Released on vinyl by Little Cloud Records
Setting aside the buzzy haphazardness and semantic dilution characterizing today’s use of “psychedelic” as a descriptor for music, look no further for utterly authentic, quintessential psychedelia—music that expresses and invokes extraordinary states of mind and perception—than the powerful, inspired rock of São Paulo, Brazil’s Firefriend. This prolific project has been releasing albums and EPs for a decade and consists of Julia Grassetti on bass, vocals, and keyboard; C. Amaral on drums and various electronics; and Yury Hermuche on guitar and vocals. They’ve been recording and producing in their own studio since 2016’s full-length, Negative Sun. 2017 EP The Black Hole and this year’s long-player Sulfur have followed, creating a stunning trilogy of self-recorded efforts, each one riveting from start to finish. Elite Portland psych label Little Cloud Records has done us the service of releasing The Black Hole and Sulfur in fine vinyl editions available from Little Cloud itself as well as from Cardinal Fuzz, while Negative Sun is available in digital form.
In the spirit of predecessors The Velvet Underground, Firefriend prize the authentic over the finely wrought, and in doing so achieve, like the Velvets, a very distinctive immediacy and presence. Some of Firefriend’s excursions are on the lengthy side—“Quiet Vampires”, the closing track of The Black Hole EP, runs 8:29 and takes up an entire side of the 12”—but even the lengthiest are gripping throughout. In sympathy with much of psychedelia, post-rock, and shoegaze, there’s a great deal of emphasis on sounds and textures, often strange ones. Both Julia and Yury deliver vocal incantations with a spoken and whispered feel while still subtly expressing melodic lines. Structures are unexpected and seem very organically grown, as if emerging from within the music rather than being imposed from without, while the tracks still move through a very specific sequence of transitions that are essential to their impact. The sum of these propensities is a wonderful fusion of song and experimentation—dark and heavy, jaggedly beautiful, uplifting in its ultimate effect.
The songs are not without melodic and rhythmic hooks, but the real “hooks” in this material, the qualities that grab and hold our attention so effectively, are largely located elsewhere. The core of the music’s power lies instead in the way Firefriend seems always to take us somewhere, to portray and draw us into spaces and places—not literal geographies, but, in the great tradition of psychedelia, territories of mind and feeling. (The term “psychedelic”, coined in 1956 by a research psychiatrist for the purpose of bringing trip-inducing drugs such as LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin together under their own classifying rubric, has two Greek roots, “psyche”, meaning “mind”, and “delos”, meaning “manifest”; its literal meaning, then, is mind-manifesting, mind-revealing.) Extraterrestrial mindscapes shiver and unfold in the revealing beam of Firefriend’s starcraft headlights. “We like to think,” Yury has told us in our electronic correspondence, “that we are looking for new shapes and places…Don’t you feel that some songs, some records, are entire universes?”
DAN JOY/ WHEN THE SUN HITS