Tasha-Yar Go in Search of, and Find, Space

Posted in Reviews on February 28th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Following last year’s live CD/DVD excursion The First Landing with a new self-released, self-titled studio full-length, North Carolinian collective Tasha-Yar emerge from the wooded hills they call home with a much more realized vision of their sound than they presented in 2010. The six-piece are firmly entrenched in the space rock genre, and the eight tracks on Tasha-Yar make the most of analog synth in the classic ‘70s tradition (though modernly produced), balancing the occasional heavy rock groove against all manner of underlying swirls and flourishes. Like much of its sonic ilk, Tasha-Yar is headphone-ready in terms of revealing its subtleties best with direct contact, but even in the car, the band get their point across. They like Hawkwind. They like Ash Ra Tempel. They enjoy the occasional cosmic excursion. Even better than Tasha-Yar are at making those points, however, their ability to balance ambient soundscaping with driving psych puts them in a different class entirely when it comes to the new league of interstellar seekers.

Although they’re immediately notable for their connection to über-hip North Carolina outfit U.S. Christmas, Tasha-Yar veer more directly into echoplexed churning and have less of a focus on outright tonal thickness. The double-guitars of Chad Davis and Ben Teeter take the lead on a couple of the tracks – opener “Twisted Sage,” the shorter “Flight of the Scanners” and later into “Empty Hand,” but more than that, they’re merely participants in a bigger happening. Both Teeter and Davis also contribute synth, and Tom Devlin III handles nothing but, so with the potential for half the band to be tripping out on knob-twiddling at any given moment alongside bassist John Presnell, drummer Tim Greene and vocalist Joe Sample, it’s safe to say Tasha-Yar give considerable emphasis to the lush aspects of their sound. Indeed, as much as the periodic “heavy part” acts as an offsetting moment of excitement, many of Tasha-Yar’s highlights come in the form of the quiet interplay between the synth and guitar, as with the beginning of opener “Twisted Sage,” which takes the first four of its total eight minutes to affect a slow build around shifting frequencies in and out of the aural spectrum.

“Twisted Sage” also sets the tone for the trade between loud and quiet volumes, which Tasha-Yar engage across the next seven cuts. Sample’s voice has an Al Cisneros-style cadence on the later “Empty Hand” and the closer, “Judgment Hour,” but takes the melody in a different, less referential direction on second track “I. White Squirrel,” which is part one of the three-part “Wasted Light Years” progression. “I. White Squirrel” leads more smoothly into “II. Formation of Being,” than does that song into the more active “III. Flight of the Scanners,” but unless you’re sitting and watching the times change over, you’re likely to just sit and go with it. “II. Formation of Being” might be the low point of Tasha-Yar musically, as the repetition doesn’t quite capture the same hypnotic aspect as other points of the album, but after three minutes in, when the guitars pick up for a solo and the instrumental section that ends the track, it’s satisfying nonetheless. As much as Tasha-Yar are linking themselves stylistically to the traditions of space rock, these songs don’t feel like they’re working with any kind of formula. “III. Flight of the Scanners” feels born out of a fuzzy psychedelic jam (perhaps with Teeter handling lead vocals; hard to know who’s doing what), but “Acorn Falls” is two minutes of pastoral guitar and synth interplay that’s just this side of too rich to be an interlude, containing some of Tasha-Yar’s most effective melody.

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Frydee Trippy Wicked and the (Acoustic) Children of the Knight

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 25th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

A discussion earlier today on the Facebook prompted me to revisit the acoustic EP, The Bleak, by UK rockers Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight. I think what I like best about it is that while most bands and/or songwriters, when they do their “acoustic album” or “go unplugged,” they just basically do the same thing they do on an electric guitar with an acoustic. Trippy Wicked, on the other hand, break out the ukulele and take a whole new approach to crafting their material. When you’re done with their reimagining of Sleep‘s classic “Dragonaut” (which seems to have earned a “gh” somewhere along the line) above, check out their video for “Separate Paths” here. It’s also quite good.

It was a crazy kind of week, but good. The homework I was supposed to do tonight I blew off in favor of hitting the bar, so here’s to having your priorities in order and making things harder on yourself. In any case, starting with a Monster Magnet live review and ending with a Weedeater live review seemed a good way to go, and if you missed it because it was tucked way at the end of the post, this photo of “Dixie” Dave Collins might be my favorite thing ever. Seriously. That alone was worth the price of the camera.

I also hope you got to take a look at the Brian Mercer interview, both because I’m a fan of his work and because he has some cool things to say about inspiration and the creative process. I think so, anyway, and hopefully you do too.

On Monday we jump back into it. Over the next week I’ll have reviews of the new Tasha-Yar studio full-length and Grand MagusHammer of the North, and an interview with Wo Fat guitarist Kent Stump about their awesome new album (reviewed here). We’ll close out the February numbers and take a look at what’s to come for March (lots), and I’ll have an update too about the next release on The Maple Forum, so there’s a lot to stay tuned for.

In the meantime, have a great and safe weekend, and if you’re around, I’ll see you on the forum, where — by request — you can now preview a topic just by scrolling over it with your mouse. Fancy that.

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Live Review: Weedeater, ASG and Naam in Manhattan, 02.24.11

Posted in Reviews on February 25th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

It was my first time at Santos Party House. The club, famously shut down last year for dealing drugs, resides in that not-quite-Chinatown, not-quite-financial-district section of Manhattan below Canal St., down by where the Knitting Factory used to make its home on Leonard. It’s kind of a nether-region in New York, at least after 6PM when all the suits have gone home. Stores close. There’s parking. Santos seemed to be doing alright anyway for attracting a crowd; last night’s was the most packed Weedeater show I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few.

Over in the Webster Hall basement, The Brought Low and Puny Human were opening for Danko Jones and if I’d had half a brain in my head or a memory to retain what goes into said brain, I would have headed into the city early to catch their sets before hitting up Santos, but no, I was playing it cool, waiting to get to the club at around 9:30. Clubs in NYC can go either way these days. In Brooklyn, you’re more or less guaranteed a late night, but you never know who in Manhattan is going to decide at 11PM that it’s time for the dance party to start. To Santos‘ credit, the dance party was downstairs by the bathrooms and Weedeater, ASG and Naam played upstairs. A few years ago, that would have been the other way around.

Naam were on stage when I got in, bathed in blue light, playing songs from their self-titled Tee Pee Records debut and Kingdom EP, which, try as I might, I still can’t find a copy of on CD. They had the vinyl for sale, but any disc smaller than that was a no dice. I’ve seen them a couple times now, and as they make ready to head over to Europe for a Tee Pee label tour that includes a stop at Roadburn, they sound ready for it. “Kingdom,” which they closed with, sounded especially killer, beardo bassist John Bundy‘s backing vocals giving that last chorus an extra push behind guitarist Ryan Lugar.

There are printed signs posted all around the club with messages like, “Santos Wants You To Be Happy” and “No One Knows Who You Are” and an attendant in the bathroom to hand me a paper towel, so there were some mixed messages in terms of what the vibe of the club overall was supposed to be, but I could easily see it being a rave-type place. Still, a ton of people came out for the show, and young people, and girls. Not just girlfriends, either. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know quite what to make of it.

For their part, ASG — who share Weedeater‘s hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina — were heavier than I thought they’d be. I vaguely recall their 2008 Win Us Over debut on Volcom, and it was passable in terms of West Coast-style riff rock, but nothing really landmark. Likewise, their live set was full of killer guitar work, and crowd ate it up each time drummer Scott Key locked into a half-time groove (who could blame them?), but overall, I was left somewhat cold by the performance.

When the lights came down at the start of their set, guitarist Jason Shi took an extra five minutes to check and get the levels on his mic, feeding back into the crowd and apologizing for it, but doing it anyway. Maybe I never got over that. Not to hold wanting to sound as good as possible against the guy, but come on dude, at some point it just has to be what it’s gonna be. I’m sure thinking that makes me a prick. I’ll live.

The last time I remember seeing Weedeater (which, since it’s Weedeater, isn’t necessarily the last time I saw them) was a few years back in an Alphabet City basement that’s not there anymore called Club Midway. Or if it’s there, they stopped putting on this kind of show because they weren’t making any money. Anyway, the place had a decent amount of people in it — not a crowd by any stretch, but a good showing of the NYC faithful. Santos was jammed. I guess the people who’ve moved to the area over the last five years, mostly Brooklynite hipsters, but some humans as well, are of a different mindset than the last generation of showgoers — mine — and more open to this kind of thing.

Part of me wants to be the grumpy old man and tell the damn kids to get off my lawn, but on the other hand, fuck it, good for the bands. If Weedeater can pack a house in NYC and have people moshing to songs on an album that isn’t even out yet, maybe Manhattan will start getting more shows again. And if that saves me driving two hours to Brooklyn at any point, it can’t be all that bad.

Weedeater opened with the start of their new record, Jason… the Dragon, which they were also selling in advance of its release date. “The Great Unfurling” intro led into “Hammerhandle” led into “Mancoon” led into “Turkey Warlock,” and it was a violent, energetic start to the set. Guitarist Dave “Shep” Shepherd sounded huge through a spraypainted Marshall stack, and recent Obelisk interviewee “Dixie” Dave Collins might have the best bass tone in sludge. His cackling vocals seemed to be swallowed up in the distortion and groove surrounding, but he managed to cut through well enough, on more or less equal footing on the stage with Shepherd and be-dreadlocked drummer Keith “Keko” Kirkum.

The highlight of the set and the night for me was “Homecoming,” which Collins introduced by saying something like “Here’s a new song, I hope you fucking hate it.” That riff is one of the best they’ve ever come up with, and whether or not the audience had heard the track before, they dug it hard. Moshing at a stoner show. I guess that’s what happens when the kids show up.

Some bands act angry on stage, posture and look pissed off, but there’s something about the contempt with which Collins delivers his performance that makes me believe it’s genuine. And being in New York, I’m used to bands coming through who hate the town — half the time I’m there, I feel the same way, and it’s only going to take me an hour to get home — but with Weedeater, it was more than that. Some kind of drunken misanthropy-turned-rage that only got more visceral as the set wore on. Toward the end, when Collins said, “We’re gonna play a couple old songs now,” and then launched into “God Luck and Good Speed” from the 2007 album of the same name, I wondered if maybe there was a little extra edge of “fuck you” in his voice, as Weedeater had two albums out before then that, in all likelihood, the crowd wouldn’t know nearly as well.

Their Skynyrd cover of “Gimme Back My Bullets” followed “God Luck and Good Speed,” and they closed with “Weed Monkey,” also both from God Luck and Good Speed, and at the end of the set, Collins — if I heard correctly — advised everyone to “get high as eagle pussy on stilts.” Sound advice, and a little ironic after I watched Santos security drag a dude out by his hair presumably for smoking something he shouldn’t have been, but I didn’t take it.

Instead, I headed down the block to the car and drove back to the valley to be up for work this morning, the wackiness of my recently-purchased Leeches of Lore CD keeping me company along the way. I wound up with a bunch of extra pictures from the show, so if you want to have a look, feel free after the jump.

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Buried Treasure: Black Sabbath, Paris, 1970 and Just How Good it Really Can Get

Posted in Buried Treasure on February 25th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Along with their 1974 performance at the California Jam and the glorious 1975 Asbury Park show, Black Sabbath‘s December, 1970, performance in Paris, France is among the group’s most famous bootlegs. Various snippets have made the rounds over the years — mostly video — but the soundboard audio from the show, coupled with the fact that it’s the original lineup in their Paranoid-era, was too good for me to pass up on eBay recently. Maybe it was posting the “N.I.B.” video last week that did it. Maybe it was the wine. Could go either way.

Whatever the case, it was one of those shows I had downloaded forever ago, but definitely of a quality worth owning physically. Even as Ozzy butchers the lyrics to nearly every song — “War Pigs” and “Hand of Doom” are especially brutal — the energy with which he does so practically punches you in the face through the speakers, and Bill Ward holds down “Black Sabbath” like I haven’t heard in any other era of the band. All the material was fresh, immediate, and fortunately, the sound on the War Pigs bootleg is good enough to capture that.

I’m pretty sure it’s a home-print job, inkjet, burner, whatnot, but it’s a silver-backed disc and I paid less than $20 for it, and in this age of sabboots, each of those is rare enough on its own that to have them both at the same time feels like getting away with something. If you’re into Sabbath bootlegs, you probably already have this show one way or another — I’ve never had much interest in collecting bootleg videos, but I know plenty of people who do — but if you don’t, it’s an essential piece to the catalog.

Interestingly (or maybe not), the track list on the back of the CD is wrong, and “Black Sabbath” is not the closer of the show, “Fairies Wear Boots” is. “Black Sabbath” comes after “Iron Man” — written as one word on the CD — though it kicks enough ass it could have just as easily ended the set. “Behind the Wall of Sleep” is another highlight, for Tony Iommi‘s hypnotic solo if not Geezer Butler‘s running bass, which is low on “War Pigs” to the point of needing to be adjusted on the EQ, but well worth the minimal effort of doing so.

There are plenty of other copies out there, and even if it’s a cheap inkjet knockoff that you’re getting, the War Pigs bootleg captures young Sabbath at their most vital and as they never would be again. If you see it, get it.

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Graveyard, Hisingen Blues: The Devil in Gothenburg

Posted in Reviews on February 25th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Following the release of their self-titled debut on Tee-Pee in 2008, the groundswell around Swedish retro rockers Graveyard has been remarkable. The Gothenburg four-piece, born from the same roots as Witchcraft in the band Norrsken, tapped a direct line to the soft spot in everyone’s heart for Led Zeppelin and managed to balance a weighted tonality with upbeat and driving rhythms in a way that a lot of stylized proto-metal or heavy rock simply couldn’t do. The dueling guitars and vocals of Joakim Nilsson and Jonathan Ramm make both their live and recorded output exciting and memorable, and that carries over to their much-anticipated 2011 second album, Hisingen Blues, delivered via Nuclear Blast. Soundwise, Hisingen Blues doesn’t range far from the Graveyard album, but it’s cleaner and you can tell in listening that Graveyard has spent significant time on the road. Their playing is tighter and Nilsson and Ramm have an increased sense of interplay between their voices that comes across especially well on a track like “Uncomfortably Numb.”

There are a slew of ‘70s and classic rock references throughout, from the title of the song just mentioned to the Lynyrd Skynyrd solo contained therein – finally, an answer to the proverbial yelling of “Freebird!” at every show ever – and the spooky organ that populates “Ungrateful are the Dead.” The album starts with the shuffle of “Ain’t Fit to Live Here,” drummer Axel Sjöberg making his presence immediately felt with excellent snare and kick work, a kind of looseness in his playing that’s never actually out of control. It’s perfect for Graveyard’s sound, in any case, and able to switch between the bluesy revival (Ramm and Nilsson testifying with the spirit well upon them, to be sure) of “Ain’t Fit to Live Here” and more swaying grayness of “No Good, Mr. Holden,” which follows. The choruses of both the opening duo cuts make them Hisingen Blues highlights, but there’s something about the material Graveyard that presents that doesn’t beat you over the head. There’s a subtlety to the songwriting that virtually begs for repeat listens, and I’ve found that the more I engage with the record, the more likely I am to have one of the songs in my head.

I wonder if perhaps that’s not my own process of getting past the style aspect to what Graveyard does and into the actual substance of their music, which is considerable. As Hisingen Blues moves into its chorus and I find I too want to raise my hand to be saved (by the devil, naturally), it’s readily apparent that although they’ve obviously got an eye on their visual presentation in terms of fashion and general aesthetic, it’s the songs that are paramount. “Hisingen Blues” shares a partial common melody – I won’t say influence, because it’s a vague connection and could just be something I’m hearing, but nonetheless was strong enough to make me listen for a comparison – to Danzig’s “Going Down to Die,” which is a nice touch either way and another example of the strong vocal work of Ramm and Nilsson. “Uncomfortably Numb,” an appropriate side A closer, is the longest track on Hisingen Blues, and with the aforementioned solo section, makes a great place for those listening on vinyl – which unquestionably the album was made for – to stop and process what they’ve just heard before moving onto the next half.

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Kings Destroy Announce Live Actions with Shroud Eater, Wormrot and Orange Goblin

Posted in Label Stuff on February 24th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

You might think that after months and months of telling you how badass Kings Destroy are, or about how their And the Rest Will Surely Perish full-length was my favorite album of last year, or about how much they kill it live, I’d be sick of doing so. Dead wrong, my friends. Kings Destroy are fucking amazing and if you haven’t heard them yet, you should rectify that as soon as humanly possible. Sooner even.

Our friends over at BrooklynVegan have even seen fit to give Kings Destroy a nod — and a much appreciated nod it is — as regards their slew of upcoming live shows, including dates with Wormrot and Deathcycle in Brooklyn, and in Manhattan with none other than Orange Goblin and The Gates of Slumber! If that’s not enough, the band will also be heading south to Miami next week for a gig with Shroud Eater. Here’s info for the shows forthcoming:

03/05 Beelzebub’s Cave Miami, FL with Shroud Eater
03/12 The Gutter Brooklyn, NY with Sweet Diesel
04/03 Union Pool Brooklyn, NY with Wormrot, Deathcycle and a secret band warming up for Roadburn
05/28 Santos Party House New York, NY with Orange Goblin, The Gates of Slumber

Maybe you saw it, maybe you didn’t, but I recently updated the Maple Forum label page with info about And the Rest Will Surely Perish (which, admittedly, should have happened a long time ago but doesn’t seem to have hurt them any). Anyone interested in buying a copy of the record (12 left) can do so using the Paypal button below or in the sidebar of this page. Thanks to everyone who’s placed orders already for your support of Kings Destroy and The Obelisk.

Purchase Kings Destroy’s And the Rest Will Surely Perish:

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On the Radar: Koloss

Posted in On the Radar on February 24th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

I’ve long been of the opinion that people don’t give Swedish outfit Cult of Luna enough credit when it comes to the whole post-metal thing. Neurosis, well that’s just obvious. Isis, alright sure, they left their mark in the rhythms and there’s no shortage of drummers out there doing that with their snare, but Cult of Luna have had as much if not more overall impact on the genre as Isis, and yet their name hardly ever gets mentioned. Fellow Swedes Koloss, who you can hear on the player below, put their influence to good use on their End of the Chayot full-length, which they’re offering for free download at their Bandcamp page.

I’m willing to grant there’s no small amount of late-era Isis on closer “One Wave,” but End of the Chayot‘s more crushing opening movement is straight out of the cold Scandinavian snows. “Gaia” and “Old Sun Rise” might tread familiar ground stylistically, but they’re heavy and the album is free and sometimes I want to feel like I’m being beaten over the head with churning riffs, so I’m posting the tracks. I’m about as “over” post-metal as the next guy, but screw it, at least Koloss aren’t doing ironic Katy Perry covers or trying to pretend they never heard of Mogwai. They emailed and asked that I help spread the word and I’m a sucker for Swedes. I think we all know the score. Here’s the player:

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Interview with Brian Mercer of Mercerrock: Exploring the Visual Side of Heavy

Posted in Features on February 24th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Even if you didn’t realize it, you’ve probably run into some of Brian Mercer‘s artwork. Maybe it was the cover of the last Zoroaster album, or the posters for any number of Small Stone showcases (last year’s in Mercer‘s native Philadelphia comes to mind), including this year’s SXSW, or t-shirts and posters for the likes of YOB, Lamb of God, Black Tusk and countless others. Mercer‘s art, with his meticulous attention to detail, careful lines and intricate patterning, seems to embody the best elements of the bands he’s working for. The thick black spaces that contrast the often colorful designs and the rich yellows, reds and blues that show up carry with them a weight that’s right in line with crushing distortion and fuzzed out tonality.

He’s been working under the Mercerrock banner since 2002 (website here), and I was surprised to learn through our email exchange that Mercer didn’t attend art school. It’s remarkable, since his aesthetic is so cohesive and his work executed with such precision and consistency — I guess I just thought that’s what they taught you. In any case, he’s picked it up on his own, and as more and more acts and labels are requesting his work, he’s quickly becoming one of rock art’s rising stars in the modern poster revival. Some folks just have it… and then they work really hard on top of that and are successful. Funny how that happens.

His love of the music shines through in the interview below, and at the end of the day that’s what matters most. His recent work for the Metalliance Tour is the excuse for the conversation, but more than that, I wanted to get a sense of where Mercer was coming from as an artist, who inspired him to get his start, and how his style developed over his years working for bands. As you’ll see, his experience is as distinct as the material it’s led him to produce.

Q&A is after the jump. Special thanks to Steve Seabury for facilitating.

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