Rating:Given the sprawling psychedelia of The Amazing, it should come as no surprise the group began as a Dungen side project. Traces of that group’s affinity for all things psychedelic swirl about throughout Picture You. But where Dungen often strayed into the darker edges of psych rock, The Amazing tend more towards its softer, more shoegaze elements.
With an impressively massive sound, The Amazing rely more on simplicity and repetition than virtuosity, evoking emotions rather than impressing with playing. Lovingly wrapped with a glaze of reverb and cavernous guitars, the male/female vocals take on an ethereal, instrumental quality. Rather than pushing them to the front, calling attention to the lyrics, they serve a purpose more textural than poetic. While phrases are largely decipherable, they prove somewhat superfluous and secondary.
Having recognized their strong suits, the focus is placed on the arrangements, forgoing a dependence on lyrics and embarking on extended instrumental passages throughout. Because of this and despite an average length of five minutes or more, none of the tracks on Picture You overstay their welcome. Instead, the meditative quality of the music creates a fully immersive listening experience. Listened to in headphones, it’s impossible not to become lost in the album’s hypnotic flow.
Gently loping and entrancing, “Circles” crafts a musical approximation of the titular concept, doubling back on itself round-like within the outro vocal figure. Maddeningly lovely and understated, it’s one of the album’s most compelling moments. Breaking into a heavily reverbed, angular acoustic figure that toys with circularity in its closing minutes, the song doubles back in on itself. The sound of each note’s decay lends fullness to the strings, ghosts dissolving into the fret board. Officially a part of “Circles,” it plays more like an interstitial palette cleanser before the distortion drenched “Safe Island”.
So massive is the sound on “Safe Island” it becomes almost overwhelming to the point of being breath-taking as mountainous guitars and drums battle for supremacy. All the while the ethereal vocals swirl high above, seemingly immune to the tumult below. It’s pummeling in its passivity. Only in the final, feedback-drenched moments does it begin to approach anything resembling unpleasant listening. With shrieks and squeals emanating from all manner of overtones and feedback, a lethargic melodic figure lurches beneath the more punishing aspects of the track. The final sixty seconds alternately holds moments of sheer beauty and disproportionately painful listening.
Proving themselves musically omnivorous, elements of progressive rock show up in the suite-like passages that break up the title track’s nearly ten-minute running time. Elsewhere, “Fryshusfunk” offers a strutting stab at shoegaze funk (a genre that, it turns out, isn’t nearly as bad as it reads). While retaining the massive, reverbed guitars, drummer Fredrik Björling shows off a rhythmic versatility and groove that belies the more subdued nature of the music itself.
During its nearly seven-and-a-half minute run time, Björling’s drumming proves the most compelling, flirting with funk and complex polyrhythms that, removed from the album’s shoegaze trappings, could easily slot into any number of deep groove recordings. Within the final two minutes, the group embarks on a massive about face, channeling their inner Iron Butterfly and Deep Purple for a monolithic slab of acid rock complete with searing guitar and organ.
The sole acoustic track here, “The Headless Boy” aims for the band’s previous Nick Drake comparisons but lacks the late singer’s dexterous guitar playing and sense of melody to exceed at such a level. Instead, it plays more like a straightforward acoustic number that, in rising and falling, comes dangerously close to Pearl Jam territory. While the shortest track here, its incongruity makes it feel much longer than it actually is.
Given its length, Picture You requires an investment on the part of the listener. Fortunately it is largely up to the task of holding one’s attention throughout. Only occasionally does it lapse into dull territory with overlong instrumental passages that find the band running out of steam. By and large Picture You proves an intriguing listen that, while far from groundbreaking, manages to hold a certain level of appeal for those who enjoy their shoegaze on the sprawling, psychedelic side.