When Sean Cimino and Isom Innis were getting ready to work on what would become Acid Star, the full-length debut of their syrupy electronic rock group Peel, they started by tapping into the music that they liked as kids. That is, the music they gravitated toward before they had “any taste or judgment,” as Innis puts it.
In some sense, the relationship the duo had with late-’90s mainstream hits was the purest connection to music imaginable, so they decided to recreate some of the rhythms and textures of a few of those songs from memory, and then let the jams lead their way to new ideas. In other words, no thoughts, just vibes: “If you think too hard, and you try too hard, you can kind of ruin the expression that comes out,” says Innis. “But there’s something about trying to recreate a song that was in my DNA before taste came into it that just sounded, listening back, like it had a lot of energy and life.”
Peel have always been based upon a foundation of knowing how to go with the flow. Cimino and Innis first met in 2010 after they had both been asked to join the touring group of Foster the People, and instantly latched onto one another. The two multi-instrumentalists have shared a path during their time in Mark Foster’s influential rock band, going from touring to full-time members, eventually contributing on record as well as on stage. But just as importantly, they’ve been seeing the world and growing up together, bonded by a unique journey in life: “We’ve shared many a bedroom, Isom and I,” Cimino laughs. “Slept on floors, and the back of vans,” Innis adds.
The two developed a musical language all their own over the years, and there wasn’t a whole lot of initial intent behind the sessions that led to the birth of Peel. But when songs like “Catch and Release” and “Citizen X” came out—songs that sounded like Aphex Twin producing New Order—they knew they had to let the world hear what sounds were swirling around in Innis’s loft in downtown Los Angeles. They were right: “Citizen X,” from 2020’s Peel EP, has become a streaming hit.
Generally, Peel songs begin with Cimino on guitar and Innis on drums, but from there it’s anyone’s guess how the music will come together. “We’ll kind of have this foundation of a groove,” explains Innis, “and then we play musical chairs to build up an idea from there.” Innis will move to the synth, grab a bass; Cimino will program drum tracks, arrange string parts, play guitar. And they both sing, trusting each other to take the reins on certain songs based on what comes out of the sessions: “Truly, you hear every bit of Isom and then you hear every bit of me,” Cimino says. “Each of our personalities are shown.”
The results are an album that swirls dance-music paint onto a rock canvas. Inspired in part by genre-bending Creation Records bands like Primal Scream and Madchester groups like Happy Mondays, Acid Star gives a modern spin on a classic formula. The opener, “Y2J,” was one of the results of that childhood-song experiment, and is, appropriately enough, named in reference to Y2K, but slightly askew—one letter off, as it were. “Climax,” a song inspired by the 2018 Gaspar Noé movie of the same name, is a rocket-ship ride of a tune, as much within Nile Rodgers’ wheelhouse as Spoon’s. Still, it’s all squarely a product of the digital-native era of music: “OMG” takes a song about psychedelic experience and presents it with a sparkling production sound that would make Kevin Parker jealous.
It’s not all dance-floor material, however. Each side of the album is marked by spacey ballads—“Acid Star” and “The Cloak”—both driven by acoustic guitar and gentle vocals that push home the crucially melodic underbelly of Peel itself. “You’re smiling, laughing there, my acid star,” sings Cimino on the former song, an ode to an idea of a certain ephemeral and untouchable type of rock god. “That lyric is a tribute to the power of words beyond our everyday use,” Cimino says. “I was thinking of a term for someone, something, or an idea that is so meaningful—almost too important.” When it came time to decide what to name the album itself, it was right there in front of them.