I've never been to Santa Cruz, California, but the musical output exploding from that little college town has me wondering what kind of acid is in the drinking water. Between the scorching psych rock of Residual Echoes and Comets on Fire, something tells me it has to be some heavy shit. Residual Echoes are all about psyched-out guitar pyrotechnics. Featuring Adam Payne, an ax-wielding madman from Santa Cruz, Residual Echoes pound out massive slabs of fuzz tones that quake your innards in the vein of Comets on Fire. In fact, Comets' Ethan Miller and Ben Chasny cite Payne as being a next-level hero of the six-string. Given his penchant for swaying between blues-psych slayings and acoustic-drone zone outs, it's easy to see why they dig Payne's work. Like them, he is given to both assaulting and massaging his fretboard.

Residual Echoes' sophomore disc, Phoenician Flu and Ancient Ocean (on Holy Mountain, one of America's finest purveyors of deep, flammable psychedelia), opens with "Death Comes for the Archbishop," the louder, groovier son of Monoshock's shit-rock tunes. Hacking his guitar with wolfman-like ferocity, Payne creates noisy riffs that evoke Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi, and Ron Asheton. "Lorelei" is a mellower, more acid-bathed epic guitar saga that reaches heights of classic-rock proportions. Fed through a planetary ring of reverb, Payne's voice is pretty, which offers respite from the guitar pummeling he dishes out elsewhere on Ocean. The album's other mellow moments include "Knowe Part I," which is based on Nick Drake's intimately beautiful "Know," and "Blue Eyes," whose acoustic buzz-plucks and vibraphone drips recall some late-'60s space rock, before it escalates into a meaty thunder-blues outro.

Overall, Ocean is less of a mess than Residual Echoes' self-titled debut. Payne has upgraded the production and ditched the boogie-woogie of the previous disc in favor of interstellar exploration. He's a textbook guitar hero who never bores while letting his instrument lead him where it pleases. And though his affiliation and geographic proximity has led to Residual Echoes getting labeled by some as Comets Jr., he shares very little with that band musically. In fact, some may find his brand of psychedelia more digestible than Comets' over-the-top mania.