What happens when someone takes free form and bite of blues rock and blends it with the whimsy and distortion of neo-psychedelia and the ambient and enchanting nature of dream pop? They get something like this album.
Debra Devi conceived this album during a backstage meeting with Jorgen Carlsson (from Gov’t Mule) at a New Year’s Eve 2019 concert. In a matter of months the duo were joined by drummer John Hummel (from Amfibian) and the seemingly magical process produced the album A ZILLION STARS OVERHEAD. I think “dreamlike” is probably the best way to describe a lot of the creative process and its end result with the way things seem to come together.
The meandering jazz and neo-psychedelic fusion in “When It Comes Down” enhance the free flowing nature of the song and allows the listener the choice to either sit back and enjoy or dance freely. It is open enough to allow the listener to absorb the song in ways that range from pensive repose to a free-spirited creed. In some ways this adds a level to the lyrics of, “find another way to breathe,” in the same way the lines of, “when it comes down/ like a waterfall, ” seem to enhance the song when it switches to a harder blues rock style during the jam version. It is subtle and, at the risk of hurting the song, easily missed if not paying attention. On the other hand, that subtlety proves damaging to some aspects of the blues rock, especially when the jamming goes too far. This is the case with “Canna Indica”. It is a very raw jam session that, while clunky, gives some insight into how the group’s creative process builds around these jam sessions and leads to, if one ignores its disjointed movements, melodic beauty and aggressive distortions whose juxtapositions lend to a unique aesthetic.
Luckily where the band lacks that blend between gritty blues with smooth psychedelia Debra Devi and the gang seem to bring a song that balances out the palate. In “The Needle and the Damage Done” the group takes this Neil Young song and continue to add their own flavor to the song about drug use and its impact. While starting off as something of an imitation of Neil Young’s style the band’s trademark meandering, intricate yet emotive blues rock creep in and take over the piece. This serves as a great metaphor for the insidious nature of addiction and its destructive qualities while the sensitive and responsive drumming lead into the trance like and heartbreaking beauty of the breakdown. It confuses me why the choice was made in the beginning to mimic so much of Neil Young’s style when there is clearly the artistry to add their own interpretation and style into the piece.
While I have focused on Debra Devi’s emphasis on blue rock and dreamlike nature there are times where the blues rock takes a back seat. The group expand on their out-of-state vibes with songs like “Stay” which delves into dream pop and funky disco sounds for a more upbeat yet timeless story about mixed emotions and love. It’s a lighthearted, or at least fun, break from the deeper tones evoked in other songs on the album. If I had to pick a song that would get a lot of play time it would be this song because of its carefree melodies and familiar sounding lyricism.
It isn’t often I hear blues rock these days, let alone blended with neo-psychedelia and some dream pop for good measure. One can hear the trio enjoying themselves in the music and I’m curious to see how Debra Devi will continue with this aesthetic or if she will expand on it at all. I’m also curious if she will keep the same line up as there is a clear professional chemistry that allows them to freely jam and create something interesting in the process.