EP review: Psychic Equalizer - Revealed II (2021)
Spanish pianist and composer Hugo Selles began working as Psychic Equalizer, an instrumental solo project predominantly operating in the electronic/ambient field in 2011. Debut release Memories from a Cold Place came out in 2012, inspired by Selles’ homeland of Cantabria, a six-track EP of calm, reflective music incorporating elements of jazz and classical. The second EP, Madrid [Or Suite for the Solitary Contemporary Citizen] was released in 2014 containing five tracks tending towards jazz. There’s chamber jazz on one track and treated piano on the Prelude and Epilogue, and a solitary, short but effective ambient electronica piece. A live ensemble recording from the 2015 Santander Unusual Music festival was released in 2016 under the Psychic Equalizer banner, followed by another solo effort, The Lonely Traveller in January 2017, 2019’s The Sixth Extinction with a line-up of Selles, second keyboard player and long-term collaborator Adrián Ubiaga, Colombian guitarist Carlos Barragán, vocalist and wind player India Hooi from Australia (who mixed and recorded The Lonely Traveller), and Danish multi-instrumentalist Morten Skøtt on drums and percussion, who had also played on The Lonely Traveller. The album was a concept based on Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer prize-winning book and has the feeling of a band effort, a thoughtful and well-executed prog album where each member’s classical training and professional experience of multiple genres results in an original sound combining virtuosity, harmonic richness, a wide palette and creative arrangements. 2020 saw the release of a standalone track Between Sea and Sky (an anthem commissioned by the NGO Los 18) and the EP Revealed, with the same core line-up as The Sixth Extinction minus drummer Skøtt.
Revealed II was released in mid-March, the band having composed and recorded remotely from their homes in Spain, Denmark and the UK under Covid pandemic-enforced conditions. They had already established themselves as a group willing to highlight global injustice and Revealed II also heads down this route with an examination of other human failings over its six tracks, including war (The Last of Humankind), gender equality in science (The Astronomers) and worsening mental health during the pandemic (Something Hurts).
Revealed II is song-driven and though the sentiment on each piece is spot-on, the constraints of a multi-track EP reduce each song’s musical development, resulting in something that unfortunately lacks the same degree of adventurousness found on The Sixth Extinction. The quartet employed Berklee alumnus James Knoerl on drums, with his CV including TesseracT and Animals as Leaders, and his playing style fits in with the heavier sound and compact structure of the material.
Appropriately enough, The Astronomers has a nice spacey intro. It’s about the many women, from Hypatia of Alexandria (late C4) to Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Margaret Geller (both born in the 1940s) who have struggled to gain acceptance for their astronomical discoveries in a male-dominated field. Hooi’s voice has a Kate Bush quality but it doesn’t quite hit the mark on the opening number.
The most satisfying track is The Last of Humankind, with its gentle woodwind opening, chugging prog metal guitar, epic guitar soloing, and an unexpected honky-tonk piano break that reminds me of Merlin the Magician on Rick Wakeman’s The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The arrangement is proggy and Hooi’s vocals are strong.
The short instrumental closer Lament features some classic Hammond sounds and Hooi’s wordless vocals are powerfully emotive. It seems strange that the band should end the EP on such a pessimistic note when The Sixth Extinction seemed to end with some hope. It’s possible that this shift reflects humankind’s continued trajectory towards self-inflicted destruction in the intervening years between the two pieces of music.
Apart from The Astronomers, the entire EP is somewhat dark. The lyrics work well in this context, pointing out the stupidity of division and what it does to us as individuals and a species. The band have certainly matured and their musicianship is unquestionably good, and I can’t help thinking that if a group of musicians from different backgrounds, different countries, can produce a coherent piece of work when physically separated because of restrictions imposed as a result of a global pandemic, can’t humankind act together to stop conflict, stop destroying our planet and treat everyone with dignity and respect?
Buy the EP https://psychicequalizer.bandcamp.com/album/revealed-ii
The Sixth Extinction https://youtu.be/pjFLZtBF6Bk