With the gleaming, taffy-like synths that open Psymon Spine’s sophomore album Charismatic Megafauna, the Brooklyn-and-Berlin quartet flexes a muscle it previously showed only occasionally. Although the band’s 2017 debut LP You Are Coming to My Birthday often comprised muddy, thickly overdriven rock experiments, the edges of tracks such as “Transfiguration Church” and “Shocked” glowed with traces of sugary psychedelia. This melty, gooey sound comes into full view on Charismatic Megafauna lead-off “Confusion,” which springs vividly from the uniquely joyous soil where the roots of psychedelia and pop wrap around one another.
It’s a fitting intro: Charismatic Megafauna is far more vibrant and colorful than its challenging, formidable predecessor. As compared to the burnt but still buttery toast of Birthday, Megafauna is a galvanizing tea steeped in fragrant leaves of techno, dance-punk, psychedelia and pure pop. These newfound pop tendencies, which stem from the time that Psymon Spine members Noah Prebish and Sabine Holler spent in 2019 indie-pop sensation Barrie, are Megafauna’s most enticing quality. The album presents Psymon Spine at their most viscerally catchy, equal parts candy treasure and mystifying voice in the dark.
Radiant, energetic sounds abound throughout Megafauna. The submerged guitars that open “Jacket” yield to immense grooves and slithering vocals that swing between falsetto highs and sultry lows, culminating in a double-time-feel outro that sounds like a UFO landing right on your auditory cortex. “Jump Rope” coalesces into the slinkiest bassline this side of “Less I Know the Better” before ascending into an invigorating cacophony of phaser-drenched guitars. “Channels” is as pop as it is dance-punk, its technicolor barrage of spasmodic cowbells and gyrating 16th-note guitars firmly grounding Prebish’s sneers.
Psymon Spine’s frequent exuberance throughout Charismatic Megafauna often threatens to swallow their vocals whole, but the band always rises above the mayhem. Good thing they do—what they’re saying is just as important as what they’re playing. Even the Rapture-like verses of “Channels” can’t drown Prebish’s shout of “No time for an existential crisis / You’ve got to work for your whole life.” This line is the loose lyrical centerpiece of Charismatic Megafauna, on which Psymon Spine’s members meaningfully examine the constraints on their growth and, more importantly, how they’ve successfully overcome these obstacles to become more complete human beings.
On “Confusion,” Prebish’s inner work manifests as admitting his fault in a strained relationship and committing to rebuilding. The wispy, semi-acoustic ballad “Different Patterns” is Holler’s reflection on the power and healing that comes from former partners amicably parting ways: “Even though I’m missing you / Pain is certain when you fall from this height / I think that we should let go.” On the woozy but finger-snapping “Modmed,” which MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden co-produced, Prebish and Holler recast their final days in Barrie as a classic breakup story. As they vacillate on whether to stay in Barrie, they and Psymon Spine founding member Peter Spears sing, “Maybe it’s wrong, but I’m moving on,” romantic failure standing in for creative collapse.
None of this is to say that Prebish and Holler left Barrie on bad terms. Barrie Lindsay herself makes a guest appearance on “Milk,” which weaves between hip-hop bravado and pop serenity. Lindsay’s jumping between standoffish (“We’ve seen you here / We never talk to you”) and alluring (“Dip into the milk / Dip under the fog”) sounds notably out of place for Megafauna, making it harder to absorb the music as deeply as its catchy melodies demand. “Solution” suffers a similar woe: The song is initially flooring for both building tensely and keeping a steady drum tick through its six-plus minutes, but Spears’ extensive vocal modulation and blurred lyrics wear the song somewhat thin upon repeat listens. This tough exterior nevertheless can’t mask the track’s dulcet underlayer, just as the occasionally questionable choices on Charismatic Megafauna only slightly sink the ship. Dive into Psymon Spine’s grooves, and you’ll find delights in every direction.
Sometimes, Max Freedman sits and writes about music, and sometimes he just sits. Follow him on Twitter, where he has been hailed as “an incredible person with an incredibly bad internet connection.”