The Chemistry Set: Pink Felt Trip
The Chemistry Set: Pink Felt Trip
Chemistry Set is a cult band from London that was founded in 1987. Veterans of both the alternative label Imaginary and the cassette-only label Acid Tape, they were part of the late 1980s-neo psychedelic boom and are back with their 35th anniversary album, Pink Felt Trip.
Pink Felt Trip, which comes out on vinyl on June 5th, is one of the best albums I’ve ever reviewed. Psychedelic rock can be a very formulaic genre (a lot of it is just blues/raga rock + fuzz & reverb), but Pink Felt Trip stands out more than most psych albums.
There is a definite feeling of doom throughout Pink Felt Trip, as the music and imagery feels apocalyptic.
The opening track, “Pink Felt Trip” evokes this imagery with talk of hydrogen bombs, vaguely militaristic imagery, and F-8 Air Force Ones. It sounds like Armageddon is here, the distortion is heavy, and the vocals are frenzied. Like a lot of the tracks on this album, though, the song shifts gears midway through. It takes on a mellower sound and just when you would expect it to get heavy again, it never does. It’s the sonic equivalent of the “peace” that would follow a nuclear strike.
This is followed by “The Witch”, a song with a much spookier vibe to it. Starting with the feeling of mellow doom, it slowly develops into a droning nightmare and evokes the feeling of a bad acid trip. The anxiety one feels while listening to this steadily builds throughout the song…and it’s fantastic!
Things get a bit poppy with “Lovely Cup of Tea”, which could easily serve as the lead single. Opening with a nice shuffle, the music eventually takes on a cabaret sound.
“Firefly” comes next, and it opens with a heavy, raunchy riff that contrasts nicely with the previous songs. This is more anthemic than the other tracks. It has a grunge vibe and the fuzz gets pretty wild. “Firefly” has a menace to it that most psychedelic songs lack.
The album has largely sidestepped the raga influences of most psychedelic rock efforts, but that’s not the case with “Psychotronic Man”. The first raga-rock inspired song on the album, this has a much more mystical vibe than the previous songs. It get especially trippy during the break that occurs around the middle of the song. There’s a moment of silence after this break, then it starts to build back up again. After this, it completely ditches any semblance of raga music and becomes a rollicking tune that inexplicably incorporates sampling from TV shows. It eventually calms down, though, and returns to a more mellow, raga-inspired piece that includes a lot of repetitive lyrics and ends with a sample of an anthropologist talking about pharaohs and a sarcophagus.
Things take another turn in the pop direction with the cover of the Moody Blues’ “Legend of a Mind”. This is a dreamy song that has one of Chemistry Set’s trademark stylistic shifts midway through the song.
The vibe gets heavy again on “Paint Me A Dream”, which has a strong blues influence. This is one of the shortest songs on the album and, for some reason, feels shorter than it actually is.
“Sail Away” is my favorite song from the album. The track opens with slide guitar and is a psychedelic country hoedown with raga-rock percussion.
Then the album ends with “Self Expression”, which opens with a long, slow, funeral dirge. This is one song, but it feels like a medley of five or six different songs.
This is a very good album that psychedelic rock fans will likely enjoy. I like the fact that it deviates from the classic psychedelic rock formula. A lot of psychedelic rock artists just rehash the same old blues and raga stuff, but Chemistry Set doesn’t do that. This band has been around a long time without much fanfare, so now is the time to check them out.