Drop a needle on Psyché’s debut album and you’ll see visions, or rather Mediterranean visions, be they of waves of heat shimmering above dunes of sand, or of women dancing around a bonfire on a rocky plain, or of bushy cliffs overlooking emerald-green and turquoise sea. The name Psyché is of course ancient Greek for ‘soul’ or ‘mind’, signifying the band’s love of psychedelic funk, but also the wide range of Mediterranean influences – from Southern Europe to the Balkan Peninsula, and from Anatolia to the Maghreb – that provide an endless source of inspiration for their hypnotic sound and minimalist style.
Psyché members Marcello Giannini (Guru, Nu Genea, Slivovitz), Andrea De Fazio (Parbleu, Nu Genea, Funkin Machine) and Paolo Petrella (Nu Genea) have been active in the Naples music scene for almost two decades, most notably during the first wave of the new Neapolitan Power movement (Slivovitz, Revenaz Quartet). Over the years they have often crossed paths and collaborated on side projects in various genres (math-rock duo Arduo and, more recently, synth-pop duo Fratelli Malibu), before working together as the rhythm section of Nu Genea’s live band. Following their first tour with Nu Genea in 2018, they started Psyché with the intent of exploring more minimalist styles and making music with just a few elements.
A unique combination of psychedelia, groove and improvisation, the music of Psyché goes back to the roots of our future; it evokes visions of a mythical past, blending centuries-old music traditions and mixing them with modern genres. Like a warm Mediterranean breeze, it travels across lands, seas and eras, distilling essential rhythms and cosmic pulsations.
The album’s opener “Kuma” (titled after the first ancient Greek colony on the Italian mainland, now an archeological site near Naples) is like a vibrant, magical wave. With its deliberately simple harmony and sharp guitar riffs, it travels across the Mediterranean from Italy to North Africa, first lapping gently on Greek and Turkish shores – with some compositional elements reminiscent of Italian pop legend Lucio Battisti – and then speeding up and landing on the driving, syncopated rhythms of afrobeat. While listening to it your eyes fill with images of small white houses shining in the sun, of fig trees heavy with fruit, of spice bazaars and colourful medinas, and you can almost feel the desert wind blowing in your hair.
The journey continues with two examples of Psyché’s bold and elegant approach to contemporary afrobeat and cumbia fusion: “Cumbia Mahàre” and “Amma”. The former combines minimal synths and exhilarating rhythmic patterns of drums, percussion, guitar and bass, drawing us into the movements of an imaginary ritual dance (the term mahàre was used in Southern Italian dialects to indicate witches). Next is the cinematic and mysterious ambiance of “Angizia” (a snake goddess worshipped by the Marsi in ancient Italy), another fascinating mixture of different sonic traditions and cultures where hip-hop/funk drums are blended with Maghreb influences, Balkan echoes, and hypnotic, Theremin-like synths that have sort of a sci-fi movie quality to them.
The title track “Psyché”, with its uptempo afro-rhythms, ethereal vocalizations and refined percussion, is almost a manifesto of the band’s style and confirms the freshness of their minimalism, which is not afraid of taking in the sun of lands confined between the sea and the desert. The following “Manea” (named after the Roman-Etruscan goddess of the dead) is an afro-funk number with smooth and introspective dreamy jazz touches, and with an arrangement dominated by a guitar that, dripping notes like drops of water, creates a delicate, cinematic sound. Next, we come to “Hekate” (the Greek goddess of magic, witchcraft and crossroads), a track that fuses psychedelia, spacious Latin guitars and a fast, tight groove. The album comes to a close with the exquisite melodic ballad “Kelebek”, which seamlessly combines hip-hop drums and dreamy guitars, and whose warm, flowing sonorities and evocative atmospheres conjure the image of a butterfly (which is what kelebek means, in Turkish) floating over the Mediterranean and, from there, the world.