The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

Posted in Features on June 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-2017-so-far

The time has come to take a look at some of the best albums of 2017 so far. I hardly know where to start. In some ways, this list is harder to put together than the end-of-year one that comes out in December, because by then not only do you have the full year to draw on, but it’s easier to sort of put a narrative to the course of events of 12 months, whereas in this case, obviously, the story is half told. So I guess if the list feels incomplete, that might be part of why.

Even with just six months to work from, the list has become fairly immense. I’ve been keeping track of 2017 releases since about September of last year, and the amount of stuff that’s come through has been staggering. Every year brings good music, and the basic fact of the matter is that if you don’t think so it’s because you’re either unwilling to find it or unwilling to let yourself hear it, but 2017 has been a multi-tiered assault of sounds from all over the world, and it seems like whatever you might be into, the universe stands ready to accommodate.

There’s a lot to say about that — is the market flooded? — but it’s a topic for a different post. I’ll keep it short here and just say that as always, it’s an honor to be covering the stuff that I cover and that I deeply appreciate you taking the time to read. I hope if there’s a release you feel deeply passionate about that you don’t see on my list below that you’ll please let me know about it in the comments.

Also, please note that in order to qualify for this list, a record had to come out on or before June 9. That’s the cutoff.

Okay, here goes:

The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

elder reflections of a floating world

1. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World
2. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War
3. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe
4. Colour Haze, In Her Garden
5. Atavismo, Inerte
6. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us
7. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust
8. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn
9. The Obsessed, Sacred
10. Mothership, High Strangeness
11. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma
12. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals
13. Alunah, Solennial
14. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical
13. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
14. Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
15. PH, Eternal Hayden
16. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
17. T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
18. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
19. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
20. Lord, Blacklisted

Notes

If you keep up with this site at all, there probably aren’t a lot of surprises in there. These are all records that have been discussed at great length over the last six months, reviewed, streamed, analyzed, whathaveyou’d all the way. If you don’t believe me, search any of the names. Still, as far as my personal picks go and who I think has crafted something special over the last six months, this feels pretty representative to me. I managed to live for a full week with the list as you see it above, without making changes. That’s usually my standard.

And as always, it’s a combination of what I’ve listened to most and what I feel has had the greatest impact thus far into the year. Between the two, there was little doubt Elder would take the top spot. I’ve probably listened to the All Them Witches record more than anything else this year, including Elder’s Reflections of a Floating World, but the truth is the Massachusetts trio are working at a level of their own making in terms of their sonic progression, and that they’ve emerged as one of if not the most pivotal American underground heavy rock bands going. The situation was much the same when they put out Lore in 2015 and claimed that year’s top-album spot, but even since then their sound has expanded and they continue to demand ultimate respect.

As for the All Them Witches album — absolute stunner. The increased depth of their arrangements on Sleeping Through the War came at no expense of songwriting, resulting in ultra-memorable material that could either wash over you with melody or shove you out of your seat with the force of its rhythm, and that band continues to be a treasure. No other way to put it.

From there, we move into what I think are the four best heavy psych offerings of 2017 so far, with Samsara Blues Experiment, Colour Haze, Atavismo and Sun Blood Stories, in that order. Samsara Blues Experiment’s return has been a joy to witness and their first album in four years lived up to the occasion. Colour Haze expanded the palette from their last album with In Her Garden and proved as immersive as always. I’m still getting to know that record. Atavismo’s second full-length upped the progressive influences without losing fluidity or cohesion in songwriting, and Sun Blood Stories’ hypnotic shoegaze offered expansive thrills and a sense of varied, beautifully crafted exploration.

A pair of exciting young bands thereafter in Colorado’s Cloud Catcher, whose boogie is right-on-right-on and whose development continues to hold much potential, and Vokonis, whose crushing riffs on The Sunken Djinn were met with an increased focus on structure and tightening of approach that maximized overall impact. The Obsessed’s unexpected return could only be called a triumphant one, and Mothership’s third long-player found them working in a richer sense of mood than previous outings, adding yet more character to what was still a blast of good-time rock and roll. They round out the top 10 in full command of who they are as players.

Granted, the next 10 releases are kind of all over the place, but I think that just shows the overarching quality of work being done across the board. From Spaceslug’s melodic stoner-psych to Electric Moon’s studio return — so, so, so good — to Alunah’s continued growth in nature-worshiping heavy and Arc of Ascent’s comebacker of rolling heavy riffs and metaphysical themes, there’s been so much to take in. I especially like the pairing of Rozamov and Siena Root as a sense of scope for 2017 so far; the former being so dark and crushing and the latter who lived up to calling their record A Dream of Lasting Peace. You want to know both ends of the spectrum? There they are.

PH’s Eternal Hayden gets a nod for its effective reset of the context of that band following the completion of their trilogy of albums, and Geezer’s Psychoriffadelia might have been something of a tossoff in the making, but the level at which the New York trio jams nonetheless assures it a spot here. Plus, a Nazareth cover. So duh.

I couldn’t help but include T.G. Olson’s Foothills Before the Mountain on the list as the Across Tundras frontman creeps closer to a full-band sound for his solo work, adding to his acoustic singer-songwriter foundations, and the crush of Telekinetic Yeti’s post-Sleep riffing evoked so many nods I thought they deserved one here as well. Placing The Devil and the Almighty Blues was difficult, but especially after seeing them live, I felt like I had a better idea of where they were coming from on II, so knew they belonged somewhere, even if it was tucked in at the end. And of course, Lord. Always killer, always experimenting, always chaotic. Never have grind and sludge sounded more cohesive together. They’re the band I wish Soilent Green had become, and yes, I mean that.

Honorable Mention

Let’s do another 10 releases, shall we?

21. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
22. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
23. Brume, Rooster
24. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
25. Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown
26. Demon Head, Thunder on the Fields
27. Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
28. Steak, No God to Save
29. Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
30. Dool, Here Now There Then

And just to make the point, here are even more worthy of note in this space:

Elbrus, Elbrus
Cortez, The Depths Below
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Child, Blueside (a December 2016 release, maybe, but I think the vinyl was this year, so whatever)
Pallbearer, Heartless
Spidergawd, IV
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Loss, Horizonless

There are of course other names as well that come to mind. Like I said at the outset, it’s a crowded field: Hymn, Arbouretum, Green Meteor, REZN, Demon Head, Galley Beggar, Devil’s Witches, Orango, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, Mt. Mountain, Vokonis, Solstafir, High Plains, on and on.

Also worth highlighting several really, really quality live records that have surfaced so far this year. I didn’t really know where to place them among the other studio offerings, but they deserve note for sure:

Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
Death Alley, Live at Roadburn
My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
Enslaved, Roadburn Live

More to Come

Of course, we’re still just barely halfway through the year, so keep on the lookout for more to follow. If you didn’t see my massive 200+ albums to watch for list in January, it has many that have come out and many more still to surface, but here are a few highlight names as well that you’re going to want to keep an eye on in the months ahead:

Queens of the Stone Age
Radio Moscow
The Atomic Bitchwax
Kadavar
Ufomammut
The Midnight Ghost Train
Moon Rats
Clamfight
Egypt
the Melvins
Bison Machine
Seedy Jeezus
High on Fire
Monster Magnet

Thanks for Reading

Before I check out, I’d like to give special mention to Lo-Pan’s In Tensions EP as the best short release of the year thus far. Along with EPs from Godhunter, Kings Destroy, Solace and Shroud Eater, it has assured those seeking a quick fix are handed their ass in return for asking.

Well, that’s about where I’m at with it. As per usual, I’m sure there are things I forgot and/or left off here, because I’m human and whatnot, so please if you have something to add, feel free to do so in the comments so long as you can keep it cordial. No name calling. I’m sensitive and you’ll ruin my whole day. I mean that.

Thanks again for being a part of this and here’s to an excellent rest of 2017.

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audiObelisk Transmission 061

Posted in Podcasts on May 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk podcast 61

Click Here to Download

 

Yes! A new podcast! Are you stoked? I’m stoked. If you’re not, you will be when you look at the list of bands included. In any case, let’s be stoked together, because rock and roll, and heavy psych and good music and, well, yeah. That’s pretty much stuff to be stoked about. It’s been absurdly long since the last time we did one of these. Too long. I don’t really have an excuse other than… gainful employment? Don’t worry, though. That’ll be over soon enough. Then it’ll be podcasts out the ass.

There’s some killer goods here though. Yeah, I decided to do a “Yeti” double-shot with Green Yeti into Telekinetic Yeti. That’s my version of me being clever. But both bands are righteous, and if you haven’t heard the Savanah record, or that new Tia Carrera jam, or the Cachemira or Big Kizz or Yagow or Vokonis or the Elder — oh hell, frickin’ all of it — it’s worth your time. That Emil Amos track just premiered the other day and I think will surprise a lot of people, and I liked the way it paired with the dark neofolk of Hermitess. And of course we get trippy in the second hour, as is the custom around here. But first a moment of prog clarity from the aforementioned Elder. That’s a good time as well.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Track details follow:

First Hour:

0:00:00 Vokonis, “The Sunken Djinn” from The Sunken Djinn
0:06:47 Tia Carrera, “Laid Back (Frontside Rock ‘n’ Roll)” from Laid Back (Frontside Rock ‘n’ Roll)
0:16:33 Supersonic Blues, “Supersonic Blues Theme” from Supersonic Blues Theme / Curses on My Soul
0:19:28 Emil Amos, “Elements Cycling” from Filmmusik
0:22:28 Hermitess, “Blood Moon” from Hermitess
0:26:24 Savanah, “Mind” from The Healer
0:34:22 Yagow, “Non-Contractual” from Yagow
0:42:35 Big Kizz, “Eye on You” from Eye on You
0:45:53 Cachemira, “Jungla” from Jungla
0:52:05 Green Yeti, “Black Planets (Part 2)” from Desert Show
0:58:02 Telekinetic Yeti, “Stoned and Feathered” from Abominable

Second Hour:

1:02:10 Elder, “The Falling Veil” from Reflections of a Floating World
1:13:20 Riff Fist, “King Tide” from King Tide
1:24:15 Cavra, “Montaña” from Cavra
1:39:18 Causa Sui, “A Love Supreme” from Live in Copenhagen

Total running time: 1:55:53

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 061

 

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Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen: Flight from Ground

Posted in Reviews on May 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

causa-sui-live-in-copenhagen

The three-word title of Causa Sui‘s Live in Copenhagen, while accurate, hardly conveys the true scope of what’s contained on the release. One expects a certain amount of breadth from the Danish heavy psych masters at this point, especially after their last couple studio offerings, 2013’s Euporie Tide and 2016’s Return to Sky (review here), but across three discs, a span of three years and a total runtime of nearly three hours — two hours and 40 minutes, anyhow — Live in Copenhagen finds Causa Sui at their most exploratory on stage. 2014’s Live at Freak Valley (review here) might be considered a precursor, but even that collection didn’t bring in the temporal dimension the way Live in Copenhagen does, feeling more like a compendium as it captures the release shows for both Euporie Tide at Dragens Hule and Return to Sky at Jazzhouse.

Presented via their own El Paraiso Records as a limited 3LP box set, Live in Copenhagen then is more of an audio documentary than a a standard from-the-stage offering, and both the quality of the recordings — mic’ed, mixed and mastered by the band’s own guitarist Jonas Munk — guest spots from Papir guitarist Nicklas Sørensen and saxophonist Johan Riedenlow (who appears at both shows), a cover of Agitation Free and a 17-minute take on/homage to John Coltrane‘s “A Love Supreme” to close out the Dragens Hule set only further the there’s-something-special-happening-here vibe of the included material, and so there truly seems to be. As someone who’s never had the pleasure of watching Causa Sui perform on stage, Live in Copenhagen obviously brings forth more than the standard show would, but nonetheless offers an immersive representation of their range, chemistry and flow.

No second is wasted in demonstrating precisely those aspects as the Dragons Hule set — which comprises the first two of the three platters of the release — begins with a 13-minute rendition of Euporie Tide closer “Eternal Flow.” Causa Sui immediately signal their will to use their studio material as a launch point rather than something to be directly emulated, and so they vibe their way through that song and all that follows, whether it’s the subsequent “El Paraiso” from their 2005 self-titled debut (released by Nasoni), the drift-into-noise-wash-into-drift-into-noise-wash of “Mireille” or the 15-minute megajam “Portixeddu / Tropic of Capricorn,” which brings forth Riedenlow‘s sax for a first appearance. Ideas are fluidly engaged and followed, and while one might expect that, at a release show, they’d play what was then the new album front-to-back or at least in full, only “Eternal Flow,” “Mireille,” “Homage” and “Euporie” represent Euporie Tide, as the band’s interests clearly lie in pursuing something greater than promoting a single release.

Can’t fault them the outcome, and as Munk, drummer Jakob Skøtt, keyboardist Rasmus Rasmussen and bassist Jess Kahr bring out Sørensen and Riedenlow throughout the proceedings, they lose nothing of the blissful atmosphere they’re able to harness on their own. In fact, it’s “Portixeddu / Tropic of Capricorn” and the subsequent dreamscape of Agitation Free‘s “First Communication” that finds them at their most dug in, though I won’t take anything away from the funked-up fusion experimentalism of “A Love Supreme” either — parts of it work, parts seem like they’re about to dismantle themselves; that’s the point of the song — but as they go, they keep a steady balance through the relatively grounded “Homage” and the Summer Sessions roller “Red Valley” leading into “Euporie” and the aforementioned Coltrane classic. By the time they’ve gotten there and are rounding out the Dragons Hule set en route to the Jazzhouse, it’s little wonder they started out with “Eternal Flow” what already seems like eons and light-years ago; that track would seem to be a mission statement as much as hypnotic beginning to a spellbinding psychedelic convocation. Or, to be blunt about it: one hell of a show.

A couple years later sees Causa Sui and Riedenlow back on stage together, this time at the Jazzhouse, to mark the arrival of Return to Sky. No minor occasion, as that record could easily be argued as the band’s most stylistically expansive to-date, as though they brought the jazz-minded twists of “A Love Supreme” to their own next batch of material. I suspect the venue they chose for the release show isn’t a coincidence either, and as the setlist is a little more representative of the most recent work, with “The Source, “Dawn Passage” and “Mondo Buzzo” included along with Summer Sessions pieces “Rip Tide” and “Eugenie” before they close with “Ju-Ju Blues” from Euporie Tide, the feeling is a little more forward in its intent than it had been at Dragons Hule. Pieces on the whole shorter individually though still marked as Causa Sui‘s own thanks to the significant flow conjured throughout, and wherever they head, the care they put into their execution comes through without taking away from the naturalism on which their style is built.

To wit, they’re no less at home in the full-on fuzz push of “The Source” than they are in the patient and otherworldly progressive nuance of “Dawn Passage,” and while the Jazzhouse set is less expansive time-wise than Dragons Hule at 57 minutes, the approach that Causa Sui bring to the second of the two included shows here is all the more sure-headed for the years that have passed since the prior release gig. Similar to the jump from one album to the next, the jump from one show to the next on this release sees them become a more established and mature outfit. One could easily make the argument that going into Euporie Tide, the four-piece were well in control of their direction — and I’d definitely agree with that — but Return to Sky found them even more so making conscious decisions on how to expand their palette, and the ease with which Riedenlow slides his sax lines into “Eugenie” at the Jazzhouse reaffirms the success of these efforts. To once again be blunt about it: another hell of a show. Perhaps even more so than its predecessor for how vital and engaged the band sounds in the work they’re doing.

After more than two and a half hours’ worth of live Causa Sui, frankly, the thought of more seems needlessly greedy. Still, there’s a part of me that can’t help but wonder how they’ll sound at the release show for their next studio offering. There’s no date set for another release or anything, and I’d think it’s probably more likely they’ll dig into a collaboration or a jam-type outing before they actually get there — following this or that exploratory whim as they’re prone to do — but whenever they get there, how the progressive arc one can trace from Dragons Hule to the Jazzhouse might continue to flourish along what seems to be a developmental trajectory no less palpable than that from one full-length to the following. I wouldn’t speculate as to whether or not they’ll commit to the notion of putting out a corresponding live album for whatever release show they end up next playing, if they do one at all — we live in a universe of infinite possibilities — but between the laughable understatement that Live in Copenhagen‘s title highlights and the expanses contained within the release itself, it’s difficult to hear Causa Sui sound so manifest, so realized as a group, and not still think of the potential they have going forward.

Causa Sui on Thee Facebooks

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Causa Sui Taking Preorders for Live in Copenhagen

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

If you’d like to make yourself sad this morning, afternoon, whatever, go ahead and take a listen to the streaming live Causa Sui track at the bottom of this post and realize that the limited-to-300-copies-3LP-plus-bonus-10″ version of Live in Copenhagen has already sold through its pressing on preorders. The regular 3LP box is still available, as is the CD for those of us who retain an affection for the format, and honestly, I don’t think there’s much more you really need to know about it other than it’s Causa Sui caught live at the release shows for their last two albums, they cover John Coltraine, and Niklas from Papir sits in on one of the sets. No wonder that shit’s already sold out. I’d buy it twice just to make the point, and I may yet.

Those who heard it will recall that the Danish band’s last live outing, 2014’s Live at Freak Valley (review here), was little short of manna from heavy psych heaven, so it goes without saying that if you haven’t yet gotten your order in for Live in Copenhagen, you probably want to get on it.

And seriously, take a listen to “Eternal Flow” down at the bottom of the post. Might make you sad. Will also make your day.

Behold:

causa sui live in copenhagen

Causa Sui – Live in Copenhagen – El Paraiso Records

This limited boxset captures Causa Sui at two very special nights: At the release parties of Euporie Tide (2013) & Return To Sky (2016). While the two albums are tight and meticulous sizes, that helped propel the band to the very pinnacle of European stoner-psych, this heavy package documents the band at their most free and adventurous. Since the band seldomly performes live, this may very well be your best chance to experience what the band is capable of at their best! One show is recorded at avantgarde institution extraordinaire Jazzhouse, while the other captures the sounds of legendary underground venue Dragens Hule in a warm summer night of 2013, where the band played in front of a small, ecstatic crowd until the wee hours. Both shows were recorded multitrack with an A-grade selection of mics and mixed and mastered by Jonas Munk.

During these three discs Causa Sui aren’t merely running through classic cuts from the catalogue. Each track is explored, reinterpreted and given new life – often straying far away from its original roots with a fervent energy. One minute the band is bluesy and heavy, the next they’re repetitive and blissed-out or venturing into a cacophony of Albert Ayler-like sax bursts, free-form electronics and feedback. Swedish saxophone player Johan Riedenlow joins both shows and Papir-guitar player Nicklas Sørensen occasionally adds his magic to the Dragens Hule set – including a towering 13-minute version of Eternal Flow, that seems to channel the energy of mid-1970s Popol Vuh, as well as a breezy cover version of Agitation Free’s ”First Communication”.

”Ju-Ju Blues” from the Jazzhouse set is Causa Sui at their most fuzzed out and Hendrixian, reaching new improvisational heights, whereas ”Dawn Passage” feels like an obvious fusion of Tame Impala and Allman Brothers. On the Dragens Hule sets the band goes all the way out! ”Portixeddu / Tropic Of Capricorn” turns Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis into a crazed sludge-fest, and fan-favourites ”El Paraiso” and “Red Valley” appear here in their ultimate versions. To cap things off the band delivers a 17-minute exclusive tribute to John Coltrane’s ”A Love Supreme” featuring both Johan Riedenlow and Nicklas Sørensen.

The vinyl version of Live In Copenhagen comes as three LPs in heavy duty sleeves packed in a deluxe slipcase box. Limited to 1000 copies.

140 minutes worth of music – recorded at the release parties of Euporie Tide & Return To Sky.

Jazzhouse
01 Rip Tide 6:38
02 The Source 4:42
03 The Juice 8:53
04 Mondo Buzzo 8:35
05 Dawn Passage 9:48 *
06 Eugenie 8:00
07 Ju-Ju Blues 10:45

Dragens Hule pt. 1
01 Eternal Flow 13:01
02 El Paraiso 12:20
03 Mireille 7:39
04 Portixeddu / Tropic Of Capricorn 15:22

Dragens Hule pt. 2
01 First Communication 6:30 (Agitation Free)
02 Homage 9:28
03 Red Valley 10:13
04 Euporie 11:58 *
05 A Love Supreme 16:47 (John Coltrane)

* Digital bonus tracks

http://elparaisorecords.com/releases/causa-sui-live-copenhagen
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