Monday 1 April 2019

Djiin - The Freak (2019)

Country: France
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 14 Mar 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | YouTube

I've reviewed a few psychedelic rock albums at Apocalypse Later, including an album of the month, but this may be the deepest and trippiest I've found thus far. Djiin are French, from Rennes, and they feature a lead vocalist who also plays the electro harp, in addition to the usual musicians on bass, drums and guitar.

They're the sort of band who have no compunctions about kicking off what I believe is their debut studio album with a nine minute trip. It's the second track that's really going to determine whether people stay or leave, though. It's called Like a Hoot, it's a mere six and a half minutes long and it's a deceptively freeform jam that starts softly and slowly escalates throughout.

That lead vocalist is Chloé Panhaleux and she's a free spirit indeed, a wild flower who climbed out of the frickin' ground and figured out how to walk and talk and sing and roar. I'll never suggest that it's easy to sing a song but Panhaleux doesn't restrict herself to singing. She gives this track more than most vocalists give a career. She moans and hoots and soars and whispers and chirps and floats and creates a whole universe to inhabit.

Like a Hoot is followed by Child, the third of four opening songs that were previously on their live album, Live at Fog, and this plays out in a similar fashion. It adds some echoes to Panhaleux's voice and strips bare enough for the rest of the band to show just how unwilling each of them are to stick to anything. They're all over the map and this should sound truly awful, except it doesn't. Somehow they hold it together and haul us in with them.

It has to be said that when each band member goes off in their own direction, seeking their own spirit quest or whatever they're doing, it does allow us to follow whichever one we want. Early on, we dance along with Johann Godefroy, whose bass is a living creature here. Later, it's the guitar of Tom Penaguin that takes our attention, wailing so much that we wonder if there are two of him. At points, it's Allan Guyomard's drums that don't accompany the others so much as they play lead in their own mind.

Freaks is up next and it's as close to a title track as we get here, I guess. It's also the most familiar and the most traditional, if that's a word that's remotely applicable on something as deceptively freeform as this. There is at least some overt structure for the vocals to dance around. Panhaleux's vocal line sounds familiar, though I can't place from where. I'm thinking a Grace Slick song with her at her most abrasive. There's certainly acid aplenty on this track, which betrays a punk influence as well as a psych one.

Frankly, this could easily be described as punk psych. This may be a studio album but it feels so vibrant that it could believably have been recorded in one take, effectively live in the studio. The band constantly veer towards calamity, as if they're challenging each other, but they never fall apart at all; they just give the impression that they should. That must be such a hard approach to master. That this band have only been around since 2015 is wild.

If much of it can fairly be described as punk psych, it's not fair to limit the band to that description. Just check out Little Boy, the first song here to not be previously released live and easily the shortest, almost half the length of anything else. It's a bluesy improvisation that shifts well into a jazz vibe. Penaguin's solo in Crossing the River is right out of the blues playbook.

So where does that leave us in a vague attempt to describe the indescribable band that are Djiin? Acid punk psych jazz blues? That would miss out all the progressive angles, like on Heart Machine, and the space rock sounds that pop up every now and again and we're really losing focus. How about I just suggest that this is kind of like Janis Joplin getting incredible high and hallucinating that she's Iggy Pop?

Does that truly bizarre elevator pitch sound good? Then this is a very early Christmas present for you. You're welcome!

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