Quilt–a psychedelic folk-rock patchwork minus the cliche

Soundtrack in my head: Quilt, “Arctic Shark”
her mom likes brightly colored flowers, so thi...
her mom likes brightly colored flowers, so this was a natural (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stumbled upon the band Quilt on while following the Mexican Summer YouTube channel. I like a lot of music that has been released through the Mexican Summer label. 

Psychedelic rock has been very influential in my musical tastes.  The genre reached a peak the year I was born, so I didn’t hear very much of it at the time, but as I grew older, the exposure I had to it left me wanting more. For me, it started with The Doors, but as I explored the sound more, I uncovered other groups such as the folk-influenced Byrds and Donovan, The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album, and–two of my favorites from the era–Jefferson Airplane and Love. (It was probably ironic that, growing up, I’d heard of Jefferson Starship before their predecessor Jefferson Airplane).

While not a lot of people realize it, 80’s music had heavy influences in psychedelia.  The Bangles were quite open about their efforts to re-invoke the psychedelic era. The Bangles came out of a music scene in Los Angeles known as the Paisley Underground, which included retro-psychedelic bands such as Rain Parade, The Three O’Clock, and Dream Syndicate, and a number of other alternative-rock bands from the 80’s incorporated the style. Prince, with contributions from his backup band The Revolution, incorporated a lot of psychedelia as well.  The word “psychedelic” began to be invoked in other music scenes as well, such as Acid House, but these brought about the “psychedelic” feeling in a way almost completely different from the psychedelic rock movement.

The problem with a genre such as psychedelic rock is that it lends itself to cheap imitations quite easily.  Kandy-kolored kaleidoscopes eventually become kliche. If you’ve heard one American try to play or imitate a sitar, you’ve heard them all. As such, few neo-psychedelic efforts have interested me since the 80’s.

Quilt is a big exception. Quilt’s sounds tends to involve more acoustic guitar picking than a lot of other psychedelic groups–not unlike Love’s greatest album Forever ChangesBut what I found refreshing about Quilt is that they are willing to take the old genre in some new directions, and they manage to keep themselves sounding original rather than retro.

The band formed in the latter part of the last decade while students at the School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston.  They released their self-titled debut album in 2011.  According to their page on the Mexican Summer website, all of their songs were a product of relentless jamming, but rather than hook an entire song on a few riffs, they were willing to take songs in different directions.  Also characteristic of their music is vocal harmonies among several members, particularly group founders Shane Butler and Anna Fox Rochinski. Below are two tracks from that first album.

They released their second album Held In Splendor at the end of January 2014. The video for the album’s first track, “Arctic Shark” caught my attention when released late last fall (and was actually the first song by the band that I’d heard).

Now that I’ve listened to the entire album, I consider it to be remarkably strong for a sophomore effort. They are more willing depart from traditional song structures on this album, but not so much so that the whole effort sounds like a mess. They aren’t afraid of making abrupt changes in the middle of the song if that’s where they feel the song is going. They also incorporate a wider array of influences in their music, making the album sound very diverse. On the Mexican Summer website, Butler had this to say: “We’re really attracted to records where each song has its own voice. We wanted to focus on what each song had to say.” Such variety is one of the qualities that made Sgt Pepper such a great album, and while Quilt’s second effort is not epic and groundbreaking in the same way, I look forward to hearing more from this group in the future. Meanwhile, below are two tracks from Held In Splendor.

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