Psychic Ills—with their expensive-looking clothes, their minutes-long ear-throttling meditations, their competing loops, their celebrity fans (Chloe Sevigny, James Ransone, both spotted in the Santos’ VIP corral on Friday), their dub inflections, their identical brown curly-haired curtains concealing their uniformly handsome faces, their Brazilian and African rhythms, their pretensions—are a band whose personas and live excesses threaten to overshadow the magnificence of their subtle, intensely repetitive, music. Perhaps they’ve paid too much lip to their postures, but they’ve also paid in full with their indulgently uncompromising sonic experimentation–piddling three-chord pop this ain’t.
You try and find a decent interview of these guys. Their label Social Registry has more than a few artists concerned as much with what isn’t known about them as what is. In this respect, Psychic Ills might be the most self-obscuring of them all. So with Jimmy Seitang (keyboard, etc.) storming onstage waving burning incense, Tres Warren (guitar, etc.) grimacing a “thanks” into the mic, and the waifish Elizabeth Hart (bass) spinning around, swinging beads over her head, you’re left either to roll your eyes or to believe that they’re actually summoning some sonic spirits you’ve not had the pleasure of meeting. It’s less of an opening prayer and more like an ongoing séance. Since Hart’s bass forms one of the few dependable backbones of their slow-burning songs, she lets its presence be known only about half the time. The rest she spends wandering in slow-motion: waving drum sticks above her head, scraping them on the floor, bending over like a loosely propped rag doll, pivoting like Kim Gordon in half (quarter?) time.
The kicker for this band, though, is that one never needs to lose faith in the arrival of a hook. It remains a monster, even after a seemingly endless wash of competing improvisations—phased, looped, delayed, flanged, and fucked with in most anyway possible. The Ills themselves have admitted that their songs mutate so readily that the hook, even when it does arrive, is never exactly the same. But it will come, as it did when they played “The Way Of” off their upcoming album Mirror Eye (January 2009). And it will come again. These guys haven’t compromised once in the half-decade or so they’ve been around, and for the time being, there’s no worrying that any band around can overpower the monster lurking in the muddy depth of a Psychic Ills set.