Kingnomad, The Great Nothing: Into the Outer

Posted in Reviews on August 14th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

kingnomad the great nothing

As to what might be Swedish progressive cult rockers Kingnomad‘s fascination with emptiness, I can’t say, but it’s worked out for them thus far into their relatively brief tenure. Ripple Music released their debut long-player, Mapping the Inner Void, and now issues the quick-turnaround follow-up in the form of The Great Nothing; six tracks recorded by vocalist/guitarist/organist Mr. Jay at The Crazy Heart Studio. It is a work of significant and multifaceted growth that may surprise those who heard the debut for only coming a year later — the band formed in 2014 — but still holds true to a classically naturalist ’70s sound while being modern in both production and atmosphere.

With the lineup of Mr. Jay, fellow guitarist Marcus, bassist/backing vocalist Maximilian and drummer Mano, Kingnomad make an obvious focal point of the 22-minute title-track, which closes out and comprises the entirety of side B, but even when it comes to the rest of what surrounds, from the introduction “The Yoga of Desolation” through “Cosmic Serpent,” “The Mysterious Agreement,” “All Those Things” and “Collapsing Pillars of the Earth,” the group patiently delivers proggy sounds and an engaging ambience without necessarily resorting to trickery to do it.

It is a nighttime album, to be sure, but there is nothing about it that feels like caricature. Kingnomad are sincere in their approach and clearly serious about the forward creative drive they demonstrate in these songs, following a narrative course through the early cuts and into the latter reaches of the title-cut, with its late acoustic strum and volume-swell of effects adding spaciousness and a psychedelic feel to a sweet post-payoff epilogue. That aspect of the band’s execution is pivotal and feels as willful as any of the individual arrangements, and from the harmonized intro “The Yoga of Desolation” onward into the sweep of guitar that starts the space-boogie of “Cosmic Serpent,” the four-piece make plain their intent to invite listeners along the course they’re taking, a winding but consuming path guided by sure hands all the while.

One doesn’t want to overstate it, but even in light of what they were able to bring to their first album, The Great Nothing is a significant achievement, and where that record was concerned with the ‘Inner,’ this collection seems to answer back by centering around an expanse of creative exploration in its songwriting. Elements like the short break to organ at the halfway point of “Cosmic Serpent,” or Mano‘s cyclical tom patterning in the third minute of “The Mysterious Agreement” — let alone anything the title-track brings to bear — demonstrate a nuanced take that only continues in the bed of bass under the guitar at the outset of “All Those Things” and the structure of “Collapsing Pillars of the Earth,” which abandons its opening progression only to embark on King Crimson-y starts and stops, turn that on its head with some early-Witchcraft-ed doom classicism, return to the start-stop, break into a stretch of quiet guitar on its own, work its way into a worthy boogie fleshed out as so much of the record is by the organ, and only then return back to the long-ago opening movement to close out.

kingnomad

This would be dizzying were it not so well done, and especially when taken in kind with the songs before it and in consideration of the smooth flow between them and how one leads into the next, all the more so. Making complex ideas sound organic seems to be a running theme throughout, but it’s also worth remembering the basic elements of songwriting at play. “Cosmic Serpent,” which its layers of vocal harmonies over tripped-out crashes, offers a memorable hook and taps cult rock aspects without giving itself entirely to the post-Uncle Acid garage doom aesthetic.

And likewise, “Collapsing Pillars of the Earth” seems to draw on the smoothly-done harmonies of Swedish countrymen Ghost without aping them at all. From the samples at the beginning of the proto-metal-chugging “The Mysterious Agreement” through the foreshadowing sense of purpose in the not-all-who-wander-are-lost midsection of “All Those Things,” The Great Nothing proves to be of marked character and noteworthy detail, unfolding new elements and aspects on subsequent listens one might have missed the first time around.

Likewise, parsing the title-track, which also begins with the aforementioned acoustic strum that closes, is something that requires several visits to that alleged void. And I say “alleged” because “The Great Nothing” is anything but empty. Sure it has its atmospheric stretches, but even these are filled with subtle keys, drums building in tension, and interplay between the two guitars that is as hypnotic as it is thoughtful. Whether loud or quiet at any given time, Kingnomad keep a mind on their ultimate direction and as they make their way into the psychedelic reaches as seven minutes becomes eight and the song seems to almost completely stop, there’s never any doubt that the band know what they’re doing and that none of it is happenstance.

They’ve earned that trust over the course of side A and they put it to use in side B, which picks up around 8:40 with a percussion-backed rumble that pushes into the next heavier section and verse, crossing the halfway point during a chorus that unfolds to bluesy versemaking before it nestles into a bluesy jam. A break after crossing the 14-minute mark returns to the chorus and thicker riffing takes hold to mark the beginning of the last march and payoff. “The Great Nothing” almost can’t help but summarize what Kingnomad do so successfully throughout the LP that shares its name — how could it not? it takes up more than half the runtime! — but particularly the decision to end in relatively subdued form speaks further to the purposefulness of how far they’ve come in so short a time.

It reinforces the suggestion that not only did Kingnomad know what they wanted to do with The Great Nothing, but with their aesthetic as a whole, and that they’ve been working toward those ends over the last four years. I doubt their development is over, but The Great Nothing does not seem to set a goal for itself it subsequently doesn’t achieve. It’s really something.

Kingnomad, The Great Nothing (2018)

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The Machine, Faceshift: Finding a New Norm

Posted in Reviews on August 10th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the machine faceshift

Six full-lengths in, Rotterdam’s The Machine are not only veterans with more than a decade of work behind their 2007’debut, Shadow of the Machine, but participating in an ongoing sonic development that seems to be playing out in real-time on each of their records. Their earliest work — the just-mentioned debut, as well as 2009’s Solar Corona, 2011’s way-jammed-out Drie (review here) — was square in the vein of heavy psychedelic rock, rife with longform jams led by the warm fuzz tone of guitarist/vocalist David Eering and backed by the rhythmic fluidity of bassist Hans van Heemst and drummer Davy Boogaard. With 2012’s Calmer than You Are (review here) and their 2013 split with Sungrazer (review here), The Machine began a process of solidifying their songwriting, condensing ideas into tighter structures. They still had a propensity to jam out, and that continued onto their fifth LP, Offblast! (review here), which tipped the balance even further, showing a budding affinity for noise rock.

To listen to Shadow of the Machine and the band’s latest work, Faceshift, one would hardly recognize it’s the same outfit. At 40 minutes, the eight-track collection is a full 10 shorter than its predecessor, and it’s the tightest collection of songs the band has yet produced. Eering‘s vocals still have a watery effect on them, and he still breaks out a longer solo on the 11-minute title-track, but that’s the only song not in the three-to-five-minute range, and from the 5:50 opener “Crack You” onward, there’s a predilection toward noise rock that makes its way in amid the heavy and desert influences that comes even more forward on songs like the subsequent “Agitate” and the later “The Norm,” “Kick It” and the closing duo of “Zeroten” and “Kamikaze.” Faceshift still has its foundation in heavy rock, but it’s clear the band has grown into something else and are still growing into something else in these tracks. Something all the more their own.

If one were to think of it as a new era for The Machine, I don’t think that would be wrong. And it goes further than just their sound. Faceshift is their first record since Solar Corona not to be released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten, and instead it finds them self-releasing through their own newly-started imprint, Awe Records. Not only that, but it marks van Heemst‘s last performance with the band, and he’s been replaced for live shows, maybe more, by Sander Haagmans (The Whims of the Great Magnet, ex-Sungrazer). That’s The Machine‘s first lineup change in memory, and to listen to anything the band has done is to realize it’s not a minor one; even on Faceshift, the bass makes significant contributions to the overall effectiveness of the tracks. It’s still something of a mystery as to what the future holds, whether Haagmans will join full-time (one hopes), but the point is that the sonic turns made throughout are only part of the story.

They’re a crucial part, of course, with “Crack You” giving way to the punkish “Agitate,” with Boogaard‘s raw snare cutting through Eering‘s solo en route to a cold finish and a bass-led intro to “Heads Up.” Not necessarily as sharp edged as some of what surrounds, “Heads Up” still offers plenty of bite as it works what turns out to be a linear building path of dynamic ebbs and flows headed to a brash final payoff. Their turns are deceptively smooth as they make their way through verses and choruses with guitar at the top of the mix riding the groove of the bass and drums. They finish with a solo that cuts back to the central riff at the end, almost making the listener wish for one more run through the hook, but there’s no time, especially with the 2:41 crasher “The Norm” immediately following. It’s arguably the most singularly intense moment on Faceshift, with a searing lead of wah capping after an assault of drums and sheer rhythmic thrust buries the vocals beneath such that they seem to simply disappear as the song plays out.

the machine

Stop for a beat and “Kick It” begins the presumed end of side A, with a chunkier riff at its core and Eering‘s vocals tapping grunge melodies at around the first-minute mark. Boogaard‘s drums bring a steady bombast to the recording, but he’s never actually out of control; just insanely talented. “Kick It” also has a payoff at the end, but it’s longer after the solo than that of “Heads Up” and it leads to the smoother-edged, fuzzy start of the title-track, which one half expects to be a jam given its extended length and The Machine‘s past patterning, and it is one after a fashion, but here too the “face” of the band’s approach has shifted. They bounce easily through the first four minutes of the song, adding a bit of lumber to the final hook, then crash out on a wash of cymbals and bring the song down to nothing but residual amp hum and dead space only to have the guitar return alone with a line at 4:32. It’s the beginning point for an instrumental freakout that consumes the rest of “Face Shift,” building over the few minutes that follow not to a psychedelic spaciousness, but to an absolute cacophony of guitar, bass and drums all working together in power trio fashion.

The touchstone comparison for it would be Earthless, but really what’s happening is The Machine are building a bridge between their former style and their new one. They push it until shortly before 10 minutes in and then crash out once more, and Eering holds out a guitar line on a long fade that brings it to a close. A stretch of actual silence follows before “Zeroten” bursts in with its own noisy starts and stops, Helmet-style, some highlight basswork from van Heemst and drawling vocals for an extra ’90s-style touch. Using feedback as a weapon, it pulls and careens through a solo in its second half before dipping back to the central riff for a last verse and then caps with harsh noise en route to the finale of “Kamikaze,” which holds a similar riff structure but more of a nodding groove and an open chorus that’s among the most satisfyingly Alice in Chains-y throughout. “Face Shift” was a pretty grand finale in itself, but neither “Zeroten” nor “Kamikaze” feels tacked on, and the latter has a raucous ending of its own to cap the record, returning at the last minute to underscore just how skilled songwriters The Machine have become.

It’s important to highlight the creative growth The Machine have undertaken on Faceshift, but it’s not as if it’s come out of nowhere and all of a sudden they decided to be different-sounding band. They’ve never put out the same record twice, and Faceshift is a step forward from Offblast! much as that record was a step forward from Calmer than You Are and so on through their back catalog. And in much the same way one expects their next one will progress from where they are now. Nonetheless, it’s striking how they bring the diversity of their influences together in an aesthetic they’ve so much made their own, and how they seem to set up yet another avenue of pursuit for their ongoing sonic progression.

The Machine, Faceshift (2018)

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Review & Track Premiere: Mountain Tamer, Godfortune Dark Matters

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

mountain tamer godfortune dark matters

[Click play above to stream ‘Wretched’ by Mountain Tamer. Their new album, Godfortune Dark Matters, is out Aug. 24 on Magnetic Eye with Nasoni Records vinyl to follow.]

One tends to think of Californian heavy psych these days as kind of a cool-kids club of freakout-jamming skaters, ripping an endless barrage of solos in post-Earthless fashion. Los Angeles trio Mountain Tamer have their shredding aspects, to be sure, but are ultimately on a different, grimmer trip. Shades of cultish metal make their way in amid fuzz-guitar riffing, righteously-turning bass and wide-sounding drum crash as their second album, Godfortune // Dark Matters Comprised of a not-inconsiderable 11 tracks for an also-not-considerable 49-minute run, the Magnetic Eye Records and Nasoni Records release came prefaced by a two-song 2017 demo titled Living in Vain (review here) that had early versions of “Living in Vain Part 1” and “Wretched,” both of which reappear here.

That demo followed their 2016 Argonauta Records self-titled debut (review here) and 2015 Mtn Tmr demo (review here), both of which gave early showings of potential for the progression that would seem to be continuing here. As they push the LP format to its limits, they also push themselves into a more individualized sound, like a brooding take on youngest Nebula, maybe, but looser. There’s a sense in the drums of Casey Garcia that the whole thing could come apart at any time, as heard in “Primitive Control,” which leads off a side B (I think; if not, it provides a transition at the end of side A) made up of longer tracks featuring more exploration in the drums as well as from guitarist/vocalist Andrew Hall and bassist Dave Teget.

They’re not jamming, exactly. Even on 7:44 closer “Head Over Heels,” they choose to go with a slower march rather than fly off the handle on an improv sonic jaunt, but either way, there’s clearly a plan at work; a vision for the album as a whole and its method of expression. After the Sabbath-circa-’75 cacophony of opener “Faith Peddler,” there’s the chunkier riffing of “Funeral of a Dog,” which soon enough delves into tribalist percussion and flute behind echoing chants that in turn give way to a howling solo. And that’s the first two and a half minutes.

From there, they dip back into hard psych and stonerist vibes en route to the more straight-ahead approach of “People Problems,” a quick showcase of hook and instrumental dynamic, Hall layering in two solos, one more effects-drenched than the other, between choruses in the second half of the song before a quick shout and noise assault brings on the trad-metal chug of “Living in Vain Part 1.” It and the immediately following “Living in Vain Part 2” make their connection via Garcia‘s drums, but both also share a propensity for a weirdo vibe and earthy psych-rocking approach. The second part doesn’t have verses so much as repeated lines where they might otherwise be, and its thickened-garage intensity plays out with radiating energy that seems only to build on the song before.

mountain tamer

There’s some hypnotic aspect from the repetition, but Godfortune // Dark Matters is so brash-sounding in its production and delivery that it quickly snaps any trance it might induce. The dividing line between the first half of the record and the second is, suitably enough, centerpiece “Nectar,” which is a 1:43 psychedelic interlude of classic rocking form, just a quick instrumental that, in some ways similar to “Funeral of a Dog,” purposefully shifts the flow of momentum the album has thus far built in order to defy expectation. It’s emblematic of the level of thought Mountain Tamer have put into their second full-length overall, and “Primitive Control” continues the thread by picking up with a shove of cyclical riffing that is nothing short of masterful in its combination of sprawl and compressed atmospherics.

A break shortly before the three-minute mark brings in howling guitar, drum thud and steady bass — the latter is a welcome grounding force throughout — before a final solo finishes and leads to “Wretched,” which is a foreshadow to “Head Over Heels” still to come and a slower rollout altogether. That forces some of the earlier hairpin-turn-style danger elsewhere for the time being, but ultimately makes Godfortune // Dark Matters a richer listen with a wider aesthetic berth. Naturally it comes paired with the freak-assault of “Mydnyte” — two ‘y’s! it’s madnyss — the five and a half minutes of which read like a guidebook for the outer reaches of the known psychedelic cosmos. It switches between solidified riff-chugness and such spacey fare, with a wash of noise at the end that brings on the shorter “Riff Dealer.”

At 4:05, “Riff Dealer” is the only cut on the second half of Godfortune // Dark Matters that checks in at under five minutes, and while one might expect that to mean it’s a return to the relatively grounded structures presented earlier, tying disparate ideas and sonic themes together ahead of the finale, that’s a big no dice. “Riff Dealer” pushes into a slower, druggier haze and saves its swing for the back half, cutting to silence well ahead of the arrival of “Head Over Heels,” which fades in on feedback and buzzing amp fuzz. Once again, Teget‘s bass is a standout factor, but Mountain Tamer all seem aware of the occasion, and while I don’t know whether “Head Over Heels” was specifically written to close the album, it excels in that role, calling to mind some of circa-’92 Monster Magnet‘s righteous arrogance in transposing space rock to suit their own needs, even if that’s not a direct comparison of sound.

Atop a rumble and the already noted more grueling lumber, Hall‘s voice echoes as it seems to shout into an unhearing desert. They ride the central riff to a long fadeout and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting end to a record of such obvious individualist pursuits. That is to say, what’s happening throughout Godfortune // Dark Matters is that Mountain Tamer are working toward carving out a niche for themselves in and around heavy rock and psychedelia. They get there, to be sure, but the journey in no way sounds like it’s over.

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Review & Full Album Stream: Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 8th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

mr plow maintain radio silence

[Click play above to stream Mr. Plow’s Maintain Radio Silence in its entirety. It’s out Aug. 10 on Ripple Music.]

Can you ever really know what to expect from a band after a 12-year absence? Sure, Houston’s Mr. Plow played sporadic local shows every now and again in between, but their last album, the self-released Kurt Vonnegut tribute Asteroid 25399 (discussed here), came out in 2006. I don’t know that they were ever broken up in the sense of making a public statement to that effect, but guitarist/vocalist Justin Waggoner went on to form Sanctus Bellum a few years back and it seemed like Mr. Plow, who had issued their first two albums — Head On and Cock Fights and Pony Racin’ — in 2000 and 2003, respectively, were yet another casualty of the pre-social media age of heavy rock.

In May 2017, the band announced a return with Cory Cousins of Sanctus Bellum (also Blues Funeral) taking over on drums, Waggoner, and original bassist Greg Green and guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Stone. They subsequently signed to Ripple Music and one has been looking forward to their fourth record, Maintain Radio Silence, ever since. And they’ve obviously been eager as well. Cousins doesn’t even give a full four-count on his hi-hat before opener “Sigil” kicks in. He only gets to two. But 12 years is not a short amount of time.

I’ll cop to being a Mr. Plow fan gladly, but even so, there were a few things it seemed fair to anticipate on Maintain Radio Silence. Straightforward songwriting has always been an asset for the band, and they’ve always had a full, natural sound on their records. The latest is no exception. With eight tracks and 40 minutes, Mr. Plow hit the standard easily — there were more songs recorded than wound up on the final LP; “Paxton,” “Southbound,” “Spark Arrester” and “Million Bucks” were on an earlier version that temporarily made its way out on Bandcamp — and aren’t through the aforementioned leadoff before they’ve dropped their first signature-style hook with Waggoner‘s gravely vocal up front as backed by Stone.

Their fuzz carries a familiar grit and their tracks overall, while (at least mostly) not based on the same kind lighthearted of references as, say, “Festivus” or “The Dude” from the second record, or working around the kind of central theme they did on Asteroid 25399, flow smoothly together and Cousins brings a touch of metal with him that can be heard in the cymbal work on “Samizdat” and the hard-hitting snare of the penultimate “Hammer Smashed Face,” which, no, is not a Cannibal Corpse cover. Between those and the wash of noise in third cut “Matchstick” and the airy lead and sense of space brought to the title-track, Maintain Radio Silence not only brings a mature incarnation of Mr. Plow‘s sound — something they had over a decade ago — but a bit of an edge.

It’s absolutely true some of that might be my reading into the context of Waggoner and Cousins‘ work in Sanctus Bellum, which was more aggressive on the whole, but in listening to the screaming at the end of “Sigil,” or even the deeper-in-mix shouts toward the end of “Matchstick,” there would seem to be a chip on the band’s collective shoulder. To coincide with this is the (presumed) side A closer, “Shaolin Cowboy,” which may or may not be based on the comic of the same name. It’s the shortest inclusion on the album at 3:49 — side B’s finale, “Memento,” is likewise brief at 3:56; “Matchstick” is the longest at 6:39 — and a dead-ahead uptempo rocker that seems to nod at Helmet in some of its start-stop riffing, but is nonetheless a rousing and catchy heavy rocker in line with some of Mr. Plow‘s older work.

mr plow

Accordingly, it fits well between “Matchstick” and the subsequent “Johnny Gentle,” with a half-time drum progression under a duly large-sounding riff and a title presumably nodding to the Infinite Jest character rather than the one-time Liverpool singer who toured with what would become The Beatles. “Johnny Gentle” has a slower, doomier roll to its rhythm and is more patient especially than “Shaolin Cowboy” before it, and that helps set up the title-track as well, which starts off gradually with guitars spacing out over solid bass and drum movements before easing its way into a fuzzy groove and the initial chorus.

Maintain Radio Silence, with its mix of elements new and old, is well summarized by the song that shares its name, which has some more aggressive push but an overarching sense of restraint and keeps composition first. One might expect “Hammer Smashed Face” to operate in the opposite manner, but it stays consistent. More upbeat than either of the two before, it acts as a bridge to “Memento” at the end and offers a dead-on hook that’s ultimately one of many throughout the record but a standout all the same. Hard not to get the line “My fellow man’s an asshole” stuck in your head.

And whether or not it’s intended to callback to the 2000 film of the same name, “Memento” caps the album with another straight-ahead heavy rocking groove that also works in some of the earlier aggro tendencies in Waggoner‘s vocals atop a winding lead line and weighted low end from Green. It might be as heavy as they get on Maintain Radio Silence, but I’d have to put it on a scale next to “Johnny Gentle” to be sure, and, well, that’s just silly. What matters more is that as “Memento” rounds out with a vigilant final push, Mr. Plow make their return plain to hear and show with no question they had more to say when they seemed to fade out those many years ago.

At the same time, one of the most crucial elements at work across Maintain Radio Silence that the band maintained from their original run is an utter lack of pretense. I don’t think Mr. Plow reunited in order to go on tour and play 150 or 200 shows a year. I don’t think they got back because someone offered them a ton of money to play a fest or something like that. I think it had been a while and they enjoy creating and playing music together. I don’t know what the future holds for Mr. Plow and with 12 years between their third and fourth outings, I won’t dare to predict when/if a fifth might arrive, but if anything could be carried over from their past, it’s clearly their passion for what they do, and with that as their motivating force, there’s no telling what might be next.

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Review & Video Premiere: The Crazy Left Experience, Death, Destruction & Magic

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on August 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the crazy left experience death destruction and magic

[Click play above to view the premiere of The Crazy Left Experience’s ‘Magic’ video, with footage from Georges Méliès’ 1902 film, Le Voyage dans la Lune. The Crazy Left Experience’s Death, Destruction and Magic is out now on Adamsonia Records.]

Instrumental trio The Crazy Left Experience have been jamming for roughly five years. Their first three outings are ‘sessions’ releases — 2014’s The Big Bang Sessions (In The Beginning), 2015’s Garage Sessions and early 2016’s Uranus Sessions — but from that point on, the Lisbon-based outfit began to dip into psychedelic conceptualism, working their exploratory approach around a central theme, story or idea. This led to a burst of creativity in 2016 with three more albums: Welcome to the AI, Maya’s Magic Pill and Bill’s 108th Space Odyssey (review here), as drummer/guitarist Rui Inácio, guitarist/noisemaker Luís Abrantes and bassist/flutist Tiago Machado delved into the tale of early US governmental lysergic experiments.

Trippy adventures followed, and the band’s new record, Death, Destruction and Magic — pressed to vinyl through Germany’s Adansonia Records — would seem to keep up the theme. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is comprised of three tracks — titled “Death,” “Destruction” and “Magic” — with a digital bonus cut in “AND (A Song for Rosa),” and like much of the band’s work, it is centered around the conversation happening between the instruments. There is no shortage of drift in “Magic” and “Destruction” has low end worthy of its name, while “Death” seems to howl more in celebration than mourning, but what unites the three distinct pieces is an overarching naturalism that makes all the material as real as it is ethereal.

One aspect of their sound The Crazy Left Experience bring to bear in especially vivid fashion is minimalism. They’d hardly be the first outfit with ebbs and flows in heavy psych jams, but in the second half of “Death” and in the ultra-subdued stretch of “Magic,” where watery effects-laden guitar ascends and descends over steady drum patterning, the space purposefully left open is crucial as well as the space being filled with sound. They come together and in kind with the fluid movement between more and less active parts, help form the dynamic with which The Crazy Left Experience execute their material. The album was, true to form, recorded live, and while there may be parts of it that are inherently off-the-cuff, caught-on-tape-type of happenings, there does seem to be an overarching plot.

Even in the meandering spaciousness of “AND (A Song for Rosa),” one finds a plot being followed or at least some sense of linear direction, rather than a jam simply unfolding as it will. That’s not to say that song or any of the other three before it — which run eight, 15 and nine minutes, respectively, for a total of 32; utterly manageable — sound forced. Far from it. Just that at the very least, someone among Inácio, Abrantes and Machado came into the recording process with some idea of where they wanted the songs to go. That’s more the case here than it was their last time out, but whether it’s indicative of some larger shift in approach and as to the consciousness of that, I wouldn’t speculate. Organic as it is, their sound only benefits from the sense of purpose it’s give here.

For some in the style, their mission is to present the very heart of the creative process — to capture the moment when the spark of songcraft begins. That singular “aha!” moment when it all clicks together. It’s a difficult thing to do and an admirable goal, but it doesn’t seem to be what The Crazy Left Experience are about. Their output on Death, Destruction and Magic is thrilling in the mellow vibe that persists even in “Destruction”‘s actively grooving midsection thanks to the brightness of its tonality and the patience of its execution, and it’s more about telling its story than getting lost in its own making.

the crazy left experience

That is, The Crazy Left Experience use the foundation they have in exploratory psych in order to convey a message or idea in their material. They direct the evocation their songs are making, even just with one-word titles. What does “Death” say about death? How does “magic” feel like magic, and what does magic feel like? As “Destruction” passes its 10th minute, it delves into a melodic drone that builds in the guitar but ultimately holds sway as the drums never return. Are we in the midst of an aftermath there? Was it war? You get the idea. The point is that Death, Destruction and Magic allows its audience to fill in the answers as they will, and to make their own judgment about what they think the band is telling them.

This level of atmospheric engagement is rare, and the guide the band grant on their Bandcamp page for it reads like something out of Dungeons and Dragons:

You’ve just escaped from the lava tunnel.
A pack of razor-clawed creatures are trying
to get you before the lizard men do.
These are moves you’ve never seen before.
A fire-breathing dragon carries you toward the castle.

The choice is simple…

Maybe that’s the thing — it’s all a game. If so, that does nothing to invalidate the expression happening in these passages, nor the obvious heart poured into their making. The Crazy Left Experience have their share of nebulous elements at play, whether it’s the rolling end section of “Magic” or the airy fuzz tone in “Death,” but what brings the band together is still the solid underlying connection they have between each other while playing. The live performance. It’s the reason they’re able to tell the stories they’re telling with their sound, and the reason they see so continually to be able and willing to push themselves forward.

Death, Destruction and Magic isn’t shy in tackling “big ideas,” but the language it uses seems built exclusively for that purpose, and the outward trajectory of the record as a whole should resonate with any and all of mind open enough to let it. They’ve worked quickly to get to their seventh full-length, but The Crazy Left Experience come across like veterans just the same when it comes to the chemistry and confidence with which they ply their liquefied wares.

The Crazy Left Experience, Death, Destruction and Magic

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Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections: Feels Like Being Gone

Posted in Reviews on August 3rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors have never worked to expectation. The Los Angeles unit were last heard from with 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), which I absolutely consider one of the best albums of this decade, and that arrived following 2011’s Invisible White EP (review here), 2009’s Of Sound Mind (review here) and 2008’s demo-turned-debut-album, Neptune with Fire (discussed here). Through each release, the band have pushed themselves further along a progressive and individualized path, and while their first outing seemed to be a clarion of post-Sleep riffing, calling across its epic tracks to the converted, “Come here and nod out,” they’ve never really been that kind of band and show little interest in it now. Their new album, Suspended in Reflections, finds them signed to Pelagic Records, run by Robin Staps of The Ocean, and even that endorsement signals how much they’ve grown beyond where they started out a decade ago.

That’s not to say Ancestors can’t still roll out a heavy groove when it suits them — it’s pretty much the first thing they do on Suspended in Reflections, while also providing a landmark hook in opener “Gone” that bleeds into second track “Through a Window” as well — just that their doing so is one weapon in a crowded arsenal of melody, space, ambience, heft and craft. About half an hour shorter than its predecessor, the album comprises six tracks for a 36-minute LP with three cuts each on two sides, each of those ending with its longest song, “Lying in the Grass” (7:37) on side A and “The Warm Glow” (8:31) on side B. Anyone who heard In Dreams and Time closer “First Light” (discussed here) can tell you Ancestors have a thing for a big finale, and guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga, bassist Jason Watkins and drummer Daniel Pouliot continue that thread here, though even those two tracks — and it is both, make no mistake — have to be considered stripped down in relation last time out. Ancestors‘ sound is lush and immersive and patient and gorgeous and any number of other things, but it’s not raw, and that applies here too, but in their structure and execution, the tracks on Suspended in Reflections feel more about expression than ambition.

Of course, the paring down of grandiosity is no simple thing in any context and an ambition unto itself, but it makes Ancestors‘ communication more efficient here. “Gone” starts out with a melancholy verse with layers of backing vocals, organ and patient guitar notes over a weighted groove en route to its chorus, which sets a defining impression in its discussion of death: “And it feels like being gone/And it feels like moving on/And it feels like nothing’s wrong anymore.” Again, those lines will reappear in “Through a Window,” which follows, giving a sense of overarching composition to the proceedings — Ancestors writing a full album as opposed to a collection of songs or parts — and with the organ playing such a prominent role throughout, the material ties together even further. A sweeping guitar chord transitions “Gone” into “Through a Window” and the first half of the track builds back up to that reappearance, so crucial as it is. Much of the second half of the track is given to softer contemplation, Maranga‘s guitar and the organ setting a melodic foundation in accordance with the easy flow in the drums and bass, an instrumental stretch it’s easy to lose oneself within that caps with cymbal washes and a fading guitar that leaves a bed of silence to start the quiet beginning of “Lying in the Grass.”

ancestors

What seems to be a vocoder bolsters the ethereal atmosphere so pervasive thus far, and clearer vocals emerge as the build in the first half moves into its next stage, the slowness coming to a full tone and crash that underscores the beauty of what the band is creating while staying on theme in terms of the interplay of guitar and organ, dropping back to a subdued state in the second half à la “Through a Window” just before in order to build up again instrumentally as it passes the six-minute mark, again pulling back to finish quiet with soft vocals and a final crash that leaves the organ tone on a fade to let the sudden start — unless you’re listening on an actual LP, in which case, it’s only sudden after you’ve gotten up to flip the record — of side B opener “Into the Fall” make its entrance. Already, Ancestors have typified Suspended in Reflections with a depth of mix that seems to be even more than the sum of its instruments and set a range for themselves that’s nothing short of encompassing. The second half of the album reaffirms this and builds on it with a linearity of its own, furthering the full-album impression of side A while remaining distinct from it.

That’s not to say there’s some great leap in sound away from what the first three tracks are doing, just that as “Into the Fall” takes a heavy post-rock epic and trims it down to an efficient five minutes, the vibe seems to shift. The introduction of strings to the mix could have something to do with that, but the wash of distortion that takes hold at the 3:20 mark remains in line with what Suspended in Reflections has thus far brought to bear, and its way of capping with residual guitar resonance on a fade directly into the piano notes, guitar ambience and synth swells of “Release” speaks directly at how “Gone” gave way to “Through a Window” earlier. The synth comes to a head and cuts out, leaving dream-jazz piano to hold sway and set the mood for the second half of the four-minute instrumental, which carries some of the foreboding that one found in Invisible White while also setting up the turn into “The Warm Glow,” which begins its soar after a quiet first minute and surges forward on a slow-moving wave of low distortion cut through by shouted vocals in a post-metallic tradition.

It’s not an assault by any means, but it is arguably the most outwardly heavy payoff on Suspended in Reflections and obviously placed accordingly as the finale. True to form, it caps not with a grand overstatement, but with a quiet exploration, the band feeling their way to the album’s finish in naturalist form. Those moments, far from extras or tack-ons, are essential to the impression of Suspended in Reflections in its entirety, no less so than its heavier moments, as they help to cast the full breadth of the material and to situate Ancestors in each stretch and in each place within their considerable range. They are, in effect, the product of that range, the result of it and a contributing factor to it. One might think of Suspended in Reflections as digging to the roots of what In Dreams and Time was. It accomplishes many of the same aesthetic feats in just about half the time, and it retains a memorable songwriting element that ties it not only to the LP immediately before, but to the band’s work all along. Some of this material may have had its origins years ago, but it is unmistakably another step forward in Ancestors ongoing creative progression.

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Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections (2018)

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Brant Bjork, Tres Dias & Local Angel: Easing In

Posted in Reviews on August 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

brant bjork tres dias

When Heavy Psych Sounds announced it had signed Brant Bjork, it was unquestionably good news. With California desert precedent success on the label from Nick Oliveri, Yawning Man and Fatso Jetson, it made sense that after Bjork wrapped the three-album deal with Napalm Records that resulted in 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here) and 2017’s live album, Europe ’16 (review here), he too would sign on with the emergent Italian imprint. Even better was word that his back catalog from 1999 through 2010 would be reissued by his new label, digitally as well as physically on CD and limited vinyl. Bjork was maddeningly productive during those years, releasing under his own name as well as Brant Bjork and the Operators and Brant Bjork and the Bros, and as he was mostly self-releasing under the banners of Duna Records or Low Desert Punk Records, the albums often went overlooked by a wider audience.

Now, with several years of hard touring in Europe and the US behind him, the time only seems right to get these albums back out to a public that might’ve missed them the first time out. And it’s a fascinating choice to start with late-2006’s Tres Dias and 2004’s Local Angel (also discussed here) since they are, without a doubt, the two most intimate albums Bjork produced during that 11-year/nine-album stretch. In addition to this, both represented a marked shift in approach when they arrived. For Local Angel, it came after the initial few solo outings from the former Fu Manchu and Kyuss drummer, and was still often electric in its foundation, but even more mellow than 2003’s Keep Your Cool, its direct predecessor. It remains a quiet and melody-centered collection of 10 tracks that are less about aggression or even heft than about an easy vibe and sheer aural chill.

Likewise, Tres Dias, which actually begins the Heavy Psych Sounds series, is a mostly-acoustic solo record that landed smack in the middle of the Brant Bjork and the Bros era. The band debuted in 2005 with the double-CD Saved by Magic and would follow that up with 2007’s Somera Sól. Tres Dias departed from The Bros and though it features some older material and would share the songs “Love is Revolution,” “Chinarosa” and “The Native Tongue” with the subsequent offering, the sonic left turn in Tres Dias is immediately palpable. One recalls that when it was first released, Bjork noted the spirit he wanted to capture was taking his guitar to a park and playing under a tree to nobody in particular, just singing songs to enjoy them. That remains a striking image, and the album remains a snapshot of the idea made manifest.

With an anchor hook in the classic protest song “Love is Revolution,” the eight-song Tres Dias imagines a desert folk music that’s Bjork makes his own by putting his vocals at the center with his acoustic and adding flourish in electric wah atmosphere as heard on “Chinarosa.” It was a dark time politically when the songs were written — 2006 seemed to be an abyss of war that would never end; and hey! it didn’t — and in addition to “Love is Revolution,” “Video,” which originally appeared on Keep Your Cool as “Gonna Make the Scene” and even the opener, a revisit of “Too Many Chiefs” from Bjork‘s 1999 Man’s Ruin Records solo debut, Jalamanta (discussed herealso here), would seem to find a different social context for the revisit. The most elaborate arrangement would seem to be for “The Native Tongue,” which has subdued electric guitar and percussion, but it’s no less fluid than anything that surrounds and whether it’s the insistent strum of Saved by Magic‘s “The Messengers” or the riffy groove of “Right Time,” which would become the title-track of 2008’s Punk Rock GuiltTres Dias stripped away everything but the songwriting and performance and allowed Bjork‘s work to shine in a way it never had before.

Brant Bjork Local Angel

Would it exist without the precedent of Local Angel? I don’t know. I also don’t know if it’s the label or Bjork himself picking the order in which the reissues arrive in this series, but certainly with these two back-to-back, it’s easy enough to read the narrative of succession in reverse, though it’s just as likely Tres Dias into Local Angel is a way of easing into the more active material in Bjork‘s 1999-2010 discography. I won’t speculate as to the thought behind it. More importantly, the revisit of Local Angel, along with a marked redux of the artwork, once more highlights the man himself as a songwriter. “Beautiful Powers,” “Hippie,” “Chico” and “The Feelin'” make for a striking opening salvo with the even-funkier “Bliss Ave.” rounding out side A. While “plugged” and drummed, the tracks are subtle in their execution, bringing an organic sensibility that stands out to this day from everything else Bjork has done. Specifically in the context of these reissues, it can be read as a midpoint between other works and Tres Dias, but the truth is that Local Angel stands alone.

The original CD had bonus track covers of “Hey Joe” and The Ramones‘ “I Want You Around” that seem to have disappeared, but the smooth vibes continue on side B with “Fly to Haiti,” the Thin Lizzy-vibing “You’re Alright,” which is also arguably the most active cut on the album, the relatively minimal “Spanish Tiles,” “She’s Only Tryin'” which gives “You’re Alright” a run for its money, and closer “The Good Fight,” which more than earns the rhythmic handclaps in its second half. Even in its most uptempo or full-band-sounding material, Local Angel is gloriously understated. I’ve always found it to be one of Bjork‘s easiest listens and, frankly, have never stopped going back to it periodically in the 14 years since its release. I recognize that doesn’t exactly make me impartial when it comes to assessing the reissue, but if the point is to get these albums back out to people who might’ve missed them or not been around when they landed the first time, Local Angel has definitely more than earned at least that additional look.

One could say the same of Tres Dias and of the rest of Bjork‘s work during this period as well, and not to put too fine a point on it, but as other albums continue to resurface, “one” — me, particularly — probably will. The chance to revisit Brant Bjork‘s solo works is an opportunity not only to hear him shape his own sound, but to hear him help shape desert rock as well. I won’t discount his contributions to the style in Kyuss or anything else he’s done along the way, whether it’s Fu ManchuChéVista Chino, etc., but if you want to know how he got to be the godfather of desert rock that he is, it was this period when it happened, and these reissues are a chance for longtime and recent fans to give those moments their long-due appreciation.

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Psilocibina, Psilocibina

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 31st, 2018 by JJ Koczan

psilocibina psilocibina

[Click play above to stream Psilocibina’s self-titled debut in its entirety. Album is out in August on Abraxas Records and Electric Magic Records.]

Scorching leads, a popping snare and the kind of bass that’s funky enough to make you go all bobble-head — the self-titled debut album from Brazilian three-piece Psilocibina has it all if by “all” you mean a truckload of classic psych-tinged heavy rock boogie. And of course you do, because duh.

The instrumentalist power trio of guitarist Alex Sheeny, bassist Rodrigo Toscano and drummer Lucas Loureiro gave an initial showing in the early hours of 2018 with an initial single LSD / Acid Jam, and with backing from Abraxas Records and Electric Magic Records, they’ve made a quick turnaround on an initial long-play offering of seven tracks in a crisp, manageable 36 minutes, covering classic 12″ length and asking nothing more of their audience than some companionship as they shuffle their way out of the atmosphere. From the already-going movement that begins opener and longest track (immediate points) “2069” through the outer reaches of past-asteroid belt side B in “Trópicos” and the reappearing “LSD,” which rounds out, Psilocibina hold true to right-on momentum and a sense of direction that’s heavy ’70s in brand but comes streamed through a filter of frenetic modern interpretation à la Radio Moscow. That ultra-boogie. It’s there in the seven-minutes of “2069,” and that sense of danger flows from the opener through everything that follows. It may be Psilocibina‘s debut, but the band make it clear quickly they know what they’re doing.

Tempo shifts abound and are fluid and guitar leads take the place of vocals not necessarily in “singing” out the lines of verses, but in leading the forward charge of jams that sound vibrant and energetic to their very core. From the start, Toscano‘s bass is a must-hear for anyone prone to grooving on heavy bottom end, and Loureiro is adaptable to the turns happening to the point of being no less molten than Sheeny‘s guitar. I don’t know when the album was actually recorded, but it sounds like it was a hot day in Rio, and as “2069” struts to its finish, the guitar dropping out and the bass and drums continuing to hold the progression for another measure or two until they too let it go, “Galho” picks up with a noise-laden wash that hits high and low as the drums thud out behind. At 6:07, it’s the second longest song on Psilocibina (double points? why not?) and it steps easily into a sleek groove after its introduction — still vital but not rushed. Sheeny starts into a solo and then rejoins Toscano and Loureiro on a classically progressive descent before noodling his way outward again. He’s dug in his heels by the time they’re passing the halfway point, and a change just before the four-minute mark brings not only more highlight basslines but a quicker tempo, a guitar solo that’s nigh on surf rock in its intricacy, and builds in its electricity as it plays out the rest of the song.

PSILOCIBINA

It would be almost too easy to tag Psilocibina as a guitar band and move on. And surely, Sheeny has a propensity for tearing into a lead — he’s a spontaneous player and I’ve known a few on stage who seem to step into the half-stack itself as though it’s the portal to another dimension — but that’s only part of the dynamic the band is working with, and such a designation undercuts the contributions of Loureiro and Toscano both, which are considerable throughout and on the side A closer “Supernova 3333” in particular, in which the bass and steady snare act as an anchor for the guitar to let it wander in the sky above for a while as if to say, “No sweat, we got this. You go have fun.” In in that getting-of-this, the rhythm section utterly shines. This is a showing of chemistry no less classic than the aesthetic it’s being used to harness, but of course the one feeds into the other when it comes to the style and substance of what Psilocibina is, and through the finish of “Supernova 3333,” with its bouncing course and deceptively tight ending, the vibe is set. By the time they get there, it’s easy to trust the band. They’ve done nothing to that point but deliver.

That routine continues throughout the longer side B portion of their self-titled, which also opens with its longest track (triple points?) in the 6:02 “Na Selva Densa,” a fervent gallop riding outward in the bass while blues licks lay over top and the drums punctuate with what seems to be an extra layer of percussion added for good measure. If this is to be the personality Psilocibina set about developing as they move forward, that’s only a win for those who’d take them on, as the performance aspect of “Na Selva Densa” is so crucial. The drums and percussion take the fore late in the track and solo toward a finish that that the eponymous “Psilocibina” enters from silence with its pastoral guitar intro. The first two minutes or so build on that progression, sweetly melodic and classic in structure, but soon enough the bassline comes forward to drive the turn to speedier fare. It’s back to the boogie from there, and they jam it till the wheels fall off, which is fair enough. With “Trópicos” following just behind — the shortest inclusion at just over two minutes and an absolute brain-winder — there’s just about no other way to go.

“Trópicos” digs back to the momentum of the opener, but delivers it in an even tighter way. It feeds into “LSD” as though stopping for a measure and picking back up on the beat, and Psilocibina give one last manic go at softshoe-worthy heavy, crashing and ringing out with amp noise behind to once more underscore the live feel that’s been so much of a presence throughout the album. That is essential to the success of Psilocibina and its component tracks, as the rawness of their presentation — raw, not under-produced or under-recorded — only seems to bolster the energy with which the material so readily shines. They are brash, they are forward, and they sound utterly on fire on what one has to keep reminding oneself is their first record. Can’t help but look forward to more after such a promising first round.

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