Leafy, Leafy: Go Fuzz Go (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on December 5th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

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[Click play above to stream Leafy’s self-titled debut in full. Album is out Dec. 9 on More Fuzz Records.]

Because they’re so effective when they lock into a forward drive like that in the chorus of second cut “Can You See Them,” it’s easy to lose sight of the largesse in atmosphere and the wall of fuzz that Norwegian heavy rockers Leafy bring to their More Fuzz Records self-titled debut. But that largesse is there and is a constant in tying the six-track/33-minute offering together, the band’s post-Truckfighters momentum-minded grooves propelled through by guitarist/backing vocalist Josh “Mr. Yoshi” Bisama, whose riffing is front and center throughout with support from bassist Enyeto Kotori (since replaced by Marcus “Marco el Róbalo” Billington), drummer Per “Señor Pedro” Arne Solvik and vocalist Ryan “Mr. Leafy” Matthew Moen, whose nicknames would seem to underscore the point of the Örebroan influence but don’t wholly lose themselves in a single-mindedness of approach.

Make no mistake, they’ve got heavy rock on their minds, and that’s the core of their execution. The six songs on Leafy bring forth high order, weighted, modern desert rock thrust with efficiency, but they also reach out as much as they hammer down. Particularly with Moen‘s burly, semi-bluesy vocal style, Leafy remind of London’s Steak, whose 2014 debut, Slab City, worked in similar function to bring a Kyuss-style desert symposium to fruition while casting their own persona through the interpretation. And as their first outing, Leafy give a sense of where they’re coming from in the Orange Goblin-esque alcoholic regret of “No Gnome” and the broader progression of extended closer “Felt Like Dying.”

One might get the sense that Leafy are preaching to the converted, and they may well be. Especially with Leafy being their first album, I don’t necessarily have an issue with that. It’s how genre tropes are developed and how audience habits are reinforced; how the substance of a style takes shape. Clearly the Kristiansand rockers are in the process of figuring out where they want to be within heavy rock, and in addition to forcing one’s hand in thinking of groups like Wo Fat1000mods, and a next-gen band like the aforementioned Steak as influential in league with more established groups like Orange Goblin, these tracks brim with a density of fuzz and thrust that one hears just as soon as opener “Wild Cherokee” kicks in from its quieter intro. Right away, Moen and Bisama work fluidly together on vocals, right away the audience is acknowledged — “we hope you will enjoy the show” — and right away guitar establishes itself as the engine that makes the band go.

“Wild Cherokee” introduces many of the moves Leafy will make throughout, and certainly brings the listener into their tonal world, but if side A has a highlight, it’s “Can You See Them.” The second longest cut on Leafy at 6:20 it careens and shuffles at a faster clip and boasts a memorable dual-vocal interplay in its hook and a fullness of sound — credit to Kotori and Solvik for thickening and making it move, respectively — and is among the most striking impressions the record makes, even unto its big finish, which successfully conveys the this-is-something-you-should-watch-on-a-stage vibe that, for a group like Leafy, is probably just what they should be telling those checking out the album at this point. The subsequent “Puzzled Skin” reinforces the energy in “Can You See Them” and rounds out the intended side A with another push further distinguished by its quick solo in the back half.

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And if there was any doubt that Leafy had vinyl symmetry in mind with the album’s structure, the subdued guitar intro of “No Gnome” should answer it handily. Missing only the count-in stick clicks from Solvik that began the opener, it seems to be in direct conversation with “Wild Cherokee” — it also happens to be the exact same length at 3:54, but it’s hard to imagine that’s not a coincidence; bands rarely write songs down to the second in my experience — though it builds more fluidly from that beginning and ultimately finds its own path, entering full tonal presence after about a minute in but moving back to a bluesier and more open feel for the next verse. Lyrically, it’s a booze story, and perhaps more than any of the other cuts, it’s a showcase for Moen‘s vocals, which can be harrowing for a singer the first time out. He approaches the task with apparent confidence over the softer proceedings behind him and that makes the song’s later payoff even more satisfying as it sets up the quiet finish of “No Gnome” and transitions into the drum/bass-led beginning of “Fallen Leaf.”

Maybe it’s an expected uptick in the dudely vibrancy from the track before it that takes its time getting going — a nascent patience in development — but it still ultimately works to revives the momentum of “Puzzled Skin” effectively, playing between chugging tension in its verse and a chorus release before a righteously crashing ending, and with the eight-minute “Felt Like Dying” closing out Leafy behind it, makes sense in its place. For its added length, the four-piece’s finishing move doesn’t ask much by way of indulgence on the part of the listener, instead rewarding those who’ve stuck it out with another highlight hook and a more open-feeling plotted jam in the back half that builds into the last chorus payoff and ends cold on guitar squibblies that seem to say the “show” to which listeners were being welcomed on “Wild Cherokee” is over.

Fair enough. In the end, Leafy‘s Leafy comes across less geared toward innovation than capturing the moment at which the band get their feet under them, sonically speaking. But it does capture that moment, absolutely, and considering Leafy have only been together for a year, it’s all the more an impressively cohesive collection that only benefits from the clearheadedness of its intent. That is to say, Leafy very obviously came into their first release with ideas about who they are as a band and what kind of ruckus they want to make. The task before them now is to grow from the solid foundation they’ve laid down in these tracks and to continue to refine the identity they convey through this material, and in that, to hopefully hold fast to this self-titled’s lack of pretense.

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Child, Blueside: Kindness and Cruelty

Posted in Reviews on December 2nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

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A sophomore outing poses a significant challenge to Melbourne-based heavy blues rockers Child perhaps more than it does to some other bands. Their self-titled debut, self-released in 2014 and snagged by Kozmik Artifactz for a CD/LP release a year later, had an advantage in the element of surprise. Call it the “where’d these guys come from?” factor. That album took Child to Europe and announced their arrival beyond Australia’s borders. More over, it set a high standard of naturalistic groove and jammy vibes for its follow-up to meet. Blueside, Child‘s second offering through Kozmik Artifactz, can’t necessarily rely on that same ability to blindside. While it will no doubt be some listeners’ first exposure to the band, you only get one full-length debut.

The good news is it doesn’t need novelty. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Mathias Northway, bassist Danny Smith and drummer Michael Lowe don’t fix what wasn’t broken last time out, and there’s a lot in common between their two to-date offerings in style and substance. Both records have five tracks, both carry a feel of having been recorded at least mostly live, both play to heavy rock traditionalism and blue-eyed soul, both carry striking cover art by Nick Keller — who’s also known for his work with New Zealand’s Beastwars and whose emphasis on blues with Blueside is hard to miss — and both succeed in casting a memorable impression without necessarily leaning on their choruses to a point of sounding contrived.

The latter is especially true of Blueside, and indeed one of the crucial factors arguing toward Child‘s overall progression across the album’s 39-minute span is the balance they strike between open-sounding jams and the underlying purpose that drives them forward. That’s not to say opener “Nailed to the Ceiling,” “It’s Cruel to be Kind,” “Blue Side of the Collar,” “Dirty Woman” or the 11-minute finale “The Man” aren’t catchy in a get-stuck-in-your-head kind of way, just that what’s likely to get stuck in your head could just as much be a section of bluesy noodling from Northway on guitar as a soulfully-delivered hook, and that rather than one standout part or line or chorus, Blueside feels more determined to deliver a full-album flow and experience. Child take great steps to hone an organic, classic, but still crisp sound.

At the beginning of “Dirty Woman,” for example, we hear an engineer, presumably Dav Byrne, who recorded, mixed and mastered, calling out the beginning of the take, followed by what sounds like a radio signal being picked up by one of the amplifiers. As Child dig into a gorgeous psych-blues jam, that interference seems to pop up again later in “The Man.” Likewise, before “It’s Cruel to be Kind” starts, we hear Lowe play a measure on drums (the room mics sound great) and Northway gives an “okay” that he’s ready to begin the song. What these details do is emphasize the point that Child are basically inviting their listeners into the session itself, as it’s happening.

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It’s not that they’re working toward being raw — “It’s Cruel to be Kind” and “Dirty Woman” feature a righteous backing vocal guest performance from Harmony Byrne, while both “Dirty Woman” and “Nailed to the Ceiling” bring in Joe Cope to add organ to the proceedings — but in their way, the songs push at the core of an ideal of capturing the spirit of a performance without sacrificing the in-the-moment spontaneity that can come when players lock in on stage. They’re not the first to do it, but from Buffalo and earliest AC/DC to today’s vibrant and varied Melbourne heavy underground, Child are the beneficiaries of the lessons a rich rock history can teach, and no doubt Blueside will help them further cast their own place in it after grabbing so much attention their first time out.

One more thing Blueside has in common with its predecessor is that the deeper it goes, the further out it goes. After a relatively straightforward roll in its first half, “Dirty Woman” breaks in the middle into a hard-fuzz jam, bolstered by organ and backing vocals, that sets the stage for Northway — who shines across the album in standout, emerging-frontman fashion — to loose a final solo before backwards guitar and amp noise finish out the song. That sets up the extended finale “The Man,” which takes its time in a satisfyingly classic way, starting almost before the listener realizes it with its tinge of Hendrixian blues, blown-out vocals (doubled in places) and steady but patient build. No rush.

Only after they pass the seven-minute mark do Child really dig into the full-boar tones of Blueside at its heaviest, so that “The Man” — a kind of lyrical answer to the earlier “Blue Side of the Collar” — gracefully makes its way to the album’s apex as it pushes toward its long fade, one last emphasis placed on the dynamic in development between NorthwaySmith and Lowe, whose chemistry already is not to be understated. If Blueside is an indication of how Child will continue to grow as a band, settle in, because much like their sound itself, it seems like they’ve got more of a focus on exploring earthy vibes than willing themselves into forced-sounding leaps and bounds.

I can’t argue with the approach — it couldn’t be more fitting, actually — or with the results that come through in these five songs, and not to be discounted in Child‘s appeal is their lack of pretense and posturing. For a band who draw so much on the blues, it would be easy to get sidetracked into genre tropes and to lose individual identity for the sake of executing a cookie-cutter sonic idea. Child avoid this with a fluidity that is their own and so come out of their second offering with even more momentum than they went into it. An important step, and one they inarguably take in a commanding forward direction.

Child, Blueside (2016)

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Backwoods Payback, Fire Not Reason: Evening Odds (Plus Video Premiere)

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

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[Click play above to check out the premiere of Backwoods Payback’s video for ‘You Don’t Move,’ directed by 51 Deep. The band’s new album, Fire Not Reason, is out tomorrow, Dec. 2.]

From the opening strains of its leadoff track, it’s clear Pennsylvania’s Backwoods Payback have made the choice the title of their third album presents: Fire Not Reason. With a screaming beginning, post-hardcore lead work in the guitar and an underpinning of heavy riffing that somehow ties it together, “Elephants” stomps out more of a genre span in its quickly executed three minutes than some bands do in their career, yet like much of what follows on the self-released outing, it wastes nothing.

It’s been five years since Backwoods Payback released their second album, Momantha (review here), and while they’ve released a 2012 live outing (discussed here) and the 2014 In the Ditch EP (review here) in the interim, the nine-song/30-minute Fire Not Reason hits with all the intensity of the passing half-decade, forming its crux around a brutal honesty of emotion and songcraft that’s neither apologetic nor ironic in the slightest. For founding guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings and bassist Jessica Baker, it is a realization of the human core that has always gone unnamed as the central appeal of the band: here metal, here punk, here grunge, here heavy rock, but most of all itself in a way that strikes as wholly without pretense. Intimidatingly without pretense.

Not that it’s in-your-face in some cliché metal dudeliness or aggro fashion. Certainly there are aggressive moments, as on “Elephants” or the black ‘n’ roll midsection of “Dirge” (video premiere here), which elsewhere provides one of the album’s landmark hooks — and if you told me second cut “You Don’t Move” was written with the intent of being a pro wrestling theme, I’d believe it — but throughout, Backwoods Payback keep emotional rawness so central to their mission that it comes to be the defining facet of their approach. Fire Not Reason finds further distinction in Cummings and Baker having added drummer Erik Larson to the fold. Known for handling guitar and/or vocals to one degree or another in outfits like Alabama ThunderpussyThe Might CouldHail!HornetBirds of Prey and so on, in addition to his solo work, Larson also drummed in Richmond, Virginia-based punkers Avail, and so is no stranger to the stylistic turns that Backwoods Payback make within these songs.

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Rather, he’s right at home in this trio incarnation of the band, and does much to bolster both the start-stop chugging of “You Don’t Move” and the more languid rollout of the later “That Dream Again.” While “Elephants” launches Fire Not Reason at an all-go, all-in melding of styles and drive, songs like “Don’t Try” and the somewhat faster centerpiece “Tuxedo” seem more like signature Backwoods Payback, as much as their sound permits anything to be. Informed by grunge and heavy and Southern rock, they make something that acknowledges all of them and isn’t necessarily shooting to emulate — perhaps less here than ever — but even when “Tuxedo” breaks at its halfway point to build back up to its full-thrust finish, they’re very much in their element if not necessarily their “comfort zone” in the sense of coming across lazy or haphazard in their approach.

Cummings, who has a couple solo acoustic releases to his credit at this point, takes center position for “Even Odds,” which transitions directly from “Tuxedo” before it and provides a sub-three-minute breather that also gives a side-B-style expansion to the sonic palette with which the album as a whole works. It is a long way from “Elephants” or even the slick groove of “Dirge” earlier, and it changes the context of the opening strums of the subsequent “That Dream Again,” which soon enough opens a heavy blues roll with a spaciousness that calls to mind a more on-the-beat All Them Witches in its first half before solidifying around a more forward motion and, as it nears its finish, a lumbering stomp made all the more palpable by Larson‘s crash. The penultimate “Snakes” is more immediately about swing, but its thickened fuzz moves smoothly into and through an upbeat hook before dropping out to give the drums a short standalone section where they’re soon joined by lead guitar and Baker‘s bass, which feels more tonally present in the last stretch perhaps because of the distinction of its kicking in on its own as the final piece to make Backwoods Payback‘s push complete.

It does that, and like much before it, “Snakes” ends efficiently and cleanly, with no frills or veering from its central intent, stopping short to let the nodding “California Lean” close out with one more three-minute affirmation of the truth in songwriting that’s been at the root of Fire Not Reason all along. It might fit in that same category as “Don’t Try” and “Tuxedo” in terms of how its nestles into Backwoods Payback‘s bottom-line aesthetic, as opposed to the branching out in cuts like “Elephants,” “Dirge,” “Even Odds” or even “You Don’t Move,” but “California Lean” also underscores the urgency with which the trio have brought this material to life, and as much as Cummings‘ vocals — willfully strained at times — or his or Baker‘s tones, or Larson‘s drums, or the general rawness of it, it’s that urgency tying Fire Not Reason together. Half a decade later, this is clearly a story the band needed to tell.

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Megaritual, Mantra Music: Lessons in Mist

Posted in Reviews on November 30th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

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Foremost, the shamanic psychedelia of Megaritual would seem to be teaching. What are the lessons of the LP Mantra Music, released by White Dwarf Records in limited blue vinyl to match the sky on the record’s cover? First, that you don’t need personnel to make something sound lush. I’ve heard density conjured by one-pieces and six-pieces, but getting a genuine sense of space is harder. Megaritual is comprised solely of Australian multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Dale Paul Walker, also guitarist in Gold Coast metallic rockers Mourning Tide and reportedly in instrumental psych outfit Sun of Man as well, and through layered arrangements of guitar, sitar, bass, drums, chanting vocals, effects and so on, Walker (who also engineered, mixed and put together the aforementioned cover art) casts an enviable breadth and patience into the 44-minute/eight-track offering, while still making tradeoffs between quiet meditations and louder push, as on “Stormbringer.”

Second lesson? That when it comes to psychedelia, time can be rendered irrelevant. The two sides of Mantra Music are drawn from two separate releases — both EPs released by Walker to introduce Megaritual to a public audience. Mantra Music (Volume One) arrived in 2014 and brings the tracks “Is the Heart of the Mystery…,” “Top of the Mountain to You,” “Stormbringer,” and closer “Have You Seen the Sky Lately?,” as well as a manipulated version of the artwork, while 2015’s Mantra Music (Volume Two) featured “Is the Sound of One Hand Clapping a Tree Falling in the Woods?,” “Tatt Tvam Asi,” “Over Hill and Veil” and “Infinity” (listed as just its representative symbol: “?”).

These two shorter releases were recorded and issued within months of each other, but still, it would be easy for there to be some disparity between them. Rather, the sitar drone and acoustic blend of “Tatt Tvam Asi” and subsequent hugeness of the guitar wash that emerges later in the track make an excellent complement to the earlier swing and multi-tiered push of “Top of the Mountain to You,” and when listening to Mantra Music — the compilation — either split onto its component two sides or straight through in linear digital fashion, its headphone-worthy hypnosis flows regardless of the origin point of a given song. Granted, part of that no doubt stems from similar recording circumstances, similar intent, instrumentation, not that much time between, etc., but maybe Walker was making an album over the course of those months and didn’t realize it until afterward. That’s what Mantra Music feels like: A debut album.

From the introductory “Is the Heart of the Mystery…,” which unfolds drones and chants and ritual guitar and percussion over the course of less than two minutes, to the electronics-infused percussive thrust of “Have You Seen the Sky Lately?,” where it’s cymbals that do the washing more than guitar, which instead offers a celebratory flourish of lead work before the cold, surprisingly sharp finish, Megaritual keeps a watchful eye on the progression of the release as more than just the sum of its parts. That’s evident even in how the songs are arranged in the tracklisting, not merely split between the two EPs one-per-side, but with the acoustically-grounded “Is the Sound of One Hand Clapping a Tree Falling in the Woods?” pushed up next to the material from Mantra Music (Volume One) to provide a transition to the second EP tracks while “Have You Seen the Sky Lately?” closes. These decisions affect how one hears Mantra Music on the whole and make it a richer, deeper listening experience.

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A third lesson might be that self-awareness doesn’t necessarily need to stop sonic exploration. Pun titles like “Top of the Mountain to You” or “Over Hill and Veil” (or “Dirty Black Summer of Love,” which closed Mantra Music (Volume Two) but was left out here for time constraints along with “…The Mystery of the Heart?,” which rounded out the first EP) would seem to indicate a wink and nod from Walker to his listenership, but the conversation goes further than that. Three of the eight cuts on Mantra Music are questions, and I have a hard time believing it’s a coincidence they appear at the beginning, middle and end of the tracklisting.

Walker is directly engaging his audience, and while both the moniker under which he’s operating — Megaritual — and the title of the long-player — Mantra Music — are apt descriptions of the aesthetics at play, the (expanded) consciousness at root does nothing to undercut that engagement. As “Over Hill and Veil” and “Infinity” push increasingly outward into Eastern-tinged acid folk and instrumentalist guitar-led cosmic monolithia, respectively, Mantra Music is intimate, not insular. By then, the invitation has long since been handed out and it’s up to the listener to answer, though the gloriously immersive and true-natured heavy psych of “Tatt Tvam Asi” doesn’t seem to brook much by way of refusal. Nonetheless, there isn’t a moment on Mantra Music in which Megaritual feels held back by the fact that Walker is no doubt carefully constructing its ambience one painstaking layer at a time, and if anything, the collection is even more impressive for that, since its primary impression is one of vibe, not structure — though certainly “Stormbringer” and “Over Hill and Veil” have their hooks — and it still manages not to lose its overarching purpose in indulgence of wash.

Does that make balance a de facto fourth lesson? Possible. While the sonic elephant in the room throughout Mantra Music has to be New Zealand’s Lamp of the Universe, who would seem to be a direct influence on Walker here, it is ultimately the balance between heft and expanse that distinguishes Megaritual from that other one-man outfit, and one can already hear that balance continuing to develop on the 2016 single-song EP Eclipse (featured here) that Walker has issued in the wake of Mantra Music itself. But I’d prefer to leave the fourth lesson up for interpretation, since if there’s anything one can take in the end from Mantra Music it’s that the growth Walker has begun to undertake is no less open in its possibilities than the actual sound is vast. Perhaps most important of all, as he’s teaching, he’s learning.

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Akris, Your Mantis: Burning, Rowing

Posted in Reviews on November 29th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

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It feels like longer than three years since bass-driven Virginia sludge outfit Akris offered up their self-titled debut (review here), but part of that may be due to the rather significant changes the band has undergone in that stretch. Founded as a two-piece in the wake of bassist/vocalist Helena Goldberg‘s prior outfit, AquilaAkris‘ second full-length, Your Mantis (on DGRecords), marks an entirely new beginning for the group, which in 2015 announced that joining Goldberg would be guitarist/vocalist Paul Cogle (NagatoBlack Blizzard) and drummer Tim Otis (Admiral Browning), establishing them as a trio for the first time. That’s no minor shift, adding guitar and second vocals for the first time, let alone a drummer with the fervor and intense personality and play that Otis brings, and the six-track/38-minute Your Mantis meets the change head-on with ambition, beginning a storyline reportedly intended to carry across a multi-album arc into the next Akris release, whatever form that may take when they get there.

This lineup made its opening statement with last year’s Fall EP (review here), so for those who heard that or the first record, perhaps Your Mantis won’t be so much a superficial sidestep from its predecessor — it’s still very much Goldberg at the core of group, and their blend of aggressive noise rock and weighted sludge tonality is consistent — but one can hear progression both in terms of the concepts with which Akris are working, and in the still-engagingly-raw sound they bring to bear, the track “Brown” offering a direct comparison point as it’s shared between both albums.

Worth noting that the version of “Brown” on Your Mantis is over a minute shorter than the one on Akris. The long-player itself follows suit. Recorded and mixed at Oubliette Studios with a mastering job by Noel Mueller of Grimoire Records and topped with Sean “Skillit” McEleny cover art, Your Mantis is over 20 minutes shorter than the preceding self-titled, and when it comes to a sound that plays back and forth between hypnotic melodicism and intense punkish fervor in the manner theirs does, building quickly into bursts of aggro thrust with a measure’s notice as Goldberg swaps out clean-singing for vicious screams, that brevity lends efficiency. Add to that a song like the well-placed “Burn with Me,” third of the six cuts, which finds Goldberg and Cogle working in duet-style vocals on a linear movement that’s clear and crisp in its execution, and Akris bring a sense of accomplishment and realization to Your Mantis that, while it may only be part of the story in terms of lyrical narrative, has plenty to say about how far they’ve come in the last three years.

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Since her days in Aquila, brashness has always been a feature of Goldberg‘s work, and that’s no different as opener “Profit” shifts from its early swaying and thudding into searing sludge and noise, setting up one of the essential trades the album will continue to make if not telling the full story in terms of atmosphere, which begins to flesh out with the fuzzier, more patient and winding “Sturgeon.” Melodically sung for the duration, it nonetheless hits into a slow-rolling finish before its five minutes are up, but even more, it provides a transition point between the scorch of “Profit” and “Burn with Me,” which brings Cogle forward vocally for the first time. It’s a quieter pulse at first, kept somewhat tense through percussion à la “Planet Caravan,” but that doesn’t last, and just past the halfway point heavier guitar kicks in and drives the song into its apex, leaving enough room on the other side to finish quiet and bring a sense of symmetry to what one presumes would be the end of side A.

Though it’s shorter as already noted, “Brown” feels more spacious in its early meanderings, but still locks into a blasting drive in its second half. That move between where-am-I-who-am-I and oh-yeah-I’m-here-to-rip-your-throat-out is in some ways the key to making Your Mantis work as it does, but Akris aren’t afraid to screw with the formula either, as the biting “Row” demonstrates with a near-blackened blend of rumble and screams at its start, giving way to the single angriest push of the record, an insistent noisy post-grunge chug still consistent atmospherically with echo on Goldberg‘s vocals, which relent as the three-piece move into the brief chorus only to trade back again as the next verse takes hold. It’s not chaos exactly — there’s a plan at work on a structural level — but it sure sounds like it. “Row,” as the penultimate cut before the 10-minute finale “Visitor,” is the most brutal piece on Your Mantis, and Otis, who so frequently shines as a drummer in moments of fury, makes a highlight of the frustrated crashes that accompany its late payoff, but it is ultimately the closer tasked to sum up the record as a whole.

Not as easy a job as it might initially seem. Across its first five tracks, Your Mantis has careened, lurched, thrust, wandered, pivoted and turned, remaining cohesive and even flowing front to back in a manner born of some of the same impulses as the debut but grown outward from them on nearly every level of theme and performance — and with a new lineup. “Visitor” is wise to take its time in covering all this ground, and whether or not it was written with the intent of closing, it does the job well, representing the dynamic in sound and style that Akris have come to proffer on what might itself feel like a first outing were it not so clearly benefiting from the experience of having made the self-titled before it. Clear-headed? Certainly as far as its purposes go. Your Mantis may well be the beginning of something of larger scope for Akris, but they still hold onto that basic rawness beneath, and their approach is all the richer for it.

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Comacozer, Astra Planeta: The Navigational Mind

Posted in Reviews on November 28th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

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It’s almost 100 percent certain that’s their origin, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to call the five tracks on Comacozer‘s debut LP, Astra Planeta, jams. There are moments that definitely give an air of spontaneity to the outing, whether that’s the initial unfolding textural nod of “Saurian Dream” or the guitar-led flourish that factors so significantly into closer “Hypnotized by Apophis,” but the course overall feels plotted, and with the blend of psychedelic and heavier impulses that the Sydney-based trio have on offer throughout the 41-minute HeadSpin Records LP, presented in clear/black or clear/purple gatefold vinyl with art by Fever Dog guitarist Danny Graham, there’s some measure of comfort in that.

Of course, Comacozer aren’t exactly entering into their first album blind. Astra Planeta follows behind two EPs in 2014’s Sessions and 2015’s Deloun that wound up combined and pressed to vinyl as — wait for it – Deloun Sessions, but where that was very clearly drawing a line between two early outings, Astra Planeta draws a significant amount of its purpose from exacting a linear flow across its two sides, split with three cuts on side A and two longer ones on side B, opting it would seem for maximum immersion at all times, whether the source of that is Rich Burke‘s willfully-meandering guitar, Richard Elliott‘s patient basslines or the steady push in Andrew Panagopoulos‘ drumming that seems to hold these proceedings together, giving a song like second track “The Mind that Feeds the Eye” a sense of build late and adding direction to the record as a whole.

The opening that “Saurian Dream” and “The Mind that Feeds the Eye” give to Astra Planeta is key to understanding that direction. In listening, I’ve been trying to determine the source of what I’m hearing so distinctly as an earlier My Sleeping Karma influence. It seems to be in some of the minor-key Easternisms early in “Saurian Dream,” blended with Western heavy psych impulses, and no doubt part of the connection stems from the fact that both groups are instrumental, but I think it has even more to do with the smoothness in Comacozer‘s tones. Layers of watery effects from Burke‘s guitar and the depths in Elliott‘s bass as heard just past the midpoint of the opener as it comes more to the forefront of the mix join together to craft a hypnotic impression that, while still figuring out some elements of its approach — one hopes that growth is a lifelong process for the band only beginning here — is marked in its effect on the listener in a similar manner as the German masters of the form.

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Where Comacozer distinguish themselves is in their immediate drive to push beyond this root inspiration, drawing from it the fluidity from which their debut very much benefits and then suiting that to the purposes of their already-noted instrumentalist songwriting, whether that’s the linearity of “The Mind that Feeds the Eye” or the more rhythmically-minded, open structure of “Navigating the Mandjet,” which follows and closes out side A with Panagopoulos expanding the percussive scope amid more adventurous arrangements of guitar, tapping sitar-esque feel and wah-soaked bass as handclaps assure a duly human feel beneath and alongside the earlier ceremonial thrust that gives way to funkier terrain as the three-piece make their way into the second half of the song, which is the shortest on Astra Planeta at 6:21.

It’s fitting for the overarching progression of Astra Planeta that the two lengthiest pieces should follow. One might have a difficult time saying “Illumination Cloud” (8:18) and “Hypnotized by Apophis” (11:38) go further out than any of the first three tracks, since the basic cosmos-bound flow remains largely consistent, but with more time at their disposal, Comacozer do get a chance to show more of the aforementioned spontaneity. Burke‘s solo late in “Illumination Cloud,” which if it isn’t improvised is a close enough approximation over the steady groove offered by the bass and drums — Elliott‘s bass takes over circa 7:30 after that solo drops out and offers a moment to genuinely appreciate his tone shortly before the song ends — as well as in the thicker, early Natas-style fuzz of “Hypnotized by Apophis,” which settles into a march in its second half only after a satisfyingly exploratory midsection in which the low end again shines as the guitar noodles-out in trippy fashion.

Granted, it might ultimately be a familiar blend of styles — heavy, psych, some underpinnings of stoner and doom — but as with any encouraging debut, Astra Planeta presents a telling glimpse of where Comacozer are coming from sound-wise and gives listeners a chance to speculate on where and how they might develop going forward. As to that, the most engaging facets of Astra Planeta prove to be its ultimate immersion, its willingness to subtly engage with expanded layering and arrangements, its tonal warmth and the chemistry beginning to take shape between BurkeElliott and Panagopoulos. So long as Comacozer can maintain those going forward, the rest should take care of itself naturally, and particularly as naturalism seems to be such a focus for them on Astra Planeta, there should be little to worry about in that regard.

Comacozer, Astra Planeta (2016)

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Wasted Theory, Defenders of the Riff: Whiskey on the Breath

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

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It’s a mission so up-front it’s almost blinding. No less so with Wasted Theory‘s second record, Defenders of the Riff, than it was with Judas Priest‘s Defenders of the Faith some 32 years ago, and in no small part because as regards Wasted Theory, the riff and the faith are one and the same. Burl has been a defining feature of the Delaware four-piece’s approach since their inception, and was certainly front and center on Death and Taxes (review here), their self-released 2014 full-length debut.

The crisp 10-track/46-minute run of Defenders of the Riff, which sees vinyl issue through NoSlip Records, might leave one to wonder just exactly from whom “the Riff” is under attack and how an apparent dudeliness-for-dudes defense strategy might play into working against that attack, but the record nonetheless presents a marked forward step in sound from where Wasted Theory were two years ago, bringing a sense of spaciousness to the roll and nod and thrust brought to bear by guitarist/vocalist Larry Jackson, Jr., drummer/lyricist Brendan Burns, bassist Dave McMahon, and guitarist Rob Michael.

With a vibrant, heavy tonal largesse captured over a period of months by Paul Janocha at Ken-Del Studios and Nick Rotundo (who also mixed) at Clay Creek Studio — both of whom also worked on the first LP — a mastering job by Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed and cover art by Alexander von Wieding, there isn’t an angle from which Defenders of the Riff doesn’t demonstrate a more professional, coherent vision of Wasted Theory‘s intent, and, simply put, it brings them to a new level in style and substance alike.

There are a few lyrical themes that emerge as the album plays out. Women and cry-for-help levels of whiskey consumption are two big ones. Seven of the 10 tracks contain some reference to drinking, and at least five to whiskey specifically — notable in that regard is “Belly Fulla Whiskey” — while we hear corresponding tales of devil women, gypsy women, a fire woman in second cut “Black Witch Blues,” a black-hearted woman in “Gospel of Infinity” and, in “…And the Devil Makes Three” alone, a hard-luck woman, a hard-headed woman and a smokestack woman.

Add to those references to fast cars — a GTO makes an appearance in West Hollywood in “AmpliFIRE!” — and nods to heavy rock/metal new and old in “Atomic Bikiniwax” (The Atomic Bitchwax, also Jimi Hendrix‘s Electric Ladyland), “Belly Fulla Whiskey” (mention of a gallows pole and a live wire, à la Led Zeppelin and Mötley Crüe, respectively), “Under the Hoof” (a fever of 103 is exactly what Foreigner had), “…And the Devil Makes Three” (Scissorfight were too drunk to fuck when they covered the Dead Kennedys song of the same name), the penultimate “Throttlecock” (Slayer also showed no mercy) and closer “Odyssey of the Electric Warlock” (more Zeppelin with Avalon and Evermore, some Tool with an undertow and even Mos Generator‘s cosmic ark makes an appearance), and elsewhere, and Wasted Theory seem to be shooting for a very specific notion of consistency, and from the catchy swing at work behind leave-it-all-out-there opener “Get Loud or Get Fucked” and the “Shake Like You” C.O.C.-style boogie of “Belly Fulla Whiskey” to the crunching repetitions of the start-stop riff in “Throttlecock,” they know what they want to represent.

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One could push back against the politics of some of it for sure, but what’s inarguable is the development in Wasted Theory‘s general level of craft. Songs range from four to five minutes — the full thrust of “…And the Devil Makes Three” is the longest at 5:29 and uses its extra time wisely in a relatively extended instrumental groove and solo in its second half — and are noteworthy for their straightforward, on-the-one attack.

A “nuthin’ too fancy” approach is basically what the band heralded on Death and Taxes, but Defenders of the Riff builds on that fluidly across its span and brings new depth of production that, since it’s essentially the same team working on it, can only be said to have been purposeful on Wasted Theory‘s part. That development is crucial to understanding their sophomore album, and what it ultimately accomplishes in moments like the solo of “Atomic Bikiniwax” and the slowdown of “…And the Devil Makes Three” is a broadening of Wasted Theory‘s dynamic that stays within the growing range of their songwriting. Near-virulent hooks populate Defenders of the RiffJackson‘s vocals indeed snarl up from under a barrage of top quality heavy riffing, and their presentation is thick, full and professional across the board.

I know I’ve said on multiple occasions there are times when listening to Wasted Theory when I don’t feel dudely enough to really appreciate the kind of tire-screeching testosterone-soaked rock and roll they’re metering out, and that holds true at moments on Defenders of the Riff as well — “Belly Fulla Whiskey” with lines like “C’mon little darlin’/C’mon little tease/C’mon and get down on your knees,” or “Atomic Bikiniwax”‘s one-two punch of “And she knows when it’s on/Shake that ass and I’m gone” — but I wouldn’t attempt to deny that for what they’re doing, they’re doing it well and clearly moving forward in their creative processes.

The momentum they build and the structures they inhabit throughout Defenders of the Riff will no doubt feel familiar to experienced listeners, but more than they have to this point, Wasted Theory make those spaces their own and begin establishing their identity in and from them. They don’t sound like they’re finished growing, but they don’t sound like they want to be either, and that might be the most encouraging aspect of Defenders of the Riff overall. Again, I don’t know who’s attacking the Riff, but it should ultimately be glad it’s got Wasted Theory on its side.

Wasted Theory, Defenders of the Riff (2016)

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Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…: Synesthetic Pleasures (Plus Full Album Stream)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 21st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

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[Click play above to stream Øresund Space Collective’s Visions Of… in full. Album is out Dec. 9 and available to preorder now.]

By their own count — and we’ll just have to take their word for it — Visions Of… is the 23rd release from Danish space-jammers Øresund Space Collective since their beginnings a decade ago. Not bad for 10 years of near-constant work. This latest studio 2LP comes from the same sessions as the amorphous outfit’s last two albums, the droning Ode to a Black Hole (review here) and last year’s 3LP Different Creatures (review here), and is reportedly the last of the material the group put together in Oct. 22-24, 2014 at Black Tornado Studio, improvising, playing and recording live, as always. What’s really remarkable about the trilogy as a whole is how Øresund Space Collective has been able to take material recorded within three days of each other and use it to sculpt three releases from it, each with a vastly different personality.

Duties might change depending on the jam in which they happen to be engrossed, but the personnel is essentially the same throughout the whole session with the lineup of keyboardist/synthesist Scott “Dr. Space” Heller in the captain’s chair alongside drummer Alex, bassist Hasse (also guitar, African drums), guitarists Mattias (also pedal steel), Jonathan (also violin, theremin and bass) and Mats (also bass, percussive acoustic), keyboardist/organist Jonas (also guitar), and keyboardist/synthesist KG, and yet Øresund Space Collective seem to don different personalities like planets orbiting the same improvisational star. Coming off the droning Ode to a Black Hole, with Visions Of…, they hone a funkier and markedly jazzier take.

Nothing’s universal (pun not intended, reconsidered, then intended), but that’s the impression Øresund Space Collective give in general across Visions Of…, beginning with the sprawl of the 42-minute opening title-track. At 42:12, “Visions Of…” is not only the longest song on the album that bears its name as well as the leadoff (immediate points), but second only to “20 Steps Toward the Invisible Door” (45:13) from Different Creatures as the longest piece from the session as a whole. That might be enough to make it a landmark on its own, but runtime is far from all the track has going for it, lurching to life around intertwining guitar and bass with an initial sense of foreboding that soon enough gives way to a varied wash of color, a bustling of smooth psychedelic exploration that builds and, like the best of Øresund Space Collective‘s output, finds its way as it goes, honestly portraying the roots of creation in the chemistry between the members at play and the textures they weave working as one.

The vibe that develops is bound to be immersive, but there’s dynamic to go with all that hypnosis, so that whether you want to chill and let it flow — I do — or sit and measure out every turn they make, the results are no less satisfying. There’s no shortage of dreamscaping across the considerable breadth of “Visions Of…,” but highlight solos pepper through and at times seem to lead the way through this liquefied plane, and though it’s not until they approach the 30-minute mark, when Jonathan‘s violin enters the serene sort of fray, it’s a special moment worthy of the emphasis it’s given here as the title and opening track. If these are the visions Øresund Space Collective are looking to cast, then they’re no less vivid than the Franz Waldhör painting that adorns the front cover, the two doubtless intended as complements. It is among the more lush proceedings the band has undertaken, and as such it takes a few minutes for them to pull it all apart at the end, the process beginning with a swell of volume and crash after 39 minutes in, and culminating in residual swirl and fading space noise that loses not one beat in being met by the snare roll that starts “Above the Corner.”

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Here’s where Visions Of… really gets down. Maybe part of it is coming out of the farflung kosmiche of the title-track, but the movement that “Above the Corner” seems to commence feels rawer, funkier than just about anything I’ve heard from Øresund Space Collective. “Above the Corner” (16:17) and closer “Around the Corner” (11:03) are two parts of the same jam — though, admittedly, two different-sounding parts — and the CD release divides them with the shorter, more percussive “Piece of Seven” (8:35), but the spirit of flow coming out of “Visions Of…” is never lost, especially with “Above the Corner” unfolding so fluidly and with such swagger in its guitar interplay. Space noise complements — jabs of theremin, maybe — but the prevalent theme is wah and guitars and bass alike are happy to partake, leaving the organ, keys and drums to ground the affair while the others go for a walk.

By the end of “Above the Corner,” Øresund Space Collective have thoroughly funked out, and the switch to the rhythm-minded “Piece of Seven” (part of the seventh jam of the session, according to the CD liner) does well to break up the two “Corner” pieces, drums and percussion leading the way as the psychedelia wraps itself around and oozes in all directions, synth, keys, prominent bass and so on following the rolls and circulations of the drums, which start in with snare in the second half seemingly as a sign of winding down, though in reality it’s a while and a whole lot of cymbal crashes before they actually get there and when they do, the last remaining, held line of keyboard is met by a swirl and wah-bass return from “Around the Corner,” reprising the funktitude of its predecessor almost immediately and continuing to build on it for an initial few minutes until a guitar solo begins to lead the way into a more definitively space rock push. It seems to be the drums that finally decide on a straightforward thrust and everyone else joins in around that, but by five minutes in they’re all on full go, and they continue to work around a swinging gallop of one kind or another until “Around the Corner” caps its final build, crashes its last crash, and rounds out in a last wash of fading synth.

To say that at that point it’s been a hell of a trip is probably understating it. Visions Of… offers not only reinforcement of the spontaneity at heart in the conceptual mission behind everything Øresund Space Collective do — the explorations they undertake — but of the vitality they’re able to bring to the actual sessions in the same room with each other, the feeling of bringing the audience into that space (not to mention actual space), and sharing the heart of their creative processes in such an unadulterated, unfiltered form. Though they won’t play live much, they’ll reportedly be hitting the studio again in 2017, and while one can never be sure who might show up for any given session with Øresund Space Collective, it seems only fair at this point to expect the perpetually outbound motion to continue, because even if they could at this point, I don’t think Øresund Space Collective would have it any other way.

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