In the Studio with Scissorfight at Mad Oak

Posted in Features on May 2nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

scissorfight in-studio 1 (Photo by Jay Fortin)

To run down the list of accolades that the Boston-area music scene has (rightly) foisted upon producer/engineer Benny Grotto of Mad Oak Studios over the last however many years would take a really, really long time, but suffice it to say that when an opportunity to watch him work is afforded, it’s not one you want to neglect. It’s a pleasure I first had six years ago, as Grotto — who also until recently was drumming in Slapshot — was mixing what would become Solace‘s long-awaited A.D. full-length, but of course his production credits go much further than that, including an entire pantheon of releases through Small Stone Records by DwellersRoadsaw — whose Craig Riggs is an owner of Mad Oak, along with Grotto and PK Pandey — SasquatchGozu and The Brought Low, as well as local luminaries like The ScimitarBlack Thai and Second Grave, among many others.

scissorfight in-studio 4 (Photo by Jay Fortin)But most of that, apart from the Second Grave, which is forthcoming, was done in the old Mad Oak. In January, the studio opened a new facility at 390 Cambridge St. in Allston, MA, and immediately set about filling the calendar with clients, among them reunited New Hampshire burl rockers Scissorfight, who were there tracking five songs for a new EP to be released sometime later this year. It will mark their first offering in a decade and their first with a new lineup including Doug Aubin on vocals and Rick Orcutt on drums alongside bassist Paul Jarvis and guitarist Jay Fortin that recently made their live debut to a sold-out Shaskeen in Portsmouth, NH, the first of many more live shows to come. The appeal of hearing new Scissorfight in-progress under Grotto‘s care was too good to ignore, so I headed into Allston last Wednesday to check out the tail end of the session.

Greeted outside by Jarvis‘ dog, Anna, who spent most of her time lounging on a bed made of an old flannel shirt, and Jarvis and Aubin, I made my way into the place to find Grotto, as ever, in front of a monitor filled with waveforms. A large tv on the wall behind him allowed anyone sitting on the plush couch nearby to see what he was doing, and from the spacious, clean layout of the room, it was clear that the studio had only been living in the redone space for a couple months. The floor, the ceiling, the giant monitors embedded in and in front of the wall to blast from a small stage in the control room — none of it had yet been kicked to hell by time, and the same went for the high-ceiling live room, which, if the sound of Orcutt‘s drums was anything to go by, is going to make a lot of percussionists very happy.

“From my end, I wanted to basically steal all the cool things I liked about the other studios I’d been working at, as well as minimize or eliminate the negative things that those places had,” Grotto explained. “For me, the general vibe and level of comfort were the primary issue. I wanted to set the place up in a way that really facilitates creativity and a relaxed atmosphere. We have unbelievable sight-lines scissorfight in-studio 3 (Photo by Jay Fortin)throughout the whole studio, lots of comfortable places to relax, and a wealth of instruments and gear that are all easily accessible, which helps artists to get ideas down quickly before the inspiration dries up.

“One of the big advantages to the new space is that we got to design it to our exact needs, from the ground up. So we were able take all the lessons that Riggs learned building the first place, combine them with my experience over the last couple years working in a variety of studios as a freelancer, and combine all that with PK‘s extensive experience as a studio building consultant, and really dial the whole thing into what is more or less our dream studio.”

The layout of the space reminds of a complex piece of software designed to look and operate simply. The live room is flanked on either side by isolation booths, there are big doors for load-in, the control room, a break space/kitchen, bathroom, etc., but from the cork in the ceiling to Grotto controlling colored LED lights from his phone and the acoustics as tracks were played back, what Mad Oak has become is clearly the result of meticulous work.

Craig really wanted to focus on the construction itself. He’s been on-site every day, basically working as the contractor, making sure everything is getting done to his very high standards, but he’s busting ass as a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, everything. Very hands on. The work he and his guys have been doing in here is out of this world; the craftsmanship and attention to detail is really unlike anything I’ve seen in a recording studio.

PK has a massive amount of experience as a studio building consultant, and we were able to make use of that experience in a major way. Specifically by tapping the Walter Storyk Design Group — which is the studio architectural firm responsible for an incredible list of studios all around the world, including Hendrixscissorfight in-studio 2 (Photo by Jay Fortin)s Electric Lady — to design the control room. That really elevates us to a whole new level in terms of prestige — not to mention, the acoustics in here sound incredible.”

I wouldn’t argue. Fortin was about to lay down some acoustic guitar flourish on a maddeningly catchy track with the working title “Beaver Fever” — the twist: it’s actually about Giardia — but already the material sounded huge, with the trademark crunch in his and Jarvis‘ weighted tones that became a staple of Scissorfight‘s sound in their initial run. Over top, Aubin brought his own edge to sardonic lyrics, snarls and growls about drinking beaver piss. The band called it a public service. I’ll assume the same applies to “Tits Up” and “’70s Boobs,” another working title.

Those three were mostly done. Jarvis put some banjo on “Beaver Fever” that may or may not make the final cut — was cool but might’ve been a bit much with the acoustic already there; would need to hear it mixed — and Aubin will have to go back in for “Ol’ Taint Rot” and “Stove,” but the basic tracks were finished to the point that Grotto, grumbling about the response time of his wireless mouse, was already compiling tracks for rough mixes to send the band. The mental organization involved in that process is not to be understated. At the same time he was cross-fading two tracks joining together, he was also running hard drive backups and drawing on markers so he knew where preamp dials were, for the next time the band are in, or maybe just to keep a record of it. Either way, there’s nothing haphazard about the process.

Grotto told me in a not at all complaining fashion that he’s had one day off since January. Watching him work again, I believe it. The drive and the passion he puts into what he does is inspiring, and as Scissorfight step up to claim the utter dominance of New England that has basically been theirs for the taking for the last decade, there are no better hands they could be in. With smartass jokes a-flying, FortinJarvis and Aubin (Orcutt wasn’t there) were completely at ease at Mad Oak, and it was clear just from being there for the few hours I was how much that was also part of the intricate design.

“The new space sounds amazing,” said Grotto. “It’s made my life so much easier. Every drummer who’s donescissorfight in-studio 5 (Photo by Jay Fortin) a session in here so far has told me it’s the best drum room they’ve ever played in. The room just sings. And we laid out the gear and infrastructure in a way that speeds up the workflow, so we’re just flying through setup, and the bands play great. It’s been fantastic.”

Scissorfight‘s new EP is called Chaos County and will be out later this year. Thanks to Jay Fortin for letting me use his photos of the session.

Scissorfight on Thee Facebooks

Scissorfight on Instagram

Mad Oak Studios website

Mad Oak on Thee Facebooks

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Cortez Post Cover of Deep Purple’s “Stormbringer”

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 15th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

A subdued several months from Allston, Massachusetts, five-piece Cortez comes to a close with a cover of the Ritchie Blackmore/David Coverdale-penned opening title-track to Deep Purple‘s 1974 album, Stormbringer. The heavy rockers announced back in September that their new album, The Depths Below, was mastered and in the can, ready to roll, and basically since then all has been quiet at least on the surface. One assumes that means the band are in the process of securing a release for the record, which follows their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) and a subsequent 2014 split with Borracho (review here), but a check-in single in the interim is welcome nonetheless.

Plus, it’s not like “Stormbringer” is a lazy song to take on. Mark III Deep Purple had both Coverdale and bassist Glenn Hughes on vocals, as well as Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Ian Paice on drums and Jon Lord on keys, and on any level you want to consider, that’s a formidable standard to set. They’re not the first ones to make the track their own, but they cut to the heavy core of the song and let their own performance shine through, which I’m glad to say it does. The track remains one you could do a lot worse than to have stuck in your head all day, so have at it. The download is free.

The band also offered assurances that The Depths Below was on its way:

cortez (Photo by Bruce Bettis)

Hey folks, we’re aware that things have been quiet in the Cortez camp lately. We assure you that our newest album “The Depths Below” IS indeed complete and will be released sometime in the not too distant future.

As a little teaser, we recorded a cover of the classic Coverdale/Hughes era Deep Purple track Stormbringer (written by Blackmore, Coverdale) with Benny Grotto – Producer/Recordist/Mixer/Musician at Q Division Studios, Mad Oak Studios, and Moontower Recording Studio. Jeff Lipton at Peerless Mastering did the mastering. The track is now live on our Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages for free. We sincerely hope ya dig it, and if you do please share it!

https://cortezboston.bandcamp.com/track/stormbringer
https://soundcloud.com/cortezboston/cortez-stormbringer-deep-purple-coverwav/s-B0BTp

https://www.facebook.com/cortezboston
http://www.cortezboston.com/
http://cortezboston.bandcamp.com/
http://www.twitter.com/cortezboston

Cortez, “Stormbringer” (Deep Purple cover)

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Worshipper Release New Single Place Beyond the Light

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 18th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

worshipper (Photo by Bob Maloney)

Boston four-piece Worshipper have issued their second digital single, and it’s a bit of a doozy. The classic-style metallers made their debut in the frigid wee hours of early 2015 with Black Corridor b/w High Above the Clouds (review here), and their second two-songer, the newly-unveiled Place Beyond the Light b/w Step Behind, pushes even deeper into prime metallurgy while also adding a distinctly catchy hard rock edge that, especially on “Place Beyond the Light” itself, reminds me on first listen of some of Scorpions‘ poised infectiousness.

The band also have some killer shows coming up, including one this week in Allston, and they’ll play Tee Pee Records‘ upcoming two-day fest, Cosmic Sonic Rendezvous (info here), in Brooklyn at The Wick over Labor Day weekend, where they’ll open the second night with The Golden Grass, The Bevis Frond, Carousel and Witch. Some more than solid company to keep.

Release details and audio follow:

worshipper no place beyond the light

Worshipper just released Place Beyond the Light | Step Behind

We are pleased to announce the release of our new single “Place Beyond the Light / Step Behind.” Download it now from bandcamp. See us live Aug. 21 at Great Scott!

WORSHIPPER plays the kind of darkly epic rock that can only be found in the vinyl collection of your “cool uncle.” Through their unique mix of contemporary and classic influences, WORSHIPPER prove that the horn-throwing soul of melodic heavy music of the past still burns brightly.

1. Place Beyond the Light 5:04
2. Step Behind 4:46

released 17 August 2015

Music by Worshipper
Lyrics by John Brookhouse

Worshipper is:
John Brookhouse – Vocals, guitars
Dave Jarvis – Drums
Bob Maloney – Bass, vocals
Alejandro Necochea – Guitars

Recorded & Mixed by Benny Grotto at Q Division
Mastered by Mike Quinn at The Moontower

Aug 21 Great Scott Allston, MA
Sep 06 The Wick/The Well Brooklyn, NY
Sep 22 Wilbur Theatre Boston, MA
Oct 02 The Last Safe & Deposit Company Lowell, MA

Copyright Inspector Lucius Music ASCAP (2015)

http://worshipper.bandcamp.com/album/place-beyond-the-light-step-behind
https://www.facebook.com/worshipperband

Worshipper, Place Beyond the Light (2015)

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Live Review: Sun Voyager in Allston, MA, 04.18.15

Posted in Reviews on April 20th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Sun Voyager (Photo by JJ Koczan)

People who bitch about “kids these days” and the post-Millennials or whatever they’re called and their fast texting and no rock and roll obviously don’t go to house shows. Neither do I, if I can avoid, but the kids are killing it. I’ve gone on at some length before about my general discomfort at being the oldest dude in the room in a basement. Hard not to feel like an invader, like I’m somewhere I shouldn’t be, even though the kid at the door who took my $5 donation for the out-of-town acts was polite in that “I helped an old person today” kind of way. “First time here?” Yeah man, it is.

sun voyager 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)The Womb — oddly well promoted for a secret location — has come up in Allston in part I suspect because of that neighborhood’s lacking club scene. With the extra gloss of cool added to a basement show, there’s really no need for undergrad-age rockers to even try to get into a bar, and I won’t bother to name names, but a few of the venues around aren’t offering a much better product than a basement to start with, so why the hell not? There were four bands on the bill — Creaturos, Midriffs, Black Beach and Sun Voyager — but I knew that if I was going to be stretching the limits of personal awkwardness to be there at all (something on me, not The Womb itself), I’d mostly want to catch who I was there to see and then skip out.

That was Sun Voyager, incidentally. The Orange County, New York, four-piece have been high on my gotta-see list for a while now, and since I missed them the last time they rolled through the area, it seemed like The Womb was the place to be. They’d played Brooklyn on Friday, in another basement, and were well at home in the packed-out downstairs of The Womb, the walls of the staircase lined with sundry objectificationsSun Voyager (Photo by JJ Koczan) sexual and material, men, women and products in various states of vintage undress, while the walls of the basement itself were painted with various designs. Speakers hung from the ceiling by the A/C duct, a PA was set up on either side of the corner where the bands played. Sun Voyager weren’t on when I got there, but it wasn’t too long before they set up and were ready to roll.

A double-guitar four-piece with Carlos Francisco on stage right, bassist Stefan Mersch in the middle with drummer Kyle Beach behind and chapeaued lead guitarist Steve Friedman on stage left, his slide at the ready, they mostly played material from two recent King Pizza Records tapes, a split with Greasy Hearts and their standalone EP, Lazy Daze (review here). I dug the hell out of the EP — bought the split off Mersch after their set was done — and the prior 2013 demo, Mecca (review here), and I was there in large part to hear how the material translated live. “God is Dead” and “Gypsy Hill” were immediately identifiable in the set, the former for its oft-repeated title-line hook and the latter for its slower, more pastoral rollout.

Something of a surprise in itself that “Gypsy Hill” would be such a standout, since the easier flow with which Sun Voyager play off their more forward garage rock motion of some of their other material is so much a part of what they do on their studio material, but it was nonetheless the set’s most fervent nod, children behind me jumping up and down in sub-mosh form. I laughed as this or that one bounced off or got in a good shoveSun Voyager (Photo by JJ Koczan) and proceeded to fall here and there into the others in The Womb, which started off and remained packed for the duration of my time there. Good clean fun, not so much violent intent as general excitement brought to physical swirl. Sun Voyager had a couple new songs in tow — didn’t catch titles if they were given — but that stuff too had a faster garage edge, giving me a new appreciation for the tension in Beach‘s snare work and Francisco‘s overlaying echoes, which were thankfully preserved even in the raw, basement mix.

More of a concern was how Mersch‘s bass tone would carry over, since it’s such a pivotal aspect of their recorded sound, but it came across well enough and loud, with Friedman‘s leads cutting through on the high end of the shuffling “Black Angel,” the overarching vibe post-grunge and like active shoegaze as if such a thing might exist, a brand of heavy psych waiting for some clever jerk to give it a name and thus define it. Whatever it was, the swirl was righteous regardless of the pace of its churn and Sun Voyager carried it well through the end of their set, which found them, like their studio work, moving away somewhat from the jammier reaches of their beginnings but still carrying that swing with them as they move forward. They’ll continue to grow — they’re fortunate to have a place lsun voyager posterike The Womb to do so — and refine their processes, but I’m glad I braved the weirdness of being the oldest dude in the room to see them now, since the molten, in-progress nature of their creativity made their set all the more exciting.

I hauled ass out of there pretty quick when they were done — again, nothing against The Womb, or Black Beach or Midriffs or Creaturos; it’s not you it’s me — and chuckled as I walked by a dance-club-cum-sports-bar (Hello, Boston) on Mass Ave. that seemed to be hosting a sing-along to ’90s boyband fare that those singing along to it were probably in grade school, if that, when it came out. The perfect target demo on the come-back-around. So odd, so drunk. And me, covered in kid sweat and volume, hobbling my ass back to the car with The Patient Mrs., whose coming along had made the entire thing possible to take, to drive back home with a new tape in my pocket. What year is it again? How do we mash time and place into one strange, market-value nostalgia even as we grope so readily for whatever the next thing might be? Which turn takes me to the highway? Right on.

Sun Voyager on Thee Facebooks

Sun Voyager on Bandcamp

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Phantom Glue Stream “Tazed” from Angels of Meth Demo

Posted in audiObelisk on September 25th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

old phantom glue

If you didn’t know, this Saturday, Sept. 27, is Cassette Store Day, a tape-minded answer to the hugely successful Record Store Day initiative supporting independent music retailers. I’m sure you did know, because you’re on top of it like that, but more to the point, Allston’s Phantom Glue have a special release coming out to mark the occasion. Working with Negative Fun Records, they’ll release Angels of Meth, a four-track demo collection taken from their early going when they worked under that moniker.

A lot of what works today about Phantom Glue was present in their sound back then — their blend of raw punk, sludge and metal — but of course the demo material is less solidified than the band would become by the Phantom Glue - Angels of Meth covertime they got around to releasing their 2009 self-titled debut (review here) or A War of Light Cones (review here) last year. Their aesthetic was plenty assured by the first album and refined as much as something so bruising can be called refined on the second. The Angels of Meth demo has the elements there, but it’s a nastier churn and a dirtier distortion lurching out of their amps. Of course, this has an appeal entirely of its own on a song like “Tazed,” which I’m happy to have the chance to host for streaming ahead of the demo’s release.

The track hasn’t been completely unavailable or anything. If you’re willing to dig through the morass that MySpace has become, you can find it hidden somewhere in Phantom Glue‘s profile. This, however, is much easier (and higher quality), so I’ll go ahead and encourage you to just press play below instead. Angels of Meth will be the first time this material has been physically pressed as well.

Track and release info follow, courtesy of Negative Fun. Enjoy:

For all intents and purposes, Phantom Glue is Angels of Meth. The band was birthed by Matt Oates and has existed in various states since the mid-2000s.

The band was known as Angels of Meth up through the recording of the Phantom Glue S/T’d record. It wasn’t until after the recording process was completed for the Phantom Glue’s s/t record that the band decided to change the name.

This is the 1st recorded output from the band, which has never existed in a physical format until now, and further illustrates the dramatic development and shift in sound from release to release.

Phantom Glue on Thee Facebooks

Angels of Meth at Negative Fun’s webstore

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Live Review: Earth in Allston, MA, 09.23.14

Posted in Reviews on September 24th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

earth (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There was one ticket left when I arrived at the Great Scott in Allston to see Earth on tour supporting their new album, Primitive and Deadly. Much to the venue’s credit, the show was sold out but not oversold, Plenty warm up front, but in back by the end of the night one could claim some semblance of personal space if desired and still see Seattle’s droniest on stage. Doors were at nine with just two bands on the bill — Earth and fellow Seattleites King Dude opening — and it would be over an hour before anyone went on. So, if you were looking to drink or, say, stare at inane bullshit on your phone, there was plenty of time to do it.

king dude (Photo by JJ Koczan)In the studio, King Dude is a solo-project of Book of Black Earth guitarist/vocalist TJ Cowgill, but live he led a trio dressed in a look that might appear in a catalog as “Heartland Gestapo,” matching black button-downs with collar pins, black pants, short hair calling to mind Baptist righteousness and fascist regimentation as was likely the intent as they played in front of a backdrop of a painted-black and tattered American flag. The songs were Americana-derived neofolk, tales of fire and brimstone and drinking out of some alternate universe USA, guitar, keys, cello, drums. I’m not sure where Cowgill got his Southern accent, but he was enough of a charmer on stage to get two whiskys, one bought from the bar and a mini someone else had apparently snuck in. Well enough earned.

If you’ll permit me a minute to wax critical, one of the most respectable aspects of Earth‘s long tenure — their first demo surfaced in 1990 and but for a stretch between 1997-2003, they’ve been going since — is the earth (Photo by JJ Koczan)relentlessness of their pursuit. Go see Earth for one album and then another and you’ll get two different shows. Guitarist Dylan Carlson, as the founder and driving force, has in the last decade built and continued to refine a legacy that seems no more solidified now than it was nine years ago when they released their landmark comeback full-length, Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method. It is a constant work in progress, shifting and remaking itself each time out. And perhaps because their music can be so raw — the repetition of riff cycles, steady drum plod of Adrienne Davies and the steadiness of their instrumental flow — that progression is all the more evocative and encompassing.

As they took the stage at the Great ScottCarlson provided the news that Primitive and Deadly (review here), which came out Sept. 1 on Southern Lord, took only a week to become their highest-selling release to date. He thanked the crowd and then began the set with “Badger’s Bane” and “Even Hell has its Heroes” from that record, the album’s weightier production translating excellently live through Carlson‘s tone, Davies‘ swinging-arm march and the fills of bassist Don McGreevy, also of Master Musicians of Bukkake, earth (Photo by JJ Koczan)who doesn’t play on the new full-length but took part in 2008’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull (discussed here) and had no trouble making the parts his own or fitting in alongside Davies as the rhythmic complement to Carlson‘s swaying guitar work.

Of course, a major distinguishing factor of Primitive and Deadly is the inclusion of vocals — Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi (Rose Windows) guest — and while he had a mic on stage for thanking the crowd, they kept “There is a Serpent Coming” instrumental, that song coming out of “Old Black” from 2011’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (review here) and moving into “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull,” which Carlson noted was their prior highest-seller and especially popular with female fans. I wondered how or why that might be the case as CarlsonDavies and McGreevy continued their droneout, the groove of the older material hitting not quite as heavy as that of the newer, reminding that whatever weight might reside in their tones or evocations, Earth is still far from being a “metal” band.

The new album’s opener, “Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon” served as the first installment of a closing duo with “Ouroboros is Broken” as the finisher, Carlson noting that they were the band’s newest and oldest songs, respectively. They paired together well, with the latter being somewhere between the reinvented textures of its appearance on 2007’s Hibernaculum EP and the original from 1991’s Extra-Capsular Extraction. earth (Photo by JJ Koczan)Whatever version it was, it made a rolling cap on a set that didn’t so much celebrate the entire scope of Earth‘s career — at some point, particularly as they’re hinging on their 25th year, one imagines a retrospective live set of one form or another will happen — but emphasized the vitality of the work they’re doing now, their continued relevance and expanding influence. Given the expanse of time they’ve covered and the years and decades their growth has encompassed, it’s even easier to appreciate the restlessness underlying their evolution and the irony that so much of their reputation is for the stillness in their material. Still maybe, but never stagnant.

I had no line of sight to Davies, but there are a couple more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Negative Reaction in Allston, 05.23.14

Posted in Reviews on May 27th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

You would probably need a filing cabinet to keep track of the various players who’ve been in and out of Negative Reaction over the band’s 20-plus years. The lone mainstay is guitarist/vocalist Ken-E Bones, who to my experience is a singular figure in or out of music. He’s someone I’m glad to consider a personal friend, a former collaborator, and a player whose passion and dedication make many considered giants seem small by comparison. It had been a while since I last caught the band — SHoD XII in Connecticut, to be precise — so though I had family obligations to account for, I nonetheless popped into Allston to catch them at O’Brien’s sharing a bill with locals The Lorde Humongous, Xatatax, Slow Mover and Automatic Death Pill. A very heavy evening, to be sure.

I happen to know Bones — who’s also embarked on a solo career over the last couple years playing outlaw country — is a Boston fan. A fan of the city, its hockey team, its people, and so on, so I expected he’d be in rare form and was pleased to find that was in fact the case. At one point in their set, he borrowed a Bruins hat from someone in front of the stage and wore it for a song, and the mood despite Negative Reaction‘s persistent downer sludge was light and positive. A good time, in other words. Since I last saw them, drummer Joe Wood (also Borgo Pass) departed and Dave Ash filled the role with what served as rarefied swing for someone whose roots seemed to be so firmly in metal. You wouldn’t know it because Negative Reaction‘s material is slower overall, but I’d be surprised if Ash wasn’t a Dave Lombardo fan, if not now then at some point in the past, but he carried the material over with personality that played well alongside Bones and bassist Jamie Jervis.

Jervis has been around for a while — at least since 2012 — and came in to replace Damon Limpy, who played on Negative Reaction‘s last full-length, 2011’s Frequencies from Montauk (review here). “Dopamine” from that record was a highlight, and demonstrated how well this trio played together, the chemistry set between Bones and Jervis and developing between the rhythm section of Jervis and Ash. The trio made short work of Negative Reaction mainstays like “Go Die” from 2008’s Tales from the Insomniac and “Sludge” from 2003’s Everything You Need for Galactic Battle Adventures, and while I’d been thinking maybe they’d have some new material to show off, Frequencies from Montauk opener “Day after Yesterday” and “Shattered Reflection” were welcome ways to spend their time and both “Sludge” and the lumbering riff of “Worthless Human,” which Bones announced as “another uplifting, feel-good song” or some such, got the crowd’s heads banging and fists pumping. Literally. I wouldn’t call O’Brien’s packed out or anything, but those who were there were up front and way into it. I’m pretty sure Bones could’ve kept that Bruins hat if he’d wanted.

Closing out was “Loathing” from 2006’s Under the Ancient Penalty, which the way I see it was the beginning point for a lot of Negative Reaction‘s direction on their two subsequent albums, introducing an interplay of cleaner vocals with Bones‘ trademark raspy scream and refining their focus from punked-up sludge abrasion to rolling-groove songwriting that’s not about to shy away from an unabashed hook. “Loathing” has one of the band’s best to-date, and after “Dopamine” — a spiritual successor and a song that makes sense as a subsequent development of similar ideas — and “Shattered Reflection,” it makes sense as a way to round out what had been a riotous and fun set. I’ve seen Bones jump through more than one drumkit in my time, but he was kinder to Ash‘s gear than that, though the noisy finish of “Loathing” did come with a bit of rolling around, guitar-meets-cranium bashing and feedback enough to fill the entirety of Boston’s quota for the evening, let alone that of the other bands on the bill.

Negative Reaction have been an underrated band for a long time. Part of that has to be their constant lineup shifts, but this latest incarnation of the three-piece reminded me of what’s always been most on their side, and that’s the unabashed passion of Bones and the absolute catharsis at the heart of their deep-toned sludgy grooves. I expect they’ll continue to be a well-kept secret — sludge for sludgers — but for a band that has existed for the better part of 24 years to come across as having potential says something about the continued vitality at work. Fingers crossed for new stuff soon.

A few more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Floor, Hot Victory and Darsombra in Allston, MA, 05.07.14

Posted in Reviews on May 8th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Weird bill? Yeah, weird bill. If they wanted to, Floor probably could’ve picked two Floor-influenced stoner bands to go out with on their US tour supporting the release last week of their first album in 10 years, Oblation (review here), but it was clear from the start of Darsombra‘s half-hour of projection-backed good-karma hippie drone that they and Hot Victory would be up to much different kinds of mischief than the evening’s headliners at the Great Scott in Allston. I’d arrived at the venue early, as I’m apparently wont to do, and sat for a little bit watching the Red Sox on the tv toward the front of the house while Darsombra set up.

When the lights went down and projections of trees scrolled by on the while screen erected behind them, I wasn’t even sure it was the start of their set, but once Brian Daniloski and Ann Everton took the stage — also dressed in white and playing through painted-white amps so that they too became a screen for the projected videos– they sat in front of their pedal board and keyboard, respectively, picked up a mic and explained what was up, invited people to sit or otherwise get comfortable and, smiling wide all the while, dug into a wall of sound both brightly toned and sonically weighted. Loud enough to want earplugs, but warm in its consumption. Like a guru who also eats you.

They’ve been on tour since the end of February, are in the home stretch. Here’s a phrase you don’t hear all the time: “We’re into the ninth week of our tour.” It’s hard not to admire such a nomadic ethic, and the dynamic between Daniloski (formerly of underrated stone-grinders Meatjack) and Everton was plain to see. Standing to pick up a bass, then switching to guitar, Daniloski couldn’t resist injecting a little more heavy into the noise wash, again, smiling as he did, and Everton accordingly broke out a gong to accompany, resulting in a blend of natural and electronic/manipulated sounds that would somehow serve as a fitting precursor to Portland, Oregon’s Hot Victory when they came on next.

I noted a Stumpfest hat on Ben Stoller that was a dead giveaway of their origins. In my head, I’d somehow crossed them up with Tee Pee retro riffers Hot Lunch, but by the time Stoller and fellow percussionist/sampler Caitlin Love finished loading up their elaborate spread of gear — a double-drum kit with two bass drums, snare, electronic elements, full pre-amped mixing board, keyboard, sampler, etc. — it was clear who was who. It took a while for them to get going, and the dancier start kind of turned me off, but as they went into their second piece, I took a step back — figuratively, since it was starting to get crowded in there — and asked myself, “Wait a second, what part of this isn’t brilliant?”

Like Darsombra, Hot Victory were probably something better seen live than heard on record, where seeing how they’re made feeds into the perception of the songs — though “seeing” is relative since they basically played in the dark. Ultimately, Love and Stoller wound up crafting intricate rhythms across their drums and the electronics, and samples filled out what was some of the most satisfying prog I’ve seen live since the early days of Zombi. Next time Kylesa finds itself in need of two drummers, they might do well to absorb them the way the Melvins did to Big Business, but even on their own, Hot Victory delivered a heavy sonic experience that boasted the precision of electronic music with the element of danger that comes with an organic live performance. At any moment, the entire thing could’ve come undone, but it never did.

Between the new release, the recent interview with guitarist Anthony Vialon and my general nerdly glee at their moving beyond “reunion band” status, it’s safe to say Floor have been on my mind of late. In hitting the Great Scott show, my interest was to see how the Miami trio were approaching that prospect; going from being a band playing reunion shows to a working trio supporting a new record with a cycle of touring. Unquestionably, putting out a new full-length was the right call, and Oblation material made a well-fitting complement to songs from Floor‘s 2002 landmark self-titled in the set, featuring heavily in trades back and forth between new songs and older ones while transitions between cuts like “The Key” and “New Man” came across as crisply live on stage as they do on the album.

The tour started April 30, so they were just a week into just over a month’s run, but it was clear they were getting settled into their process. The other times I’ve seen Floor over the last couple years have been one-offs, or short tours — all-out blasts with nothing kept in reserve. This was different. Guitarist/vocalist Steve Brooks, the aforementioned Vialon (who’s usually pretty meditative on stage anyway) and drummer Henry Wilson knew they’d be playing again the next night. Rest assured, they warmed up as they went on — bomb-string riffs dropped liberally all the while — and as “Oblation,” “Trick Scene” and “Find Away” from Oblation gave way to “Kallisti/Song for Eris” from the self-titled and “Dove,” they were on a roll that kept up for the remainder of their time. Wilson seemed particularly to catch fire, and while all three seemed to still be acclimating to the newer songs, the set was well constructed to have a flow between the familiar and the more recent.

Of the many things I’ll complain about on a given day, I don’t think I’ll ever bitch for hearing “Scimitar,” “Return to Zero” and “Downed Star” one into the next. The opening salvo from the self-titled was presented in album order and followed by “The Key,” “New Man” and “Sister Sophia,” likewise running in the set as they do on Oblation. “Iron Girl” fed into “Love Comes Crushing” well despite the decade-plus between when each was written, and “Tales of Lolita” was as infectiously catchy as ever. I had been hoping for “Homecomings and Transitions” from the new one, but “War Party,” the extended “Sign of Aeth” and the rush of “Raised to a Star” made suitable replacements, Oblation closer “Forever Still” preceding the ultra-heavy, feedback-drenched finish of “The Quill” and “Ein (Below and Beyond),” the two songs summing up Floor‘s “the more things change…” continuity between then and now.

I guess the answer I got to my initial question — how Floor would do in going from reunion act to working one — was the same answer I got from Oblation itself. They’ve taken their sound and progressed with it, and just as on the album there was nothing that sounded like they couldn’t just keep going with it, what they were doing on stage looked sustainable as well, and vital even with the inclusion of new material after years of playing the same songs. As a record, Floor is such a static presence — like a monument cut in marble to be idealized — but what the trio have proven with this album and what they proved again on stage last night is that actually these songs and this sound is meant to move, meant to go different places and explore different ideas. I keep they keep the development going, because it seems like as much as they’re getting adjusted now, there’s still ground for them to cover going forward.

It was pretty dark all night, but there are some more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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