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Terraplane, Into the Unknown: And Back out Again

Posted in On Wax, Reviews on January 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

terraplane into the unknown

Originally released a decade ago in 2006, the second album from Terraplane, Into the Unknown, stands as another prime example of a record that would probably have a much different history if it had come out during the age of social media. It was the German trio’s follow-up to their rawer 2006 debut, Psychedelic Wonderland, and its brand of heavy psych/desert-influenced rock may have just been a couple years ahead of its time, putting it in a similar position to outings by others which, if they were arriving new today would likely garner a much wider-scale response than when they initially did. The climate, as it were, has changed. That can be seen too in the case of Terraplane.

Their eight-song offering arrives on limited-numbers colored vinyl courtesy of Electric Magic Records, an imprint headed up by the band’s former guitarist, sitarist and keyboardist Christian Peters, better known these days as the frontman of Samsara Blues Experiment. I won’t equate the two acts by any measure — their sounds and lineups are different, and they’re trying to accomplish different things entirely — but thinking of them side-by-side, the one existed in a much different content than the other currently does, despite the shared personnel. A decade ago, the “vinyl revival” had barely started compared to where it is now. You see what I mean. Point is that while Into the Unknown isn’t a recent album in the sense of having been put to tape in the last year or two, it’s relevant both stylistically and in terms of a record worthy of the due it’s being given.

Into the Unknown received a 2007 release, CD and LP, through the esteemed Nasoni Records, and while the tracks retain their balance between stoner riffing and heavy psychedelic vibes, there is an overarching freshness to the new vinyl as well. The sides break up more or less evenly time-wise, with five cuts on side A and three on side B including the extended closing title-track, and as the intro “Fair Warning” reaches the end of its sample culled from the Lyndon B. Johnson political ad in which a little girl and everything else get nuked, “Orange Salvation” seems to provide the answer to what “Fair Warning” was heralding: a mushroom cloud of riffy fuzz from Peters on guitar and Christian Oelke on bass, pushed forward by Jens Vogel‘s swinging drums.

terraplane into the unknown vinyl

An instrumental, “Orange Salvation” further leads the way into side A, which develops its groove with the low-end start to “Once I was You,” the first song to feature Oelke‘s vocals, which fit well with the desert rock vibe of the song overall, the guru lyrics prefacing more expansive instrumentalism to come almost immediately. “Moonflower Blues Pt. II” is mellower, lightly strummed rhythm and wah-drenched lead guitars intertwining in the patient opening two minutes before the verse kicks in. There’s a build at work, and “Moonflower Blues Pt. II” hits an apex on the far side of its halfway point, but even that has a laid back mood at work behind it. The subsequent “Mantra” closes side A and is perhaps the most effective blend of impulses Into the Unknown has on offer, a simple, memorable hook playing out over a stretched Kyuss-style riff with psychedelic flair, Oelke handling rhythm guitar while Florian Furtner steps in on bass. Its extended run is a direct mirror to “Into the Unknown” at the end, but that song is held in reserve as the grand, sitar-laden finale, and rightly so.

Prior to, side B provides Terraplane with ample opportunity to get weird as “Lower” strips away the psych of “Mantra” for blown-out vocals and a rawer shuffle in its first half that slow and spreads cosmic as it makes its way through the second, a rolling groove taking hold that it feels like could probably just keep going. Fair enough, but “Black Mystery” is the real turn, with acoustic guitars in full-twang for a countrified two minutes that retains an offbeat sensibility thanks to the echoing verses overtop. And if by the time they get to “Into the Unknown” itself, you’re not sure what to make of where they might be headed, the tantric jamming of the closer is bound to prove even more surprising. It is an engaging surprise, however.

More than on any other piece included, it’s easy to draw a line between Peters‘ work snailing the wah and layering in sitar here with what he’s done in Samsara Blues Experiment, but “Into the Unknown” has a different, formative spirit, spoken word recited over already-expansive trippery in the song’s first half that opens even wider to a fuzzy, slow-rolling subspace that peaks after halfway in, recedes to minimalist vibing, crests again and ultimately recedes on a fadeout to end the song and the album. The digital version offers bonus tracks recorded at various points — the quick “Dancing in the Fire” from the same session as the record itself is a standout — but on the LP, the core is what’s offered on the two sides of the original tracklisting, and that’s plenty of room for Terraplane to make their case a decade later for being underappreciated. Which they do and then some. It may be a few years yet before people start talking about heavy rock of the pre-social/pre-streaming days of the late-’90s and early-to-mid aughts as a lost era, but as Terraplane‘s Into the Unknown reminds, there was a lot of heavy going on at that point rife for another look.

Terraplane, Into the Unknown (2006/2015)

Terraplane on Thee Facebooks

Terraplane on Bandcamp

Electric Magic Records

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T.G. Olson, The Rough Embrace: Providence on the Wind

Posted in On Wax on July 24th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

t.g. olson the rough embrace vinyl and cover

Vocalist/guitarist Tanner “T.G.” Olson of Across Tundras initially self-released The Rough Embrace (review here) last year as a name-your-price download, and the newer vinyl edition of the album — pressed to 150 copies in a swampy kind of green and black swirl on a 150g platter with an obscure, almost runic, front cover and skull-and-hourglass memento mori on back — has a very complementary feel. For example, the record itself doesn’t come with a tracklist. And while one might make out the words “Rough” and “Embrace” on the top and bottom lines of the front cover, there’s little else by which it might be identified, unless you count the title etched into the part of each side after the music has ended.

That’s also how one tells the difference initially between the five-song side A, which begins with “Fool’s Gold Miner,” and the four-song side B, which begins with the moody “Uncharted Depths.” Clearly the intent is that if they want it bad enough, the listener — who no doubt bought the thing off Bandcamp to start with — should go there to get the appropriate information on the recording, mixing, mastering, tracklisting, lyrics, etc., and in reality that’s not a problem. It does give The Rough Embrace something of an artifact feel, though, which is fitting with the name of Olson‘s label, Electric Relics — also the title of the last Across Tundras album (review here), the gatefold 12″ version of which was the first release for the imprint — and also suits the music itself, which is nothing if not classically minded.

Like most folk singers of the last half-century, Olson has had moments in his work where he is almost singularly indebted to Bob Dylan, but neither he nor Woody Guthrie nor Neil Young are necessarily defining influences, and even as “Wars of Bygone Days” marches in tune to the established notions of a protest song — right down to lyrical plays on “manifest destiny” and the notion of using Christian ideals to justify sin (i.e. murder in war) — it retains an experimentalist feel. That, taken in balance with the intimacy of the performance throughout — Olson plays guitar, organ, piano, percussion, does all the vocals, and also recorded, mixed and handled the artwork himself, while Mikey Allred (also of Across Tundras) mastered — is what comes to make The Rough Embrace such an engaging listen despite a superficial simplicity.

Heard on one level, its guy-and-guitar singer-songwriterism seems easy enough to grasp, but that just can’t account for the intertwined echoing lead lines of the sweetly wistful “Sleeper Lines” or the psych-folk vibe of “To Hell You Ride,” which follows and shifts into bouts of more fervent strumming in its chorus. Olson, who has done plenty of balladeering the last several years while also retaining a penchant for droning out on offerings like 2015’s The Wandering Protagonist (review here) and 2013’s sprawling The Complete Blood Meridian for Electric Drone Guitar (review here), keeps more to the former on The Rough Embrace, but even in the subdued nostalgia of “Providence Gone Again,” the underlying organ provides a constancy of tone to complement the guitar that speaks to the other impulse.

It’s range, either way, and that range continues to expand on side B as “Uncharted Depths” gives the album’s shorter second half a quiet launch, lyrics held back until about the halfway mark and then more spoken than sung, the electric guitar ramble very much at the fore. A darker atmosphere is set, but “Out on the Fringes” has a more hopeful spirit, and no doubt it’s on purpose that the one arrives paired with the other. What they have in common is being resoundingly immersive, such that while just seven minutes between them, the more lyrical focus of the penultimate “Birdsong Chorus at Dawn” arrives almost as a surprise.

Would be wrong to call it jarring, but Olson brings the vocals forward again and recalls side A memorable cuts like “Fool’s Gold Miner” and “Wars of Bygone Days” to give side B a landing point; it’s something that, listening to the digital version one might not fully appreciate, but that the vinyl really brings out. That song is a highlight, and “Something Left to Save,” which follows, is very much a closer, a goodbye song that finds Olson singing along to himself, adding a last bit of drums and finishing with a rising drone and sample of what sounds like waves that provides a concluding wash that’s all the more gorgeous for being unanticipated. It’s one more moment that, though Olson‘s work is fluid to the point of having its own current system, is worth taking specific note of, since ultimately its from these things that the depths of his atmospherics are cast. The Rough Embrace offers plenty of those moments, but it’s the whole experience of how they’re strung together that makes it really shine.

T.G. Olson, The Rough Embrace (2014/2015)

Across Tundras on Thee Facebooks

The Rough Embrace on Bandcamp

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Samavayo & The Grand Astoria, Split: Soul on Kobaïa

Posted in On Wax, Reviews on July 23rd, 2015 by JJ Koczan

samavayo the grand astoria split 10 inch cover and record

Released to mark a month-long tour together earlier this year, the Setalight Records split 10″ between Berlin heavy rockers Samavayo and Russian genrenauts The Grand Astoria holds a few surprises along the way. Pressed to black vinyl, it’s a follow-up to Samavayo‘s 2014 joint release with One Possible Option, and for The Grand Astoria, who’ve worked with Setalight in the past on 2014’s La Belle Epoque (review here), as well as 2013’s Punkadelica Supreme (review here) and several other short releases along the way.

Though on paper it might seem like an awkward pairing — come to think of it, just about anybody paired with The Grand Astoria is kind of awkward on paper; their sound is expansive, and they’re more than capable songwriters, but you never quite know what they’re going to do next — they mesh pretty well, and with a side split between them, both bands give a quick glimpse at where they’re at stylistically without completely losing a thread going one into the other.

One might notice The Grand Astoria‘s skull-headed mascot on the cover art by Sophia Miroedova walking away from a temple — or maybe having his portrait painted in front of it? — over which Samavayo‘s sun-style logo resides in the sky. Both acts, then, are represented, one perhaps more subtly than the other. It’s much the same way with the music. On side A, Samavayo offer two tracks: “Intergalactic Hunt” (4:03) and “Soul out of Control” (8:06), while on side B, The Grand Astoria reaffirm their shift toward progressive rock with “Kobaïa Express” (11:30).

Each cut is distinct from those around it, one way or another, and “Intergalactic Hunt” stands out for its immediate sense of movement, the guitar of Behrang Alavi (also vocals) setting a tight rhythm that drummer/backing vocalist Stephan Voland and bassist/backing vocalist Andreas Voland match both in groove and nuance, building and releasing tension in the instrumental verses and chorus of the first half before shifting in the second to a bridge that gradually leads them back to where they started, the guitar line that started it all serving also as the leadout. Fitting somehow for Samavayo in terms of showing their range that they should go from an entirely instrumental track to one centered almost completely on its vocal hook.

Well, “almost completely” is a stretch. “Soul out of Control” still has its riff — a more laid back chug over which Alavi calls to mind any number of ’90s alt melodies — and at eight minutes, there’s plenty of room for Samavayo to give the song a sense of space. They do precisely that, even slowing down over the last two minutes to march the way out, but “Soul out of Control” remains a deceptively quick listen for topping eight minutes, and that too suits Samavayo well, their songwriting always at the core no matter how expansive a given track may or may not be.

And speaking of expansive, The Grand Astoria‘s “Kobaïa Express” takes its name from the fictional planet created by Magma drummer Christian Vander — or at least from the train that presumably gets you there with the minimum of stops en route — and is presented in the accompanying alien language, a morass of syllables sometimes closer to Italian, sometimes more Slavic depending on where the music is going in any particular movement. And it does go. Recorded as the six-piece of Kamille Sharapodinov (vocals, electric and acoustic guitar), Danila Danilov (vocals, keys, flute), Eugene Korolkov (bass), Vladimir Zinoviev (drums), and Igor Suvorov (lead guitar) with Ravil Azizov on clarinet, “Kobaïa Express” is nigh on visionary progressive metal, at times operatic and at times grinding, but always precise, heavy and intricately constructed.

The Grand Astoria have already followed this split up with a two-song full-length titled The Mighty Few on which each track tops 20 minutes, so we know it’s not as far as they’ll push into fleshing out arrangements and the like, but “Kobaïa Express” thrills nonetheless for its direct Magma-ism and the poise the band demonstrates throughout, and Samavayo‘s inclusions, both of which were recorded at the end of last year, bode well for what they might do on their own next outing. If nothing else, the moral of the story with their split would seem to be that that must have been one hell of a tour. Even though it’s long since over, the scope both bands show here does justice to the fact that they got together in the first place and unites in unexpected ways across a bridge of progressive stylization and heavy craftsmanship.

Samavayo & The Grand Astoria, Split (2015)

Samavayo on Thee Facebooks

Samavayo on Bandcamp

The Grand Astoria on Thee Facebooks

The Grand Astoria on Bandcamp

Setalight Records

 

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On Wax: Kings Destroy, A Time of Hunting

Posted in On Wax on June 11th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

kings-destroy-a-time-of-hunting-lp-and-cover

When it finally came to it, I couldn’t bring myself to review Kings Destroy‘s A Time of Hunting around the time of its original 2013 release. Aside from having helped put out their 2010 debut, And the Rest Will Surely Perish, on this site’s in-house label, The Maple Forum, and the invariable conflict of interest there — though by the time they got around to putting out the second album, the first was long gone, so it’s not like I was trying to sell anything — I felt way too close to the songs to even try to muster a sense of impartiality as regards the Brooklyn five-piece’s achievement. What’s changed? A bit of distance from the record itself, maybe, but more than that, and more than protecting the illusion of critical perspective as much as I could ever claim to have such a thing, there was a lot about A Time of Hunting that I don’t think I really understood, and it took a long time before the character of its eight songs really set in.

kings-destroy-a-time-of-hunting-side-aThe biggest help of all may have been the release of their third album, Kings Destroy (review here), which hit at the beginning of last month. In a strange bit of coincidence, that record’s arrival on War Crimes Recordings landed awfully close to Hydro-Phonic Records‘ LP issue of A Time of Hunting, so I had occasion to visit both in pretty close proximity to each other. The vinyl edition, which does justice to the beautiful and intricate album art with its relative size and with the blue and brown splatter on the record itself, also takes a step in explaining the structure of the album. Take it as evidence of how far away I was from being able to offer any valid critique of Kings Destroy‘s sophomore outing if you wish, but I never thought of it as having two sides until I listened to it that way.

It makes mountains more sense. Righteous moments like the huge-sounding drums of Rob Sefcik that launch opener “Stormbreak” and the lurching groove of “The Toe” are preserved on side A, which even as it moves into “Casse-Tête” and “Decrepit” keeps a more straight-ahead and aggressive sound built around the guitars of Carl Porcaro and Chris Skowronski and with the foundational low end of then-newcomer bassist Aaron Bumpus, while side B moves outward from the soft intro of “Shattered Pattern” to a more emotive lumbering before the lurch of the title-track and the subsequent “Blood of Recompense” take hold, the album’s two longest cuts served up one into the next with spliced in leads, an immersive sprawl, and particularly in the case of the latter, a grandiosity that’s still miles away from anything And the Rest Will Surely Perish had on offer, pulled off with sincerity in Steve Murphy‘s voice at the fore — see also the side A closer, “Decrepit,” which hinted of the turns to come — and a fullness of sound surrounding that no doubt benefited from being the second production collaboration with Sanford Parker.

And then “Turul.” Fucking “Turul.” It’s four and a half minutes long and I’ve spent the last two years trying to get my head around it. A strange shift in its storytelling and a guitar figure to match, “Turul” flips the entire record on its head — but somehow, on the vinyl, its context feels different since so much of side B is branching out from what they were doing on “The Toe” or even “Casse-Tête” in reinterpreting the confrontationalism of their New York hardcore kings-destroy-a-time-of-hunting-gatefoldpast into an anti-genre stew past doom and still decidedly un-metal. I won’t go so far as to say I get it now, but in light of “Time for War” from the self-titled, I don’t think I’m supposed to. It’s supposed to be as far out as they go, and it winds up exactly that.

In a way, it’s fitting that the LP version of A Time of Hunting should show up so close to the album after it, because with Kings Destroy‘s Kings Destroy for comparison, the vibe on these tracks is really more like a second debut following the lineup change that saw Ed Bocchino leave the band and Bumpus join. These are the origin points for the songwriting methodology that the third offering continues to refine. I guess that’s not such a crazy thing to say about one record into the next, but with A Time of Hunting, it was a big jump sonically, and as enthralled with it as I was — I didn’t review it, but I think I said enough about it along the way to get that point across to anyone paying minimal attention — I feel like there’s a lot about it that’s made clearer with this revisit, so I’m glad to have the chance to approach it again as a new release.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still claim no impartiality when it comes to Kings Destroy or whatever they’re putting out in a given week, but as well as I know these songs, and as close as I’ve come to feel to them over the last two-plus years, it should say something that I can put on the LP and be able to gain a new appreciation for how rich and ambitious a listening experience A Time of Hunting actually is.

Kings Destroy, A Time of Hunting (2013/2015)

Kings Destroy on Thee Facebooks

Kings Destroy on Bandcamp

Hydro-Phonic Records

Hydro-Phonic on Thee Facebooks

War Crime Recordings

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On Wax: Old Indian, Mumble

Posted in On Wax on June 4th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

old indian mumble vinyl and package

Mumble is the self-released debut vinyl long-player from Frederick, Maryland, trio Old Indian, and though their moniker and their home base both bring a certain amount of expectation to the release — i.e. they’re called Old Indian and they’re from Frederick, so they must be stoner doom — the record itself plays out with a much more intricate stylistic spread. It’s eight songs, four on each side, totaling a relatively quick 33 minutes, but even so, the turns that the trio of guitarist/vocalist Cory Springirth, bassist/backing vocalist Mark Weeks and drummer/backing vocalist Evan Owens manage to pull off make Mumble a more nuanced experience than one might anticipate.

old indian mumble side a Even just side A. All four of its songs hover around four minutes long, but that proves to be more than enough time for each to establish its own sonic personality, whether it’s the loosely progressive noodling that starts opener “Space Connect,” the bizarre lounge jangle and swing of “Mean Man,” which Springirth uses as the backdrop to introduce his yelping bluesy vocal style and from which Owens sort of inexplicably launches into a drum solo in the midsection, or the purely Saint Vitus-style fuzz of “Too Old to be Cool,” which rolls out low-end heavy in its initial push and tops it with plucked guitar strings at the headstock before opening to a wider, more subdued verse that still swings but does so quietly, giving the vocals room, or the psych-country twang of “Bedside Blues,” on which the vocals are less, well, mumbled, to start with, and which shits in its midsection to an upbeat, near-rockabilly push that features some choice bass runs from Weeks beneath the guitar.

Already the vibe of Mumble is all over the place, but side B works to establish a spirit that, while still malleable, is also somewhat more cohesive one cut into the next. “The Riff” is a solid title, and accordingly its central riff is worthy of highlighting, but the bass fuzz that underscores the later solo is actually the high point, while on the subsequent “Just a Bum,” Springirth offers a touch of Dick Dale influence in the surf-style guitar before winding up in a punkish verse and pushing through a final lead. Oh yeah, and the song’s two and a half minutes long — nothing if not efficient in its motion.

“Eyelids” is more laid back from the start, old indian mumble back coverplaying the low end of “Too Old to be Cool” off more post-grunge oddity and trades between tin-can vocals over open spaces and heavier jamming, an undulating sort of riff emerging near the finish of the three-minute track that cuts out to let Owens‘ cymbals lead the way into the bass beginning of seven-minute closer “Spanish Blues.” Noteworthy that both sides end with a “Blues,” but the “Spanish” variety is on its own trip, taking longer to develop, but also farther-ranging. The extra time is given to instrumental exploration and plotted parts that suit Old Indian well, the last four minutes or so taking off from the foundation of the song and heading outward from there on a satisfying plunge into immersive, rolling heavy that like the rest of the record before it, is decidedly their own in its style and execution.

Unquestionably that’s one of the greatest impressions Mumble leaves behind when it’s over — of individuality. Being their first album, it shows Old Indian can essentially develop as a band in one of two ways: either they can take these elements and tighten them into a crisp but ultimately more single-minded aesthetic, or they can keep getting weirder on an anything-goes Ween-style blend of genres. I don’t think I’d argue if they said they were going to give either a shot, since a more subtle factor on Mumble is the songwriting itself. It might get lost underneath the basic appeal of Springirth‘s yowling vocals, the fuzz, the reverb or the jangle, but it’s there all the same, and ultimately that’s what’s going to make it work as Old Indian move forward from here, in whatever direction they might go.

Old Indian, Mumble (2015)

Old Indian on Thee Facebooks

Old Indian on Bandcamp

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Wo Fat, Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley: Bringing the Bayou

Posted in On Wax on April 24th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

wo-fat-live-juju-cover

It seems unlikely that a casual listener or at very least someone who’s not already a fan would chase down an offering like Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley, which captures Dallas trio Wo Fat‘s five-song, 40-minute set at the 2014 edition of the German Freak Valley festival, held in Netphen. However, we live in a universe of infinite possibilities, so as a perfunctory notice, I’ll say that like the vast, vast majority of live releases, it’s better appreciated by those with some familiarity to the studio versions of the tracks, and that if you’re hearing Wo Fat for the first time — unless you were at Freak Valley (or somewhere else they played, I suppose), didn’t know the albums, saw them live, were super-into it and want a memento — the place to go is probably to one of their albums before you get back to Live Juju. That’s a condition of live records in general, not necessarily something related to the three-piece’s performance at the fest or anything about the recording, which is released by Fuzz Lab Records and was recorded by Jens Hunecke, but it’s a disclaimer worth putting out there anyway, should anyone happen to be new to the band. For the already-converted, Live Juju is an utter no-brainer. One of US heavy rock’s finest and fuzziest taking the stage at a major Euro fest, a setlist spanning six years in five songs recorded clean and crisp, pressed to thick-stock black LP with cover and inside-liner art by David Paul Seymour, live photos from the fest by Falk-Hagen Bernshausen (first published here) and a download code that includes a bonus 14-minute studio jam called “Dark Snow” that rumbles and grooves like the best of Wo Fat‘s latter-day explorations? If you’re already a fan of Wo Fat, there’s really nothing about Live Juju not to like.

Call it a victory lap. Guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump (who also mixed at the band’s Crystal Clear Audio in Dallas), bassist Tim Wilson and drummer/backing vocalist Michael Walter first took to European stages in 2012, then supporting their Small Stone label debut and fourth album, The Black Code (vinyl review here, CD review here). Their 2014 return trip, arriving on the heels of their fifth record and finest work to-date, The Conjuring (review here), was dubbed the “Texas Takeover” and Wo Fat were joined by fellow Dallas natives Mothership on their inaugural run. Freak Valley was an earlier stop on the tour, which lasted about two weeks. Not really what you’d call a “touring band,” in the sense of road-dogging their way back and forth from market to market, venue to venue, Wo Fat have nonetheless managed to concoct a formidable stage presence, and at least going by the audio (much as I’d like to, I’ve yet to see Freak Valley in-person), they hit stage in Netphen with no hesitation. Their set boasts highlights going back to their second full-length, 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), tying the material together with a fervent sense of ride-ready groove and weighted tones, Stump opting for a bluesman’s gruffness on “Read the Omens” from The Conjuring, which follows opener “The Black Code.” That song, the title-track of the 2012 album, is nothing if not a landmark hook for the band, and they faithfully give it a rendition north of 10 minutes, their motion no less fluid on stage than in the studio, rolling their way into the faster verses of “Read the Omens” before the chorus opens wide and echoing true to the outdoor space where it was recorded. Side A is just the two songs, and the flip does sort of pull you out of the live experience, but the way I wound up thinking about it was a second to tune ahead of “Bayou Juju” serving as the centerpiece of the set.

wo-fat-live-juju-cover-and-lp

Side B is longer, beginning with “Bayou Juju” and rolling through “Enter the Riffian” and closer “Sleep of the Black Lotus” smoothly and with enough rumble in Wilson‘s bass as Stump tears into an extended solo on the first of them that it’s easy to imagine the grasses of Freak Valley vibrating from the low end. By the time they get there, Wo Fat are full on, about halfway through and nailing it. The track, taken from 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here), is a highlight, but the shorter “Enter the Riffian” from Psychedelonaut grounds the set and thus the recording with a more straightforward, less jammy movement. Wo Fat may have grown beyond the kind of dead-ahead heavy rock that Psychedelonaut offered — to their credit, keeping a balance of hooks and jams in doing so — but they use the older material well here, and Walter‘s ride-cymbal swing comes through loud and clear on Live Juju behind the winding riff. It’s the only song here under seven minutes long, but lives up to its multifaceted purpose, bleeding directly into “Sleep of the Black Lotus” with a cymbal wash and guitar freakout, Stump seizing an opportunity to tear into an improv-sounding take on the finale’s intro in front of the festival crowd. They telegraph the groove from the start, if only to bring that audience along, and it’s easy to imagine the sea of nodding heads that stood before them, maybe a puff of smoke here or there as the midsection evolves into a churning jam from the earlier verses and choruses, a model that came to light earlier and which The Black Code and The Conjuring continued to grow. Feedback and earned applause ends and the arm returns, but for those listening digitally, the instrumental “Dark Snow” further affirms Wo Fat‘s improvisational sensibilities, building from a creepy backwards-cymbal fade-in to a solo-topped roll that shares in common with its live compatriots on Live Juju just how in their element Wo Fat seem to be. That’s really the story of Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley. It’s an act who have cut their teeth and organically developed their sound across five records getting on stage and sharing the fruits of their labor. The short version? They deliver, and prove that sometimes when a band doesn’t tour all the time, nine months out of the year on the road and so on, that only makes it more special when they do. This must have been something to see.

Wo Fat, Live Juju (2015)

Wo Fat on Thee Facebooks

Wo Fat’s website

Freak Valley Festival

Fuzz Lab Records

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On Wax: Lé Betre and King Buffalo, Split

Posted in On Wax on March 18th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

le-betre-king-buffalo-vinyl-and-cover

It seems unlikely at this point that I’d need to once more trumpet the quality of STB Records‘ vinyl. The NJ-based label has quickly thrust itself to the fore of American heavy rock purveyors, bringing forth limited releases that seem to be gone before they’re even out and delving into next-generation heavy rock with an ear for tone and a consistently mindful presentation. In the case of the split 12″ between Sweden’s Lé Betre and New York’s King Buffalo, the vinyl is, of course, already gone. Second pressing coming soon. Numbers were limited — 350 or so copies in white, orange, white and orange or clear with orange splatter — but as with everything STB puts out at this point, speed is required if you actually want to get a copy. Pressed to 180g white vinyl with a two-sided liner (one side for each band) le-betre-king-buffalo-vinyl-side-band evocative cover art, the Lé Betre and King Buffalo split does justice to the up and coming nature of both bands.

That in itself is saying something. Lé Betre also released what was apparently a super-limited, 30-copies-only edition of their 2014 debut album, Melas, through STB that likewise vanished as soon as it arrived, and it’s from that album that most of their material for this split comes. Three out of their five tracks, “Gowns and Crowns,” “Snake Eyes” and  “By the Great White Lights,” which has a companion piece included on the prior release, seem to have their roots on Melas, the four-piece of guitarist/vocalist/pianist Marcus Jonsson, guitarist/vocalist Anders Westman, bassist/vocalist Roger Lysén and drummer Jonas Sahlberg tapping into Graveyard-style blues rock without going full-retro in terms of the production, a song like “Jesper Eriksson” pushing vocals forward amid a steady roll that’s open and natural-sounding, but not nearly as analog-minded as one might expect going into it. Keyboard and/or organ plays a large part as well, and with the due fuzz and strum, it’s hard to tell on “Gowns and Crowns” where the guitars end and the keys begin, but that winds up being half the fun. Soulful if familiar, the jangle of “By the Great White Lights” makes a suitable centerpiece to side A, though handclap-infused closer “Mother,” also the longest Lé Betre inclusion, is their most resonant take, providing a better look at the band’s balance of organic flow and tight songwriting than earlier, shorter cuts, catchy as those are.

I’ll admit to some pretty high anticipation when it came to hearing new material from King Buffalo, whose 2013 demo (review here) still gets regular plays. Then a four-piece and now a trio — if you’re looking for former guitarist/vocalist Randall Coon, check out Skunk HawkKing Buffalo seem to have solidified some of their jammier impulses. Of their three inclusions, closer “Providence Eye” is the only one that previously appeared on the demo, and it was re-recorded by guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay along with the two new tracks, “New Time” and “Like a Cadillac,” which both follow suit from Lé Betre‘s jammy songwriting blend, if with their own, more pastoral take. McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson started out with a noteworthy chemistry and have only pushed it forward over the last year-plus, as a comparison of the two versions of “Providence Eye” shows, but “New Time” and “Like a Cadillac” tell more of the story of their progression, taking the swing and molten vibe of their looser, longer demo material and tightening it up with more structured songwriting. le-betre-king-buffalo-front-coverI’m dying to hear what these guys come up with for a full-length, and what experimental edge they might be able to bring to that form in acoustic parts, keyboard interludes, etc., but the commitment to a natural sound King Buffalo show on this split shines all on its own and wants little for expansion. They were on the right track before, they’re still on the right track. It’s good to know, and hopefully they keep writing.

While it would be inappropriate to call either band “established” at this point, both seem to be heading in that direction, Lé Betre following their Melas album, King Buffalo following their demo and lineup change, and it’s particularly remarkable that Lé Betre, for whom this split is ostensibly the first North American release, would get the A side and King Buffalo the B, considering the latter act has toured at least on the East Coast and is native to the region from which the label also hails. I chalk it up to STB and both bands making the decision to put exposing Lé Betre to as many ears as possible a top priority, and that proves a worthy cause as the Swedish act’s five songs play out. Lé Betre‘s bluesy inflection and King Buffalo‘s rural roll wind up giving a glimpse at where European and American heavy rock are headed, and wouldn’t you know, they fit together very, very well.

Lé Betre, “Gowns and Crowns”

King Buffalo, “Providence Eye”

Lé Betre on Thee Facebooks

Lé Betre on Bandcamp

King Buffalo on Thee Facebooks

King Buffalo on Bandcamp

STB Records

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On Wax: Sweet Times Vol. 2 Four-Way Split

Posted in On Wax on March 4th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

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If nothing else, the second installment in Who Can You Trust? RecordsSweet Times 7″ series is an efficient use of space. Perhaps even more than its predecessor, which also included four bands, it squeezes seemingly disparate takes on heavy rock onto two sides of what might come across as a sampler for busy heads on the go were it not for the fact that you need a turntable to listen to it. Still, an impressive feat, and all the more when one considers the ground it covers, from the sweet ’70s melodies of Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass to Italian psych-garage rockers Sultan Bathery on side A, and from the sweet classic punk of New York’s Metalleg to the doom-tease-into-Motörhead-jolt of Gorilla. All told, it’s done in under 10 minutes, depending on how fast you flip the platter, and gives a brief glance at some of what each band has to offer. sweet-times-vol-2-front-coverPlus, it comes with 3-D glasses! Because the future!

Yes, the artwork of the 7″, which is pressed in an edition of 500 copies (black vinyl) and comes in thick card stock, is colored so that the included class-style blue and red 3-D glasses make it pop out. Likely you don’t need me to tell you that’s awesome — all the more so because it actually includes the glasses — but even more of a draw are the four songs themselves. The Golden Grass lead off with “All You Have Grown” (premiered here), which at just over three minutes is actually the longest inclusion here. The trio don’t need anymore time than that to establish a resonant, bright melody and a hook, and while the track seems to end cold in comparison to some of what appeared on their 2014 self-titled debut (review here), one can hardly fault them, particularly in context of sharing the side with Sultan Bathery, whose handclap-inclusive “15 Minutes” is a fuzz-drenched rhythmic joy of primal proto-heavy. No time for frills, but a buzzsaw solo carries to side A’s sudden finish with just a second of tape hiss left over for good measure.

I feel like my hand is barely off the turntable arm before Metalleg‘s “Chained” is over. At just 74 seconds, it’s a warm-toned Ramones-style chorus the three-piece — who no doubt by now are tired of being compared to the Ramones — have crafted, and they quickly showcase a grasp for the affinity early punk showed for pop before pop-punk became a commercial force. The tone is warm and sweet-times-vol-2-side-bnatural, raw but not necessarily aggressive, which is all the better for Gorilla, who finish out Sweet Times Vol. 2 with “Three Squealer” by tossing off a measure of a riff spawned from the same muck that birthed “Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes” before they gleefully pull the rug from under it and, after a couple stick-clicks, hit into the aforementioned Motörhead-style rush. Given where they’re coming from, one would expect little wasted space in “Three Squealer” and Gorilla comply ably, ending the release with one last hook and genre crossover that, somehow, fits just as well as the donations from The Golden GrassSultan Bathery, and Metalleg.

Maybe part of what makes it work is that it’s done so soon, but I’m not inclined to argue either way. Who Can You Trust? Records has already issued a follow-up to Sweet Times Vol. 2 that includes Death AlleyWild HoneyPastor and Sonic Love Affair, so they’re keeping true to the form here in working at a speedy pace. It certainly serves the bands well, so I see no reason why it shouldn’t do the same for the label.

VA, Sweet Times Vol. 2 (2014)

The Golden Grass on Thee Facebooks

Sultan Bathery on The Facebooks

Metalleg on Thee Facebooks

Gorilla on Thee Facebooks

Who Can You Trust? Records’ BigCartel store

Who Can You Trust? Records on Bandcamp

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