Top Five of the First Half of 2011, #1: Lo-Pan, Salvador

Posted in Features on June 30th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

At this point, between the review, the interview, live review, tour posts (there’s a couple), and sundry other rants, I’m not sure how many other ways there are for me to say it. I fucking love this album. Ohio rockers Lo-Pan‘s third full-length, Salvador, is the best record I’ve heard in the first half of this year, and listening to it now to write this post, I’m just as excited to hear it as I was the first time I did.

The only difference? Now I know the songs. I can follow Brian Fristoe‘s riffs, Skot Thompson and Jesse Bartz‘s bass and drums. I can ape singing along (having neither the range nor the capability to actually keep up with him) to Jeff Martin‘s vocals. These tracks, from “El Dorado” on down through “Seed,” “Chichen Itza,” and “Struck Match,” are amped-up stoner rock classics, and even when Lo-Pan hit the brakes and deliver moodier pieces like “Bird of Prey” or “Solo,” they seem to lose none of the immediacy or directness in the material.

The thing about it, really, is you can just hear the time these guys have put in on the road. It bleeds through the songs — all of the songs — in how tight they are, how together, and of all the albums I’ve heard so far into 2011, Salvador is the one I feel I’m most likely to keep with me long after this year is over. It’s the one record I can put on at any time, regardless of mood or any external factors, and enjoy. If that’s not a number one album, I don’t know what is.

Whatever Lo-Pan does from here, between Salvador and 2009’s Sasquanaut — the reissue of which was their first release on Small Stone — they have two excellent albums under their belt (the preceding self-titled isn’t half bad either, but I think even the band will tell you they hit a different level with the second and third offerings), and have emerged as one of this generation’s most essential American heavy rock bands. All you have to do is hear it and you know.

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The Flight of Sleipnir, Essence of Nine: Odin Rides to the Rockies

Posted in Reviews on June 30th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Taking on a host of aesthetics for their third genre-bending album since their 2007 inception, Colorado duo The Flight of Sleipnir weave their way through blackened folk metal and a progressive-edged doom on Essence of Nine. With the rich (if often used) lore of Norse mythology as their lyrical inspiration, multi-instrumentalists Clayton Cushman (guitar, vocals, bass, keys) and David Csicsely (drums, vocals, guitar) provide a varied approach across Essence of Nine’s eight cuts, flowing smoothly from song to song despite a relatively lo-fi production and managing to affect a dark but still emotionally-communicated atmosphere – that is, they’re not just angry and blasting out – with switches between early Opethian clean singing and more blackened forest screams.

Their second offering through German imprint Eyes Like Snow, it’s hard to get an immediate read on Essence of Nine from opener “Transcendence,” since the song starts with a doomed riff and groove that – were the tone fuzzier – would be pure stoner rock, and moves before long into an acoustic part before giving way, in turn, to far-back screams and heavier guitars and drums. The Flight of Sleipnir do a lot of back and forth between heavy and mellow, but in the context of the songs themselves, it’s not redundant, since Cushman and Csicsely keep what they’re actually playing so varied. “Transcendence” has some repetition of parts, but the chorus isn’t hooky in a songwriting sense, and if the start of the record makes anything clear, it’s that The Flight of Sleipnir are concerned more with stylistic complexity and the contrast between musical light and dark than pop catchiness.

Still, the track gives only a cursory glance at the diversity Essence of Nine carries with it. “Upon This Path We Tread,” which follows, provides even smoother transitions and an effective inclusion of acoustics à la modern Negura Bunget, and the album proceeds from there to unfold with the engaging riffs of “A Thousand Stones” and an increasingly developed atmosphere. There’s something definitively European about the sound The Flight of Sleipnir elicit and the imagery these songs provoke, but for its doom elements and effective balance between the metal and folk in folk metal, I wouldn’t call Essence of Nine redundant. Even on “As the Ashes Rise (The Embrace of Dusk),” which arguably accounts for some of Cushman and Csicsely’s most raging moments, that metallic indulgence is complemented in the second half of the song by an acoustic-led wistfulness that leads gorgeously into the 7:31 centerpiece, “Nine Worlds,” the high point of the album.

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Say “The Obelisk” and Get into the NYC Truckfighters Show for Free

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 30th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

If you want to prove it, you can print the flier below, but I think pretty much all you have to say at the door is “I read The Obelisk,” and you get in for free.

The show is July 15 at the Cake Shop in Manhattan, and hands down, it’s going to be one of the year’s best gigs, with Swedish fuzz mavens Truckfighters making their Stateside debut, and receiving welcome from Maple Forum alums Kings Destroy, Massachusetts space doomers Blue Aside and Doom Capitol-ists Borracho (whose new and soon-to-be-reviewed album, Splitting Sky, is available now). My temptation here is to launch into hyperbole about how these bands are saving rock or this or that, but the simple truth is it’s going to be a really special night and I’m thrilled to be able to take part in it in this small way.

So yeah, say “The Obelisk” at the door and you won’t have to pay to get in. Here’s the flier for the show:

Special thanks to Steve Murphy and Kings Destroy, to Truckfighters, Blue Aside, Borracho and the Cake Shop.

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Top Five of the First Half of 2011, #2: Graveyard, Hisingen Blues

Posted in Features on June 29th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Graveyard‘s second album and Nuclear Blast debut, Hisingen Blues, has become my wake-up call. Not in some existential “take action” sense. Literally. On those days (and I should say “these days,” since today’s definitely one of them) where my eyes never seem to open all the way and I’m in a sleepy fog for, well, ever, I’ll throw on Hisingen Blues and suddenly not only am I locked into Graveyard‘s considerable groove, but sad as some of this material is, I actually feel good listening to it.

I missed the boat on their first album. Self-titled and released on Tee Pee in 2008, it let the band make a huge impression in the US at South by Southwest and David Fricke said their name or something, so they magically became the go-to Swedes for retro rock. Whatever. I must have been absent that day. All I know is that whatever hype is around them, the four-piece back it up with memorable songs and enough genuine emotion on record to offset any accusations of posturing that might arise.

And however you feel about retro-minded rock, there’s no question Graveyard have the patterns down. Their songs feel live and warm and sound tailor-made for the blue vinyl Nuclear Blast issued them on, and in terms of establishing an aesthetic, Hisingen Blues is easily among the most complete albums of 2011. To be any more cohesive, they’d pretty much have to be doing a concept record about giant robots or something like that. Let’s hope they don’t go that route next time.

For the constant listens it’s been getting since it came in, Graveyard‘s sophomore outing is a definite for the top five at the end of the year, and like the best of the stuff on these lists, including Hisingen Blues here is basically an excuse to rant some more about how much I dig hearing it. Which I do.

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The Re-Stoned, Analog: Finding the Inner Fuzz

Posted in Reviews on June 29th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

If it feels like there’s been a lot of instrumental heavy psych reviewed around here lately, you’re right. Joining the pack with their second studio full-length on R.A.I.G. (they also had a live album out) is previously On-the-Radar’ed Moscow trio The Re-Stoned, whose latest seven-track collection of wah-jam voodoo is called Analog. A lot of what you need to know about the band and the album is right there. As their moniker might lead you to believe, they’re stoned again – playing a kind of heady guitar-led stoner/psych rock – and they’re not at all shy about highlighting the analog warmth of the cuts included; calling it Analog feels almost brazen, daring the listener to take on the album’s natural feel. And in so doing, one is making a considerable investment in both time and energy. The three-piece cover a wide swath of mostly familiar ground on Analog, and with opener “Northern Lights” as the shortest piece at 5:58 and closer “Dream of Vodyanoy” the longest at 14:01, the record clocks a robust 61 and a half minutes, which is a lot and feels like it.

Immediately that’s a kind of drawback for The Re-Stoned. “Fronted” in a musical sense by heavily-effected, Orange-amped guitarist Ilya Lipkin, Analog takes shape around classic psych jams like “Crystals,” and while the bluesy favor in Lipkin’s playing is often satisfying as offset by the double-Vladimir rhythm section of Vladimir Nikulin (bass) and Vladimir Muchnov (drums), as “Crystals” turns into “Feedback” turns into “Music for Jimmy” and the album’s middle becomes its end, the course of jam parts, the occasional plotted riff and extended solos starts to feel samey, in concept if not actual sound. The Re-Stoned recorded Analog live, which was undoubtedly the way to go considering the spontaneous vibe of the material, and in multiple sessions, and one can hear that mostly in Muchnov’s drums, which have an entirely different snare sound on the title-track than they do on the riffier “Put the Sound Down or Get the Hell Out.” And while this change in the actual audio keeps Analog from sounding overly redundant, there’s no denying the ethic is the same. That said, “Analog” blends the more riff-led and jammier elements in The Re-Stoned’s approach better than nearly everything else on the album, so it’s not like Analog is lacking in satisfying moments or is somehow entirely without merit or appeal. Just the opposite.

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Ripple Music Issues Free Anniversary Compilation

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 28th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Congratulations to Ripple Music on their one-year anniversary. The label is home to the likes of Mighty High, Poobah and Stone Axe, and in celebration of their solar revolution (hopefully the first of many), they’ve made an exclusive digital compilation available for free download from their Bandcamp page. That’s cool enough, but the compilation also features new music from Iron Claw and Grifter, who’ll both have new albums out before the end of the year.

Here’s the news from the label, followed by the audio stream of the comp:

Now, as Ripple Music moves into its second year, founders John Rancik and Todd Severin want to celebrate the enthusiasm of their music lovers with some anniversary specials. As a thank you to their fans and supporters who’ve allowed Ripple to strike out and bring independent music to the world, Ripple is releasing it’s first ever free digital compilation album.

Featuring every band that has made the first year of Ripple Music such a success, Ripple‘s anniversary album kicks off with Stone Axe, before heading down the Ripple highway of Poobah, JPT Scare Band, Fen, and more. And as a special bonus, The anniversary album features the world’s first sneak peeks at two new Ripple releases; Grifter‘s self-titled debut album, and the eagerly anticipated A Different Game, from underground legends, Scotland’s Iron Claw. But the free compilation album may be available for only a limited time, so get over there quickly to get yours!

But wait, there’s more. Over at the Ripple Store, everything is still 15% off until July 4, and every waverider who places an order will get their name placed into a drawing for a very special, last-one-of-a-kind surprise test pressing!

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Buried Treasure: The Cape Cod Massacre

Posted in Buried Treasure on June 28th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

It’s coming up on two weeks ago now that I was in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to attend a wedding with The Patient Mrs., and while I could easily recount the awkwardness that ensued there at great length, I’d rather talk about buying CDs. I had put it out on the forum that I’d be in the area and was looking for places to go, and a few really good suggestions came back. I didn’t have time to hit everything up, but I made out alright with what I had.

Just hours before the ceremony, I could be found a dingy, unshowered, greasy, smelly wreck of a human being at Spinnaker CDs in Hyannis. The store reminded me of what I recalled Newbury Comics had turned into from visits there years before (I don’t get to Massachusetts that often), with toys and DVDs and t-shirts supplementing the stock of music, which was ample enough. I spent a good 20 minutes dejectedly looking through their “New/Used” racks, not finding much of anything, before I stumbled on the “2 for $10” wall.

There were a few Man’s Ruin-type goodies — Solarized and Disengaged I remember specifically, but several others too — but it wasn’t anything I didn’t already have. I did manage to grab an advance copy of TAD‘s Inhaler (somebody’s promo went down a long road to get to that shelf) and the self-released version of Proving Ground by Penance. I had the Martyr Music re-release, but figured screw it, the price was good enough and Penance rule.

The young woman behind the counter at Spinnaker was rude enough that even if I lived there, I’d be hesitant to go back. She didn’t tell me to fuck myself or anything, but the contempt was just oozing off her. Granted, I wasn’t at my best, but seriously, it was more than necessary, even for a record store employee. Compared to Newbury Comics at the Cape Cod Mall, which I hit on my way off the arm the next day, she was almost cartoonishly angry. In all likelihood, it had nothing to do with me and I was just the lucky sap who got to absorb it, but still.

I didn’t have any real goals for the weekend of shopping, other than picking up a full copy of the new Karma to Burn record, V, which I reviewed a bit ago (amazing how many broke-ass unsigned bands are willing to send out full-artwork promo CDs to reviewers and how many broke-ass labels aren’t), and they had it on the cheap at Newbury Comics, so I grabbed that, a used non-reissue copy of Turbo by Judas Priest and the Svidd Neger soundtrack by Ulver, which I haven’t been brave enough to listen to yet but was just so enthralled at the idea of finding a used Ulver CD that I had to buy it nonetheless. You just don’t run into that kind of thing that often.

By this point, vaguely hungover from the reception before, I was feeling kind of “meh” about the record shopping experience of the trip. Not that I wasn’t thankful to have found what I did (that TAD promo was cool, and Priest is Priest), but there wasn’t anything that really kicked my ass, so with some little haranguing of The Patient Mrs., I managed to divert our course into Providence for a stop at the Armageddon Shop on Broadway.

Of the trip’s finds, those from Armageddon were easily the best. All used, I picked up Shroud of Bereavement‘s first EP, 1999 Man and Long Day’s Flight ’till Tomorrow by Euroboys (both on Man’s Ruin), Pod People‘s Doom Saloon, the Ramesses/Negative Reaction split on PsycheDOOMelic, Conifer‘s first album, Who Do We Think We Are! by Deep Purple, the American version of We’re Here Because We’re Here by Anathema (such a sucker for that band; I bought it for the three bonus demos), Type O Negative‘s CD single for “Love You to Death,” and — in the spirit of finding The Satellite Circle last time I was at Armageddon and buying it despite knowing nothing about them — The End of Space by No Rest for the Dead.

That turned out to be a little noisier than I’d expected, and more abrasive in the vocals than I was really looking for, but it was cool anyway. Even better, though, was the cassette of Cathedral‘s The Ethereal Mirror for five bucks. They had a couple others too, but I figured that was a decent start. It’s going to suck when my car shits the bed and I don’t have a tape player anymore, but the ride back to Jersey from Rhode Island was pretty much set between that tape and the rest of the trip’s haul.

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At Devil Dirt, At Devil Dirt: Into the Depths of Tone

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

Before I took a minute to look at the digipak liner of Chilean groovers At Devil Dirt’s self-titled Corvus Discos debut, I listened to the record just to get a feel for the songs and said to myself at more than one point, “Ah, okay, another bass and drum duo.” Already in my head I was making comparisons to the likes of Om and Olde Growth, trying to place the Santiago twosome in between them somehow, maybe taking the ritual from one and the rock from the other. But then I went ahead and translated the line “En este álbum no fueron grabadas pistas de bajo,” and discovered that, contrary to (nearly) every impression the 12 cuts on At Devil Dirt give, there’s no bass anywhere on the record. Guitarist Néstor Ayala (also vocals) runs his guitar through a bass rig, sure enough, and the tone of it, the rich low end, was enough to fool me. On a track like “Mar Gris,” he and drummer Francisco Alvarado are the consummate rhythm section, and as there are so few parts where higher register guitar notes are used, I just assumed it wasn’t there my first couple times through. Immediate kudos there.

Another surprise came in the form of Ayala’s vocals, which proffer an unexpected melodicism and add a psychedelic feel to many of the tracks with a wide range and varied clean approach. Four of the 12 songs are sung in English and the rest in Spanish, and in either language, Ayala manages to bring forth catchy hooks and memorable lines, whether it’s the uptempo earlier cut “Rockanrolla” or the Soundgarden-esque chorus of “No Pude Ver el Sol.” It’s a contrast between the vocals and the guitar playing out across the material, but it works really well right from opener “No Puedo Mas,” and At Devil Dirt manage to make their sonic heft an effective backdrop for Ayala’s vocal layering, as on “You Know It,” where I was actually missing a guitar for thinking these were bass tracks, wondering what playful Josh Homme-style lead flourishes might sound like over Alvarado’s hi-hat work in the verses, which reminded of Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf. Likewise, on the more drum-driven “She’s Not Mine,” Ayala plays up the “Tomorrow Never Knows” frenetic rhythm with a one-man call and response that leads into one of At Devil Dirt’s most infectious choruses.

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