What Psymon Spine lack in the conventional, they make up for with the phenomenal: The Brooklyn trailblazers reach new depths in their entrancing sophomore album ‘Charismatic Megafauna’, a provocative and trippy journey into the sweeping depths of psychedelia, electronic, and dance music.
Stream: “Modmed” – Psymon Spine
For the uninitiated, “charismatic megafauna” is the term ascribed to large animals with symbolic value or widespread popular appeal. It applies to species like lions and tigers, gorillas and pandas, elephants and dolphins – many of which end up being “poster children” for zoos, wildlife funds, and environmental protection projects, because that’s what brings in the money and rouses awareness and action.
It’s also the title of Psymon Spine’s sophomore album – and while the Brooklyn experimental band’s music certainly has some animalistic qualities to it, their record isn’t at all about lions and tigers – or any other animals, for that matter; if anything, the name is a critique on the neglect of countless “unsexy” or “unappealing” species that get overlooked because of our societal – or perhaps, instinctual – predisposition toward cuteness. Think about that next time you see an advertisement with a panda instead of an endangered tarantula.
Psymon Spine’s new album isn’t something you would necessarily call “cute,” either: Rather, Charismatic Megafauna is entrancing: A provocative and trippy journey into the sweeping depths of psychedelia, electronic, and dance music. It’s a vast soundtrack – one that is often lacking in choruses and dwelling in curious and unfamiliar sounds. What Psymon Spine lack in the conventional, they make up for with the phenomenal.
I spend every minute waiting for it
But when it comes I feel guilty for it
When it comes it’s hard for me to trust it
Just kinda feels like a test
So when I’m up high
Just resting my eyes
It only takes a moment for the feeling to materialize
Back to the start
And I don’t wanna try
It only takes a moment for the feeling to rise
You’re back on your own
Maybe you got just what you wanted
Maybe it changed before you noticed it
Maybe you’re wrong, but I’m moving on
Maybe you’re wrong
I feel the ghost of someday funding machines
And ask myself if this is worth it to me
I think I’d rathеr have my sanity
Everything comes around
I’m looking at you
Released February 19, 2021 via Northern Spy Records, Psymon’s Spine’s sophomore album Charismatic Megafauna is a compelling and unique fusion of sound, style, and open-minded creative experimentation. Arriving nearly four years after band’s groundbreaking debut album You Are Coming to My Birthday, Psymon Spine’s new record is as much a reinvention as it is a reintroduction: Much has changed for the band that Noah Prebish and Peter Spears founded some 7+ years ago, and they’re eager to share this latest iteration with all the world.
In premiering You Are Coming to My Birthday back in 2017, Atwood Magazine praised the transformative record as an utterly unique, alluringly unconventional album: “Turning on Psymon Spine’s debut album is like stepping into Narnia,” we wrote at the time, going on to give the debut a 10/10 rating. “Fascinating colors and vibrant sounds delight the senses as we enter a brave new world. Ethereal synths envelop our ears, fat bass lines pulse through our bodies, dreamy guitars tingle our imaginations, and rich vocal melodies swim circles above us in perfect harmony.”
A fitting follow-up, Charismatic Megafauna finds Psymon Spine thriving in their element while keeping things fresh and unpredictable.
The band – a four-piece which today consists of Noah Prebish, Peter Spears, Brother Michael Rudinski, and Sabine Holler – utilize a wealth of instruments and styles to concoct what they describe as a fusion of psychedelic pop and dance music. Charismatic Megafauna‘s singles “Channels,” “Confusion,” “Milk,” and “Modmed” – the latter of which features MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden – showcase the group’s experimental approach to pop music; their art is tight, but loose; structured, yet jazz. Anything goes, yet at same time (and to Psymon Spine’s credit), everything feels finely finessed: It’s effortless; natural; chaos and control, combined.
“This album certainly took a long time,” the band tells Atwood Magazine. “You are Coming to My Birthday (I’m gonna call this YACTMB, because who even has the time?) came out in 2017, so it will be a bit over three years between our debut and sophomore album. For ease of communication, I’ll just compare this process to the act of making a sandwich: After the release of YACTMB we had a writing trip and general creative push, resulting in the bottom layer of bread. We had our start, but didn’t really know what we wanted to fill the sandwich with. This resulted in a period of inactivity, in which the members of Psymon Spine fulfilled various side projects, processed the previous album cycle, grew as individuals, and completed our lineup with the addition of Sabine. After this time of reflection we had not only gained the necessary ingredients to construct our best sandwich, but more importantly, we agreed upon what type of sandwich we were making. We piled these ingredients onto our previously laid bottom piece of bread, but were like, wait, this mound is gonna fall apart. We were then joined by our manager Ron, who became the top layer of bread and stuck a skewer in the middle to hold us all together. And that’s how you make a sandwich.”
Psymon Spine equate Charismatic Megafauna to a “really tall sandwich” because of just how much went into the album – from initial concepts, to a firm vision, to experimentation, and ultimately, the full execution.
“Early demos in 2017 were quite scattered to be honest. We had some good ideas but people weren’t really getting excited about the same things. After everyone had focused on themselves for a bit and gained other musical outlets, it became easier to solidify the Psymon Spine vision. We basically agreed to write a fun album that felt cohesive while being varied, was easy to dance to without being “dance music, and accessible while still offering challenging musical moments. It ended up kind of being a breakup album, but that wasn’t intentional, nor did it really impact the overall positive vibe that we set out to make.”
“Charismatic Megafauna feels a bit more mature to us,” Psymon Spine co-founder Peter Spears notes. “YACTMB has some good moments to be sure, and I’m proud of it, but it sounds like a bunch of kids running in circles and banging their heads together, which it was. Charismatic Megafauna exhibits a new level of restraint, focus, and teamwork. We really reigned it in for album two, which was a necessary next step, and judging by our new demos I think album three will probably exist somewhere in the middle, in terms of control vs. chaos.
As for the album’s title, the band do have a certain personal relationship with popular wildlife, but it’s not what you think. “Charismatic Megafauna refers to the large animals with popular appeal used as symbols to garner human sympathy and support and open checkbooks, e.g. Tigers, Elephants, Pandas,” Spears says. “Noah’s Dad, Mr. Leo, is a Biologist/Lizard obsessed reptilian leaning humanoid. Members of the biology community who study ecologically essential, yet decidedly unsexy fauna, such as spiders, worms, lizards, etc, use the term like a dirty word. Their beloved, unsexy fauna, do not open check books, and our environment and ecosystems suffer for it.”
Back on the musical front, Spears discusses the band’s relationship with experimentation and control with pride. It’s this fine balance between two poles that makes what we call “experimental music” palatable to most ears; Charismatic Megafauna is out there, but it retains a considerable degree of structure, melody, repetition, and the like. Many of its songs challenge the traditional notion of what a “pop” song may look or sound like.
“In some ways the most experimental element of this album was the result of asking ourselves, ‘How do we rein it in and write a fun psych pop album that doesn’t compromise our collective or individual artistry?'” Psymon Spine’s other co-founder, Noah Prebish explains. “At the end of the day this is a Psych Pop record written and well liked by a bunch of friends with conflicting, often esoteric music tastes. The result this time is what you hear today, and the result next time will certainly be different.”
It’s inherently difficult, with such a wealth of energy and ideas injected into these ten songs, to choose any definitive favorites or personal highlights. ‘Poppier’ songs like “Confusion,” “Milk,” “Jacket,” and “Jumprope” may be more memorable than others on the basis of various melodies and rhythm, but each of the album’s tracks is a true world unto itself.
“I appreciate each song for different reasons, even the ones which stray a bit farther from my own personal style,” Spears states. “I will give a shoutout to ‘Channels’ however, because it’s one of the songs started in 2017 as part of our first layer of bread. It survived the Spine evolution, was a fully collaborative song from start to finish, and changed in real time with our band… The themes, accompanied by Noah’s explosive delivery, do a wonderful job wrapping up our artistic and interpersonal growth since YACTMB.”
Connecting every part of you
Digging streams to carry water
To get it where it needs to go
Life’s just finding faster ways
Faster ways to get to work
Connect the parts that feel good
To all the things that kinda hurt
The game is called Channels
Create an irrigation system
So water doesn’t overflow
To get it where it needs to go
We’re all made up of different notes
Some work together, others don’t
Everybody’s differеnt and the same
And you can really makе a change
But first you gotta dig Channels
Charismatic Megafauna’s final pre-release single, “Channels” is a wily, seismic, and unrelenting post-punk upheaval. Feverish drums and riveting guitars rollick and roll under Prebish’s raw, visceral vocals. Thinking about this song in the context of his band’s new album, Spears takes a beat of humility. “I just re-listened to ‘Channels’, framed in this new light [from the previous question], and got a little emotional,” he sighs. “I’m just happy to be in a band making music with a bunch of my best friends, and I hope that’s what our listener hears when they put on our record.”
A delicious, delightful, and truly dazzling psych pop adventure, Charismatic Megafauna is sure to pique our attention and rally our inner creative. Psymon Spine’s return is a long time coming, and we’re excited for what the future has in store for them. Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Psymon Spine’s Charismatic Megafauna with Atwood Magazine as the band goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their sophomore LP!
Charismatic Megafauna is out now.
Stream: ‘Charismatic Megafauna’ – Psymon Spine
:: Inside Charismatic Megafauna ::
A mid tempo Spine primer complete with swirling synths, steady bass, vocal hooks and a shredding guitar line that may or not have started out as a joke before making the final cut. Track one is an open invitation to get your feet wet and lays the baseline for what to expect should the listener hop over the edge into Charismatic Megafauna.
Once welcomed in, the listener will now be confronted with an almost ominous landscape of flangers, percussion, and mocking laughter before bursting through the curtain into a garden of filter swept bass, four to the floor drums and dark disco synth melodies of your parents fever dreams. Beginning the more obvious motifs of breakups found on the album, both personal and musical, Modmed acts as a time capsule to document the second stage of grief. Modmed’s arch was completed with the help of our friend Andrew VanWyngarden, who introduced the alternate synth progression and bassline which propels us into the final chorus and highly satisfying outro.
The cheery disposition, modular percussion, and infectiously repetitive chords and rhythm section mark Jacket as Spine’s submission for Song of the Summer. A more lighthearted take on the end of a relationship, this song goes a bit beyond the 5 stages and enters stage 6: sleep with your ex a few times while bouncing around the former 5 like a pinball.
Jumprope was basically written by the band in an afternoon, except for the synth solo which surprisingly took as long to write as the rest of the song. Hard hitting and electrifying, Jumprope stands as our dance punk ballad. The refrain, “jumprope,” originated from Sabine reading words off Brother Michaels t shirt while riffing vocal ideas, although the lyrics grew to become a mockery of New York living. Some things just kinda stick.
Milk was named after the song Cream by Prince, which acted as the original inspiration for this track. Barrie, Noah and Sabine’s former bandmate, featured on Milk and helped turn it into the pop banger we know and love today. Flangers on everything. Milk is a high concept piece tackling the thought experiment, what if Aliens went to a show? Flangers on everything.
They finally did it! Psymon Spine writes angry disco jam about irrigation. Clocking in at about twice the speed of everything else on the album, Channels is a constant reminder that we need to practice our instruments. About understanding the various parts that make up a person, a band, or a system and giving each enough energy to flourish without overwhelming any singular attribute or area. Channels is song one on side B and opens the door for slightly darker and more sonically diverse songs.
Taking the energy from 100 to 0, Different Patterns is a communal breakup song most noticeably sitting somewhere in the fourth stage of grief. Marking the first time I’ve seen someone cry in a vocal booth, Different Patterns is the culmination of three breakups worth of sadness funneled into one song. We still managed to sneak in like 8 trap snare fills though.
Real Thing might encapsulate the first stage of grief and the grappling of difficult and conflicting feelings of loss following the end of a relationship. Either way it’s got a vocoder and more dark grooves and melodies. It picks the pace back up after Different Patterns but remains permeated with uncertainty and conflict.
Solution is the climax of Charismatic Megafauna. Pulling from our house music influence, it bumps and grinds its way along a freaky bed of synths and hypnotic bass, oozing nostalgia for pre Covid nightlife. Doctor Seuss esque lyrics, inspired by a trip to the dentist kick off the first half of this mostly instrumental Spine jam. We really struggled to pull together the ending into something that felt sufficiently final and euphoric, but eventually landed with the almost desperate howling synth line and triumphant vocal harmonies that carry the track to completion,
Spine albums have a tradition of ending with a “…?” and Charismatic Megafauna is no exception to the rule. Originally an acoustic guitar progression, Unwound morphed into the modular bleeping and blooping track you hear today by being squeezed through the Spine filter. At the time, Unwound just felt right for the last song, but while writing this track by track, it’s starting to feel like it may represent the fifth stage of grief, acceptance, which seems like a fitting end to our journey.
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? © Rachel Cabitt art © Meghan Armstrong
:: Stream Psymon Spine ::