leading to this great beauty. That’s what’s most clear about the album– its function together. Every little interlude, every repeated phrase, ever slight diversion for a moment of musical marvelling, is geared toward some greater idea. The Psychic Temple continues its teachings.
The most fascinating thing about Chris Schlarb’s Psychic Temple is its consistently maturing sound and growing musical ideas that never seem to push the listener away as it seems to be doing so much more than it did before. IV continues Psychic Temple’s musical innovation, cornucopia of sound, and ever open arms for others to find the gospel of this music. The doors of the church are now open.
Psychic Temple IV, is out July 14th on Joyful Noise Records.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.