Frances Chang, “Psychedelic Anxiety”
By Jude Noel · February 16, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

There’s introspection and then there’s Psychedelic Anxiety: getting so in your head that the world itself feels unfamiliar—unreal, even. The second album by New York City’s Frances Chang attempts to capture this feeling through diaristic lyricism and disjointed, proggy instrumentation. Though superficially comforting, the lo-fi warmth of Chang’s songwriting conceals a preoccupation with existentialism and spirituality that can get intense. It’s bedroom pop for hitting snooze on your phone’s fourth alarm of the morning.

Like many of her peers on Ramp Local, Chang derives surprisingly accessible sounds from her background in avant-garde improvised performance. While guitar-driven indie pop provides a basic framework for her songwriting, the scaffolding is often dressed with glitching samples, ominous synth arrangements that recall her film scores. There’s a lot of experimentation stuffed into a compact, eight-track record, but Chang’s taste for soft, homespun timbres keeps Psychedelic Anxiety just grounded enough for it all to fit into place.

Lyrically, the record’s individual tracks often feel like a reflection on the day they were recorded. “Today, I am bathing in music,” Chang sings in harmony with her multi-tracked self on “Eye Land,” a song that notes the weather (a cloudy day in June) and its mundane setting (on a spare room’s floor) before drifting into the surreal realm of selfhood. As finger-picked chords scuttle and stutter up and down the guitar’s neck, the narrative shifts from the concrete to the cosmic, depicting a relationship’s unsure state through images of “psycho-strings” and “love’s big eye.” In Chang’s world, the internal feels infinite and abstract: a place we revisit for certainty but seldom return from with answers. “Darkside” recounts a train ride home from the movie theater, overdubbed vocals interrupting her stream-of-consciousness as thoughts wander and form recursive loops of old memories.

Psychedelic Anxiety’s greatest strength is its rich textural palette; it shines especially in the quieter moments, as on “First I Was Afraid,” where somber woodwinds sigh and murmur as Chang connects her laundry day to unpleasant scenes from childhood. Though something of an outlier, “Sci-Fi Soap Opera” may be the album’s prettiest cut: a poem performed over kitschy, yet intensely sincere keyboard improvisation that resembles Twin Peaks’s more melodramatic scores. Though its fidelity may be intimate and muffled, its emotional depth is immense.

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