The first new release in 12 years by San Antonio rockers the Psychoholics was worth the wait
By Sanford Nowlin
February 02, 2021 at 9:30 AM
Courtesy of The Psychoholics
There’s an unfortunate post-Pitchfork tendency for the indie music press to reserve all its ink for bands that are generating buzz, seizing hype and poised to become the next big thing.
That’s unfortunate, because it means that a lot of homespun bands making great music but with less grandiose ambitions go overlooked. You know, groups whose measure of success isn’t how many package tours they can land on or whether a major label buys out their contract.
Not every rock band aspires to be the Strokes, Decemberists or TV on the Radio, in other words.
Which brings us to the Psychoholics. The San Antonio rock act doesn’t tour, doesn’t have a publicist and has only released three albums during a nearly 30-year run. It’s hard to image the mostly middle-aged members primping and pouting on the cover of a hipster magazine.
But that’s fine. The world needs bands like the Psychoholics, especially if they’re going to drop albums as strong as 20/20, the disc the group quietly self-released late last year — its first in a dozen treks around the sun.
The Psycholics’ schtick is infusing energetic power pop with enough punkish energy, approachable hooks and stylistic wanderlust to keep audiences guessing. Think of it as the Jam meets Cheap Trick with occasional flirtations with country, folk, ska and whatever else happens to catch the members’ fancy.
20/20’s minute-long opener “Welcome to the Snake Pit” sums up the approach, delivering a straight-up punk raver with a banjo inexplicably springing up from the mix and a sing-along chorus that sounds like it could be lifted from an Irish drinking tune.
“Mardi Gras” takes the band in a snotty garage rock direction, but once again delivers with an accessible hook you could hear a crowd singing along to as it pumps from the jukebox at a Big Easy dive. “Sentimental” manages to sound both countryish and Beatlesesque at the same time, while “Guinea Pig” flirts with ska.
“Home Lobotomy Kit” is a silly rocker that seems to take aim at TV commercials hawking miracle health remedies, while “I’m Insane” lilts into jazzy territory with a walking bassline and swingy refrain.
All that genre-jumping may sound disorienting on paper, but 20/20 holds together thanks to the songcraft of Tim Mrak, the Psychoholics’ founder and only constant member. A solid melodic core ties all 13 songs together. For all their flirtations with outside influences, they work because, at their heart, they’re essentially catchy pop tunes.
The album’s closer “Did He Say Turd?” seems to best sum up the Psychoholics experience. It’s hooky and doesn’t take itself too seriously, even if there’s a clear melancholy underlying the self-deprecating — or should that be self-defecating? — humor. “I feel about as wanted as a turd/‘Lackluster’ you could say in a word,” Mrak intones over his strummed rhythm guitar.
While humor and simplicity underly much of what the Psychoholics do, 20/20 never drifts into the cartoonish, self-consciously dumb territory embraced by so many acts with similar aims. Credit goes to Mrak’s bandmates Alvin Khoury, Doug Nelson, Dave Crisci, Charlie George and Tony Rodriguez, all seasoned players who know when to let their chops show and when to dial them back in service of the song.
The Psychoholics are primarily known for over-the-top live shows, which are likely to include bunny rabbit costumes, round-robin guest spots from other local musicians and props like giant inflatable eyeballs. The pandemic has put those spectacles on hold, and Mrak maintains that he’s in no rush to get back to the stage.
“When the masks are gone, the Psychoholics will come back out,” he said during a recent phone conversation.
In a perfect world, that absence should give 20/20 a more receptive audience. Without props and schtick to get in the way, there’s more room to dive into the music and enjoy it on its own terms. Based on 20/20’s appeal, let’s just hope it’s not another dozen years before Mrak and crew bless San Antonio with another long player.