Posted in Reviews on November 6th, 2012 by JJ Koczan
Delving further into the psych-prog course they launched with 2010’s impressive The Orange Tree EP, Boston-based trio Blue Aside keep a strong sense of melody running throughout their debut full-length, The Moles of a Dying Race. Notably absent are the abrasive vocals that periodically showed up throughout that initial release (review here); in their place, guitarist Adam Abrams, bassist Joe Twomey and drummer Matt Netto have expanded their melodic reach, instrumentally and vocally ranging further into classic and modern progressive elements. The eight track offering, released via Hydro-Phonic Records, runs a lengthy 62 minutes, which is a hefty first statement, and the three-part “The Moles of a Dying Race” title-cut is threaded between other pieces, opening with a seven-minute installment before “The Electrode Man” and “Will We Remain Tomorrow” – both of which top eight minutes – begin the process of really immersing the listener in the album’s atmosphere, which is patient and soothing despite still being tonally weighted. If Netto’s snare is anything to go by, the album was most likely recorded by Black Pyramid drummer Clay Neely at Black Coffee Sound, and there’s a decent balance in the production between lolling groove and open space. Abrams’ guitar is a focal point, but the trio’s vocals also feature heavily in the layers of the mix. The opening “The Moles of a Dying Race: Part 1” distinguishes itself via a sleepy delivery and psychedelic sprawl, and immediately the band makes it known that they’ve gone deeper into their own sound than they did or could have on their first EP, and as “The Electrode Man” follows with Abrams’ lead tracks layered in a kind of instrumental chorus after a gruffer declaration that, “We’re done” – the implication being more perhaps about our species than any more particular “we” – the mood is somewhat darker, but the tones and atmospheres remain consistent. Blue Aside are simply doing more as songwriters than crafting parts that flow well together. They’re using those pieces to evoke an idea, a reality, and it’s for that reason that The Moles of a Dying Race seems so well suited to being tagged as prog.
There isn’t any real focus on technicality in the sense of coldly putting on a clinic. While the three members of the band prove more than capable players – Abrams in particular gives some choice leads and seems to have expanded his creative breadth, perhaps from his work with the experimental Space Mushroom Fuzz psychedelic side-project – their mission remains not the highlight of individual contributions, but instead the song as a whole. The sum, not the parts. “The Electrode Man” bleeds directly into “Will We Remain Tomorrow” (I have a version of the record on which the two songs are combined to one 17-minute track, and I’m not sure which is the final, so if it’s the whole “The Electrode Man/Will We Remain Tomorrow, I hope someone will correct me; it’s the same listening experience either way, so I didn’t figure it really mattered so much), which but for the sharpness of Netto’s drumming would be utterly hypnotic in its earlier moments, Abrams’ leads spacing out over a warm foundation laid down by Twomey on bass. Shades of Rush persist as the more actively chugging verse begins, and the rest of the song is devoted to smooth tradeoffs between the two figures, ending in a solo and a slowdown that sets up the pastoral intro to “The Moles of a Dying Race: Part 2,” on which Abrams and Twomey pair wah lines while Netto cymbal washes behind. Gradual – ever gradual – the song unfolds, gracefully turning darker over its 10:32 runtime, whispered vocals cutting through a verse before opening to a chorus that sets up a more metallic progression, Netto adding brief flourishes of double-kick drumming to play up the aggressive feel. The solo two-thirds of the way through the song is about as grandiose as Blue Aside get on their first LP, reveling in indulgence before shifting back into the chorus. They seem to stumble through the repetitions of that last chorus, with Netto’s fills faster and more impatient than the lumbering riff calls for, but that’s how they end the song, leading to a moment of straightforward respite with the shorter, “The Ice Mammoth.”
It’s a tricky proposition, playing in NYC on a Friday night. On the one hand, it’s pretty much the ideal, right? Get a bunch of people trapped in a small room on a small island — there’s really nowhere to go but to a show. On the other hand, there’s at least three shows for each of the eight million people on that small island, so it’s easy for a band to get lost in the mix. Truckfighters, on their first American run, made a landmark out of the Cake Shop on Ludlow St. Though I’ll certainly have other associations with it as well, it’s going to be a while before something comes to my mind when I think of the venue faster than, “Oh yeah, that’s the place Truckfighters played.”
A full 41 people took advantage of the “say The Obelisk and get in free” thing by the last tally I heard — which was about 38 more than I expected — and the vibe was insane. Like YOB/Dark Castle earlier in the week, it seemed like the people who were there were really glad to be there. And there were a lot of them. By the time Borracho were done, I turned around and the room was packed out. Weirdos, button-down yuppies and in-between-types came and went, but for most of the night, it was consistently hard to get to the bar for all the people standing around.
That has its ups and downs, which I probably don’t need to explain, but good for all the bands having heads to play to. The running order was Borracho, Blue Aside, Kings Destroy and Truckfighters headlining, and the show got going a bit before 9PM, allowing extra time for a crowd to arrive for Borracho, who were up from Washington D.C. solely for this one gig. Seemed like a haul, but if the bonus is you get to play with Truckfighters, I can’t imagine it wasn’t worth their time. They got a good response from the crowd too, played (unless I’m mistaken) four songs from their recently-reviewed Splitting Sky album, and were a fitting start to the evening.
I stand by the critiques I made of Borracho in that review, but it’s worth noting that as each song in their set began, I recognized it immediately. Sure, the record’s still relatively fresh in my mind, but I found myself anticipating the chorus of “Grab the Reins” and looking forward to what was coming next — even hoping for “Never Get it Right” — which I took as evidence of a certain level of quality in their songwriting. They have some growing to do yet, some smoothing out of their processes, but there’s something there. It’s not hollow stoner repetition, and while some of their parts wander, their potential as a unit is plain to see in the live setting. I bought a copy of Splitting Sky, and I think it’s going to be really interesting to hear how they develop with their next batch of material.
Their energy was infectious, in the meantime, which actually wound up not doing any favors for Blue Aside, who were decidedly more laid back and stoic in their on-stage presence. The Boston space doom trio started late following some technical problems with their bass head (an Ampeg SVT that they then put front and center on the stage), and shared vocal duties with an incongruence of atmosphere. Drummer Matt Netto had an almost frantic anxiousness in his playing that was contrasted by guitarist Adam Abrams and sandal’ed bassist Joe Twomey, both calmer and more methodical. Nonetheless, they gave a decent showing of material from their The Orange Tree EP, even if they were the odd men out on the bill.
Blue Aside also managed to separate the yuppie chaff, which was fine by me. It’s not that the band was bad, just out of place, and most of the crowd, which was anticipating a rock show, probably wasn’t ready for the spaced-out excursions they had on offer. That, combined with the conflict between energies as noted, didn’t do them any favors. Still, taken on their own level, they did well with what they had. Would be hard for anyone to play those songs bouncing off the walls.
At this point, I don’t even know how many times I’ve seen Kings Destroy, but it was awesome to catch them as a part of this lineup. I missed them with Sourvein in Brooklyn, so this was my follow-up to their Santos Party House gig with Orange Goblin, and as ever, they did not disappoint. They locked in a groove with “The Whittler” from …And the Rest Will Surely Perish and held it down across their whole set. “The Mountie” was especially tight, and the same new song they played last time around — now graced with the title “Holy Dice” — fit right in with the rest of the selections: “Planet XXY,” “Medusa,” “Dusty Mummy” and “Old Yeller” to close out. Good times.
And I mean that. In talking to guitarist Chris Skowronski after they were done, he said he didn’t think they’d ever felt so on point, and having attended as many of their shows as I have, I can’t help but agree. Each time I see them, they’re better than the last, and whether it’s the raised stage of Santos or the declining floor in the Cake Shop basement, they bring it, plain and simple. They’ve reportedly got more new stuff in the works, so here’s looking forward.
It had already been a good night before Truckfighters took the stage. If it had been just Borracho, Blue Aside and Kings Destroy for the show, it would have more than justified the search for SoHo parking. But Truckfighters made it something different entirely. There was no irony to what they did, no cheeky self-awareness masking insecurity. They took the stage, the crowd and the whole damn place. It was theirs. No worries. They gave it back after an hour or so.
I can’t remember the last time I saw people dance at a show. Not even just rocking out — legitimately dancing. Of course, it might have helped that guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren only stopped jumping up and down to take the occasional stroll through the crowd. It might have been the best use of a wireless rig I’ve ever seen. As he made his way toward the back of the venue, soloing all the while, the fuzz in his tone was epic, and the set played out like the stoner rock ideal. You could have filmed it and used it as a promo video, people were so excited.
It was kind of odd timing for Truckfighters to come to the States, since their last album, Mania, was released in 2009, but if this is just how the timing worked out and this was when they could all do it, fine. They killed. They managed to keep their intensity up for nearly the entire set, and it was easy to understand what prompted Josh Homme to say they’re the greatest band he’s ever seen, since they showed much of the same fluidity in their songs as does the Queens of the Stone Age guitarist/vocalist when playing live.
That is, though the songs had their given structures, there was an element of freedom in the trio’s handling of them. Bassist/vocalist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm had his parts to sing and obviously he, Dango and drummer Oscar “Pezo” Johansson weren’t getting up there and improvising for an hour, but each stop was held out longer for crowd interplay, and where most bands set a clear divide between themselves and their audience — “I’m here and you’re there” — Truckfighters engaged completely. You wanted to be a part of it, to go along with it, and they wanted to bring you. And in the case of Dango and someone’s girlfriend in the audience, they also wanted to make out a little bit toward the end of the set.
They had fun. It seems like such an easy thing, but it wasn’t about mocking something, or being rockstar assholes, or performing in some theatrical sense. They delivered a slew of material and closed with “Desert Cruiser” from 2005’s Gravity X debut, and they sounded like desert rock kings doing it. It was dangerous, out of control and completely fucking awesome. Motion was constant. For the second time in a week, I feel like everything I have to say about a show is hyperbole, but it’s absolutely true. Truckfighters paid off in full every bit of the anticipation I’d had to see them, and I have no idea when I’ll see a rock show that’s that good again.
I was handed a tray of drinks as their set wound down from the bar next to which I was standing, and I placed them on the stage next to Dango, like an offering. Of course, they got off stage preceding an encore and in that time some spoiled yuppie scumbag girls stoke their beers, but the sentiment of appreciation was there, anyway. The room cleared out on the quick after that encore, and I too was splittsville, not imagining any way the evening could possibly get better.
Who knows when they’ll have another album out, and who knows when and if they’ll ever come back. While they played, none of it mattered. All there was was fuzz and glory.
If you want to prove it, you can print the flier below, but I think pretty much all you have to say at the door is “I read The Obelisk,” and you get in for free.
The show is July 15 at the Cake Shop in Manhattan, and hands down, it’s going to be one of the year’s best gigs, with Swedish fuzz mavens Truckfighters making their Stateside debut, and receiving welcome from Maple Forum alums Kings Destroy, Massachusetts space doomers Blue Aside and Doom Capitol-ists Borracho (whose new and soon-to-be-reviewed album, Splitting Sky, is available now). My temptation here is to launch into hyperbole about how these bands are saving rock or this or that, but the simple truth is it’s going to be a really special night and I’m thrilled to be able to take part in it in this small way.
So yeah, say “The Obelisk” at the door and you won’t have to pay to get in. Here’s the flier for the show:
Special thanks to Steve Murphy and Kings Destroy, to Truckfighters, Blue Aside, Borracho and the Cake Shop.
Boston space doomers Blue Aside have sent over a massive update for their upcoming tour (featuring shows with Truckfighters and a ton of other quality bands, among them Blackwolfgoat, Kings Destroy, Clamfight and Rukut) and their next album, which will reportedly be titled The Moles of a Dying Race and will be mixed in August and released sometime thereafter. There’s a whole lot of news in the press release, so be ready:
Blue Aside will be touring the Northeast and Midwest in July to support the release of their The Orange Tree 12” off Hydro-Phonic Records. The tour will consist of 12 dates in which they will be sharing the stage with Truckfighters, KingsDestroy, Black Pyramid, Mountain Goat, Dr. Device, From the Embrace, Clamfight, Ironweed, Blackwolfgoat, SuperKillerRobots, VanWalton, Mockingbird and many other great bands!
07/14 Ralph’s Diner Worcester, MA w/Truckfighters, Black Pyramid & Mockingbird
07/15 The Cake ShopNewYork, NY w/Truckfighters, KingsDestroy & Borracho
07/16 J.R.’s Philadelphia, PA w/ Clamfight, Bitchslicer, ThunderbirdDivine (ex-Wizard Eye) & Rukut
07/17 Mojo 13Wilmington, DE
07/18 The Tudor Lounge Buffalo, NY w/Super Killer Robots & Escape Tower
07/19 TBA Pittsburgh, PA w/ Steve, Surrounded by Mouse & The Walking Ghost
07/20 The Mochbee Cincinatti, OH w/ From the Embrace, Below
07/22 Mulligan’s Pub Grande Rapids, MI w/ Mountain Goat & BerT
07/23 Mac’s Lansing, MI w/ Mountain Goat, Dr. Device & BerT
07/24 Now That’s ClassCleveland, OH w/ Beyond the Gates & Dr. Device
07/28 O’Brien’s Pub Allston, MA w/ Ironweed & Blackwolfgoat
In other news, Blue Aside has finished tracking their upcoming full-length album, The Moles of a Dying Race, the second part of the trilogy which was introduced with their debut release The Orange Tree. Running at 63 minutes, this album features seven new songs and their own unique arrangement of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive.”
The drums were recorded at Black Coffee Sound (BlackPyramid, Elder) in October 2010. The next few months were carefully spent tracking the guitar, bass, sythns and vocals at the band’s studio. Once again, Blue Aside utilized the PhilSpector/Brian Wilson wall of sound technique when layering the instruments, thus creating a massive and psychedelic soundscape for this record. They plan to have Glenn Smith (RawRadarWar, Blackwolfgoat) mix starting the first week of August.
Blue Aside, The Moles of a Dying Race
1. The Moles of a Dying Race – Part 1: Without a Home
2. The Electrode Man
3. Will We Remain Tomorrow?
4. The Moles of a Dying Race – Part 2: No Way Out but Fear
5. The Ice Mammoth
6. We Move to Sleep, Lost in Hollow Parks
7. The Moles of a Dying Race – Part 3: The Blue Sunshine
8. Interstellar Overdrive (Pink Floyd)
Posted in Reviews on December 24th, 2010 by JJ Koczan
Of the several surprises on Boston doomers Blue Aside’s debut EP, The Orange Tree (Hydro-Phonic Records), none struck me more than when I found out there were only three dudes in the band. The layering, specifically in the guitar, and the diversity of the vocal approaches – from death growls to Porcupine Tree-style soothing harmonies and space rock emanations in between – made me sure there were at least four parties involved, if not five. But no, Blue Aside is a trio, boasting ex-members of Palace in Thunderland (the same band from whom sprung Black Pyramid) and Aeolian Race, who came together with a mind toward combining sci-fi lyrics with diverse doom and heavy psychedelia. It’s not a formula that’s never been applied before, but to their credit, I can’t think of a single band out there that sounds like Blue Aside do on The Orange Tree, however genre-ingrained the EP might be.
The five-song, 36-minute EP (for what it’s worth, I probably would have called it a full-length; the fact that Blue Aside didn’t makes me think that when they get around to putting out an LP, it could very well wind up an hour or longer) kicks off with “The Traveler of Time and Space,” the opening riff of which sounds so much like Electric Wizard’s “Witchcult Today” that I was sure Blue Aside were going to turn out to be another in the growing class of occult metal clones – The Orange Tree quickly shifts into different territory. Guitarist Adam Abrams offers some lead lines, and then death metal vocals kick in – all three members of the band are listed as handling vocals, and not having seen them live, I don’t know who contributes which approach – sounding more like Brendan Small’s work in Dethklok than anything else. And that’s not the last time I’m going to make that comparison, either. In no time, though, the track shifts tempo into upbeat space rock to deliver its echoey, clean-sung title line and more soloing from Abrams, backed by the capable tom-work of drummer Matt Netto and the bottom end of Joe Twomey. The second Dethklok comparison comes in the guitars that start second track “Otis’ Sun” (most likely a titular nod at Toronto riff-lords Sons of Otis, whom Blue Aside cite as an influence), which run in multi-layered harmony not unlike the intro to “Go into the Water” from the cartoon outfit’s 2007 debut The Dethalbum, albeit over less active drumming. For what it’s worth, I don’t draw that line in order to poke fun at Blue Aside or anything like that, I’m just trying to give The Orange Tree some context, and certainly the sweetly melodic vocals that kick in on “Otis’ Sun” are all their own.