Review & Full Album Stream: WhiteNails, First Trip

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

whitenails first trip

[Click play above to stream First Trip by WhiteNails in its entirety. Album is out Friday, May 26, via Magnetic Eye Records.]

Quebecois six-piece WhiteNails make a resoundingly cohesive impression with First Trip, which telegraphs its self-awareness even unto its title. Delivered through Magnetic Eye Records, it is the debut release from the Canadian outfit, not just their first full-length, and as an opening argument it speaks to the band having come together last year with some clear idea of what they wanted to do sonically, in form and maybe general style if not the direct specifics of cuts like “Dead in Time” or “Damn Judas.” A mission to make catchy, uptempo, soulful heavy rock, perhaps, and First Trip is the result of that from the first-name-only lineup of vocalist Darcy, guitarists Danahé and Taylor, bassist JP, keyboardist Vince and drummer Maxx, who for all the personnel — they also bring in guest vocalist Gab Shonk on the aforementioned “Dead in Time” — don’t come across as overblown in the slightest.

Throughout the eight-track/41-minute offering, they endeavor to hone a foundation of songwriting to underscore the boogie in cuts like “In My Blood” and the thrust of opener “Shanghaied,” and though their arrangements are full, it’s perhaps in part thanks to the vocal command of Darcy that the record remains grounded, as from the leadoff onward, his presence as a frontman comes through in verses and chorus alike, whether he’s surfing the riff of “Shanghaied” reminding somewhat of Black Thai‘s Jim Healey or calling to mind Gozu‘s Marc Gaffney in “In My Blood” and the layered harmonies of “Silver Linings.” Gozu, in some of their harder-edged post-Queens of the Stone Age swagger, would seem to be an influence across the board.

Still, those vocals are well-balanced in the mix, and the aesthetic remains modern throughout, with a full and willfully distortion driving Danahé and Taylor‘s guitars that finds its most-doom moment in the penultimate “Brazen Bull” after a variety of executions playing around the central heavy rock theme in terms of pace, push and the structure of the riffs that lead, be it the all-forward movement of “Shanghaied” welcoming the listener to First Trip by pulling them through an open doorway of accessibility, or the ultra-catchy companionship that track finds as “Damn Judas” leads off side B. Some of the titles convey a sense of darkness, whether it’s the chugging “Done and Gone” or “Dead in Time,” which come back to back after the opener, or “In My Blood” and “Damn Judas” later — even closer “The Crooked Lake” seems to have some measure of threat in the use of “crooked” — but it’s not until “Silver Linings” that one finds that darkness beginning to come to fruition.

whitenails (Photo Caroline Perron)

And though their cover art might lead one to go into the album immediately searching for an Uncle Acid influence, the amount of strain required to hear it in the riff of “Damn Judas” is enough to make me think it simply isn’t there at all. Okay then. Basically, the crux of First Trip sets itself toward pursuing a solid execution of varied heavy rock songcraft, and it most certainly gets there, building in momentum through the first five songs — if one is listening on CD/DL, the linear momentum flows notably well; I haven’t heard a vinyl edition but the track structure is definitely two-sided — before shifting into that darker terrain on “Silver Linings” and “Brazen Bull” and airing out a bit of psychedelia on “The Crooked Lake,” which marks the most patient stretch of the record and a departure from the preceding ground covered.

Particularly for a debut, it would likely be enough for WhiteNails to acknowledge the need for aural diversity, let alone actually bring it to fruition in the manner they do, but they find a balance between consistency of tone and changes in structure and mood that hints either at prior experience among the members in bands together or at an especially quick-in-developing chemistry at work. One way or the other, the reward is palpable throughout First Trip, up to and including the closer, which with its more prominent keys and fluid guitar lines nods at Vangelis-style atmospherics early and drifts into a markedly satisfying linear build in its second half to pay off the album as a whole. It’s a long way from the party vibe of “Dead in Time” or “In My Blood,” which would seem to be the most motion-minded cuts along with “Damn Judas,” which is a highlight overall, but it serves as an encouraging last-minute defiance of the expectation WhiteNails have already put in effort to establish.

That is to say, they’ve set forth their rules and then almost immediately, gleefully broken them. Again, this is something a penchant one generally expects a group to develop over time — and WhiteNails may yet have more anti-conventionalism up their collective sleeve; I wouldn’t speculate after only one release — but it serves notice to anyone willing to hear it that the band are not at all finished growing. So be it. While the destination where that growth might take them ultimately in terms of style feels open to a range of possibilities, it seems safer to bet that the underlying quality of songwriting will be a continuing factor from WhiteNails as they move forward, as it proves to be the essential statement made by their impressive and cogent first offering.

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Elder, Reflections of a Floating World: Building on the Moment

Posted in Reviews on May 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

It would be impossible and improper to separate Reflections of a Floating World from the context of its predecessor. 2015’s Lore (review here) was a bold statement of arrival by Massachusetts trio Elder, a no-doubter Album of the Year, and a marked stylistic leap from 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here) into a bright-toned and progressive vision of heavy rock and roll that even the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (review here) did not fully foretell. It paid off the potential that guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto have shown since their 2008 self-titled debut (discussed here), and though the six-track/67-minute Reflections of a Floating World doesn’t represent the same kind of broad stylistic shift overall, it nonetheless pushes further along the richly individualized path they found their last time out and expands both the sonic palette and the lineup itself in key ways.

Like LoreReflections of a Floating World arrives with lush, beautiful cover art by Adrian Dexter on Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records, and like Lore, it was recorded by Justin Pizzoferrato at Sonelab in Easthampton, MA (feature here), so listeners shouldn’t necessarily be surprised at some commonalities between the two records, but in composing and piecing together these tracks, Elder also brought in keyboardist/guitarist Mike Risberg — a bandmate of DiSalvo‘s in the side-project Gold & Silver, who released their debut, Azurite & Malachite (review here), in 2014 — who’ll also tour with the band as a fourth member, as well as Mike Samos, who contributed lap steel guitar, electric mandolin, theremin and other sources of flourish to the textures of tracks like “Staving off Truth” and the penultimate atmospheric stretch, “Sonntag”; essentially a five-man jam edited into a lengthy interlude between the band’s more common, fluid part-barrage process of songcraft. The additional arrangement elements were something hinted at in Lore‘s title-track, but it’s on Reflections of a Floating World that these ideas are more completely brought to fruition, and Elder are a more complete and, frankly, a better band for refusing to do anything other than make the songs they want to make by any means necessary.

That alone could be taken as a sign of the maturity that in part defines the course of Reflections of a Floating World, but the album’s prevailing sensibility comes through in the graceful manner in which it moves from part to part, song to song, while building toward a cohesive whole that offers the listener a guided immersion few acts in the US or elsewhere can match. They begin with a half-hour opening salvo of three extended tracks in “Sanctuary” (11:41), “The Falling Veil” (11:40) and “Staving off Truth” (10:43) before digging even further into proggy textures with “Blind” (13:39), “Sonntag” (9:01) and closer “Thousand Hands” (10:01), and the consciousness of the flow they craft isn’t to be understated. “Sanctuary” starts with guitar establishing a full-toned riff joined in seconds by bass and crashing drums and in under 20 seconds an album that will do nothing if not take its time to say what it wants to say is quickly in motion. One does find that Elder have grown more patient in their execution, but also more clever. They tease payoffs and turn elsewhere in “Sanctuary” to buck expectation; a sign of compositional confidence and the knowledge that their audience will follow them on their winding paths, which, if past is prologue, they of course will.

elder

Turning through gentler breaks, heavy roll and a vast-sounding lead, “Sanctuary” hits the six-minute mark and moves into a psychedelic stretch it will build from twice-over, and its poise in doing so becomes an important factor in the album as a whole — something that the slow, soundscaping intro of “The Falling Veil” takes up immediately. If “Sanctuary” was the rocking opener, “The Falling Veil” is where Elder introduce more of Reflections of a Floating World‘s progressive elements, with Risberg making himself known on Mellotron as the song begins its post-midpoint instrumental push into the plotted known-unknown, finding there a winding dose of riffing that brings a sudden stop and move into the drifting intro to “Staving off Truth,” which further works to unite the heft and the scope of presentation thus far brought to bear, and I’d gladly argue, succeeds in that, representing a moment of balance for Reflections of a Floating World and emphasizing in a not-overblown manner the way in which Elder have continued to develop over the last two years, expanding rather than remaking, but committed as ever to their sonic and stylistic growth, shown as much in the lush depth of their mix as in the sweeping current that runs under all of it.

Performance is also a factor in this. As crisp as Reflections of a Floating World sounds with the spaciousness in Couto‘s drums, the resonant push of Donovan‘s bass, Risberg and Samos‘ contributions and DiSalvo‘s alternately airy and dense guitar work and more-confident-than-ever-before vocals — he features in the initial verses of “Blind” in a braver way than he ever has — the album is vital in spirit. It explores, but doesn’t linger, and while their live show has always been somewhat rawer than their studio offerings, it’s clear Elder are retooling that balance somewhat as they revamp their lineup and expand their overarching scope as they do in the second half of this record. “Blind” is the longest inclusion at just under 14 minutes and starts with blown-out drums before moving into organ-topped rhythmic and melodic sway, a long and engaging instrumental midsection providing the crux and a winding finish easing into “Sonntag” with a dead stop similar to “Sanctuary” and “The Falling Veil” earlier. “Sonntag” starts quietly but pulses and quickly introduces its improvised-seeming course, which unfolds patiently as a languid, almost Euro-style prog jam marked out by guitar noodling over a steady line of bass and drums.

If there’s a point of utter departure for Elder on Reflections of a Floating World, “Sonntag” would be it, and though it would be strange to call a track that’s nine minutes long an interlude, the effect is basically the same: A moment for the listener to catch their breath before they head into closer “Thousand Hands.” It just so happens that with Elder, that moment lasts longer and finds the band adventuring into sonic territory they’ve never before covered. Go figure. They fadeout the jam and cap “Sonntag” with a drone before the shimmering guitar line that starts “Thousand Hands” launches, reviving the earlier momentum but still affected by the peaceful context of the stretch before it. One would expect “Thousand Hands” to be the payoff for Reflections of a Floating World as a whole, and it indeed does hit that mark in its late crescendo, but it also effectively summarizes the progressive ideology that is truly at heart in the narrative of the album: Elder mature, established, quickly becoming one of the most important American heavy bands of their generation.

That’s the story here. And if the question coming into Reflections of a Floating World was just how Elder would emerge from the considerable shadow cast by Lore, the answer is they emerge shining. Their aesthetic movement has always been forward-directed, and though it seemed like they found the answer they were looking for with their previous record in terms of sound, they’ve apparently embarked on an entirely different subset of questions. As a fan, I still have no idea what Reflections of a Floating World might portend for Elder‘s future, and I’d no more suggest that their next record might build directly off this one than I would’ve suggested this one would build off the last, but one way or another, three-piece or four-piece, proggy meander or crushing riffs, Elder remain a special band whose sound has only become more their own over time, and Reflections of a Floating World is another Album of the Year candidate that finds them at the to-date height of their collective power.

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Review & Video Premiere: Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on May 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

siena-root-a-dream-of-lasting-peace

[Click play above to see the premiere of Siena Root’s video for ‘No Filter.’ Their new album, A Dream of Lasting Peace, is out May 26 in Europe and June 23 in the US on MIG Music/MVD.]

Among those playing classic-style heavy rock, there are few who do it with the conviction of purpose or the soul of Sweden’s Siena Root, and that has remained true in the 13 years since their 2003 Nasoni-delivered debut, A New Day Dawning, despite some significant shifts in personnel and sound. Their fifth studio full-length, A Dream of Lasting Peace, finds the Stockholm five-piece indisputable as masters reveling in the form, even as new frontman Samuel Björö makes his studio debut with the band following the departure of Jonas Åhlén after 2014’s Pioneers (discussed here).

Founding bassist/vocalist Sam Riffer and drummer/vocalist Love “Billy” Forsberg continue to resonate as the core of the group, and if their last outing captured them still in transition style-wise after splitting with guitarist/sitarist KG West, whose psychedelic ambience was a huge part of the craft of their early work on albums like the aforementioned debut, 2006’s Kaleidoscope (discussed here), 2008’s Far from the Sun and 2009’s Different Realities (discussed here), these 10 tracks/44 minutes show RifferForsbergBjörö, guitarist Matte Gustavsson and organist/keyboardist Erik “Errka” Petersson well in command both aesthetically and in terms of performance. Throughout the release, Björö shines as a singer and Petersson and Gustavsson play off each other — see the penultimate light-step boogie of “Imaginarium” — in a fashion that would and should make peak-era Deep Purple fans blush with delight.

A Dream of Lasting Peace offers touches of psychedelia in the drifting bluesy jam of “The Piper Won’t Let You Stay” and stage-ready vitality across the likes of “No Filters,” “Outlander” and the bouncing funk of “Tales of Independence,” but primarily, the album lands its impact with the strength of its hooks and the balance of its execution across this range of mostly positive-vibing moods. Siena Root are not a dark band, and they never have been, and A Dream of Lasting Peace sounds like the people who made it were having a good time in a way that proves as infectious as the chorus of opener “Secrets” and “Tales of Independence,” which follows in a righteous opening salvo that continues to build momentum as it shuffles into the more laid back “Sundown.” Harmonies pervade a more patient fluidity, but with Petersson‘s underlying organ line and toss-off lead flourish from Gustavsson, the melody is ever at hand, and an instrumental break at 1:48 into the song’s unassuming 4:19 gives the organ space for a solo complemented by guitar and propelled by the creative drumming of Forsberg, who adds chimes just before a tom roll signals the change back into the verse that reintroduces Björö on vocals.

It would be a worthy single with Riffer‘s bass as the foundational element, but it does just as well here as a transition into the even more subdued blues of “The Piper Won’t Let You Stay,” the longest inclusion at 6:08 and a graceful instrumental swell that seems drawn forward by Björö, who delivers his most impressive performance of the record in what feels like a showcase track despite a midsection crescendo that offers crisp, thicker guitar and key work and dynamic changes in tempo and volume. As they sleek their way through the crashing end of that song and into the organ rumble that starts “Outlander,” the return to a more energetic chorus and classic structure marked by its starts and stops is a welcome finish to side A, and the manner in which Petersson and Gustavsson end the track first together, then just with Petersson‘s keys, couldn’t feel more appropriate as the fadeout begins.

siena root

Already through the first half of A Dream of Lasting Peace, there is no level on which Siena Root aren’t delivering. In performance, in the quality of their songwriting, in the balance of clarity and natural feel of the recording itself and in the spirit driving them, they come across as revitalized, and if Pioneers was their way of exploring the possibilities of where their classic influences might take them post-West, here they take the lessons they learned from that experience and use them to grab the reins of their approach and hone something truly special. Traditionally, one would find a band experimenting a bit more on side B, and the Purple-hued rush of “Growing Underground” teases that possibility a bit in a direct call and response from Gustavsson and Petersson that’s just flat-out fun, leading to “Empty Streets,” which seems at first to echo “The Piper Won’t Let You Stay” but finds Riffer delivering a highlight bassline in tandem with the organ late as part of a rousing apex built outward from a nigh-on hypnotic but still progressive meandering.

The shorter and more straightforward “No Filters” has a push to echo “Secrets” and “Tales of Independence” early on, and makes a suitable centerpiece for side B as it regrounds Siena Root heading into the jazzy instrumental “Imaginarium” and subsequent closer “The Echoes Unfold,” which offers a spacious ending with echo on Björö‘s voice to fill a void of stopped guitar and keys and temporarily paused drums and bass. The play of volume and push that ensues is no less poised than anything preceding, less bluesy than “The Piper Won’t Let You Stay,” but thoroughly satisfying in its winding chorus and in the key-led ending section, which takes hold at about the three-minute mark and carries through to the long fade just past five minutes in, casting a symmetry with “Outlander” and once again feeling wholly befitting the course Siena Root have set overall.

Given the obvious care put into their presentation and the level of realization Siena Root attain within these tracks and through the overarching flow they create between them, A Dream of Lasting Peace is a joy that feels sculpted specifically to cast a celebration among the heavy rock converted. The band have their niche, to be sure, but they’ve long excelled in their work and their latest only furthers that thread while also setting them on a sustainable path going forward. Their lineup has always been subject to change and it’s entirely possible it will be in the future as well, but these songs hit on a balance worthy of being considered a highlight in their discography and if they serve as a model for the band to follow, at least for a while, that can only be to the benefit of players and fans alike. A no-doubter to stand among 2017’s best in classic and progressive heavy rock and roll.

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Review & Full EP Stream: Godhunter, Codex Narco

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

godhunter codex narco

[Click play above to stream Godhunter’s Codex Narco EP in full. It’s out this Friday, May 19, on Battleground Records and Baby Tooth Records with sale proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.]

Tucson, Arizona’s Godhunter have always had a violent and/or aggressive edge to their approach, but most of what they’re demolishing on their latest EP, Codex Narco, are the expectations listeners might have of them. Delivered through Battleground Records and Baby Tooth Records with cover art by Bailey Illustration as the result of a few tumultuous years on the part of the once-sludge metallers, Codex Narco only tops out at about 21 minutes, and as it moves between the intro “A Dread of Some Strange Impending Doom” and outro “Distant Fading Screams of a Dying World,” rest assured, the fare is still suitably dark, but the band nonetheless hugely expand their sonic palette even from what it was two years ago on their Endsville split with Destroyer of Light (discussed here), let alone on their prior 2014 full-length, City of Dust (review here), which remains their only long-player to-date. They were a six-piece at that time and have since pared back to a core trio of guitarist/sampler David Rodgers, guitarist/keyboardist Matthew Davis and drummer Andy Kratzenberg, all of whom are spread out geographically.

The fact that Codex Narco‘s tracks were written via internet exchange between these three might ultimately be a factor in the aesthetic outcome of the EP, but that’s not to discount guest appearances from CHRCH vocalist Eva Rose on the aforementioned opening/closing pair, or Josh Thorne of Thorne on “Like Glass Under Black Fingernails” and centerpiece “Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams,” or Methra‘s Nick Genitals on the penultimate Tegan and Sara cover, “Walking with a Ghost,” which here becomes a blown-out vision of doomwave with additional guitar from Clayton Bartholomew (Mountaineer) and bass from Demon Lung‘s Adam Sage. Nick Genitals contributes bass and guitar as well to the opener and closer and to the ambient “Unarmed Combat,” and Sage handles low end on “Like Glass Under Black Fingernails,” “Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams” and “Walking with a Ghost” while Bartholomew also plays guitar on “Like Glass Under Black Fingernails,” “Our Blood is Poison” and “Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams.”

One imagines it was quite a chain of emails by the time these songs actually started coming together, or at very least a barrage of Dropbox notifications, but however it was done, the wash that Codex Narco creates ties together this dizzying interchange of personnel, and with a headphone-ready depth of mix unlike anything Godhunter have produced before, these tracks offer atmospheric weight to coincide with their sheer tonal density. Interplay between shorter pieces like the intro and outro, the sample-topped rumble and feedback of “Our Blood is Poison” and the bass-and-drum “Unarmed Combat,” which seems to recount for 100 seconds a military experiment drugging soldiers and finding them refusing to train, the two longer tracks “Like Glass Under Black Fingernails” (5:53) and “Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams” (5:45), and the unabashedly poppy “Walking with a Ghost” (2:31) ensure a steady flow from one piece to the next, and but for its runtime, Codex Narco could just as easily pass as an LP as an EP in terms of how its component pieces feed into and off of each other.

godhunter codex narco lineup

Davis‘ work on synth and keys becomes a huge factor in tying the release together as a whole, whether he’s playing to the post-punk chug and hook of “Walking with a Ghost” or adding electronica-style tension beneath the massive and blasted buzz tones of “Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams.” No doubt a mastering job by the esteemed Brad Boatright had something to do with bringing the various tracks in line as well, but the handling of the synth and keys in the mix alongside the guitar and bass casts a scope behind the trades between screams and clean vocals on “Like Glass Under Black Fingernails” that proves as immersive as it is aggressive, and where in the past Godhunter have been driven to confront, to attack, Codex Narco feels more inwardly-directed as an examination, more personal, and thus more likely to draw listeners along with it on its brief but substantial path.

It’s the kind of release for which reviewers might generally fall over themselves to invent descriptors — which is an impulse that “doomwave” above notwithstanding I’m going to try to resist — but when one sees vague-eries like “post-sludge,” “sludgegaze,” “doomtronic” and so on, it’s a sign that at very least Godhunter are doing something of their own and something original, which on Codex Narco more than ever, they definitely are. RodgersDavis and Kratzenberg haven’t by any means abandoned their aggro tendencies or their underlying sense of purpose in creation — sales of the EP benefit Planned Parenthood and an anti-suicide video for “Walking with a Ghost” is reportedly in production — but they’ve successfully achieved a stylistic turn that even for those who’ve experienced their various experiments on collaborations with Secrets of the Sky (review here) and Amigo the Devil will no doubt prove a surprise. Still, even if one approaches Codex Narco anticipating the band Godhunter were on City of Dust, they’ve always warranted and encouraged a kind of open-mindedness that should make it relatively easy for listeners to get on board with the moves they have made and may or may not continue to make.

When it comes to the aftermath of this EP, that’s really the big question: whether Codex Narco, with its slew of guests and lung-collapsing soundscapes, is a sign of the future direction for Godhunter or a one-off experiment. Given the accomplishment and the fluidity of these songs, I’m inclined to hope for the former, but less than ever does it seem reasonable to predict what the band might do doing forward. Codex Narco is a quick listen, but it presents a huge shift in method and practice for Godhunter, and that’s as much palpable in the audio as it is in the context in which the EP arrives. What has remained most constant about them, however, is the boldness with which they’ve undertaken these changes, and that seems to be the thread that unites all of their work: They’re going to do what they’re going to do, on their own terms, without compromise. Whatever else might swirl around it, righteousness persists.

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The Cold Stares Premiere Title-Track of New Album Head Bent

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

THE COLD STARES

The Cold Stares make their label debut on Small Stone Records June 16 with their second album, Head Bent. It’s a title that evokes the notion of capitulation, and particularly in the context of Southern and blues tinges the Nashville-based two-piece bring to their brand of heavy rock, also of prayer. Vocalist/guitarist/etc.-ist Chris Tapp and drummer/percussionist Brian Mullins deliver a crisp 11 tracks in 37 minutes as they follow-up 2014’s A Cold Wet Night and a Howling Wind and a series of EPs and singles, and the clearheaded traditionalism of their taut songcraft becomes one of Head Bent‘s most defining aspects. It also rocks, and that certainly doesn’t hurt its cause either.

Along the circuitous but accessible path of songs like opener “John,” “Neighbor Blues,” “God and Country” and the later “Kings,” The Cold Stares offer swagger and groove in bulk, hooks a-plenty and subtle plays at religious themes that don’t so much make an attempt at overblown social comment as acknowledge something that always seems to be in the background of American culture to one degree or another. Even the Clutch-style starts and stops of “Price to Pay” and the righteous fuzz of the penultimate “One Way Outta Here” nod in that direction before subdued closer “Break My Fall” more directly takes on the issue. I won’t profess to know the band’s affiliation or lack thereof, but just going by what they bring to the table with Head Bent, it feels like a safe guess somebody made them go to services at some point in their life, whether they still do or not.

the cold stares head bentThat underlying theme isn’t at all a detriment to the album, and if anything, it works to tie the material together in a way that might otherwise find the songs standing apart, as moods vary between a sharp, uptempo motor-thruster like “Head Bent,” the subsequent, almost doomly roll of “Neighbor Blues” and the nestle-into-mid-paced-comfort of “Caught in the Weather” later on. The record has obviously been as meticulously arranged in terms of tracklisting as the songs have been constructed and recorded — but contrary to their moniker, The Cold Stares lack nothing for energy in their execution, and whatever kind of movement a given track might offer, there always seems to be a direction in mind as the band leads the way through Head Bent‘s tidy, efficient and unpretentious course.

And while we’re talking about themes, one would be remiss not to point out the sheer level of command Tapp and Mullins bring to the material here. “Stuck in a Rut” brings forth a hook worthy of fellow Tennesseans Dirty Streets, and the sweet side B ballad “Ball and Twine” toys with Southern rock convention before arriving at a late-cut blowout riff toward its end, having accomplished what would take many bands eight minutes in a span of three. Yet, as often would be the case with this kind of release, there’s no sense that The Cold Stares are looking to convince their audience of how brash they are, or how drunk, or how sexist, and among the various histories they play toward with Head Bent, one of the most engaging is a drive toward making the conventions of style their own via the quality of their craft and their ability to draw listeners in and hold attention while making that very, very difficult task sound practically effortless.

Small Stone has the aforementioned opener “John” streaming at its Bandcamp page, and I’ve included that here as well at the bottom of the post, but you can dig into the premiere of the title-track from Head Bent below, as well as a quote from Tapp about the song and the album, which comes courtesy of the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Chris Tapp on “Head Bent”:

“Listening to a bit of Queen and always loved ‘Tie Your Mother Down,’ so started writing with that in mind. The music just sounds like bikes to me. I’ve always had hot rods and bikes and wanted to do a tribute song to all the good people in those communities. Big part of my cancer recovery was getting my mind right, and just riding, nothing like the focus and peace it brings. The bike and gear head community is so much about family and respect, and just love for the machine. Head Bent is that feeling of 80 mph wind twisting your neck down the highway.”

Releases June 16, 2017.

The Cold Stares is:
Chris Tapp: vocals, stringed instruments, keys
Brian Mullins: drums and percussion

The Cold Stares, “John”

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Review & Full Album Stream: Geezer, Psychoriffadelia

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

geezer psychoriffadelia

[Click play above to stream Geezer’s Psychoriffadelia in its entirety. It’s out June 9 via Kozmik Artifactz and STB Records.]

There are multiple angles of approach one might take when it comes to Geezer‘s fourth long-player, Psychoriffadelia. Like the title itself, the tracks are a mash of the different ideas the New York-based band have been advancing since their beginnings, working in a scope of heavy psychedelic jamming, classic heavy rock, heavy blues and often more than a touch of stoner sleaze. No, it’s not a coincidence that I used the word “heavy” three separate times in that last sentence. That’s been a running theme for Geezer‘s work all along, from their 2013 debut, Electrically Recorded Handmade Heavy Blues through the EP-turned-full-length Gage (review here) and most realized on last year’s self-titled third outing (review here), and Psychoriffadelia finds them more than happy to pick up the thread and run with it for the course of its five tracks and 39 minutes, delivered through Kozmik Artifactz in Europe and STB Records in North America.

One finds, however, that the most defining aspect of Psychoriffadelia might just be transience. There is evidence of growth even from where the self-titled had them to be heard in the overall balance between jammy flow and songcraft — Geezer have taken the lessons of Texas’ Wo Fat (who in 2009 put out an album called Psychedelonaut and might be this generation’s masters of the form in the US) and incorporated them into their Northeastern grit — and their sound is ever more identifiable as their own with guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington coming across as more comfortable in tackling vocal melodies on a cut like “Red Hook,” but with the bulk of the material recorded live in the studio — Redbird Studio in NYC — in a single day, the natural vibe that persists as a result, and the inextricable link between Psychoriffadelia‘s release and Geezer‘s first-ever European tour, set for this summer, it’s a fleeting sensibility that most emerges from this material. The fruit of a moment that, no matter what Geezer do from this point on in their tenure, won’t come again.

Add to that the lineup factor. Harrington and bassist Richie Touseull work here with Charles Ruggiero, who steps in to take the place of founding drummer Chris TurcoRuggiero is an ex-bandmate of Harrington‘s in woefully-monikered hard rockers Slunt, so it’s no surprise to find there’s chemistry there based on their past experience playing together, but though he’ll play on the tour as well, Ruggiero is still officially filling in for Turco. So even in their makeup in terms of who’s playing, Geezer seem to be captured here in a state of flux. All the better to get that cover of Nazareth‘s “Hair of the Dog” to tape while the getting’s good. That cowbell-infused, attitude-laden classic serves as Geezer‘s launch for Psychoriffadelia, and Harrington‘s gravely voice does well in taking on its mega-hook, “Now you’re messing with the son of a bitch,” delivering the line with a swagger that goes on to inform the rest of side A in “Stressknots” and the 10-minute “Psychoriffadelia” itself. The former is a chugging enterprise of marked heft and fuzz but a creeping melodic verse, building in energy as it shifts toward its chorus, Geezer working effectively in their more straightforward songcraft modus on what’s the shortest inclusion here, original or otherwise, at 4:40.

An open, bluesy bridge just past the three-minute mark leads back to the charge of the hook and they finish with a section of crackling noise and sparse guitar ambience, leading into the start of the title-track, which buzzes to life over the course of its first 30 seconds before a subdued guitar establishes the defining line for the jam that unfolds. It is especially telling that “Psychoriffadelia” is instrumental in its entirety, as it sends a clear signal of the shift in approach that it marks moving into the rest of the album that bears its name, which, though built to be split over two sides, nonetheless has a linear flow from the title-track into “Red Hook” and 13-minute closer “Dirty Penny.” Transitions are smooth throughout, but the manner in which the cuts in Psychoriffadelia‘s back half feed off each other and the more languid vibe feels like a definite departure from the more raucous “Hair of the Dog” and “Stressknots” — though the finale certainly makes an impression with its hook and strikes a balance between the “psycho,” the “riffa” and the “delia” — and it’s the title-track that serves as the beginning point of that.

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Even in this linearity, one finds that theme of transience playing out. The turn from “Psychoriffadelia” to the six-minute “Red Hook” is accomplished with a seeming nod to Monster Magnet-style fluidity, and though moodier in its affect, the latter cut is unquestionably the highlight of the album. It’s the most patient and psychedelic unfurling Geezer have executed to-date, and while in the past, a serene beginning like that of “Red Hook” might’ve led to a burst-out of bluesy, boozy heavy riffing — nothing wrong with that — this time, Harrington, Touseull and Ruggiero keep the vibe quiet, thoughtful and emotionally resonant in its melody, adding a new level of depth to their approach not found on the self-titled or any of their releases preceding. In the quick turnaround from their last offering, “Red Hook” is the clearest example on Psychoriffadelia of Geezer‘s continued creative growth. It’s not the only one, but it’s the clearest, and particularly after the immersion of the centerpiece title-track, its arrival feels like it’s being given a distinguished position in the course of the album. That is to say, they know it’s something special, which it is.

After its watery psych strum enters its long fadeout, the low hum that starts “Dirty Penny” takes hold and Harrington‘s voice echoes out the line, “Your pretty face is going to hell,” from deep in the mix, foreshadowing the standout line of the chorus that will serve as Geezer‘s final hook for Psychoriffadelia. Though more grounded than “Red Hook” and more structured feeling than the title-track, “Dirty Penny” still carries a drowsy spirit in its early going, picking up after the three-minute mark with more of a push en route to a quick guitar solo and final runthrough of the sleazy chorus — I’m sure there’s a story to it, but yeah: sleaze — and another, more extended and multi-layered stretch of impressive fretwork that serves as the beginning point for the jam that will consume the rest of the track, beginning in earnest at around six minutes in and expanding outward from there. Funky at the eight-minute mark, explosive by 9:30 and drifting into its compressed slide-and-strum just after 11 minutes in, the ending of “Dirty Penny” feels somewhat pieced together, but that’s also the point, and in that, it reinforces the stylistic patchwork that makes up the record’s title and overarching execution alike.

Geezer have always had an element of self-awareness to their approach, so that they would on Psychoriffadelia as well is nothing new, but what’s important to take from the release is that it shows even in a hurried mindset — putting this version of the band and these freshly-composed songs to tape before the opportunity passed — the band are able to conjure a sense of sonic progression. That’s pivotal, of course, but for most listeners it will be secondary to the quality of the material itself (and probably rightly so), but fortunately for the trio and their audience alike, that also holds up here. Psychoriffadelia finds Geezer mature in their style and firm in the knowledge of who they are and what they want to be as a group, building gracefully on their past aesthetic accomplishments while maintaining the roll, nod, blues and edge that has served them so well thus far. With the palpable development they’ve undertaken and the results that has yielded, Geezer have never sounded so ready for export.

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Review & Full Album Stream: Cachemira, Jungla

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

cachemira jungla

[Click play above to stream Cachemira’s Jungla in full. Album is out today, May 12, on Heavy Psych Sounds.]

More than most records, let alone most debuts, Cachemira‘s first offering, Jungla, gives the front-to-back impression of a live set. With “Ouverture” — French for “opening” — the Barcelona three-piece gradually bring the Heavy Psych Sounds release to life over the course of its first four minutes, and from there, it’s all about the naturalist chemistry that emerges as one song feeds into the next over the course of four pieces on two vinyl sides. When taken together, those two sides, “Ouverture” included, comprise a tight 30-minute set that showcases the band’s personality in what is apparently their formative stage. That is, while Cachemira may not sound like it as they round the hairpin turns of eight-minute tracklist centerpiece and side A closer “Goddess,” which follows “Sail Away” after “Ouverture,” they’re are a pretty new group.

The lineup has some measure of pedigree, as guitarist/vocalist Gaston Lainé has played in Brain Pyramid, bassist Pol Ventura in 1886 and drummer Alejandro Carmona in Prisma Circus, but Jungla is their debut outing together following a recorded early version of the album’s instrumental title-track and a posted leak of “Goddess,” which when taken together here comprise the whole of side B. I suppose one could call it boogie rock with all the scorching guitar-led shuffle in “Goddess” or “Jungla” itself, but the classic-rocking sensibility Cachemira elicit owes more to the likes of Radio Moscow than to Graveyard, and among the most appealing aspects of Jungla is its unpretentious, organic vibe.

Most especially for the heavy rock converted, it’s an easy listen that asks little of its audience other than they tag along for a slew of guitar solos and jam-based songcraft. Anyone who’s heard Prisma Circus can tell you Carmona is a monster shuffle-drummer, and he showcases some of that here, finding complement in the warm low tone of Ventura‘s bass as the band works in classic power trio construction — Carmona and Ventura the powerhouse rhythms section to Lainé‘s frontman presence. As recorded by Lainé‘s Brain Pyramid bandmate, Baptiste Gautier-Lorenzo, the spirit in “Ouverture” is immediately warm with a subtle underscoring of organ for the sweet guitar tone, and as they build toward “Sail Away,” transitioning via that same organ line, the groove that takes hold remains informed by the relatively patient start they give the album.

cachemira

In terms of the basic elements at play, Jungla works in familiar terrain — guitar, bass, drums, vocals, some flourish of keys — but it’s really about what these players bring to it and how well they work together that lets Jungla impress in the way it does. The band has said outright that this is the product of their beginnings, some of their earliest work from about a year ago, and that may well be the case, but that also shows clearly that what they have most going for them at this point is the fluidity of the instrumental conversation between LainéCarmona and Ventura, as the smoothness of their delivery throughout becomes enough to even out the purposeful choppiness and bounce of their writing style such that even the more raucous back half of “Goddess” — drum solo and all — holds firm to its overarching languid mood. Even when they’re in a rush, they don’t sound like they’re in any rush whatsoever.

That’s not to say they don’t build some significant momentum throughout Jungla, because they most certainly do. Even as “Goddess” breaks before the side flip brings on the closing duo of “Jungla” and “Overpopulation,” the sense of motion to the songs is clear, and whether they’re running in circles as “Jungla” builds to a head in its second half, underscored by persistent, insistent crash from Carmona on drums and a steady throb from Ventura on bass, almost jazzy by the finish after a wah-soaked, forward-driven start, or squealing through the starts and stops and winding progression of the finale, that motion is as varied and multidirectional as it ultimately is maintained. If Jungla is to represent Cachemira‘s beginnings, then their beginnings find them not at all afraid of flying off the handle as they twist around complex rhythm structures, and proven that they’re right not to be.

Whether it’s from their collective experience in other outfits or just happenstance that they work so well together — or, I suppose, some combination of the two — the basic fact of the matter is Cachemira‘s debut offers explosive moments amid a liquid, welcoming, almost understated presentation for what they’re actually doing, and in addition to its own accomplishments, it sets them up to move forward and develop along the course they’re setting here. Primarily, though, it speaks to what would seem to be their force as a stage act, and though it’s a short set, there’s no question they leave their audience wanting more. One suspects it won’t be all that long until we get it, but until then, Jungla‘s balance between the head-spinning and the molten makes their first album a significant preach well worth engaging. It would be a hell of a live show.

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Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen: Flight from Ground

Posted in Reviews on May 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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The three-word title of Causa Sui‘s Live in Copenhagen, while accurate, hardly conveys the true scope of what’s contained on the release. One expects a certain amount of breadth from the Danish heavy psych masters at this point, especially after their last couple studio offerings, 2013’s Euporie Tide and 2016’s Return to Sky (review here), but across three discs, a span of three years and a total runtime of nearly three hours — two hours and 40 minutes, anyhow — Live in Copenhagen finds Causa Sui at their most exploratory on stage. 2014’s Live at Freak Valley (review here) might be considered a precursor, but even that collection didn’t bring in the temporal dimension the way Live in Copenhagen does, feeling more like a compendium as it captures the release shows for both Euporie Tide at Dragens Hule and Return to Sky at Jazzhouse.

Presented via their own El Paraiso Records as a limited 3LP box set, Live in Copenhagen then is more of an audio documentary than a a standard from-the-stage offering, and both the quality of the recordings — mic’ed, mixed and mastered by the band’s own guitarist Jonas Munk — guest spots from Papir guitarist Nicklas Sørensen and saxophonist Johan Riedenlow (who appears at both shows), a cover of Agitation Free and a 17-minute take on/homage to John Coltrane‘s “A Love Supreme” to close out the Dragens Hule set only further the there’s-something-special-happening-here vibe of the included material, and so there truly seems to be. As someone who’s never had the pleasure of watching Causa Sui perform on stage, Live in Copenhagen obviously brings forth more than the standard show would, but nonetheless offers an immersive representation of their range, chemistry and flow.

No second is wasted in demonstrating precisely those aspects as the Dragons Hule set — which comprises the first two of the three platters of the release — begins with a 13-minute rendition of Euporie Tide closer “Eternal Flow.” Causa Sui immediately signal their will to use their studio material as a launch point rather than something to be directly emulated, and so they vibe their way through that song and all that follows, whether it’s the subsequent “El Paraiso” from their 2005 self-titled debut (released by Nasoni), the drift-into-noise-wash-into-drift-into-noise-wash of “Mireille” or the 15-minute megajam “Portixeddu / Tropic of Capricorn,” which brings forth Riedenlow‘s sax for a first appearance. Ideas are fluidly engaged and followed, and while one might expect that, at a release show, they’d play what was then the new album front-to-back or at least in full, only “Eternal Flow,” “Mireille,” “Homage” and “Euporie” represent Euporie Tide, as the band’s interests clearly lie in pursuing something greater than promoting a single release.

Can’t fault them the outcome, and as Munk, drummer Jakob Skøtt, keyboardist Rasmus Rasmussen and bassist Jess Kahr bring out Sørensen and Riedenlow throughout the proceedings, they lose nothing of the blissful atmosphere they’re able to harness on their own. In fact, it’s “Portixeddu / Tropic of Capricorn” and the subsequent dreamscape of Agitation Free‘s “First Communication” that finds them at their most dug in, though I won’t take anything away from the funked-up fusion experimentalism of “A Love Supreme” either — parts of it work, parts seem like they’re about to dismantle themselves; that’s the point of the song — but as they go, they keep a steady balance through the relatively grounded “Homage” and the Summer Sessions roller “Red Valley” leading into “Euporie” and the aforementioned Coltrane classic. By the time they’ve gotten there and are rounding out the Dragons Hule set en route to the Jazzhouse, it’s little wonder they started out with “Eternal Flow” what already seems like eons and light-years ago; that track would seem to be a mission statement as much as hypnotic beginning to a spellbinding psychedelic convocation. Or, to be blunt about it: one hell of a show.

A couple years later sees Causa Sui and Riedenlow back on stage together, this time at the Jazzhouse, to mark the arrival of Return to Sky. No minor occasion, as that record could easily be argued as the band’s most stylistically expansive to-date, as though they brought the jazz-minded twists of “A Love Supreme” to their own next batch of material. I suspect the venue they chose for the release show isn’t a coincidence either, and as the setlist is a little more representative of the most recent work, with “The Source, “Dawn Passage” and “Mondo Buzzo” included along with Summer Sessions pieces “Rip Tide” and “Eugenie” before they close with “Ju-Ju Blues” from Euporie Tide, the feeling is a little more forward in its intent than it had been at Dragons Hule. Pieces on the whole shorter individually though still marked as Causa Sui‘s own thanks to the significant flow conjured throughout, and wherever they head, the care they put into their execution comes through without taking away from the naturalism on which their style is built.

To wit, they’re no less at home in the full-on fuzz push of “The Source” than they are in the patient and otherworldly progressive nuance of “Dawn Passage,” and while the Jazzhouse set is less expansive time-wise than Dragons Hule at 57 minutes, the approach that Causa Sui bring to the second of the two included shows here is all the more sure-headed for the years that have passed since the prior release gig. Similar to the jump from one album to the next, the jump from one show to the next on this release sees them become a more established and mature outfit. One could easily make the argument that going into Euporie Tide, the four-piece were well in control of their direction — and I’d definitely agree with that — but Return to Sky found them even more so making conscious decisions on how to expand their palette, and the ease with which Riedenlow slides his sax lines into “Eugenie” at the Jazzhouse reaffirms the success of these efforts. To once again be blunt about it: another hell of a show. Perhaps even more so than its predecessor for how vital and engaged the band sounds in the work they’re doing.

After more than two and a half hours’ worth of live Causa Sui, frankly, the thought of more seems needlessly greedy. Still, there’s a part of me that can’t help but wonder how they’ll sound at the release show for their next studio offering. There’s no date set for another release or anything, and I’d think it’s probably more likely they’ll dig into a collaboration or a jam-type outing before they actually get there — following this or that exploratory whim as they’re prone to do — but whenever they get there, how the progressive arc one can trace from Dragons Hule to the Jazzhouse might continue to flourish along what seems to be a developmental trajectory no less palpable than that from one full-length to the following. I wouldn’t speculate as to whether or not they’ll commit to the notion of putting out a corresponding live album for whatever release show they end up next playing, if they do one at all — we live in a universe of infinite possibilities — but between the laughable understatement that Live in Copenhagen‘s title highlights and the expanses contained within the release itself, it’s difficult to hear Causa Sui sound so manifest, so realized as a group, and not still think of the potential they have going forward.

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