Sky Picnic has certainly chosen their niche. Any and all critical exposition of this band must inevitably dissect its work into multiple points of contention concerning what the band is, what it aims to be, and the marked difference between the two.
Psychedelia—a genre of music that is often slandered for its trite obsession with squirrelly questions like, “What if we are all dreaming and reality is like the effervescent foam of the shark infested sea,” and “LSD, mind expander or time vehicle?”
Psychedelia—characterized musically by extended “trippy” solos mostly written in a minor key and saturated with reverberation, tremolo effects, and oscillating time signatures.
Sky Picnic seeks to embody this genre, claiming that they recreate “the unique psychedelic experience that has been absent since the era of Sgt. Pepper and Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” Wow! And listen to this—they will take you to the “outer fringes of the universe.” The over-the-top promises of mind blowing enchantment and the band’s very name invite skepticism. Simply put, Sky Picnic’s biography is a caricature of late 60’s early 70’s psychedelic rock and roll. This is not a band that maintains its innocence concerning direction or purposeful marketing. They whole heartedly embody the anachronistic phrase, “far out,” and their music does them no favors. The album opens with a sitar…
As far as their instrumentation, it is clear that only Chris Sherman knows his way around the studio. I understand the frustrations that come with limited time and budget. You can’t do everything in Pro Tools, especially when recording an album meant to convey the nostalgia of classic pychedelia. Everything I am about to say I am willing to bet is known by the band members themselves. The drums are poorly recorded, giving the entire affair a dull matt. LSD is not a sedative. The bass is often out of sync with the drums, which is often out of sync with the guitar, which seems to be the only constant talent in the band. It is clear that before these cats take me anywhere, much less the outer fringes of the universe, they have to learn how to play together. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of bands I love who haven’t a clue how to play their instruments, but these bands are all equal partners in their cacophonous crimes, Sky Picnic struggles too much with who goes where, when. Synesthesia is a collection of 5 songs that because of structural, thematic, and stylistic problems would have been best left in the “ideas” stage of creativity.
Now what went right?
The post rock elements of Moons of Jupiter and the extended sprawl of Sequence IV are exceptional. The flavor tastes more of Godspeed You Black Emperor rather than the Beatles, but clearly this is a good thing. It is where Sky Picnic excels. In fact, I am going to rename the band. Sky…and just to give it that otherworldly aesthetic we’ll call them Caelum. Sky Picnic is hereby dubbed Caelum. The difference between the artistic direction of Moons of Jupiter and Half the Queen’s Face cannot be overstated. It is the difference between the rarely listened to, and thusly much cooler, Pink Floyd record Mettle, and Rocky Raccoon…bleeech! Of course Moons of Jupiter is the infinitely cooler song. Now this might expose a bias, some really love silly Beatles tunes and I hate them. While the dark tonal environment developed by Moons of Jupiter and Sequence IV do not justify the mechanical mistakes by the band- the errors are still present even in the best of moments- the tracks do set forth a vision of the band that is not amateurish or cartoonish. When they move into this cavernous space, the band demonstrates that they indeed can invoke images of the outer limits in a sincere and forceful way. Caelum (Sky Picnic) needs to vastly improve the production quality of their music, or at least use some more creative techniques in the recording process, and they need to continue to explore what is truly unknown about the human mind, rather than pursue a readily established and entirely exploited line of thought.
P.S. I like the Beatles….Just not songs like Rocky Raccoon and Octopus’s Garden…Just to clarify…