Jennifer Gentle | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper



To find out what exactly goes on in someone's mind during an LSD trip -- that is, if you're wary of trying it firsthand -- you need only turn toward the stranger and more heavily drug-induced psychedelia of '60s musicians such as Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson, artists well known for taking listeners on long, strange trips with their music, which was often heavily inspired by chemical means.



As garage rock revived itself in the past few years, new musicians began developing a fascination with such oddballs and cult icons of past eras -- creative visionaries who were never really meant to be understood. Neo-folk artists, including Devendra Banhart and Jennifer Gentle, are the new breed. 


Jennifer Gentle is no lady, but perhaps rather a distant cousin of Syd Barrett, bred from the same family line of creative genius (hinging, of course, on serious mental instability). Blatantly borrowing its name from their weird uncle's lyrics in the Pink Floyd song "Lucifer Sam," this Italian group, which consists of two men, doesn't seem to mind wearing its influences on its sleeves. With Valende, the band's American debut, the duo has composed the musical equivalent of a lengthy drug trip, complete with moments of euphoria, peace, humor, indifference, paranoia and terror.


Weird and whimsical, they find fodder in the outwardly bizarre, singing odd and nonsensical lyrics while often under the influence of helium, and utilizing less-than-common instrumentation and arrangements. Once you turn on, tune in and drop out, the album starts off with the folky "Universal Daughter," which showcases the band's uncannily high voices (Italian accents nonexistent but, interestingly enough, slightly British-sounding) amidst kazoo choruses and wind-chime rhythms.


When sped up, their voices sound almost elfin, as in the second song, "I Do Dream You," a frenzied '60s-a-go-go pop number featuring a solo of someone handily letting the air out of a helium balloon. From that point on, the album drifts into a lazy, floating feeling of euphoria. Sandwiched between parts one and two of the languid and sleepy "The Garden" is "Hessesopoa," the album's only moment resembling the elements of a bad trip. Monstrous voices mumble and moan incoherently amidst a noisy organ breakdown, and clattering drum noise lasts for seven-and-a-half completely unlistenable minutes. Once it's over, though, the album goes back to its strange ways, coming to an appropriate end with the incredibly trippy and aptly titled album-closer, "Nothing Makes Sense." Indeed.


While Valende seems to take extreme measures in its depiction of neo-psychedelic rock, it isn't an exaggeration of itself. More like a "welcome back" to the strange days ahead.

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