Black Skies and Caltrop to Tour to the West Coast

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 19th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

The only bummer about the news that North Carolinian acts Black Skies and Caltrop have teamed up for a tour is that they’re not coming north and playing a show with Hull. I guess you can’t win ’em all, and good for you West Coast types getting these bands out your way. Why shouldn’t Long Beach have the best weather in the universe and killer gigs? Seems only fair.

Black Skies‘ last album, On the Wings of Time, will be a year old by the time this tour is over. I never gave it a proper review (to my regret), but it’s a solid record and I’ve included the stream from their Bandcamp page below if you want to check it out. Caltrop‘s latest, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes (review here), was also a hoot.

Here are the dates [PLEASE NOTE: Dates updated as of Sept. 24]:

North Carolina bands Caltrop and Black Skies announce Fall tour dates

Friends through the North Carolina Triangle Area metal scene, Black Skies and Caltrop were obvious tour mates as the two both share psychedelic sludge leanings and Southern heavy rock roots. This November, the two bands will hit the road for a coast-to-coast tour.

Oct 31 – Lexington, KY @ Sidecar
Nov 1 – Chicago, IL @ Reggie’s Music Joint
Nov 2 – Iowa City, IA @ Gabe’s
Nov 3 – Omaha, NE @ The Sandbox
Nov 4 – Denver, CO @ Aqualung’s
Nov 5 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Burt’s Tiki Lounge
Nov 6 – Boise, ID @ The Shredder
Nov 7 – Seattle, WA @ The Comet
Nov 8 – Portland, OR @ Plan B
Nov 9 – Eureka, CA @ Little Red Lion
Nov 10 – San Francisco, CA @ Hemlock Tavern
Nov 11 – Long Beach, CA @ Blue Café
Nov 12 – Tempe, AZ @ Yucca
Nov 13 – Albuquerque, NM @ Burt’s Tiki Lounge
Nov 14 – Oklahoma City, OK @ The Conservatory
Nov 15 – Texarkana, AR @ Arrow Bar
Nov 17 – Atlanta, GA @ 529
Nov 18 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Chapel Hill Underground

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The Top 10 of the First Half of 2012

Posted in Features on June 25th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

The last couple years, I’ve done a top five of the first half, and that’s cool, but as I sat down the other day to make the list that follows, I realized the numbers didn’t work. If I’m going to finish 2012 off with a top 20 — which unless a piano falls on my head between now and then I am — then half of that is 10. Half a year, half a top 20. I was never much for math, folks.

But the important thing is I got there in the end, and with a full top 10, I have a little more room to nerd out on what I think are some (not all) of the best releases of the last six months. And just so I can say I said it twice, these are my personal picks, based on what I’ve listened to most as much as whatever estimation of aesthetic value I might make. Let’s get to it:

10. Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild

If you’re asking yourself, “Hey, wasn’t Witch Mountain‘s Cauldron of the Wild just reviewed the other day?” you’re right, it was. That’s why it’s number 10 — because I know it’s a really good record, but I’m not sure yet what the replay value will be as the year progresses. Let it say something that I didn’t want to make this list without including the third album from the Portland doom bluesers, but without the benefit of a little distance from the songs (I still have “Shelter” stuck in my head from reviewing it, though that may prove a permanent scenario), I thought it better to play it cautious than be overly excited. Sometimes it’s hard to restrain the geek within, and I know I’m not the only one Cauldron of the Wild has had that effect on.

9. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes

Deceptively progressive and study on repeat visits, the newest full-length from North Carolina’s Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes, is an album that doesn’t bow to accessibility but gets there naturally on its own anyway. The music the four-piece makes is technically complex, but the use they put that complexity to is warm and inviting, where so much prog feels cold and showy. Maybe that’s the Southern heat working its way into the tracks, but either way, with the varied work of multiple songwriters and a consistency of atmosphere running throughout, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes helped me make the transition out of winter and into the warmer weather. I continue to think of Caltrop as a woefully underrated band.

8. Stubb, Stubb

The self-titled Superhot Records debut from London-based trio Stubb (review here) was a simple case of fuzz done right. The rhythm section here also had a strong outing on Superhot in the form of Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight‘s Going Home (review here), but partnered up with guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, the bass/vocals of Pete Holland and drums of Chris West formed a power trio inspired by classic rock but not imitating it, which is increasingly rare. Their stoner groove was straightforward and heartfelt and the songwriting on tracks like “Mountain” and “Hard Hearted Woman” left absolutely nothing to be desired. I consider myself lucky for having seen them live, and doing so only increased my appreciation for the album.

7. Ararat, II

Sergio Chotsourian‘s second album in post-Los Natas project Ararat (review here) was both more cohesive than its 2009 predecessor, Musica de la Resistencia (review here), and thicker. Indeed, it was his bass tone that made the rumble in extended tracks like “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” so indispensable. Ararat has a different dynamic than did Los Natas, but hearing the beginning of what will hopefully be a long process of development has been part of the fun of listening to the band so far. Still, it’s the songs themselves more than their context that stand out, and every time I listen to “Lobos de Guerra y Cazadores de Elefantes,” I swear it seems like my brain is going to turn into liquid and start seeping out of my ears. It’s hard not to dig a record that makes you feel that way.

6. Ufomammut, Oro: Opus Primum

I’ll admit, this one’s a bit of a running gag I have with myself. Ever since I put Ufomammut‘s Eve as the number six on my top 10 of 2010, I’ve regretted it, and the thing about Oro: Opus Primum is (review here) that it’s only half the album, with Oro: Opus Alter still to come as the second part of their Neurot Recordings debut. So when I was wondering where to stick this thing on the list, the number that immediately came to my head was six and there it stands. Amazing to think that we’ll get another Ufomammut record before the year’s out. I look forward to hearing that, and in the meantime, there have been several occasions for which nothing has seemed quite doomed enough that Oro: Opus Primum has fit just right. Ufomammut have been and continue to be something really special.

5. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned

What’s not to like about the prospect of a new Orange Goblin record? Nothing, that’s what. With killer songs like “Acid Trial,” “The Fog,” “The Filthy and the Few” and blistering leadoff single “Red Tide Rising,” A Eulogy for the Damned (review here) was the first highlight of 2012 and a fitting summation of much of what’s always been awesome about the band, who’ve become godfathers of the British heavy underground. The production on the album is cleaner than the band comes off live, but the energy in the tracks is undeniable, and it’s with that that Orange Goblin justify the five-year wait since 2007’s Healing through Fire last tore the heavy rock scene a new arsehole. They might be real rock ‘n’ roll’s best kept secret at this point, and their seventh album sends the damned out with a fitting tribute from some of their own kind.

4. Conan, Monnos

Try though I may — and I should probably say here that I haven’t tried — I still can’t get the riff to “Grim Tormentor” from Conan‘s Monnos (review here) out of my head. The album, which was the follow-up to 2011’s split with Slomatics and 2010’s mighty Horseback Battle Hammer debut, found the British trio bringing their songwriting up to a level to match Jon Davis‘ monstrous guitar tone, furthering their dual vocal approach between Davis and bassist Phil Coumbe while upping the pace somewhat on the album’s first half lend fleetness to the stomp in Paul O’Neil‘s drums. Monnos‘ second half was more ethereal, slower, swampier, with the morose “Golden Axe” paving the way for “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” to level everything in their path with atmosphere as dense as their musical weight. Easily the heaviest album I’ve heard so far this year.

3. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers

Whenever I do these lists, I hit a point where on a given day they’re all number one. Sometimes it’s just between two albums. In 2010, it was six. This list, so far into 2012, it’s three, and Swedish heavy rock supergroup Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipers (review here) is the first of them. I’ve been stoked on this record since before I heard it, and while that probably doesn’t do much to argue for my impartiality on the matter, I also don’t give a crap, because Greenleaf fucking rules. I’ll have an interview in the weeks to come with guitarist Tommi Holappa (also ex-Dozer) about the band, and once again, this is definitely one that is going to reappear on the top 20 come December. Not a doubt in my mind. I wasn’t sure the band would be able to live up to 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman, but the more I listen to Nest of Vipers, the clearer it becomes that they did precisely that.

2. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time
Brilliantly melodic, rife with complexity of emotion and execution, Los Angeles-based Ancestors‘ third album, In Dreams and Time, was the full-length answer to last year’s blissfully melancholic Invisible White EP. Finding the band mature, progressive and worshiping the song rather than the form, they transcended genre as easily as they embarked on it, crafting a wash of melody in Moog, synth, organ, guitar and vocals alike in their richest arrangements yet, culminating in what’s probably the single best extended guitar solo I’ve heard in the last five years on 19-minute closer “First Light,” a song that’s got so many ups and downs contained within its runtime that it’s practically an album unto itself. A gorgeous record and one that has enriched my excitement for Ancestors as they continue to throw creativity in the face of expectation and not look back either on what they’ve done before or what others think they should be doing.

1. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65

I’m more than happy to confess that part of my enduring affection for Lillie: F-65 comes from the fact that it’s Saint Vitus‘ first album in 17 years. If you want to tell me which part of that isn’t a totally valid reason to make it number one on this list, I’ll listen. It might not change my mind about the album, which arrives following three successfully reunited years touring and doing shows together. Led as ever by the stripped-down songwriting of guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here), Saint Vitus perfectly reinvigorated their most classic methods on Lillie: F-65 (review here) without sounding like they were wearing a suit that didn’t fit. The Tony Reed-produced album was the first to be fronted by Scott “Wino” Weinrich since 1990’s V, and proved that the chemistry between he and Chandler is a huge part of what has made the band legendary in American doom these last several decades. Together with bassist Mark Adams and drummer Henry Vasquez, Chandler and Wino issued the greatest of 2012’s doom triumphs so far, and in a mere fucked-up, feedback-soaked 33 minutes silenced every reunion naysayer with ears to hear their distant scream. Saint Fucking Vitus.

Wouldn’t be a list without a fair bit of honorable mentions. First to Snail, whose Terminus will probably end up on the year-end list when the time for that arrives, and also to C.O.C., High on Fire, Les Discrets, Wino & Conny Ochs and Electric Moon. Been a pretty good year so far. Here’s to the next six months of it.

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Caltrop Interview with Sam Taylor: Measuring Space in Time

Posted in Features on May 15th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

My general assumption when it comes to conducting interviews — especially for people with whom I’ve never spoken before — is that the other person has no idea who I am, what I may have written about their work or any of it, and neither do they have interest in knowing. In that regard, guitarist/vocalist Sam Taylor of North Carolinian foursome Caltrop caught me a little off-guard when he asked if I was the one who wrote the review of his band’s latest album, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes (Holidays for Quince) that appeared on this site.

Without mentioning that I’m the only person who does reviews here, I said I was. I’d been asking about the pairing of obscure and concrete ideas that, to me, the album title and the names of several of the songs — “Shadows and Substance,” “Form and Abandon,” and so on — seemed to be driving toward. When I brought it up, Taylor already had some idea of what I was talking about. I was wrong, as it happened, in my interpretation. The real answer, go figure, was both more specific and more vague: 10 million years is how long it takes energy to form in the sun and eight minutes is as long as it takes to get to the earth. I was way off.

But I mention it not just to point out how off-base I was in estimating what I thought the album was trying to convey, but also to note that in his response, Taylor seemed to be speaking more to the review than to the question I’d actually asked, which was something unique among all the interviews I’ve done so far for this site. I’ve spoken to people who’ve seen their reviews beforehand before, and sometimes I’m more comfortable about that than others — it depends on the review and the amount of typos I find in it later — but Taylor was directly answering the case I made, and even having been wrong, that was exciting.

For me, it was also a thrill to talk to someone from Caltrop, of whom I’ve been a fan since their self-titled EP my way in 2005. I’d missed the release of 2008’s World Class (also on Holidays for Quince), but caught up to it later, and found the band’s growth as a heavy and intricately pastoral act as engaging as it was progressive. Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes, four years later, loses nothing creatively for the length of time, and as Taylor explains in the interview that follows here, the process by which he and the rest of the band — bassist/vocalist Murat Dirlik, guitarist Adam Nolton and drummer John Crouch — rounded out the record is as interesting as the record itself, basically moving away from their joint writing process to each write a whole track and bring it in to the others.

Below, Taylor talks about some of Caltrop‘s motives for taking this approach with Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes, gives his feelings as regards his band’s close relationship with Brooklyn post-metallers Hull, with whom Caltrop has toured several times (the two groups also appeared in each other’s press shots: see if you can spot them here and here), and discusses a range of other topics, including touring-life vs. real-life concerns and the reasoning behind noting who’s singing which part of a song between him and Dirlik in the liner notes of the album.

You’ll find the (mostly) complete 3,500-word Q&A after the jump. Please enjoy.

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Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes: Time Marching to the Swamp

Posted in Reviews on March 21st, 2012 by JJ Koczan

As the album title indicates, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes sets itself to the task of organizing difficult concepts against easier ones. For the human mind to fathom 10 million years would take almost that long, but eight minutes you know. You have some idea of what you can do in that time, whereas 10 million years might as well be infinity. The music of North Carolinian four-piece Caltrop, for whom Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes marks their third outing (the first being a 2006 demo) and second through Holidays for Quince Records behind 2008’s World Class, works in similar fashion, blending such intangible qualities as pastoral vibes and progressive complexities against heavy riffs and thick, weighted grooves. Guitarist Sam Taylor and bassist Murat Dirlik (who also painted the album’s cover) trade vocals back and forth within and between songs, adding further variety to an already diverse eight tracks as guitarist Adam Nolton and drummer John Crouch fill out the Caltrop lineup – the former bolstering and playing off of Taylor’s work and the latter adding subtly technical snare fills to “Light Does Not Get Old” and proving equally capable of driving forward noise rock crunch and punctuating airy ambience within the 5:35 span of “Form and Abandon.” Caltrop are good at playing one side off the other, and Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes shows that just because a recording is raw or natural-sounding it can’t also be cerebrally engaged or melodic.

Both opener “Birdsong” and “Ancient,” which follows immediately, feature landmark guitar solos in their second half, but in fact they’re two very different songs, having in common mostly their tandem efforts to set the course for Caltrop’s breadth on their second full-length. The first cut feels like a journey and is; Taylor’s vocals leading the way with the guitar almost as much as the bass comes to prominence on the fuller, fuzzier Dirlik-fronted “Ancient.” Of the several things one might accuse Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes of being, redundant is not one of them. The album has its indulgent moments and ultimately requires more than a few listens to really sink in – the winding progressivism of “Ancient” alone feels like a test, warm and naturally-toned though it is – but every second of its 53:14 demonstrates its purpose, and Caltrop leave nothing wanting for individual take or even rocking simplicity. They sound like a band who enjoy making simple things complicated, and one good at it to boot. “Light Does Not Get Old” kicks in immediately from “Ancient” and is the most direct transition on the record, bluesy guitar leads backed by jazz rhythms stepping aside for lighter-touch modern-metal timing – Dirlik on bass and Crouch on drums both turn in remarkable performances throughout – as setup for the verses from Taylor. Neither he nor Dirlik is an overly technical singer, but as the music within these tracks shows increasing complexity throughout the album’s progression, their vocals serve to play up and maintain a natural, human feel to the recording. Mostly dry, mostly single-layer, they don’t soar by any stretch, but they serve the songs – and that’s more important.

A bit of slide guitar in “Shadows and Substance” (another invocation of the album title’s idea of vague vs. concrete, perhaps?) provides a pathway over the barrage of tom work from Crouch, and soon the shuffle is underway, Dirlik providing choice fills amid an insistent riff. There isn’t a chorus, per se. Instead, Caltrop continue to pummel that main, cyclical guitar line until gradually it seems to develop a solo and embark from there on a long fadeout. One imagines it’s something that works better in a live setting – minus the fade, plus about five more minutes of balls-out jamming – but it adds a level of intrigue as the 13-minute “Perihelion” begins its deceptively humble intro. Of all the tracks on Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes, “Perihelion” is one of two (near as I can tell) on which Taylor and Dirlik share vocal duties, and certainly the one on which they do the best job of it, the guitarist coming in later to provide despondent contrast to the pastures Dirlik constructs in earlier parts. The fuzz is warm, again, and gentle, and the vocals sweet, and “Perihelion” is easy to get lost in by the time its build really begins toward the five-minute mark. At 6:11, Nolton, Dirlik and Taylor step back to let Crouch introduce the progression of the second half, which he does with frenetic percussiveness, the other instruments joining in first as single-hit punctuation and then soon a full-on descending riff-and-solo interplay that opens into loose-sounding crashes before taking off into the culmination. Taylor takes over on vocals for a twice-repeated bluesman’s lament capped by the lines, “Lord knows I can’t take it anymore/I’m trying to ease your mind/Whoa yeah.”

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audiObelisk: Caltrop Premiere “Blessed” From Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes

Posted in audiObelisk on March 9th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

It feels like cheating somehow to post the song “Blessed” from North Carolinian foursome Caltrop‘s new album, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes. I almost want to put out a spoiler alert with it — WARNING: THIS SONG CONTAINS AN ALBUM-DEFINING APEX.

Maybe that’s not the kind of thing that would fit on a government warning label, but it certainly applies to “Blessed,” which is the penultimate track on Caltrop‘s second full-length for Holidays for Quince Records. Like the rest of the tracks, it follows a blindingly creative direction that never lets go of its immediacy or tonal warmth, but really, to pick one song to premiere that represents Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes as a whole is impossible. The record is too varied, too progressively structured and too engaging as a single work to be so easily parsed.

So I picked what, to me, most feels like the culmination of it. We start off with winding, jazzy fuzz, but soon Caltrop — guitarist/vocalist Sam Taylor, bassist/vocalist Murat Dirlik (who also painted the butterflynoceros on the album cover), guitarist Adam Nolton, and drummer John Crouch — veer into the song’s proggy crux. Other parts of the record feel more informed by the band’s time on the road alongside Brooklyn post-metallers Hull, in what they’re playing more than how it actually sounds, but “Blessed” balances the same kind of tonal sweetness that made 2008’s World Class such a joy with neo-Southern lead work and an overarching build that sweeps you into it before you even realize you’re gone.

And then the warning above applies. “Blessed” has forward motion so subtle but so effective, I couldn’t help pick it to stream, and I hope you’ll agree when you enjoy it on the player below:

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes was recorded and mixed by Nick Petersen in Chapel Hill, NC, and mastered by James Plotkin. The album will be available April 3 as a CD or download and can be pre-ordered through Holidays for Quince here. For more info, check out the band on Thee Facebooks or hit up their website.

Caltrop on tour:

04/12 Charleston, SC Tin Roof
04/14 Charlotte, NC Snug Harbor
04/20 Brooklyn, NY St. Vitus w/ Hull
04/21 Richmond, VA Strange Matter “Year of Shit III”
05/19 Asheville, NC The Get Down
05/22 Harrisonburg, VA Blue Nile
05/23 Pittsburgh, PA 31st Street Pub
05/24 Columbus, OH Carabar

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Buried Treasure: Classy, Classy Caltrop

Posted in Buried Treasure on April 8th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Probably five years ago, a standard yellow padded envelope came across my desk with an elaborate predatory bird drawn on it in red permanent marker. I liked the drawing so much that I kept the envelope and still have it. Of course, it helped that Caltrop‘s 2006 demo, which was contained inside, was killer. The band struck a dirty blues-based sludgy note without going overboard in terms of the aggression, and I still take out that demo every now and then and listen to it.

I even included a track in the all-Southern podcast a couple months back, if you want proof.

In the intervening years between then and now, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, four-piece released their first full-length, World Class, through local imprint Holidays for Quince Records. That was 2008, and though I don’t really have any excuse for doing so, I completely missed the boat on the record. Hey, it happens.

I had planned on picking up World Class when Caltrop played Webster Hall in NYC with Batillus and Hull as the two closed out their tour together at the end of last month, but real life intervened in the form of homework and I didn’t get there. Nonetheless, enough was enough when it came to not owning the album. I dialed up Caltrop‘s website to see if they had a copy for sale, and when they didn’t, I went next to the label. Lo and behold, the package came in Wednesday’s mail.

The sweet Hendrixian fuzz of “Bloodroot” makes World Class worth the $12 I paid for it anyway, but there’s something humble about the vocals too. It’s the same quality that made Pennsylvania‘s Pearls and Brass such a delight to listen to when they were together. It’s folkish and rural, swampy and humid-sounding, but still edgy and better suited to the music than you might think. There’s no pretense in what Caltrop does to being sludge, or stoner, or whatever. They just play the heavy tones they want to hear. That comes through on World Class, and so, the record every bit lives up to its name.

Only shame about the whole thing is that I’m three years late on the album, but if you head over to the Caltrop page on Facebook, it looks like they recently did some recording, so maybe I’ll get my chance to be more timely sometime before 2011’s out. Either way, now that I know what I’ve been missing, I’ll be sure it doesn’t happen again.

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