Although psychedelic music doesn’t always need vocals—think about the many endless instrumental interludes that defined psych rock’s earliest days—to convey the sense of wonder, joy, and innocence that drugs can incite, sometimes, vocals can reveal hallucinatory depths otherwise inaccessible. Swedish/Norwegian duo Lerin/Hystad understands this vocal-instrumental balance quite well: Starmap, its newest album, is its first to feature vocals. The band’s newfound singing polishes its music with an awestruck feeling previously unheard in its repertoire; “Taken to the Skies,” Starmap‘s third track, is perhaps the album’s deftest achievement of this bliss.
“Taken” opens as charmingly as it does beguilingly, with soft whirls of synth and pretty plucks of what might be a mandolin or banjo giving way to keyboard lines that are loud without being forceful. “Opening the door/with your help I go,” a nasal male whisper intones to introduce the first verse, after which the song’s melody changes somewhat without dramatically altering the instrumentation. Across the remainder of “Taken to the Skies,” Lerin/Hystad bounce between these A and B musical forms both playfully and with the technical excellence of the very musicians who propelled psychedelic rock to the American mainstream.
Lerin/Hystad distinguishes itself with a vision for psychedelia far removed from rock music. “Taken to the Skies” and Starmap present the duo as purveyors of a trippy vision rooted instead in synthpop and ambient music. It’s an alluring style, to say the least: using both live instrumentation and field recordings, these two fascinating artists craft sonic spheres that invite listeners in and then give them plenty of reason to stay for the ride. That the project is the work of just two people—Simon Torssell Lerin on vocals, guitars, synthesizers, guzheng (!!), and drums, and Bettina Hvidevold Hystad on synthesizers and electronics—makes its vast, communal, vocal-heavy palette all the more impressive.