By Ché Salgado
Artist: The Halfways
Album: In the Interim
Released: February 24th, 2017
Ask anyone around the Austin-San Marcos-San Antonio area who’s in the know in their scene, and whether they like it or not, they’ll probably tell you psychedelic rock. In the last few years, bands like The Halfways and the Roaring Sun have cropped up with a new brand of Texas neo-psychedelia. This movement, as far as this reviewer can tell, seems to be due to the pervasiveness at the moment of neo-psych music in indie-rock in general. With Australian bands like Tame Impala, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Pond, as well as American bands like Thee Oh Sees and The Black Angels all coming into prominence in the last ten years, we should have seen this coming. Another factor to be considered is the return of effects pedals, as these stompboxes are practically just as important as the actual instruments themselves. I’m not saying that effects pedals ever really “went away”, as that’s definitely not the case. But when we look at what occupied the spotlight that bands like Tame Impala now occupy, we see garage revival as “the” bands. Bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Hives, and The Vines whose sound was stripped down and billed as “The Return of Rock.” But it seems that since the dawn of the new decade, a new appreciation for a sound not so straight-forward has developed among the kids that were still in grade school when “Last Nite” was being played every five minutes. I remember being fifteen when a friend showed me Loveless. Nothing’s been the same since. All over the world, a renewed appreciation for shoegaze and ‘80s/’90s neo-psych bands has developed. Our discovery of bands like Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, Slowdive, Ride, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and The Jesus and Mary Chain has been just as important to psych-rock’s current moment in the limelight as bands like 13th Floor Elevators, The Red Krayola and all the rest of the stuff you have in your record collection alongside your Animal Collective and Captured Tracks records because your parents bequeathed it to you.
But The Halfways are delightfully different. Sure, they take their cues from modern psych-rock bands as well as classic ‘60s stuff, but on their new self-released record, In the Interim, the band sounds… well, a lot of the sounds sound like the cover looks. Pastoral is what I mean, this record isn’t really a phased-out fuzz-fest to take research chemicals to (be honest with yourself, it isn’t real acid). Rather, it’s a beautifully arranged pastoral-psych testament. Little musical interludes like “Town Square” both in music and in name invoke imagery of Britain in the middle of the last millennium. It reminds one of the guitar intro to “Stairway to Heaven” and how that song, too, invokes the musical past of that island. But let’s not forget, off on the top-right corner of the cover, as the 17th-century woman looks out of her 17th-century house, is a flying saucer. And just as the celtic sounds of “Town Square” fade into “All You Can Do Is Something About It” we’re reminded, as the effects-laden guitars come in over the acoustic sounds that this is a psych record. This is further proved on the next track, “Don’t Leave Me Alone to Myself” which starts out with a guitar that seems like it’s taking cues from Spacemen 3’s “Revolution.” But again it balances out, as that guitar dissolves into the wonderfully layered sound that can be found all over this record. It’s joined by arpeggiating acoustic guitars, melodica and synths. It seems like Daniel Fernandez, the Austin by-way-of Miami frontman and mind behind the music has carved out a nice little spot for himself amongst the current neo-neo-psych-rock scene. His project isn’t constrained by typical notions of what psych rock is. I have a feeling that if I were to try and talk about his music in those terms to him, I’d get raised eyebrows. Sure, it’s true that some of the album’s best songs, like the somber “I Don’t Know How to Say No” follow a classic psychedelic tradition by implementing things such as phase effects and synthesizers, the scope is so much wider than that. Consider the fact that for some of the sounds on this album, the Austin Baroque Orchestra was hired to supply them. The credits of this album are littered with names that supply a litany of sounds like the melodica, xylophone, cello, and flute. Fernandez seems to be coming from the same angle that our Psychedelic Godfather, Brian Wilson was in the mid-’60s when he was creating some of the most groundbreaking pop music of all time.
I don’t mean to bill this as Austin’s Definitive Music Statement of 2017, as the record isn’t without its flaws. Sometimes it seems the same phrases are repeated ad-nauseum, some tracks pull more weight than others, leaving some tracks to blend together without much distinction. But I think it’s nice and moreover important that we don’t rest on our notions of what psychedelic rock should be rather than exploring what psychedelic rock could be. And this record does that. It combines both aspects of the past with the possibilities of the future to gives us a tracklist that has both the straightforward, Beatles-esque “Standing On The Shoulders Of Your Friends” which does sound a bit like Revolver. But also gives us tracks like the advanced single, “What You Fear (Is All You See)” which combines electric guitars, celtic-sounding acoustic guitars, accordion, synthesizer and piano harp to create a wonderful potpourri in the form of the best record this band has made yet.