California psychedelic outfit Crooked Flower have returned with their sixth release, Into the Light. The record is true to both their musical style and the spirit of their home state. Breezy, liberated, and colourful in tandem with an anti-prohibition message. Crooked Flower have balanced looking to the past and the future proportionally to create something organic and memorable, with cross-generational appeal.
Not shy about their stance, the album came out on February 17. The very same date in the previous October was the day that cannabis was legalised in Canada. A quick look at some of the song titles cements the message – ‘10 Million Seeds’, ‘Search Warrant Blue’, and so on.
Musically, their Californian lineage encompasses more than just the rehashed (dead)heads of Haight-Ashbury. Ska-influenced rhythms from the 90s, in the realm of Sublime and No Doubt, permeate the album on tracks like ‘Around and Around’ and ‘10 Million Seeds’. Pop sensibilities and melodic hooks abound, while the psychedelic aspect functions as an ambient mainstay under the surface.
Commandeering their sound, however, is the tantalising R&B styling of Angelina Dang and her heartfelt vocals. She can Joplin-it-up and embody all the swagger of that territory, or alternatively unleash a frenetic panic reminiscent of Exene Cervenka from legendary punk band X.
First up is ‘Dancing’, weaving twangy guitars, tribal beats, and Dang’s pop hooks to start the album on a high. Although pop in essence, the psychedelic supporting vibes are no gimmicky afterthought. There is some well-refined songwriting at play here.
Next is the loosey-goosey ‘Search Warrant’, plastered with wobbly, delayed guitar tones heavy on atmosphere. Dang leads in reticently with a melancholic air, circling the ambience before a united breakout with the rhythm section. The dramatic progressions take on a more focused direction, effortlessly succeeded by a ripping blues solo from the talented Dan Ingberman.
‘Around and Around’ made the cut as a light rock-based single with a nifty music video. The cool ska riff aside, the song is a tad generic and feels conceived and sold solely for mass appeal. This disavows the flirtations with experimentation that galvanises much of their other material into something special.
Reaching a zenith, however, is the mighty ’10 Million Seeds’. Here, the dub-inspired guitar, bass, and drums are lockstep with a masterful groove and drive a powerful psychedelic wash. Both lyrically and musically, this tune is part of the unabashedly pro-dope philosophy the band espouses. The indomitable Dang switches between subdued, jazzy stylings and ethereal floating with reverb-soaked tones.
Album closer, ‘Own World’ rounds out the album’s diverse approach by returning to the gentler pop psyche flow of ‘Dancing’. It’s a fitting tie-up to what is likely the band’s best output to date.
Crooked Flower are experiencing the payoff of years of hard work. Into the Light shows a group of musicians with an understanding of one another and a clear, unified goal. Fresh, addictive, and just plain fun, they’re fully recommended for anyone with a penchant for garage rock, psychedelia, soul, or just old school material in general.