In their fourth studio album, titled Kingdom Illusion, Oakland psychedelic rockers Whiskerman offer up what is arguably their most progressive and involved effort yet while staying true to the aesthetical foundations that gave them their start, and while its eight songs – which collectively run about 44 minutes in total – don’t necessarily break the mold when it comes to modern psych concepts, they’re easily some of the most captivating indie recordings I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing this March. Fluidity reigns supreme in this LP’s tracklist, and whether you’re a longtime Whiskerman fan or not, it’s a worthwhile listen if you love cerebral melodicism.
The guitar parts in Kingdom Illusion might not have been designed to be the most intriguing focal point in “Fuck Yeah,” “Rattlesnake” and “Belly of the Beast,” but they nevertheless frame the lyrical emotionality in all three of these songs better than anything else possibly could have. The string work in this album is far more acrylic and multilayered than I was expecting it to be, and there are times – such as stony “Villains” – where it does more to advance a specific narrative than any verse ever could. Whiskerman want us to feel the scope of their creative skillset as much as we hear it in this LP, and on this front, they definitely scored a slam dunk.
Physicality is as key to the mood in this music as any of the actual instrumental components are, and in “The Great Unknown,” Kingdom Illusion’s title cut and “Be Real,” we experience the sonic depth of the band at three distinctly different speeds, each seemingly more evocative than the one that came before it. Too many of Whiskerman’s rivals have been favoring the minimalist aesthetic in recent years; here, this act proves that they’re not only completely disinterested in following the trend, but moreover that they’re going to go out of their way to buck it with the material they release.
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There’s a near-perfect mix of raw grit and polished meticulousness in the equalization of “Belly of the Beast,” “Something About Love” and “Villains” that I haven’t been able to find in any of the mainstream albums I’ve been spinning lately, and though it would be easy to chock this up to Whiskerman’s long-verified indie cred, I think that would be just a bit too dismissive of their natural talents as a unit. This group has never been one to sell their fans short on sonic complexities, and in a certain sense, they’re confirming that their pedigree isn’t about to change anytime soon in Kingdom Illusion.
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Whiskerman have been steadily climbing the west coast underground hierarchy in the past few years, but for me, I think that what they’ve been able to accomplish with Kingdom Illusion should be more than enough to not only put their brand over the top with mainstream listeners, but to finally afford them the critical accolades they’ve deserved from the beginning as well. They’ve come a long way, and in this LP, they show us everything they’ve learned on the journey.