Perhaps understanding that nothing grows on shit better than magic fungi, Bay Area instrumental octet Mushroom has crafted some of the most sophisticated psychedelia of recent times. The 5-year- old band's eighth record, Foxy Music, combines the strengths of last year's remix album, Compared to What, with Mushroom's usual sonic inventiveness to make tunes that both expand the mind and shake the rump.
As seasoned as its eight musicians are, Mushroom consistently approaches its late-'60s and early-'70s influences -- American electronic jazz, U.K. prog rock, and German Krautrock -- with a sense of awe. But rather than ape styles, the members use the tools handed to them by the likes of Herbie Hancock, Soft Machine, and Can to bust out a new and exploratory pop paradigm.
Foxy Music finds the group boosting the genre-crunching, rock-driven style of its previous studio album, 1999's Analog Hi-Fi Surprise, with some tight jazz-funk dynamics and studio trickery. By bringing brass into the fold -- courtesy of Beck alum Jon Birdsong and trombonist Carroll Ashby -- Mushroom enriches the bold funk of the opening "Groovin' With Herbie" and adds compositional heft to the drunken tuba-centered jam "Joe Namath." Furthermore, drummer/producer Patrick Hearn exhibits the kind of subtle knob-twiddling skills that make chimes, cymbals, feedback, and trumpet pop out of nowhere.
To be sure, the German avant-rock elements remain: There's no denying the Can-esque boogie of "I Got Blisters on My Fingers" or the forward-rushing title track, which features Alison Faith Levy on chanted phonetic vocals. But as Mushroom works inside the confines of progressive popular music, you can feel the band straining to bust out. On the reflective soul-jazz coda "For Men With Beards," Birdsong's cornet soars and Erik Pearson's sax wraps around sampled TV static, approximating a warm, early-morning landing route for the album's psychedelic trip. In times like these, as music lock-steps into pathos and patriotism, we need such free-ranging songs to take us higher.