Electric Shepherd: Psychedelic Ridge Runners from the Past

The main obstacle to time travel is not physical. It’s philosophical: If I could go back in time, then I could kill my grandfather or my father or my mother. If I did that I would cease to be and could never have gone back in time in the first place, so how is time travel possible? Electric Shepherd doesn’t give a shit about any of that because they solved a decades-old problem facing psychedelic musicians: How do you sound like you first experienced psychedelia at a free concert in 1961 and not at an un-tss un-tss rave in 1996, or worse yet, at a wub wub dubstep show in 2010? When I first heard their eponymous first album I thought someone had mislabeled some tracks from a late-60s psychokinetic band that didn’t make it onto any of the Nuggets releases. Was there a Strawbs album left in someone’s basement? Perhaps Curved Air had found some dusty reels in an attic? Maybe Premiata Forneria Marconi had meant for Per un amico to be a double album and this was the long lost second half?

No, these time travelers are real; their drummer, Sonny Pearce, was born in 1988. (For the record, that is the same year as Milli Vanilli’s debut album, All or Nothing.) Pearce tells me, “Our band derives its name from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” which was turned into Ridley Scott’s cinematic freak out, Blade Runner. He continues: “I’d say more of the visual aspects of writers like PKD (as opposed to his obvious sci-fi influences) affect the music. We like to map out landscapes lyrically and musically that echo influences from writers and various time periods–i.e. ’60s/’70s.  We’re big fans of Dead Meadow, who sound like a ’60s/’70s heavy psych band, but make it new.” Indeed, if Electric Shepherd have traveled back in time to the early-70s San Francisco scene, Dead Meadow have traveled back to the harder, bluesier, Black Sabbathier scene from the same period.

However, these are not nostalgia bands, and Electric Shepherd has many cosmic peers making new music today: DungenTame ImpalaTortoise, perhaps a jam version of Sparklehorse. But it’s hard to listen to sections of Imitation Gardens pt. 1 and not think of that one really popular band that came out of the Frisco scene in the ’60s. What were they called?  Oh, yes, the Grateful Dead. Electric Shepherd’s new album, The Imitation Garden, which comes out December 18, draws from the past and paints the present. It’s a bit heavier and a bit more polished than their first album, and it will motivate you to obtain the Jonathan Lethem-edited tome, the Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, pick a random page, and read: “Irreality is deepening, but the changeover shows enigmatic traces or imprints which do not belong.  To a very large degree memory no longer agrees with history.”

[The Imitation Garden Cover Art]

Tracks like Heaven Don’t Need begin slow and patient with Leslied vocals, then buoy forth with graceful lead guitar and tight, composed band-interplay before opening the throttle and rocking like Soundgarden in their thrashy heyday. Well, a less-depressed Soundgarden with a head full of pure LSD. Most Electric Shepherd tracks feature many sections, and this one is no different. Listing all the influences I can hear would crash the Internet, so I think it’s safe to say these are some well-studied and well-rehearsed young lads who have been able to tap into something primal to create something new. The Escapist is the kind of song that comes on at a party and makes everyone twice as interesting. In Search of the Ocean finds the band taking advantage of Duke Ellington’s famous light and dark theory.  Soft whispers are juxtaposed against snarling growls. The different sections are clearly composed but do not sound over-composed. Electric Shepherd always maintains some level of garage-band fuzz. The album ends with a climactic guitar solo that softly fades into the ether. Clocking in at seventy-three-and-a-half minutes, The Imitation Garden is a hefty chunk of psychotropic goodness, destined to take this band forwards on whatever continuum suits their fancy.

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