Indiana’s Impossible Shapes have the perfect formula for making a great psychedelic pop record. Obviously, there’s the psychedelic pop — buzzy organs, twisty guitar riffs, the slightest bit of jazz influence and lyrics involving demons and Greek mythology. Then there’s the album’s title, Horus, named after the Egyptian deity. And, of course, there’s the album cover, depicting said deity with rainbows flowing out of his head. Lastly, there’s the band’s name, which will inevitably prompt thousands of stoners to ponder its meaning. I, myself, am a little curious. Just what is an impossible shape anyway? Is it like a tri-pezoid? Or a squombus?
Let’s get back to the important part — the band’s music. Horus is the band’s fifth album since 2000 and, to date, the most accessible. And if that didn’t convince you of their prolificacy, take a look at the band’s members’ other known projects: Magnolia Electric Co., John Wilkes Booze, NormanOak and Horns of Happiness to name a few. So if you don’t know the Impossible Shapes by now, you have some catching up to do. And it seems fitting to begin your journey into the land of the Shapes with this review of Horus, as it’s a wonderful place to start.
As stated before, Horus takes little time to warm up to. Like the onetime members of the Elephant 6 collective, these mad Midwesterners churn out incredibly catchy and imaginative psych-pop. But instead of Lennon and Wilson worship, the Impossible Shapes take cues from a wide array of musical deities, whether American, Liverpudlian or Egyptian. The first track on the album, “Bombs,” begins with an almost Velvets-like clean guitar that twists its serpentine medley over tensely rumbling tom toms. “Demon Child” is a little jazzier, mixing old and new Stereolab as airy guitar chords float atop buzzing farfisa drones. And “The Beast,” be it just over two minutes long, is anthemic in its approach with singer Chris Barth croon-yelping to an ascending melody.
While half the album sticks to peppier psych-rock moments, the Impossible Shapes intermittently inject the album with folkier, Stonehenge-y moments, such as “Putrefaction,” in which Barth sings, “don’t hang around me/ I have more eyes than three.” “I Move by the Moon,” however, is less mystical sounding and more pure in its simple melody and spare arrangement of acoustic guitar and whirring keyboard. And, it seems, the further into the album, the less influence the druids may have had, as evident by the nearly Pavement-like “Survival” and “Forever Alone.”
One thing that definitely sets Horus apart from its psychedelic forebears is its length — a very lean 32 minutes. It does, however, draw another similarity to the likes of Olivia Tremor Control and Elf Power, who certainly aren’t bad company to keep. So, just what would a squombus look like, anyway?
The Olivia Tremor Control – Dusk At Cubist Castle
Elf Power – A Dream in Sound
Pavement – Wowee Zowee
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.