Album Review: Garcia Peoples – Nightcap at Wits’ End

Band: Garcia Peoples | Album: Nightcap at Wits’ End | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2020

From: Rutherford (NJ), USA | Label: Beyond Beyond Is Beyond

For fans of: The Grateful Dead, early King Crimson, Procol Harum, Uriel, Spirit

Bandcamp

Nightcap at Wits’ End—the fourth album from Garcia Peoples—shows the band’s continued evolution and refinement of their sound. Their first two albums were psychedelic garage rock pieces with some underlying prog leanings. One Step Behind (their third release) was centered around a 32-minute krautrock opus. This record dials back the scale of things, with only one song topping seven minutes.

The sound presented here is also something of a middle ground between their first three releases. This is undoubtedly a progressive rock album, but it hearkens back to the very earliest days of progressive rock, when the lines between psych and prog were even blurrier than they currently are. It draws a great deal of influence from those first prog bands, such as The Moody Blues, the first King Crimson lineup, and early Canterbury acts like Egg/Uriel.

“Gliding Through” opens the album and is easily some of the most sinister music Garcia Peoples have recorded. The minor-key guitar and keyboard harmonizations are strongly reminiscent of both early King Crimson and ELP, and the verses feel like Grateful Dead-style psych-folk filtered through Yes. In contrast, “Wasted Time” opens gently with glimmering electric piano. Folk motifs are prominent, and the inclusion of flute is a smart accent.

More jangly psych-folk guitars provide the backbone of “Altered Place”, and the melody is reminiscent of something I’d expect from Wishbone Ash. The keyboard embellishments near the song’s end are a good textural contrast to the song’s overall earthiness. “Fire of the Now” continues on this psych-folk-prog trend. It’s especially reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s late ‘60s contributions to the soundtracks of More and Zabriskie Point. This song a sinewy piece of music which continually twists upward at a relaxed pace.

Side 1 closes out on the longest song on the album, “Painting a Vision that Carries”. The extended acoustic folk intro abruptly gives way to a big electric guitar riff reminiscent of The Who, though the meat of the verses are jitterier than anything Pete Townshend did. Sunny vocal harmonies work to propel this piece forward, and the song builds to a climax reminiscent to that of “One Step Behind”.

On Side 2, all the songs flow together into one continuous mass. I wouldn’t call it one long song, but it’s more in the vein of the structure of The Dark Side of the Moon. “One at a Time” opens this suite with twangy guitar and rippling electric piano giving a rainy, late-night atmosphere. The melody is strong, and the imperfect vocals only serve to add character. It’s a fitting opener, which leads into the instrumental “(Our Life Could Be Your Van)”. Some of Garcia Peoples’ krautrock experiments from One Step Behind are revisited here, albeit in the span of only 3 minutes. The band travels to an echoing realm of acidic guitar licks.

From that energetic movement, “Crown of Thought” suddenly splashes down into a mellower pool. The tempo is decidedly slower. Organ is deployed subtly but effectively, and the guitarists strike an impressive balance between Grateful Dead-ly folksiness and Yes-style fretboard acrobatics. After closing on a brief, Gilmour-esque solo, the brief “(Sound Controls Time)” is a weird little interlude of flute, chimes, and audio effects.

“A Reckoning” stays in the same general vein as the preceding proper songs, maintaining a deliberate tempo and nurturing a somewhat ominous atmosphere. This is probably my least favorite song on the album, though, as it’s four-and-a-half minutes of build-up with no satisfying climax. “(Litmus)” attempts to be one, but it’s a minute-and-a-half of fuzz and clattering cymbals that doesn’t ultimately amount to much.

“Shadow” drifts gently, carried along by airy guitar and dashes of flute. It’s an enjoyable enough song, but it doesn’t feel like a conclusion. I’ve noticed that Garcia Peoples tend to end their albums on something gentle, but this one felt like it needed a bit more oomph.

I might have compared Nightcap at Wits’ End to a lot of artists from decades past, but at no point did Garcia Peoples sound like they were directly aping anyone. Dashes of disparate influences were melded into something unique to the band. And despite the lackluster finale, this is a highlight of 2020.

Score: 84/100

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