Comet Control, Center of the Maze: Spreading Wings (Plus Track Premiere!)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on June 22nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

comet-control-center-of-the-maze

[Click play above to hear ‘Artificial Light’ from Comet Control’s Center of the Maze. Album is out this Friday on Tee Pee Records.]

Though it spends much of its time engaged in a garage-in-space push, the prevailing vibe on Comet Control‘s second album, Center of the Maze, is still one of serenity. The Toronto five-piece’s sophomore release follows their 2013 self-titled (review here), and like that debut it arrives via Tee Pee Records with a bright, vital blend of heavy psychedelic and space rock lent further shoegazy ethereality by the languid vocals of guitarist Chad Ross. Ross, joined in the band by guitarist Andrew Moszynski, bassist Nicole Howell, drummer Jay Anderson and keyboardist Christopher Sandes, is responsible in no small part for that serene impression, and after full impulse power of songs like opener “Dig out Your Head” and “Criminal Mystic” is disengaged and Comet Control set themselves to the relative drift of closing duo “Sick in Space” and “Artificial Light” — which between them comprise 18 of the record’s total 45-minute runtime — the vocals become another part of the lush and consuming arrangements that offer warmth as much as hypnotism.

Although Center of the Maze ultimately finds Ross and Moszynski pushing farther away from their work with prior outfit Quest for Fire (they were also in The Deadly Snakes), the songcraft and depth of mix in these eight tracks speaks to some measure of continuity between the two projects. Still, there’s little question that Comet Control have set themselves to the task of finding their own personality apart from what their members have done before, and that shows itself in dividends from one end of the LP to the other.

The sense of journey along the way isn’t to be understated. At their starting point in “Dig out Your Head,” Comet Control dive and weave and space-rock-stomp through what serves as an immediate hook on which they continue to build as they go forward into other early cuts like the more shuffling “Darkness Moves,” with some highlight snare work from Anderson, and the more folkish “Silver Spade,” which calls to mind Revolver-era The Beatles without aping them either in melody or structure. That in itself is an accomplishment worthy of note, acoustics leading as Mellotron-style keys add melodic flourish and brighten the atmosphere. They seem to be setting up a solo freakout like that which “Darkness Moves” undertakes in its solo section, but keep it smooth as “Silver Spade” heads into the tambourine-laden shoegaze of “The Hive.”

comet-control-Photo-by-Melissa-Boraski-and-Jennifer-Keith

Acoustic strum is audible in kind with the spaced-out fuzz, and “The Hive” seems to deliver the swirlfest in its second half that “Silver Spade” hinted toward, the march that’s been underway the whole time subtle but already at some distance removed from when they set out on “Dig out Your Head,” the flow between songs remarkable and feeling very intentional but not in a way that sacrifices the natural sound of the material. Purposeful but not contrived. That continues as the motion of “The Hive” feeds into “Criminal Mystic,” on which Sandes comes forward in the chorus wind a similar course to the guitars but provide the hook beneath the heavier, lower-toned fuzz of the guitars and Howell‘s bass. “Criminal Mystic” is a particularly good example of the heavy psychedelia that Comet Control have made their own, a blend of instrumental push and vocal calm, swirling and spacious but still catchy as well. In its place at the end of side A (I think), it becomes a high point of Center of the Maze‘s first half.

There is, however, a decided sonic shift as Comet Control begin side B. It happens as the keys come to the fore on “Golden Rule” after space rock howling opens to elicit a late-’60s stomp, soon further emphasized through tambourine. In pace, it connects with a lot of side A — even “Silver Spade” moved — but it also sets up the transition into the more pastoral spaces that “Sick in Space” and “Artificial Light” will cover. The closing duo also comprise the two longest tracks on Center of the Maze at eight and 10 minutes, respectively, and between them also go further out into cosmic meandering, wonderfully melodic and full in sound and realization, “Sick in Space” soothing even as its wash grows more prevalent. That apex is powerful, but the song ends with Ross delivering the album’s title line and it feels like a setup for “Artificial Light,” which of course it is.

And it’s a finale worthy of setup. No doubt in my mind that when December list time comes around, “Artificial Light” will be one of the best songs of the year. Sonically, it recalls some of the best moments of Quest for Fire‘s laid-back mind expansion, but as they have all along, Comet Control put their own twist on it, this time via a flat-out beautiful meld of standout synth lines and background effects wash and overarching vocal harmonies for the ultra-memorable chorus, “I’ll be your eyes/I’ll be your heart and your breath/Spread your wings or fall to your death.” Once again, acoustic strum emerges alongside the electrified guitars, and Comet Control cap the triumph of their second record with a sense of patience that answers all the prior rush as if to wonder what was the hurry in the first place. As it gracefully waltzes into its second half solo, “Artificial Light” dives into classic heavy grandeur while sounding effortless and keeping its core rhythm, tempo and that current of acoustic guitar intact, never quite letting go until it casts out its final, long-fading wash of keys and noise to end the album.

Staggering in resonance and emotionally gripping as it is, Center of the Maze‘s finish is still just one part of what it has to offer, and after it’s over, it’s all the more worth looking back to “Dig out Your Head” and internalize the distance covered. It is vast. A follow-up from Comet Control had been one to anticipate, but I’m not sure even the most hopeful of scenarios could have accurately predicted what they achieve here.

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Tee Pee Records

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Ragged Barracudas & Pushy, Split LP: Free Range Boogie (Plus Track Premieres)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on June 16th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

ragged barracudas pushy split

[Click play above to stream Ragged Barracudas’ ‘Tables Turn’ and Pushy’s ‘Salem Man.’ Their split LP is out mid-July and available now to preorder.]

There’s just nothing to argue with here. German trio Ragged Barracudas and Portland, Oregon’s Pushy team up for a split 12″ on Who Can You Trust? Records, four tracks apiece on two sides obviously divided by band, three originals and one cover each. Let the boogie ensue. It is neither act’s first time working with the label. Ragged Barracudas released a 7″ (review here) early in 2014 and took part in the latest installment of the imprint’s Sweet Times series of four-way split singles, Sweet Times Vol. 5. Pushy, meanwhile, featured on Sweet Times Vol. 4 last year, and as Ragged Barracudas drummer/vocalist Christian Dräger doubles as the head of Who Can You Trust? and Pushy guitarist/vocalist Adam Burke has done artwork for label releases from Pastor and the aforementioned Sweet Times Vol. 4, it’s safe to assume nobody on one side is a stranger to the other.

Those connections come hand-in-hand with a similarity of sonic mindset, both acts embroiled in a modernization of ’70s impulses across the LP’s engaging 33-minute span. They share a lack of pretense in their methods and the circumstance that this 12″ platter is the most substantive release to-date from each of them, Pushy having offered up a digital-only demo in 2014 (review here) and a couple other odds and ends on Bandcamp in addition to the above-mentioned. Both acts sound formative, purposefully, but assured of what they’re trying to accomplish and how they want to get to the natural, classic atmosphere that ultimately unites them and makes the record flow between its two sides.

In the case of Ragged Barracudas, no doubt at least partial credit should go to Guy Tavares. Also the drummer/vocalist of Orange SunshineTavares holds the reins on Motorwolf Studios in Den Haag, the Netherlands, and Ragged Barracudas‘ output benefits greatly from the sweat-soaked rawness of the “Motorwolf sound” on their four songs, “Burning” (on which Tavares also contributes ghungroo bells), “Tables Turn,” “Walking on My Grave” (a Dead Moon cover) and “Conclusions.” With a strong sense of live performance and a down-to-business feel in the lightly blown-out vocals of Dräger, joined in the band by guitarist Janik Ruß and bassist Tom WeitenRagged Barracudas manage to keep a friendly edge to a successfully dangerous execution.

ragged barracudas pushy split ad

Some of that might be pacing. “Burning” and “Walking on My Grave” both move at a pretty decent clip, but “Tables Turn” — a highlight of the release and the longest cut on it at six minutes flat — and “Conclusions” contrast with a more patient take. This direct back and forth, particularly over the condensed 17-minute runtime of the vinyl’s side A, sets up a flow that carries the listener along with the changes the band is making. I don’t know the circumstances of the recording exactly, but if it wasn’t completely live I’d guess it was at least mostly so, and whether it’s the almost-gothabilly ride cymbal on “Walking on My Grave” or the melancholic rumble of “Conclusions,” Ragged Barracudas show themselves as having a firm grip on their sound and a growing songwriting process that sounds ready for exploration on a debut full-length.

That’s something else they have in common with Pushy, who sound like the swing-fueled next step the Pacific Northwest has been waiting for since Portland arrived on the heavy rock map seven-plus years ago. They’re not the only band from what’s become a capitol of US heavy to take a bite out of the ’70s grooves of ZZ Top and James Gang, but they do it exceedingly well, whether it’s the start-stop bass groove from Neal Munson on “Zionara” or the sleaze in Burke‘s vocals on side-opener “In My Mouth.”

Blue Cheer are a major factor in that song, and not to its detriment, as BurkeMunson, guitarist Ron Wesley and drummer Travis Claw set themselves up for the funky turn that “I Need More Time” — a cover of The Meters — brings, twisting guitars leading the way into a resounding hook before twin-leads meet up for a scathingly bluesy apex that shifts back into the chorus to finish out. “Salem Man” follows with an admirably believable “rama-lam-bam-bam” worked into its lyrics, and as Pushy‘s tracks are arranged shortest to longest, as they make their move toward “Zionara” to finish out, they get correspondingly bolder, so that the final nod of “Zionara” is not only its own payoff but that also for the band’s entire portion, played out over a lean, deceptively-efficient 15 minutes.

Like I said at the outset, there’s just nothing to argue with here. In performance and songwriting, Ragged Barracudas and Pushy complement each other fluidly. It’s telling that the split’s cover artwork — presumably by Burke — is on what looks like reclaimed wood from an old barn, since both bands have an underlying element of the organic to their approach as well. In accord with that, their combined output sounds ready to stand the test of time.

Ragged Barracudas on Thee Facebooks

Ragged Barracudas on Bandcamp

Pushy on Thee Facebooks

Pushy on Bandcamp

Ragged Barracudas & Pushy split preorder

Who Can You Trust? Records on Bandcamp

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Colour Haze Announce Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 Due this Month; Premiere “Circles (Paris)”

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on June 10th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

colour haze

Heavy psych masters Colour Haze announce Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015, a new live release through Elektrohasch Schallplatten, due this month on CD with vinyl to follow in July. Comprising two discs with more than two hours’ runtime, Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 chronicles the Munich trio’s early 2015 run alongside The Sun and The WolfRadio Moscow and Cherry Choke on the Up in Smoke Vol. 5 tour to support their latest studio full-length, To the Highest Gods We Know (review here).

That record, which was a return to normalcy after a tumultuous release process for 2012’s double-LP, She Said (review here), and both albums feature heavily in the setlist for Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015. With recordings from shows in Frankfurt, Paris, Köln, Würzburg and Berlin, tracks like “She Said,” “Transformation” and “To the Highest Gods We Know” shine with different interpretations and varied arrangements for the stage that make it plain why the band wanted to document the tour to give their worldwide audience a look at what’s rarely seen or heard outside Europe.

For more than 20 years, Colour Haze have worked to craft an unmatched legacy in heavy psychedelia. Across their 11 studio albums, they’ve cast an influence that knows no borders and emphasizes the timeless nature of instrumental chemistry at its best. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek (also the head of Elektrohasch), bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred MerwaldColour Haze previously released the limited live outing, Burg Herzberg Festival 18. Juli 2008, in 2009, but Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 will be the first official Colour Haze live offering through Elektrohasch, and if the title is anything to go by, it might not be the last.

Colour Haze play their first US show in a decade in August at Psycho Las Vegas. Below, you can stream the premiere of “Circles (Paris)” from Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015. More info on exact release dates — it’ll probably be an “out now” situation — when it comes in.

Cover art and tracklisting follow:

colour-haze-live-vol-1-europa-tournee-2015

Colour Haze, Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015:
CD 1
1. Periscope (Frankfurt)
2. Moon (Frankfurt)
3. Uberall & Call (Frankfurt)
4. She Said (Paris)
5. Aquamaria (Würzburg)
6. To the Highest Gods We Know (Köln)
7. Circles (Paris)

CD 2
1. Transformation (Berlin)
2. Grace (Berlin)
3. Tempel (Köln)
4. Love (Paris)
5. Peace Brothers and Sisters! (Frankfurt)
6. Get it On (Köln) (Bonus Track)

http://colourhaze.de/
http://elektrohasch.de/

Colour Haze, “Circles (Paris)” Premiere

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Dee Calhoun, Rotgut: A Personal Endeavor (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on June 1st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

dee-calhoun-rotgut

[Dee Calhoun releases Rotgut on June 6 via Argonauta Records. Click play above to stream the album in full.]

Currently six years deep into his tenure as frontman of Maryland doom stalwarts Iron Man, vocalist Dee Calhoun has a career that goes back more than two decades, having contributed vocals and/or bass to acts like Vision, Phantasm, Bullet Therapy and Land of Doom. That Calhoun would get around as a player shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who’s heard him sing. His voice has a vibrato straight out of classic heavy metal in the Halfordian tradition, and he delivers lines with fist-pump-worthy power and enviable range able to move into a register high enough that his “Screaming Mad Dee” nickname seems duly earned. He’s the kind of vocalist you’d want fronting your band, and as heard on Iron Man‘s 2013 full-length, South of the Earth (review here), he only makes strong material stronger.

Rotgut, which comprises 12 tracks for a still-somewhat-manageable 55 minutes, is his first solo offering. Primarily, it features Calhoun himself, working with an acoustic guitar through songs that split the line between blues and unplugged metal atmospherically and, with cuts like “Babelkowa” and the spacious, folkish “Winter: A Dirge,” find him stretching beyond his comfort zone in one direction or another. At its core, though, Rotgut is a deeply personal affair, as emphasized by “Little ‘Houn Daddy ‘Houn” in the first half, on which Dee duets with his son, Rob Calhoun for what seems like something maybe built out for the record that started as the kind of thing a parent might sing to their child. It’s a genuinely touching moment.

Contrast that with the woman-done-me-wrong blues of “Backstabbed in Backwater” and the thrusting metal of the title-track — I don’t care if it’s distorted or not: it’s metal — and Rotgut offers a sense of breadth despite being stripped nearly to the bone in its arrangements. It does not feel like coincidence that it should open with “Unapologetic” before “Rotgut” itself and the perspective-affirming “Not Everyone Wins a Prize” take hold in succession, and the immediately defiant posture Calhoun takes on the leadoff track, his guitar backed by a shaker where on “Rotgut” it’ll come with harmonica, comes up down the line later on the twanging “Cast out the Crow” as well.

dee calhoun (Photo by roxplosion)

No matter where he takes a given song, however, the material belongs to Calhoun in a way that suits him well, whether that’s the more intentionally atmospheric “Sincerely Yours,” which boasts hand percussion and an electric guitar solo, or the six-minute “The Train back Home,” which seems to draw together a lot of what Rotgut is going for stylistically in its setting the vocals to soar over bluesy acoustic strum. Moments of flourish like Dee and Rob speaking before and after “Little ‘Houn Daddy ‘Houn” and Dee rounding out “Not Everyone Wins a Prize” with the spoken line, “Besides, everyone knows the best prizes come from within,” give sonic texture in addition to painting a fuller portrait of Calhoun as an artist, and the classical balladry of “Babelkowa,” while darker, adds to the context of the album overall while indulging a moment of solo voice and guitar to welcome effect. As much as he’s “Screaming Mad” Dee Calhoun, there’s clearly more underlying that persona as well, and Rotgut brings that forward in a way that would scare off lesser players — or perhaps those more prone to being apologetic in the first place.

As “Backstabbed in Backwater” gives way to “The Train back Home,” the die seems cast for the second half of the record, but Calhoun gives a different look with the trio of songs that begins with “Deifendör” and continues with “Cast out the Crow” and “Winter: A Dirge,” the album suddenly taking on something of a fantasy narrative. Calhoun, also an author, may indeed have been thinking of these together and how they might be read as a single thread, or they might have just fit, I don’t know, but with the crows and the winter and whatnot, it’s almost too easy to read a George R.R. Martin influence at work, which is quite a shift from “Backstabbed at Backwater,” whatever those crows and that winter might actually be metaphors for in reality.

Particularly the brief instrumental “Deifendör” seems like the beginning point of another movement of Rotgut, and “Winter: A Dirge” shifts into closer “At Long Day’s End” with a semi-continuation of the folkier vibe that also brings back some of the blues/metal of earlier songs like “Unapologetic” and “Not Everyone Wins a Prize,” so even more of the album as a whole is tied together as Calhoun closes out. One does not imagine a first solo outing is a decision lightly made, and I don’t know over how long a period this material was written — if it was years, I wouldn’t be surprised — but though he covers some ground sonically and stylistically from one cut to the next, Calhoun‘s voice remains the uniting element. Rotgut is a direct communication from Calhoun himself and all the more admirable for that, since that seems so clearly to be the intention in the first place.

Dee Calhoun website

Dee Calhoun on Thee Facebooks

Argonauta Records webstore

Argonauta Records on Thee Facebooks

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Stoned Jesus Premiere “Starshine Harvest”; Announce The Seeds Vol. II Release

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on June 1st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

stoned jesus (Photo by Viktor Vitamin)

Prior to releasing their third album, The Harvest (review here), in the early hours of 2015, Ukrainian trio Stoned Jesus offered a collection of jams and song skeletons called The Seeds Vol. I in 2013 to help finance the recording, pressing, etc. When Stoned Jesus jam, they jam, so like the prior release, Seven Thunders Roar (review here), it was well received. Today, it’s my pleasure to host a premiere of the seven-and-a-half-minute exploration “Starshine Harvest” as an announcement that The Seeds Vol. II is on its way as a precursor to a proper fourth full-length.

The running theme of seeds and harvests provides immediate intrigue — the cuts on The Seeds Vol. I didn’t have titles, just numbers — so right away “Starshine Harvest” is something of a departure, but its fuzzadelic vibe should feel right at home for anyone who either heard the first The Seeds or who can get on board with a psych jam generally. Recorded live before Stoned Jesus made their debut with 2010’s First Communion, it features guitarist/vocalist Igor Sidorenko, as well as bassist Nick Kobold and drummer Alex EphirZ, since replaced by Sergey “Sid” Slusar and Viktor Vitamin, respectively. Being upwards of six years old, obviously it’s not necessarily a glimpse at where Stoned Jesus are headed on the follow-up to The Harvest, but it makes a fitting look back at where they come from all the same and digs into low-end groove and spacious guitar that I’m not likely to complain about either way.

More on The Seeds Vol. II when I hear it. Until then, you can check out “Starshine Harvest” on the YouTube player below, followed by some background courtesy of the band:

Stoned Jesus, “Starshine Harvest”

“Starshine Harvest” is an old idea we were having fun with back in 2010. While it had never been properly recorded by Stoned Jesus MKI, it was regularly featured on our setlists, partially or as a full jam thing. This particular version is taken from our pre-“First Communion” Kharkiv concert, and by uploading it we want to say “The Seeds, vol.II” are coming!

Since the very first rehearsals Viktor, the new drummer, always kept his portable recorder turned on, and soon we got literally gigabytes of jams and improvisations, mostly played between actual songs just to keep us sharp. Some of them were rather cool and even if we wouldn’t use them as the future songs’ basis, we’d love to share them with you all. We decided to upload some cuts for you on BandCamp.

Again, this is NOT the actual studio album, just a download-only collection serving as a fundraising weapon for our new full-length. We’re not much into the “just donate”-campaigns, ‘coz we understand people always need to get something for their bucks, so here’s the deal – for $5 only you’re getting the whole thing. And attention to those who donate $40 and more, get ready to find your names inside the future album’s booklet in the THANK YOU section!

Stoned Jesus on Thee Facebooks

Stoned Jesus on Bandcamp

Stoned Jesus on YouTube

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Roadburn 2016 Audio Streams: CHRCH, Bliksem, Chaos Echoes, Yodok III, Daniel Payne, Hell & Naðra

Posted in audiObelisk on May 30th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

CHRCH at Roadburn 2016 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

This invariably happens every year. I’ll grant that the audio streams from Roadburn 2016 seem especially quick in arriving — the last batch was only 10 days ago — but at some point every year there’s a round during which the majority of the bands are ones that I didn’t see. The catchphrase here is “Roadburn means hard choices.” You can’t be everywhere at once, and usually my agenda involves trying to focus on things I’ve never seen before and might not again. Fortunately there’s always plenty of that to go around.

Out of the seven bands included in this third batch of Roadburn 2016 streaming full sets, I only caught one band, and that was CHRCH. Frankly, if it was only going to be one, I’m glad it was them. The West Coast extreme doom powerhouse made their debut through Battleground Records in 2015 with Unanswered Hymns (review here) and received due praise for their efforts, and they were among my most gotta-see bands for this year’s fest, playing in the smallest venue, Extase, around the corner from the 013 proper. They packed that room out through the hallway and just about out the door and closed out my first night of Roadburn 2016 with resonant, swirling darkness that I’m glad to have the chance to revisit.

And of course, getting to hear some of what I missed elsewhere is always part of the fun of hosting these streams, so if you need me, I’ll be digging in. I hope you’ll enjoy doing the same.

Much audio follows:

Bliksem – Live at Roadburn 2016

Chaos Echoes – Live at Roadburn 2016 (Transient in its entirety)

CHRCH – Live at Roadburn 2016

Hell – Live at Roadburn 2016

Naðra – Live at Roadburn 2016

Daniel Payne – Live at Roadburn 2016

Yodok III – Live at Roadburn 2016

Gratitude as always to Walter for letting me host the streams. To hear the first batch of Roadburn 2016 audio streams, click here, to hear the second one, click here, and for all of this site’s coverage of Roadburn 2016, click here.

Roadburn’s website

Marcel Van De Vondervoort on Thee Facebooks

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The Philistines, The Backbone of Night: Hearts Like Candy (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 27th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

the-philistines-the-backbone-of-night

As fate would have it, today is the release date of The Philistines‘ full-length debut. Out on The Record Machine, the nine-track The Backbone of Night finds the Kansas City six-piece careening around a wide swath of heavy psychedelia, garage, desert and other assorted rocks. It’s the kind of record you might put on and wonder where the hell the band comes from, at times nodding toward the more cohesive end of West Coast bliss-outs, but also offering more driving moments like “A Twitch of the Death Nerve” or delving into classic-style, cane-sugar-coated pop on “A Heart Like Candy” such that each time the listener thinks they have The Backbone of Night figured out, The Philistines — the lineup of Kimmie Queen (vocals), Cody Wyoming (guitar/vocals), Michelle Bacon (bass/vocals), Steve Gardels (drums), Rod Peal (guitar) and Josh Mobley (keys) — hang a louie and the context for the record as a whole expands once again.

The key distinction to make here is that between amorphousness and nebulousness. It’s not that The Philistines are flailing, like they don’t know where they want their material to go. Granted, they might let it wander, as on jammed-out eight-minute centerpiece “The Accretion Disco,” but they always seem to have a direction at the root for each track and the flow of the album in general, which between the fact that there are six people in the band and that they work with a variety of acoustic and electric guitars, keyboard textures, vocal arrangements and so on, makes The Backbone of Night an all the more impressive first outing.

One of two similarly extended cuts along with the hypnotic dream-echo wash of the earlier “Radiation Drive” — credit to The Philistines for not ending the album with either of them — “The Accretion Disco” is obviously a focal point, but that consideration shouldn’t come at the expense of the other stylistic leaps the band makes, whether it’s from the Western garage psych of “Steep” to the shuffling “1971,” which is the shortest cut here at a buzzing 2:31 propelled by tambourine shake and an upbeat hook as it rushes into the more laid back “Radiation Drive,” an acoustic guitar figure adding earthy substance to what’s otherwise an ethereal rhythmic and melodic push outward. Only a single track separates “Radiation Drive” and “The Accretion Disco,” and that’s “A Twitch of the Death Nerve,” an also-under-three-minute, guitar-led, (relatively) straightforward heavy rocker that sets up a back and forth from the interstellar as though the band wanted to remind their listeners that, yes, there was still somebody steering the ship.

the philistines (Photo by Mark Manning)

It’s a difficult swap to make, but The Philistines do it simply by doing it, and the fuzz-rocking “A Twitch of the Death Nerve” maintains an effects-prone undercurrent behind the lead guitar sizzle, so when “The Accretion Disco” kicks in, it’s not by any means out of place. Backwards swirl and cymbal wash tap ’60s psych and Beatlesian harmonies only reinforce the vibe, peaceful, ready for meditation of one sort or another. The already-noted jam portion is acoustic-led and takes flight after three minutes in, joined by electric leads after a few minutes as the song subtly heads back to the chorus, fading out quiet into wind/static and an emergent line of foreboding synth, from which “Arecibo” bursts to life.

To go with the album’s most insistent rhythm, strummed out on forward-in-the-mix (on purpose) acoustic guitar, “Arecibo” makes its mark with gorgeous duet vocal croons, and that would seem to be the element that most ties it to “A Heart Like Candy,” which is so unabashedly poppy it almost feels like a faster version of something that would’ve appeared on Twin Peaks — so dripping with sweetness it borders on unsettling, like something from a musical. Enough so that I Googled the title to see if it was a cover, but no, The Philistines seem to have just buried this milkshake-at-the-pharmacy-counter-turned-reverb-tripout in the second half of their album between “Arecibo” and the subsequent “Stygia,” which one might be tempted to call brooding but for the doubled-timed hi-hat keeping a somewhat frenetic sense of motion to it.

A shift back to something more straightforward is in itself jarring, one has to sort of peek around the corner of the song to make sure there isn’t something lurking, but “Stygia” winds up as the first of a two-part bookend with closer “Get Inside,” which follows, answering back to the heavy garage style that “Steep” and “1971” proffered while, particularly in the case of the finale, maintaining a psychedelic thrust as well. That capstone symmetry reinforces the notion that The Philistines have had an idea of what they wanted to do all long throughout The Backbone of Night, and given the significant amount of ground they cover, that’s reassuring. At least partially as a result of that stylistic breadth, I wouldn’t dare to make a prediction where The Philistines might go from here, but it seems to me that they have a foundation of psych, garage and desert-style rock that they can shape as they please, and the control they demonstrate over that process in these tracks bodes remarkably well.

The Philistines website

The Philistines at The Record Machine

The Philistines on Thee Facebooks

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Throttlerod, Turncoat: Winning at Winning (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 26th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

throttlerod turncoat

[Throttlerod release Turncoat on June 24 via Small Stone. Click play above for an exclusive track premiere.]

After a certain point, a band’s new album becomes a believe-it-when-you-see-it prospect. Throttlerod, seven years and one social media revolution removed from the release of their last full-length, 2009’s Pig Charmer (review here), were past that point. Still, they haven’t been completely inactive over that span, playing periodic shows near founding guitarist/vocalist Matt Whitehead‘s home-base in Richmond, Virginia, and apparently crafting enough material so that their fourth outing, Turncoat, clocks in at a considerable 55 minutes with 12 tracks. It’s long. CD long, in a vinyl time, but as ever for these cats, the songwriting holds up. Small Stone Records — which was also behind Pig Charmer, 2006’s Nail, the 2004 Starve the Dead EP and 2003’s Hell and High Water (their 2000 debut, Eastbound and Down, was on Underdogma) — is once again handling the release.

While that’s business as usual for ThrottlerodTurncoat still makes for a departure from their past methods in that instead of working with Andrew Schneider, who helmed all the outings listed above, the three-piece of Whitehead, bassist Jeremy Plaugher (who makes his first appearance here; Schneider also played on Pig Charmer) and drummer Kevin White enlisted J. Robbins to act as producer/engineer at his Magpie Cage Studio. Like a lot of bands, Throttlerod have been through lineup changes and this and that, but swapping producers after 15 years is huge, and Robbins — known for his work with ClutchThe SwordMurder by Death, among many others, as well as for playing in Jawbox and other projects — makes a mark on this material in a way distinct from anything Throttlerod have done before.

Distinct, but not outlandishly removed from Pig Charmer. That in itself is something of a change as compared to, say, the sonic jump they made between Hell and High Water and Nail, which, with less than half the time between Pig Charmer and Turncoat, found Throttlerod revamping their sound from Southern heavy rock to angular noise drawing on influence from early and mid-’90s dissonance. Pig Charmer continued that thread, and Turncoat follows suit to an extent, but as opener “Bait Shop” shows in its chorus, the push comes with a heightened sense of melody as well. Whitehead‘s vocals, layered, are less shouted than sung, and as the two in the one-two punch, “Lazy Susan” answers in kind to “Bait Shop,” Throttlerod seem at least on some level to be reconciling their latter day approach with their beginnings, either consciously or not.

throttlerod

Granted, that melody comes off more post-grunge than Southern-inflected, but as they slow the roll on the early parts of the more brooding “Never was a Farmer,” those elements are easy enough to read into the proceedings, even if the context is different these years later. Rhythmic insistence comes back to the fore on “Lima,” with White propelling a middle-paced push as Whitehead squibbles out on guitar late, his vocals buried under the wall of his and Plaugher‘s tones. The title-track follows accompanied by “You Kicked My Ass at Losing,” and both songs tap into the more grunge-laden approach, the latter more raucously and of course with the best title on the record, which the chorus well earns, capping the first half of the record with a sudden stop and quick-fade cymbal ring-out. They have a long way to go, but Throttlerod are working efficiently and effectively, and for a band who’s been more or less absent for the last seven years, there’s little rust to be heard in this material.

Guitar scorches at the beginning of “Gainer,” an angular beginning opening to a more manageable verse and chorus en route to a finish that recalls once-labelmates Puny Human and that band’s frontman, Jim Starace, in whose memory Turncoat is dedicated and presumably not titled after. The subsequent “Every Giant,” “Cops and Robbers” and “Breadwinner” mostly tap into moods that the record showed earlier, but each has something about it to make one understand how it wound up in the final tracklisting, whether it’s the handclaps in “Breadwinner,” the what-if-Weezer-got-really-pissed-off aggro build in “Every Giant” or the frantic, jazzy bassline in the verse of “Cops and Robbers,” which brings to mind the melodic take on classic noise rock of Black Black Black without sounding directly akin.

Crashing and full-sounding, “I Know a Ship” offers one last landmark hook before closer and longest cut (at 6:29) “The Guard” finishes out with what starts as a more atmospheric take and then moves into chugging starts and stops — I’m tempted to call them Tool-esque, but to be fair, let’s make it pre-up-their-own-ass-Tool — that nonetheless drive as White does laps around his toms toward the finish of the record. Ultimately it’s hard to know how much of an effect Robbins‘ production might’ve had in bringing forward the melodic side of Throttlerod‘s approach — it’s not like there’s a version of the record tracked by someone else to do a side-by-side — but one way or another, the band have come back after seven years and made a record that is a definitive step forward from where they were their last time out. It might take a listen or two to sink in, but Throttlerod‘s Turncoat is one that only grows richer from there.

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