Psychogeology can be described by the word “synthesis” – a satisfying and nostalgic blending of genres and sounds, a thematic joining of emotion and psyche with landscapes and environments. The result is an album that feels elemental, pure and holistic.
Here, genre is difficult to describe any one way. It’s psychedelic, garage and surf rock, with inspiration from the likes of ABBA or Queen in its grandeur and high fidelity. Ray’s sound can be borderline bluesy, at others mystical and ethereal.
Ray’s voice is spectacular and she works a wide range. At times she’s soft, raspy, almost Lana Del Rey-esque. More often she’s strong, warm and triumphant, sometimes backed up by a chorus of female voices that add brilliance and theatricality, as in tracks like Dreaming is Easy. Ray’s voice and other female voices cut and slide across tunes dominated by warm, glowing guitar, synth and prominent bass.
Guitar work in Psychogeology is particularly expressive. In Land of Make Believe, Ray does a sort of call-and-response with her guitar, it feels almost like she’s communicating with another person.
With an album like this that nods to past artists and genres, there’s a danger that it relies too heavily on nostalgia, coming across as a little gimmicky. Gemma Ray does not fall into this trap. She’s no covers band. What she’s made here draws upon those sounds to communicate a oneness that spans time and space. There is novelty and atmospheric depth in this synthesis.
For Ray, Psychogeology is about the experience of awe when encountering the natural and man-made world and “how small we are, how trivial the most unsurmountable of our personal problems”. While seeming to harken back to a euphoria and interconnectedness of the peace-and-love movement, she again achieves more depth than that. In the title track she calls a place “the land of the unfree”, evokes imagery of landfills and, almost in the same breath, decides that “light can only come from out of the darkness”. Tracks like Blossom Crawls mix loss or decay with optimism in a similar way wishing, “oh to feel yesterday’s love” but ultimately deciding “I’m prepared to be happy”. Emotions are often grafted onto the elements. Death Tapes is earthy (“nothing amiss/when fault lines kiss”) while Dreaming is Easy has ethereal harmonies that invoke the sky and air. Psychogeology is heartbreaking and uplifting, emotional and environmental and create juicy metaphors and points of tension that are at once familiar and refreshing.