The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

Posted in Features on December 15th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 20 debut albums of 2016

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.

Of all the lists I do to wrap up or start any given year, this is the hardest. As someone obviously more concerned with first impressions than I am and thus probably better-dressed once said, you only get one chance at them. For bands, that can be a vicious bite in the ass on multiple levels.

To wit, you put out a great debut, fine, but there’s a whole segment of your listeners who’re bound to think you’ll never live up to it again. You put out a meh debut, you sell yourself short. Or maybe your debut is awesome but doesn’t really represent where you want to be as a band, so it’s a really good first impression, but a mistaken one. There are so many things that can go wrong or go right with any LP, but with debuts, the stakes are that much higher because it’s the only time you’ll get the chance to engage your audience for the first time. That matters.

And when it comes to putting together a list of the best debuts of the year, how does one begin to judge? True, some of these acts have done EPs and singles and splits and things like that before, and that’s at least something to go on, but can one really be expected to measure an act’s potential based on a single collection of songs? Is that fair to anyone involved? Or on the other side, is it even possible to take a debut entirely on its own merits, without any consideration for where it might lead the band in question going forward? I know that’s not something I’ve ever been able to do, certainly. Or particularly interested in doing. I like context.

Still, one presses on. I guess the point is that, like picking any kind of prospects, some will pan out and some won’t. I’ve done this for enough years now that I’ve seen groups flame or fade out while others have risen to new heights with each subsequent release. It’s always a mix. But at the same time, it’s important to step back and say that, as of today, this is where it’s at.

And so it is:

KING BUFFALO ORION

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2016

1. King Buffalo, Orion
2. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree
3. Heavy Temple, Chassit
4. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
5. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
6. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
7. Wretch, Wretch
8. Year of the Cobra, In the Shadows Below
9. BigPig, Grande Puerco
10. Fuzz Evil, Fuzz Evil
11. Bright Curse, Before the Shore
12. Conclave, Sins of the Elders
13. Pale Grey Lore, Pale Grey Lore
14. High Fighter, Scars and Crosses
15. Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion
16. Bellringer, Jettison
17. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Is Satan Real?
18. Merchant, Suzerain
19. Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae
20. King Dead, Woe and Judgment

Honorable Mention

There are many. First, the self-titled from Pooty Owldom, which had so much weirdo charm it made my head want to explode. And Iron Man frontman Dee Calhoun‘s acoustic solo record was technically a debut. And Atala‘s record. And Horehound. And Mother Mooch. And Domkraft. And Spaceslug. And Graves at Sea? Shit. More than a decade after their demo, they finally put out a debut album. And Second Grave‘s full-length would turn out to be their swansong, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the thing. There were a lot of records to consider in putting this list together. As always, it could’ve been a much longer list.

For example, here are 20 more: Swan Valley Heights, Arctic, Blues Funeral, Teacher, Psychedelic Witchcraft, Nonsun, Duel, Banquet, Floodlore, Mindkult‘s EP, Mountain Dust, Red LamaRed Wizard, Limestone Whale, Dunbarrow, Comacozer, Sinister Haze, Pants Exploder, Akasava, Katla and No Man’s Valley. That’s not even the end of it. I could go on.

Notes

It was a fight to the finish. There’s always one, and as late as yesterday I could be found kicking back and forth between King Buffalo and Elephant Tree in the top spot. What was it that finally put King Buffalo‘s Orion over Elephant Tree‘s self-titled? I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow and the answer might be completely different.

They had a lot in common. Not necessarily in terms of style — King Buffalo basked in spacious Americana-infused heavy psych jams while Elephant Tree proffered more earthbound riffing and melodies — but each executed memorable songs across its span in a way that would be unfair to ask of a debut. The potential for what both bands can turn into down the line played a part in the picks, but something else they share between them is that the quality of the work they’re doing now warrants the top spots. Orion and Elephant Tree were great albums, not just great first albums.

From there, we see a wide swath of next-generation encouragement for the future of heavy rock, whether it’s coming from Sweden’s Vokonis or Philadelphia’s Heavy Temple, or London’s Bright Curse, or Los Angeles duo BigPig. The latter act’s punkish fuzz definitely benefited from guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli‘s experience playing in Fatso Jetson, but one hopes that as the years go on his own multifaceted songwriting style will continue to grow as well.

A few offerings weren’t necessarily unexpected but still lived up to the anticipation. High Fighter‘s EP prefaced their aggro sludgecore well. Ditto that for the grueling death-sludge of Massachusetts natives Conclave. The aforementioned Bright Curse, Merchant, Fuzz Evil, Atala, Bellringer, Holy Grove, Wretch and Worshipper all had offerings of one sort or another prior to their full-length debuts — in the case of Bellringer, it was just a series of videos, while Wretch had the entire The Gates of Slumber catalog to fall back on — but each of those albums offered surprises nonetheless.

It would’ve been hard not to be taken by the songwriting on display from the likes of Holy Grove, Year of the Cobra, Pale Grey Lore and Beastmaker, who between them covered a pretty broad variety of atmosphere but found ways to deliver high-quality crafted material in that. Those albums were a pleasure to hear. Put Boston’s Worshipper in that category as well, though they were just as much a standout from the pack in terms of their performance as what they were performing. Speaking of performance, the lush melodies from Church of the Cosmic Skull and classic progressive flourish were enough to make me a believer. Simply gorgeous. And one-man outfit Spirit Adrift shined, if in that matte-black doom kind of way, on an encouraging collection of modern melancholic heavy that seemed to hint at sprawl to come.

As we get down to the bottom of the list we find Pennsylvania ambient heavy post-rockers King Dead. Their Woe and Judgment was released digitally last year (2015) but the LP came out earlier this year, so I wasn’t quite sure where to place them ultimately. I know they got some mention on the 2015 lists somewhere, but while they’re an act who’ve flown under a lot of people’s radar as yet, I have good feelings about how they might continue to dig into their sound and the balance of bleakness and psychedelic color they bring to their material. They’re slated for a follow-up in 2017, so this won’t be the last list on which they appear in the next few weeks.

Like I said at the outset, putting out a debut album is a special moment for any band. Not everyone gets to that point and not everyone gets beyond it, so while a list like this is inherently bound to have some element of speculation, it’s still a worthy endeavor to celebrate the accomplishments of those who hit that crucial moment in their creative development. Hopefully these acts continue to grow, flourish, and build on what they’ve thus far been able to realize sonically. That’s the ideal.

And before I go, once again, let me reinforce the notion that I recognize this is just a fraction of the whole. I’d like it to be the start of a conversation. If there was a debut album that kicked your ass this year and you don’t see it here, please drop a note in the comments below. I’m sure I’ll be adding more honorable mentions and whatnot over the next couple days, so if you see glaring omissions, let’s have ’em.

Thanks for reading.

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BigPig, Grande Puerco: Stack it, Pack it, Wrap it

Posted in Reviews on August 31st, 2016 by JJ Koczan

bigpig grande puerco

Desert rock has become many things over the last 25-30 years. It’s gone psych, or classic rock, or jammy, or commercial, and it’s spread to an international heavy underground that continues to flourish from roots in weighted groove and sandy vibes. Rarely has it gone punk as effectively as newcomer duo BigPig take it on their sort-of-self-titled, self-released debut full-length, Grande Puerco, and while intensity of youth is a definite factor in that — both members of the band are somewhere on either side of 20 — that drive is something that the style had at its very roots that has at least to some extent dissipated with age.

Perhaps it’s hard to separate BigPig from this larger context because guitarist/vocalist Dino von Lalli is the son of Fatso Jetson‘s Mario Lalli and also plays in that band with his father — they have a new album, Idle Hands, out this fall on which Dino participates in the songwriting — but in BigPig, the edge von Lalli brings to that established group comes right to the fore as he and drummer/vocalist Benny Macias tear into a raw and vibrant 10 tracks/42 minutes, starting with the outright sleaze of “Flesh Drive” and dipping into the angst of “Designer Drugs,” “Aldini Lopez” and “Mr. Cool” before the engagingly weird “The Last Red Baron Pizza,” also the longest cut at 8:31, underscores the notion of Grande Puerco as the initial stages of an exploration of what it means to be a songwriter, what material can and should do and how as artists BigPig want to get where they’re going.

In terms of this record, they get there with some noteworthy help. Toshi Kasai (Melvins, Leeches of Lore, etc.) recorded and produced, and it’s a suitably beefy fuzz he harnesses from von Lalli‘s guitar and a likewise crisp and full drum sound from Macias‘ kit as heard in the rush of the later “Don’t Think,” bolstered by a mix from Mathias “Schneebie” Schneeberger (earthlings?, producer for Fatso Jetson, Masters of Reality, etc.), so there’s pedigree here as well as lineage.

Nonetheless, BigPig admirably work to establish an identity of their own in these songs, bringing in influences from the more progressive modern heavy on cuts like “Sunny Side Up” to lead into the post-Queens of the Stone Age guitar work of “C-.” As noted, the album starts with “Flesh Drive,” which can seem crass at points — the line, “You look better glazed” is a standout — but boasts an undeniable midpaced groove that’s deftly misleading in the expectations it sets for what follows.

Clearly BigPig have a sense of mischief underlying their intentions, and that serves them well as “Sunny Side Up,” “C-” and the frenetic gallop of “King Baby” pick up at a speedier clip, since essentially they’ve written their own set of rules and then immediately, gleefully broken them. The swaggering “Lorde of the Deep” pulls back on the throttle but feels all the more thickened in its chug, and the vocals play to that well, leaning into a potent nod before room-mic drums start “Designer Drugs,” more reminiscent of something Mondo Generator might come up with, though perhaps not as outwardly aggressive. Still, raw.

bigpig

“Designer Drugs” hits into a slowdown about halfway through, conveying an addled sensibility and a burgeoning dynamic between Macias and von Lalli, but picks up somewhat in its last section, which leads into the particularly punkish “Don’t Think.” Like “C-,” there’s an undercurrent of Queens of the Stone Age‘s style of riffing, but BigPig are bringing more to it than most already, and in about two and a half minutes, they demonstrate how they take that influence and inject it into something of their own, sans frills, sans pretense, sans bullshit. Backwards, maybe sampled speech begins “Aldini Lopez,” manipulated into a swirl that builds to a head just as the angular central riff of the track kicks in.

If there’s anywhere on Grande Puerco that BigPig seem to draw a direct line to Fatso Jetson, it might be “Aldini Lopez,” which though the tones are dirtier could easily be said to be in conversation with that band’s 1995 debut, Stinky Little Gods, in its ability to find the swing in what in most hands would be a progression that didn’t groove at all. That’s not intended as speculation as to a direction BigPig will ultimately follow — though they could do far worse, obviously — but just to say that if they’re representing an actual next generation of desert rock, they’re doing so in a way mindful of the scene that was and still is.

The penultimate “Mr. Cool” has a particularly memorable hook and seems to find a comfortable pace while still leaving room to weird out in its bridge, and “The Last Red Baron Pizza” offers growling oddities and fuzzy insistence, pushing further into angularity, and even stepping out — boldly, in terms of the actual transition — into sparser atmospherics on guitar, which after a return to the push serving as the apex, which seems to straighten itself out as it hits near the seven-minute mark, is also how they end the album.

Difficult as it is to hear Grande Puerco without considering who made it — and that’s not at all to minimize the contributions of Macias here either on drums or vocally — it’s even more difficult to make one’s way through the album and not appreciate the potential BigPig show, playing to both a sense of tonal fullness and a barebones mindset that suits their two-piece construction. With these songs, they begin the work of hammering out a songwriting process, and one only gets the feeling that they’ll continue to grow more expansive as they move forward.

BigPig, Live in Los Angeles, Aug. 6, 2016

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BigPig Release Debut Single “C-“; Grande Puerco Due Next Month

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

bigpig

Los Angeles duo BigPig are gearing up to issue their first full-length, Grande Puerco, on June 20. When out, it will be digitally self-released, and to herald its arrival the band has posted the track “C-” as their debut single. So far as I know, this is the first studio recording from the two-piece, which features guitarist/vocalist Dino Von Lalli, also of Fatso Jetson and Yawning Man, alongside drummer/backing vocalist Benny Macias, so it’s also the first chance to get a glimpse some next-generation of desert rock that comes through in strikingly raw and punkish but still heavy form.

The announcement of the single’s release, the lyrics to the song and other recording info — in good hands doing your first recording with Toshi Kasai — and of course the track itself, follow here, as hoisted from BigPig‘s Bandcamp, where it’s a name-your-price download:

bigpig c

(BIG)PIG’S DEBUT SINGLE TRACK OFF OF DEBUT ALBUM “GRANDE PUERCO” WHICH WILL BE OUT DIGITALLY JUNE 20TH!

“C-” lyrics:
On a road straight to hell paved with good intentions, Oh well
Sick and tired of your lies, Sick and tired sympathize, Oh well
You and me are meant to be your 3/4ths demon with a side of
cheese, Everybody loves you and I wont and I wont and I wont
You and me are meant to be your 3/4ths demon with a side of
cheese, Everybody loves you
Everybody love me again, Everybody love me oh yeah
Ooh baby love me twice, ooh baby fuckin love me thrice
You and me are meant to be your 3/4ths demon with a side of
cheese, Everybody loves you and I wont and I wont and I wont
You and me are meant to be your 3/4ths demon with a side of
cheese, Everybody loves you

Benny Macias- Drums, Backing Vocals
Dino Von Lalli- Guitar, Lead Vocals

Recorded & Produced by Toshi Kasai at Sound Of Sirens Studios. Overdubs Recorded by Adam Harding at Buttery Jack Studios. Mixed and Mastered by Mathias Schneeberger at Donner & Blitzen Studios. Album Art by CorpseTits.

http://bigpigband.com/
https://www.facebook.com/pigstakeflight
https://www.instagram.com/realbigpigs/
https://twitter.com/realbigpigs

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