Øresund Space Collective, Chatoyant Breath: The Eyes, Open

Posted in Reviews on June 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Oresund Space Collective Chatoyant Breath

Every time the Denmark/Portugal/wherever-based outfit Øresund Space Collective put a record out, they’re basically sending their listenership and everyone else an invitation to share in a moment. I don’t want to make it sound too flowery, because the reality of the situation is it’s dudes in a room playing instruments, but what the band creates and has created now for well over a decade lives up to the cliché of reaching beyond the circumstances of its making. Always improvised at least to some extent — safe to say every now and then a riff someone thought of beforehand sneaks in there — their music spreads out as vast and as marvelously psychedelic as their runtimes often likewise find themselves extended. With an ever-fluid lineup and an ever-fluid sound, their latest collection, Chatoyant Breath, includes a stopover from guitarist Gary Arce, founder of Yawning Man and pivotal figure in the creation of Californian desert rock.

Issued on a limited CD and LP run via Space Rock Productions, the offering — the title of which refers to the cat’s-eye effect of gemstones; hence the French root, “chat” — comprises five extended pieces all recorded in a single day. As ever, the group is led by synth master and bandleader Scott “Dr. Space” Heller, whose custom box of wonders with its many mysterious plugs and wires is, also as ever, a galaxy-creator unto itself. Joining Heller and the core of Nick Hill (guitar), Jiri Jon Hjort (bass), Mogens Deenfort Pederson (synth) and Martin Bjerregaard (Gas Giant) on drums is returning player Nicklas Sørensen (guitar; also of Papir), and of course Arce, and together the group ranges beyond two hours and 15 minutes across two discs of positively molten spaced-out voyage. Arce, his tone inimitable and something of which the Palm Desert city council should erect a statue, plays on three of the five cuts, including opener “Peaceful Patterns” (28:37), the subsequent title-track (36:08), which together make up the entirety of disc one, and “Angular Ambrosia” (28:02) on disc two, which leads into the two final jams, “Turbulent Trepidation” (23:21) and “Celestial Sensation” (19:23).

Nick and Nicklas switch up who plays on what — though everybody seems to be all-in on the “Chatoyant Breath” itself — and whoever is involved in whichever given jam, the effect the album has is soothing enough to justify the title of its leadoff, and even as the most active moments of the title-track dip into a kind of upbeat kosmiche reggae or “Angular Ambrosia” rumbles a deeper low-end fuzz beneath the overarching airy guitar notes and copious effects swirl, the shift in the actual amount happening in any given stretch only makes the release more dynamic, rather than detracting from its atmospheric cohesion. One would expect no less from Øresund Space Collective at this stage in their tenure, and though their songs are sometimes carved out of longer jams — further editing is done to make them fit on LP — the group’s underlying mission never wavers: they are capturing the moment of creation as it happens and presenting it to their audience as pure and unrefined as possible. That said, their approach is pretty refined at this point. To my knowledge, Chatoyant Breath is the most recent studio session they’ve had, tracking with the full group in Jan. 2017 and Heller mixing over a period of months afterward.

Oresund Space Collective

Their preceding outing, Oct. 2017’s Hallucinations Inside the Oracle (review here), was put to tape in Nov. 2016, and they never seem to have a session that doesn’t result in at least one release, if not more than that. Accordingly, as this is the latest manifestation of their process, one can also see it as the latest step in their ongoing development. Chemistry at this point is a given — the band wouldn’t exist without it — but for followers of the band who may or may not keep up with their regularly-posted live free-download shows in their group on Thee Facebooks, the clearer realization of their methodology is like a status update from another world: “still here, still far out.” As “Celestial Sensation” winds down and seems to inadvertently (and somewhat ironically, given the album’s runtime and the band’s general longform ways) reference the lead in The Eagles‘ “Hotel California,” the confirmation comes through clearly of another successful endeavor and spirited collaboration. It doesn’t directly mirror the beginning in “Peaceful Patterns” or anything like that — somehow that would almost be too much structure — and the personnel has changed, but that ending nonetheless reaffirms the vitality at work behind an effort that remains serene at its heart.

They’ve never been a band for everybody, and their project remains something that not every listener is going to be able to connect with, but as the official and unofficial catalogs of Øresund Space Collective keep growing, it only becomes more apparent how special an outfit they are, and how much they’ve carved out their own place even among psychedelic jam bands. There are plenty of those around, and plenty who take the instrumentalist and improvisational approach as well, but the level of immersion that Øresund Space Collective emit is their own entirely, and the personality they inject into their grooves isn’t to be overlooked, even if they’re serving as a background or atmospheric listen — that is, even if one isn’t sitting down and analyzing every change or shift in “Angular Ambrosia,” it’s still possible to appreciate what’s happening there, and the same holds true for the rest of the record surrounding. The longer Øresund Space Collective go, the more sustainable their ideas seem, and with such an open sense of what they do behind them, their breadth only continues to move itself forward.

Arce‘s contributions, particularly to the title-track, which is the highlight here and practically a full-length unto itself, are a compelling factor, but there’s no question this is an Øresund Space Collective release. Part of that comes down to the mixing itself and the way it integrates Arce‘s guitar alongside the others and the synth, effects, bass, drums and whatever else, but really, it’s even more about the consuming whole of the jams playing out. Øresund Space Collective have their own kind of space rock, and it’s often less about thrust than it is about drift, and that’s the case with much of what’s made it onto Chatoyant Breath. Once again, the band has dug out its own place amidst the stars and cut the engine to see where gravity takes them. As it invariably must be, the answer to that question is it takes them forward. No doubt that will be the case next time as well, and no doubt there will at some point be a next time. Once you’ve left orbit, why come back?

Øresund Space Collective, Chatoyant Breath (2018)

Øresund Space Collective on The Facebooks

Øresund Space Collective on Bandcamp

Øresund Space Collective website

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Catch the Breeze Post “Paper Lanterns” Video; Glow out March 16

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

catch the breeze

The echoing pastoralia of Catch the Breeze‘s new single occurs as the middle portion of a three-song opening salvo from their forthcoming Kundalini Records debut album, Glow. If nothing else, the record is aptly titled for its shimmering blend of post-punk, post-rock and heavy psychedelic influences, and “Paper Lanterns” which arrives squeezed btween album-opener “So Loud” and the New Wave-y uptempo push of “Enemy,” speaks as fluidly to that blend of styles as it does to, well, everything else. Fluidity is kind of the theme here.

Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Aage Hedensted, bassist Lars Madsen and drummer Andreas Bundgaard, Catch the Breeze — who, yes, would seem to have adopted their moniker from the Slowdive song — push further into progressive post-punk textures on “The Hill” and engage suitably crisp indie pop brightness on “Fields of Sunshine,” propelled subtly by Bundgaard‘s underlying drum tension, but the serenity of Glow‘s initial movement remains, and finds echo — or is it reverb; ha — as “Sleepwalker” meanders spaciously into the closing moment of the record, followed by the more uptempo “Dazed” and six-minute closer “Starlight,” which pulls together the various sides for one last engaging summary of the rather formidable spaces Glow covers in its still-manageable 43-minute span.

It’s interesting to note that the album, which is out March 16, was recorded at least mostly live. That blend puts a human element where one might not otherwise be when it comes to the sound of Catch the Breeze, and in terms of connecting the material to the listener’s consciousness as they make their way through, would seem to bridge that gap with that much more assuredness. Ultimately, despite being Catch the Breeze‘s first long-player, it’s that balance they strike between unabashed emotionalism, progressive sonic texturing, depth of mix and soothing melodies that makes Glow shine in immersive the manner it does.

I’m not entirely sure what loose-fitting-shirt-lady has to do with any of that in the video for “Paper Lanterns,” but the scenery sure is pretty and there’s some we’re-definitely-a-shoegaze-band-style live footage spliced in there as well so help you get a better idea of where Catch the Breeze are coming from, so yeah, have at it.

And of course, enjoy:

Catch the Breeze, “Paper Lanterns” official video

Paper Lanterns is the first single from the debut-album “Glow” by Catch The Breeze. Album out March 16. 2018 on Kundalini Records DK.

Pre-Order – Album – Limited edition vinyl: http://kundalinirecords.dk/produkt/catch-the-breeze-glow/

recorded at TapeTown in Aarhus, Denmark
engineered and mixed by Rasmus Bredvig
mastered by Emil Thomsen at ET Mastering
The video was recorded by Christopher Carson Sinclair and edited by lead singer Aage Hedensted. Kinch.

With dense, broad layers of guitar, engaging bass lines and insisting drum grooves, ‘Paper Lanterns’ draws inspiration from genres as dream-pop and shoegaze. The lyrical video takes the viewer on a colorful flight over Jelshøj that melts into footage of the band performing onstage at Radar, a local venue in Aarhus.

Glow is the title of the debut album by Catch the Breeze. It draws on a wide range of genres from shoegaze, post punk to dreampop. Glow is released March 16th on Kundalini Records DK both digitally and on vinyl and is the follow-up to the bands self-titled EP from 2014.

The album is recorded at TapeTown in Aarhus, Denmark by Rasmus Bredvig in 2017. Through two intense and focused live sessions the band has achieved a raw, dynamic and organic sound that perfectly joins the band’s melodic, noisy and dreamy elements. The songs range from stark minimalism to adventurous compositions. Lush swells of swirling guitars are contrasted by tight drums and catchy bass. At the center stands the voice of Aage Hedensted Kinch, a deep baritone that communicates poetic and evocative lyrics that revolves around themes such as longing, night and inner-city life.

The vinyl pressing is by Nordsø Records, an ambitious pressing plant in Copenhagen, Denmark. The minimalistic cover is adorned by the artwork of Edie Sunday, an American fine-art photographer, who examines the area where the dreamy unconscious washes over the wake state. With a clear inspiration from movies, Sunday’s enchanting, almost surreal artwork perfectly express the enigmatic yet evocative character of both the lyrics and the music.

Catch the Breeze on Thee Facebooks

Catch the Breeze on Instagram

Catch the Breeze on Bandcamp

Catch the Breeze website

Catch the Breeze at Kundalini Records

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Red Lama Announce New Album Motions; Premiere “Awakening” Single

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on January 10th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

red lama photo Sarah Michelle Riisager

A little guest clarinet goes a long way in terms of setting the mood in the new single from Danish psychedelic rockers Red Lama, along with a wash of brooding guitar and a rhythm that seems to bounce and roll at the same time, heavy, melodic fluidity a continuing theme for the seven-piece following their intriguing 2016 debut, Dreams are Free (review here). “Awakening” is the new track, and it’s Bjonko Chalgija guesting on the aforementioned clarinet, and the single is out on Friday and premiering below for your streaming enjoyment.

You might recall Red Lama previously unveiled the single “Post Optimism” in similar fashion back in September. Well, both tracks come from their second album, which the band today announces is titled Motions and will be out next month through All Good Clean Records. Whether you heard “Post Optimism” or not — it’s not to late! that link really works! — take it under advisement to check out the new track below and get yourself brought up to speed on where Red Lama are headed coming off the debut. Cover art, info, links and audio all follow.

Like so:

RED LAMA premieres new single and announce second album

On their sophomore album ‘Motions’, RED LAMA, throw an investigative gaze on a reality that consists of more than the eye is immediately capable of seeing. With a point of departure in the youth of psychedelic rock music, the band travels on through more recent decades of art rock and sonic experimentation and hereby expands with a modern expression that leads the band onto new paths. As such, ‘Motions’ appears as a fresh sounding and unique rock album with a narrative succeeding in both embracing and illustrating the eternal creative movements of the world.

The rock seven piece RED LAMA was formed by a group of friends in 2011. By 2015, the band found their last member and completed the present lineup, who in April 2016 released their debut LP ‘Dreams Are Free’. The album showcases a young rock band with a rhythmical focus and control of their expressive palette seeking to develop the organic, analogue and psychedelic rock music. RED LAMA manifests themselves strongly in a live setting and here the band made a strong mark in 2016-17 with their intense and personal live shows in primarily Denmark. Those having witnessed a RED LAMA concert can confirm the power with which the band communicates its material live.

On RED LAMA’s second album ‘Motions’, the band maintains the same atmospheric, warm and rhythmically based soundscape, still strongly rooted in classic rock music, as also heard on the first album. ‘Motions’ is a collection of songs that appears even sharper in regards to songwriting, arrangement and production compared to the debut. From their starting point in the rock n’ roll of the 60’s and 70’s, the band has expanded its expression with references to kraut rock, British trip hop and Talk Talk-ish art rock of the 80’s. A more disciplined as well as grandiose aesthetic reveals itself and contributes in a wondrous manner to those psychological-kaleidoscopic horizons already disclosed by the musical roots of the band and RED LAMA thus utilizes the potential in the sonic mind travels of more recent decades. Hereby, a more modern rock sound appears and one that, while floating through the decades, relates itself to its present time and its own reality – where this reality might origin from and what it might become.

Reality – what it comes from and what it can become – is exactly the main theme on ‘Motions’ as is the idea of movements and the interrelation of all things. We are all a product of the humans and actions that precede us in the same manner that posterity always will be influenced by the motions we initiate and the actions we perform. Hereby, RED LAMA seeks to describe an immersion into reality where it reveals itself through motions as well as distorted states of reality, that displays the mystical and alternate in the world. In this way, the band works with a form of magical realism, where the ones submerging into the world are likely to also experience those facets of transcendence and the mystical that can express itself through motions and ‘glitch’. The album artwork is created by the artist Nikolaj Hollænder and depicts a wave washing up on a tourist beach. What might appear as a skyline of tourist hotels is instead a glitch, a stretched and distorted representation of reality that can challenge normal perceptions.

Thus on ‘Motions’, RED LAMA is skillfully balancing thematics of reality and consciousness and a compelling synthesis of several decades of spiritual rock music, which as a whole conjures a captivating narrative for the body and mind in eternal movement. This narrative will gather its full strength at the band’s forthcoming shows, where waves of action, consciousness and energy will be exchanged – movements which inevitably will reach and shape every present being and the space surrounding them…as everything will do at all times. Our lives and the space in which it unfolds are forever in motion and ever changing and are therefore eternal as such.

Artwork: Nikolaj Hollænder

Release Date: February 23rd
Label: All Good Clean Records
Format: LP/Digital (album)

Tracklist; Motions:

1. Perfect Strangers
2. Awakening (feat. Bjonko)
3. Post Optimism
4. Have a Great Today
5. Come What May
6. Fular
7. Wave
8. Elements I
9. Elements II

Red Lama:
Johannes Linnet: Vocal
Oliver Fick: Guitar
Jonas Rahbek: Guitar
Frederik Randrup: Bass
Morten Kaas: Organ
Niklas Sjøbeck: Percussion
Marius Linnet: Drums

www.facebook.com/redlamadk
www.instagram.com/red_lama_band
www.soundcloud.com/red-lama
www.redlamaband.bandcamp.com
http://www.allgoodcleanrecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/allgoodcleanrecords/

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Friday Full-Length: Causa Sui, Euporie Tide

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 29th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Call it a watershed moment, or a point of arrival, or whatever you want, there can be no doubt 2013’s Euporie Tide put Causa Sui in their own echelon of progressive heavy psychedelia. And though for the multiple layers of melodic wash its 10-track/64-minute run enacted, it more than earned a headphones-on listen, the truest experience of the third proper studio full-length from the Danish instrumentalists was just the opposite: totally unencumbered, preferably outdoors, as open a space as possible. From 10-minute opener “Homage” onward, Euporie Tide was a record best heard when it had room to breathe.

Causa Sui made their self-titled debut in 2005 through ultra-respected purveyor Nasoni Records — if you see a copy of that CD around, let me know — and followed up via Elektrohasch Schallplatten with Free Ride in 2007. Those two endorsements, Nasoni and Elektrohasch — the latter imprint being run by Stefan Koglek of German heavy psych forebears Colour Haze should be considered pretty key when it comes to dogwhistling the aesthetic guidance under which Causa Sui were working at the time. Between 2008 and 2009, the band would issue the three-part Summer Sessions LP series — collected in ’09 as Summer Sessions Vol. 1-3 (review here; discussed here) by Elektrohasch — and in 2011, the first two installments of their Pewt’r Sessions collaboration with Ron “Pewt’r” Schneiderman of Massachusetts improvisers Sunburned Hand of the Man. The latter two offerings, Pewt’r Sessions 1  and Pewt’r Sessions 2, were also important as they marked the beginning of a new branch in Causa Sui‘s expression with the beginning of the “Impetus” series delivered through their own label, El Paraiso Records.

It was a productive time, but the fact that between their second and third studio long-players, Causa Sui basically spent six years jamming their collective ass off shouldn’t be lost as one makes their way through Euporie Tide, which, with its explorations working around more plotted courses in the serenity of “Echo Springs” and the funk-infused “Boozehound” alike, was nonetheless a beneficiary of all that open creativity in the years immediately prior. Now the foursome of Jakob Skøtt, Jonas Munk, Rasmus Rasmussen and Jess Kahr and working under the tutelage of Munk as producer, Causa Sui stepped beyond their influences in the krautrocking “The Juice,” the psych daydream interlude “Fichelscher Sun” and “Mireille,” the organ opening of which gave way to a fluidity of bass, meander-ready guitar and snare shuffle that seems to foretell a golden age of psychedelic jazz fusion just waiting to be realized. I’m still holding my breath for it, frankly, but however they got there, Causa Sui had clearly become masters of the form, and they bent their aesthetic to the whims of their craft accordingly and extended the richness of their sound to each and every resonant cymbal hit and fuzzy build. To listen to “Ju-Ju Blues,” which as it enters its midsection feels perilously close to coming apart at the seams, is to hear this mastery made flesh. Amid Echoplex swirl, keys and a head-spinning groove, Causa Sui not only charge forward from the apparent chaos, but make doing so all the more a payoff for the threat averted.

All of this led, like the sonic river that it was, inexorably to the closing duo of “Euporie” and “Eternal Flow.” Running at 10:55 and 9:25, respectively, the pair arrived preceded by the quick ethereal interlude “Sota el Cel,” and were an album unto themselves when it came to the level of front-to-back engagement and overarching fluidity. Causa Sui seemed to know it as well, which is likely how the two pieces wound up positioned in such a way, but regardless of that consciousness, the drifting keys and airy strummed guitar at the center of “Euporie” was an invite to get lost in the track itself just before a directed rhythmic pickup — a genuine chug — took hold that gave Euporie Tide one of its most standout instrumental hooks. The band would rightly ride that progression for a while before shifting back to more peaceful fare and eventually settling into a kind of sonic middle ground en route to the last crescendo wash that cut off suddenly into the silence at the start of “Eternal Flow,” the guitar of which entered as though nothing at all has just happened and began the movement anew. “Eternal Flow” never landed in the same kind of heaviness as “Euporie” before it, but as it passed the six-minute mark, there was a sense of an understated payoff taking place, gently, subtly, that didn’t so much shove the listener into raging waters as languidly float them downstream. That peaceful feeling gave Causa Sui their fadeout cue, and they didn’t miss it, capping the record not with some overbaked and unnecessary push, but a smooth transition for their audience back to a reality that might’ve felt just a bit warmer for the manner in which the hour before was spent.

Fortunately, Euporie Tide kicked off what’s continued to be a prolific time for Causa Sui. In 2014, they followed it with Pewt’r Sessions 3 (review here) and the Live at Freak Valley (review here) outing captured the year prior at the titular German festival. Touring as well, they answered the desert rock aspects of Euporie Tide with the jazzier and more pointedly proggy Return to Sky (review here), and in 2017, surprised with not one but two new releases, the 3LP Live in Copenhagen (review here) and the looser-feeling studio record Vibraciones Doradas (review here) that helped seal the meld of adventurousness and core riffing that, by now, is an essential hallmark of their approach and a facet of the influence they’ve had on other jammers who’ve come along in their wake. I wouldn’t speculate what 2018 might bring from them, but as they’ve grown on each release, they’ve never failed to show a different side of who they are as a band, and the character and individualism that’s brought to their work has made it an utter delight to take on, whether it happens in a wide field on a sunny day or with a set of earbuds on a train. However it happens, the important thing is it happens.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

So hey, next week is 2018, huh? The future. I probably said the same thing last year. Whatever. 2017 felt like the future too. Like a tragic future, plus baby.

Speaking of baby, I need to find some way to adjust my morning writing process because I keep falling asleep at the keyboard and it’s damn near impossible to get anything done as a result. I know. Big newsflash: Dude with two-month-old isn’t getting enough sleep. Other top stories: Sky is blue and sun expected to rise in east. Still. I slept late one day this week — I think it was Wednesday — and it was magnificent. Might try to work more of that into my life.

By the time you read this, I’ll probably either be on my way to having or will already have had a root canal today. Was originally supposed to be last week, but I postponed because I already had a doctor appointment that day and dammit, one’s enough for a day. Anyway, I’m gonna see if they’ll gas me because I’ve had trouble with novocain working in the past and I figure better to go nuclear generally. Maybe I’ll kill a couple important brain cells and not give a shit about politics anymore. That’d be a nice New Year’s thing. Start off 2018 with a clean slate and all that.

See? I keep falling asleep on the couch. God damn.

I’ve decided to do the Quarterly Review the week after next, since next week is New Year’s Day and no one will give a crap anyhow, but there’s still a lot going on. Here’s what’s in the notes thus far:

Mon.: Year-End Poll Results; King Buffalo EP review/track premiere.
Tue.: C.O.C. review.
Wed.: Maybe a review/track premiere of the new album from Manthrass? Could happen. Otherwise, maybe Weedpecker.
Thu.: Greyfell track premiere/review.
Fri.: Either that Weedpecker or maybe Mr. Plow, depending on how the mood strikes.

Also having some messed up dream-snippets on the couch. Before I was at a literary conference and Kurt Vonnegut collapsed at the podium. Just now I was watching a surgery. And just now I saw a bookstore worker push a cart down a flight of stairs. What the hell is going on in my brain?

Okay, time to put the computer down. Be safe on New Year’s. I won’t be up at midnight unless The Pecan is, but if you are, I hope you have a great and safe time. Forum and radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

Posted in Features on December 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

top-30-of-2017

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 2017 to that, please do.

We’re almost at the finish line for 2017, and if I’m honest, it’s not a minute too soon. I think if one more record comes out this year my head is going to explode.

A perpetual onslaught of cool music is, of course, nothing to complain about. It just seemed like every time I thought I had a handle on where the year was going, some other announcement came through and knocked me on my ass. What’s that? The Obsessed are putting out their first album in more than two decades? Oh and Monolord have a new one coming? Radio Moscow just signed to Century Media? Arc of Ascent are back? Samsara Blues Experiment are back? Causa Sui are putting out a live album and a studio album? Sasquatch are going to Europe and sneaking a record along with them? All of a sudden I’m out of breath feeling like I just ran a lap.

It’s been madness this year. Between an emergent neo-psych movement in the wake of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and others, and the ongoing and constant reshaping of doom and heavy rock from practitioners new and old, I don’t know how anyone could ever claim to keep up with any of it.

You know I do the best I can, so when you look through this list, please keep in mind that these are my picks and the result of applying my own standard, which if you’ve ever seen a list on this site before you probably already know is a combination of things like what I view as being important on a critical level and things like what kept me coming back as a listener. What were the year’s biggest releases and what couldn’t I get enough of? Sometimes those two things come together around one record and it’s beautiful. That’s usually your album of the year, or close to, anyhow.

No sense in delaying further. I hope if you haven’t heard some of this stuff you’ll give it a shot, and if you have something you felt strongly about it, you’ll let me know in the comments. Thanks in advance for keeping it civil, and of course for reading.

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and STB Records. Reviewed May 16.

Coming off of what was their strongest album to-date in their 2016 self-titled (review here), New York heavy psych blues trio Geezer decided it was time to take the groove for a walk. And so they did. Psychoriffadelia is the result — a looser collection of jams and willfully unrefined heavy blues, reveling in the politically incorrect on “Dirty Penny” only after basking in the post-Monster Magnet hypnosis of “Red Hook” and the earlier roll of the more straightforward “Hair of the Dog” and “Stressknots.” Everything Geezer has done to this point has pushed their sound to new places. Psychoriffadelia is no exception.

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

More than a touch of twang on opener “Heartland” sets a tone of Americana-infusion for Orango‘s sixth LP, The Mules of Nana, but the 10-tracker is ultimately much more about harmony-laced classic heavy smoothness than playing to prairie-minded sensibilities, though roots spread wide through a natural, dirty blues just the same. However they get there, “Hazy Chain of Mountains,” the softshoe-ready funk of “Head on Down” and the peacefully progressive finish of “Ghost Rider” bring ’70s-style thrills in songwriting and their precise, gorgeous execution. Underrated record from an underappreciated band.

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

Cali boogie kingpins and all-around marvelous frenetic bastards Radio Moscow were in top form on their Century Media debut, and if it was a new beginning they were searching for, they met it head on with a sound as classic and organic as ever. Arguably the most powerful power trio in their game, they tore through cuts like “No One Knows Where They’ve Been” and “Deceiver” while offering flourish in the trip-out “Woodrose Morning” and subdued blues-psych on the penultimate “Pick up the Pieces.” Very much to form, but cast of a form that still manages to outclass all challengers.

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

Released by Southcave Records, BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

And so here we have the first of what will no doubt be several records about which I’m going to say they should be higher on the list. Poland’s Spaceslug have emerged from the moist ground created by their own tonality and on their sophomore full-length, they proffered warm depth of fuzz and a corresponding melodic and psychedelic reach that was resonant even before they brought in ex-Sungrazer bassist Sander Haagmans for a guest spot on the title-track. It’s been out for 10 months and still delivers every time I put it on, which is often.

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

mothership high strangeness
Released by Ripple Music and Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed March 7.

Three albums into a tenure marked by hard-driving riffs, scorching solos and relentless road work, there’s little Texas trio Mothership need to do at this point to prove themselves to their audience. At the same time, High Strangeness brought considerable expansion to their range overall, whether it was the exploratory “Eternal Trip” or the semi-metallic insistence behind “Midnight Express,” while staying tied together with lyrical and instrumental hooks. High Strangeness set a new standard for Mothership, plain and simple, and easily surpassed the considerable accomplishments of their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) and 2014’s Mothership II (review here).

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

There was a lot about Eternal Black‘s Bleed the Days that chugged its way into the post-Wino oeuvre of US-style trad doom, but the gruff, lumbering and impeccably riffed outing was nonetheless one of 2017’s best debut full-lengths, and it was the songwriting that got it there. Already sounding sure in the vibe captured, cuts like the plodding brooder “Sea of Graves” and “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” showed potential in mood and atmosphere as much as sheer sonic heft — though of course there was plenty of that to go around as well. Doomers missed it at their peril.

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

It kind of feels like a slight to have Berlin trio Kadavar appear anywhere outside of at least a top 10 on any kind of list whatsoever, ever, but that’s not my intention at all. Rather, their fourth album and third for Nuclear Blast found them at an important stage in their progression — past the novelty of the vintage feel in their early work, after having proven their songwriting could translate to a modern context, and embarking on a process of expanding their sound. Rough Times, which was as current as current could be, met that goal and beat it easily with a barrage of memorable choruses and a dark streak one could only consider suitable for our age.

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

The biggest surprise about Shroud Eater‘s long-awaited sophomore long-player was also its most encouraging aspect — namely how it found the Miami trio bringing together various impulses shown on a number of shorter releases over the course of the six years since their debut, ThunderNoise (review here), came out in 2011, and still managed to utterly crush when it so chose. With a swath from sludge to drone and back again, this was no minor feat, and that the songs they brought to bear were so memorable at their heart as well makes me hope all the more it’s not 2023 before their third album arrives.

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

What’s left to say about Norwegian progressive black metal innovators Enslaved 14 records into their career? Plenty as it turns out. The introduction of new keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje in place of Herbrand Larsen brought a new twist on a signature element of Enslaved‘s approach. Vinje utterly owned his role, and his performance alongside guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and drummer Cato Bekkevold resulted in a fresh urgency that made the band’s sound even more potent and set their ongoing creative evolution on a new branch of its self-directed path.

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical

arc-of-ascent-realms-of-the-metaphysical

Released by Astral Projection and Clostridium Records. Reviewed April 6.

Some five years on from 2012’s The Higher Key (review here) and seven out from their debut, Circle of the Sun (review here), and with bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson firmly entrenched in his always excellent Lamp of the Universe psych-drone-folk solo-project, I wasn’t sure there would be another offering from New Zealand heavy psych-rock trio Arc of Ascent, but Realms of the Metaphysical took shape from an ether of riffs and echoes atop resilient underlying structures and revitalized the group with new drummer Mark McGeady in the lineup with Williamson and guitarist Matt Cole-Baker. Remains to be seen if this marks a priority shift for Williamson or it’s a one-off, but its arrival was welcome either way.

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

With the various glories already offered in 2017 on the Live in Copenhagen (review here) 3LP, one didn’t necessarily expect a new studio outing from Danish instrumental psych masters Causa Sui, but Vibraciones Doradas found them as vibrant as ever, bringing forth a surprising amount of tonal weight on songs like “El Fuego,” warm fuzz for the basking on opener “The Drop” and spaciousness on the closing title-track. Somewhat more straight-ahead in its rocking groove than 2016’s Return to Sky (review here), the five-track/38-minute long-player showed yet again why Causa Sui are always welcome and that any news of a new release from them, live, studio, whatever, is good news. This was the kind of record that could make your day if you let it.

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

The Iowa-based duo of guitarist/vocalist Alex Baumann and drummer Anthony Dreyer, operating as Telekinetic Yeti, released what I considered to be the debut of the year, both for the fullness of its tonality and the accomplishment in songcraft it already showed. Powered by cuts like its lumbering title-track and the gloriously fuzzed runner “Stoned and Feathered,” it could’ve been another band’s second or third record for the level of cohesion on display and the obvious awareness on the part of the band of what they wanted to do with their sound and the just-as-obvious result of their bringing it to life.

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Dec. 9, 2016.

While I admit I’m still not 100 percent certain on whether to spell “kozmic” in the title with a ‘k’ or with a ‘c’ on the end, that question did nothing ultimately to diminish enjoyment of Denver emergents Cloud Catcher‘s sophomore outing. Topped off by one of the best album covers of the year, the follow-up to their 2015 debut, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here), took the progressive casting of that record to a place entirely more raw and rock-driven, willfully roughing up the edges even as it showed marked creative growth on a relatively quick turnaround. The must-hear bass tone of “Beyond the Electric Sun” and “Super Acid Magick” was icing on a cake of choice riffing and Hendrixian lead swirl, and the shuffle they elicited was enough to make even the most stubborn of asses (i.e. mine) think about moving.

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

After the neo-garage manifestations of their 2015 sophomore outing, Valley of the Snake (review here), it was clear Philly psych rockers Ruby the Hatchet were a force when it came to songwriting. What was less obvious was what they’d do with that going forward. On Planetary Space Child, at least, the answer is they’ll take it to Freaktown. The melody-happy, organ-laced swirlmasters conjured presence kosmiche enough to justify the album’s title, and around the cast-in-moon-rock structures of the swinging “Pagan Ritual” and the playfully doomed “Symphony of the Night,” Ruby the Hatchet built a multifaceted weirdoist triumph the likes of which simply doesn’t come along every year, establishing themselves as more reliable and less predictable than ever: an absolute win.

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

It’s been the case more or less all along with UK forest rockers Alunah that their nature-minded material and heavy rolling grooves have had their haunting aspects, but with the production of Conan‘s Chris Fielding behind it, Solennial — their fourth LP and first on Svart — brought this to new levels entirely. The songs, memorable like footprints in the woods, are somewhat bittersweet in context now, since founding guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day announced in September she was leaving the band, but as the group will move forward led by guitarist Dave Day and recently acquired new singer Siân Greenaway, intrigue remains high at what the future might bring and the impact of Solennial is undiminished.

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

mindkult-lucifers-dream

Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

Virginia-based doomgazing garage cult solo-project Mindkult has thus far managed to keep some of the mystique around its sole inhabitant, Fowst, which is admirable in a way. As the multi-instrmentalist, vocalist and producer this year answered the promise of last year’s Witch’s Oath (review here) debut, he did so around a swath of purposeful miseries, loose devil worship and other dark thematics, casting an atmospheric darkness matched head-on by the tonal murk of his riffs. Through this, however, the songwriting was no less memorable than on the first offering, and as the project moves forward, one can only hope that Fowst will continue to use that as the core aspect buried six feet under his other, formidable stylistic achievements. That certainly was how it worked out on Lucifer’s Dream.

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

argus from fields of fire
Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Sept. 1.

Behold ye perhaps the most underrated band in heavy metal. Regardless of subgenre, style, strata, whatever, it’s hard to listen to From Fields of Fire and think of Pittsburgh’s Argus as anything else. The five-piece’s fourth album continued to owe part of its sound to doom, but was much more encompassing than simply that, touching on aspects of classic metal with a command that left one wondering how they hadn’t yet been tapped to open for Judas Priest on that band’s next tour. Victory abounds on a per-song basis throughout the nine-tracker, and whether it was the emotional crux of “Hour of Longing” or the catchy fistpump righteousness of “Devils of Your Time” or the 11-minute progressive reach of “Infinite Lives/Infinite Doors,” Argus once again crafted a work nigh-unmatched in poise and class.

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

For the first outing ever to be issued under his real name, Denmark’s Uffe Lorenzen — aka Lorenzo Woodrose of garage-psych pioneers Baby Woodrose — danced between acid folk singer-songwriterisms like “Flippertøs” and more expansive jamming on “På Kanten Af Verden,” all the while retaining his distinct structural and arrangement sensibilities and creating a flowing vibe that was nothing less than a pure joy of classic-form psychedelia. The most serene and pastoral freakout one was likely to witness in 2017, easily, Galmandsværk resounded in the Mellotron-laced “Høj Som Et Højhus” and was no less at home in the acoustic spaciousness of the earlier “Remits Tyranni,” able to wander where it pleased and find steady ground in molten surroundings.

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

A welcome return from a viciously underappreciated band, The Flying EyesBurning of the Season marked the Baltimore four-piece’s first offering for Ripple Music and first since 2013’s Lowlands (review here), a four-year stretch during which the band kept busy touring Europe and South America, the latter also being where they recorded these songs with Gabriel Zander at Estudio Superfuzz in Brazil. The tonal depth resulting from that process was enough to make the collection a highlight, but it was the songs themselves that most stood out, benefiting from the band’s expanded reach and legitimate, hard-won maturity. Especially for a group who’ve done so much work on the road over their years — to be fair, the US has been pretty low priority in that regard — they remain a secret kept too well.

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

Doomed extremity simply unmatched in its scope. The song of the year for 2017. An accomplishment the likes of which is prone to happen maybe once or twice in a generation. None of this seems to really speak to the entirety of the achievement that is Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper — the single-song, 83-minute full-length issued by the Seattle duo like a challenge in the face of mortality itself. Beautiful, devastating and weighted like the grave, its sprawl utterly consumed the listener, and I firmly believe it will be years before its depths are fully processed. Some offerings are bigger than the year in which they’re released. Mirror Reaper would seem to function on a scale of its own, and though it could easily be read as a litmus test for audience punishment, the truth of the listening experience is both more emotionally complex and more fulfilling than simple hyperbole can capture.

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

The story all along with Gothenburg’s Monolord has been tone. Tone tone tone. Crush crush crush. Riffs riffs riffs. Nothing wrong with any of that, but their third album, Rust, proves once and for all that there’s more to the trio than “cool riffs bro” and post-Electric Wizard nod. Catchy cuts like “Dear Lucifer” and rolling opener “Where Death Meets the Sea” brought a sense of space leading to the later sprawl of “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae,” and the band settled into an individualized, lumbering psychedelia that moved forward from 2015’s Vænir (review here), not leaving behind the heft that earned them their reputation, but not at all being limited by it either in scope or overall approach. Three records in, Rust brought forth Monolord‘s greatest sonic expansion yet and gave rise to the feeling that their true potential was just starting to come to fruition. Also, crush crush crush. Cool riffs, bro.

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

vokonis-the-sunken-djinn

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

The Sunken Djinn is Vokonis‘ second full-length in as many years, and in addition to serving as their Ripple debut where 2016’s Olde One Ascending (review here) landed via Ozium Records, it was a feast for hungry riff hounds. In defiance of its quick turnaround, it showed a firm evolution taking place within the upstart Swedish trio of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson, whose range overall was greater in tracks like “Rapturous” and the torrential “Blood Vortex” while nonetheless controlled in its delivery. Their Sleep-y origins still a factor sound-wise, Vokonis were able just the same to push themselves ahead into new sonic ground in fittingly lumbering fashion, and the character they brought to “The Sunken Djinn,” “Calling from the Core” and the noise-caked “Maelstroem” seemed to speak to a burgeoning sense of atmospheric focus taking hold as well. Still so much potential here.

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

Do I even need to remotely justify having Electric Moon‘s first studio album in six years on this list? Was it not just like a love-letter issued by the cosmos itself? What more explanation could possibly be necessary? Not that the German trio haven’t dropped copious, glorious live outings all the while, but to have Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, “Komet Lulu” Neudeck and Marcus Schnitzler follow-up 2011’s The Doomsday Machine (review here) with four cuts culminating in the 22-minute sprawl of “(You Will) Live Forever Now” was high on the list of the year’s most satisfying psychedelic journeys. Constantly exploring, their methods always seem geared toward finding the molten essence of space rock itself, and though the songs on Stardust Rituals were a little more crafted than some of their straight-up improv jams, they nonetheless showed there are many avenues one might take to get to the heart of the sun.

7. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us

sun-blood-stories-it-runs-around-the-room-with-us

Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

This one is personal, and by that I mean I love this fucking band. Similar to my experience with their 2015 sophomore outing, Twilight Midnight Morning (review here), the third record by Boise-based trio of Ben Kirby (vocals, guitar, synth, percussion), Amber Pollard (vocals, guitar, theremin, percussion) and Jon Fust (drums, keys, percussion, noise) was one that I simply could not put down. Even now, seeing the name of the record is all I need to have songs like “The Great Destroyer” and the immersive midsection in “Come Like Rain” and “Time Like Smoke” stuck in my head, let alone the ultra-brazen, searingly-pissed “Burn” noise assault that finished the album and in the span of 90 seconds turned all the psychedelic warmth and serenity on its face with a visceral anger completely unforeseen and jarring, turning it from a depth-laden execution of adventurous neo-psych and indie into a project of conceptual artistry with all the efficiency of the chemical reaction it sought to portray. If you missed it, your loss.

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the-atomic-bitchwax-force-field

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

Songs like “Alaskan Thunder Fuck,” “Humble Brag” and “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be?)” assured that the defining character of Force Field, the sixth album from New Jersey’s The Atomic Bitchwax, was pure scorch. That made the 12-cut outing a more than worthy follow-up for 2015’s  Gravitron (review here), which introduced this more speed-rock-minded, aggressive delivery from the tight-as-nails trio, and while they proved they could still lock in a slower groove on the organ-topped finisher “Liv a Little,” head-spinners like the instrumental “Fried, Dyed and Layin’ to the Side” and “Houndstooth” came across like the fruit of the band pushing themselves to the limits of their physical ability in terms of tempo, and their ride along the edge of that line brought thrills at every turn. And make no mistake, there were a lot of turns. Fortunately, bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella seemingly had a corresponding hook in their pocket for each one of them. This band is a national treasure.

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

Warm, fuzzy tones, rhythmic shifts right out of classic progressive rock, melodic intricacy and periodic excursions into glorious psychedelic drift: I’m not sure what wasn’t to like about Inerte, Atavismo‘s second full-length behind 2014’s Desintegración (review here). Comprising five tracks of unmistakable flow and jam-laden fluidity, it was immersive with landmarks along the way to keep the listener from getting too lost, and whether or not one spoke Spanish, the three-piece of Jose “Poti” Moreno (ex-Viaje a 800Mind!), bassist/vocalist Mateo and drummer/vocalist Sandri Pow (also ex-Mind!) made it easy to follow along their purposefully meandering path, offering guidance no less skillful on the 11-minute fuzz-freaker “El Sueño” than the dream-toned linear build of “Belleza Cuatro.” There were very, very few albums I listened to more this year than this one, which is precisely why it is where it is on this list.

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe

samsara-blues-experiment-one-with-the-universe

Released by Electric Magic Records and Abraxas Records. Reviewed May 4.

Four years between records isn’t at all an unheard of stretch. It’s not the longest on this list by any means. But with Berlin heavy psych rockers Samsara Blues Experiment, it really seemed like the band was done, so to have them come back with such force on One with the Universe was, as I know I said at several points throughout the last 12 months, one of the year’s total highlights. Tracked by former bassist Richard Behrens, the group’s fourth album answered the extended-track spread of 2013’s Waiting for the Flood (review here) with a deeper sense of sonic variety, and while the 15-minute title-cut and opener “Vispassana” still had plenty of room for jamming out and even six-minute centerpiece “Glorious Daze” found room for some flourish of organ and sitar, guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt rightly featured the chemistry they’ve built as a trio live and brought to the songs a renewed sense of vigor, sounding — and hopefully being — truly inspired. Waiting for the Flood capped a period of marked productivity across several years. Fingers crossed One with the Universe begins that cycle anew.

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed May 23.

You just can’t consider Elder‘s Reflections of a Floating World outside the context of the progressive achievement that was their prior outing, 2015’s Lore (review here). Where the trio — based now between Massachusetts and Berlin, Germany — took their first two outings, 2008’s self-titled debut (discussed here) and 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), to find their sound, which they began to showcase on the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (review here), it was Lore that brought to fruition the potential that had always been waiting to be unleashed by the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto, and Reflections of a Floating World had the daunting task of being the next further step from that landmark moment. To say the band rose to the occasion is perhaps to undersell the cohesion at work in consuming-but-cohesive pieces like opener “Sanctuary” or “Blind” or “Staving off the Truth,” which brought together clear-headed psychedelia around a wash that seemed to stem as much from rhythm as melody. As they’ve matured stylistically and become a major touring presence, Elder have made themselves perhaps the most pivotal American heavy rock act going, and Reflections of a Floating World brings them to the discovery of yet another apex while at the same time giving zero indication it will be the last one they find.

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

Of course, the bonus of writing about Colour Haze in just about any context is that you get to put Colour Haze on while you’re doing it, and in the case of the 12th LP from these Munich heavy psych forebears, that’s an even more appealing prospect. After stripping down some of the arrangement flourish with 2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), the 13-track/73-minute 2LP In Her Garden brought a revitalized sonic expansion, but as ever, it wasn’t just the horns or the strings or the blend of keys and acoustics that made In Her Garden the unbridled joy that it was and continues to be — it was the underlying performance from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald that gave the album the stem on which its garden grew. That’s not to say Jan Faszbender‘s work on modular synth, Rhodes, and Hammond or the arrangements of strings, tuba, bass-clarinet and trombone throughout hurt anything, just that as Colour Haze have grown into incorporating these elements into their groundbreaking aesthetic, they haven’t left behind the organic chemistry and necessary live feel that has helped them influence a generation of followers over their more than 20-year career. One came through as much as the other on In Her Garden, and that balance gave the overarching warmth of their self-recorded tonality yet another level on which to engage their audience. I’ll be a sucker for Colour Haze for as long as I live, and I have absolutely no problem admitting to and owning that.

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

It was clear early on that Nashville four-piece All Them Witches were contending hard for Album of the Year with Sleeping Through the War, their fourth long-player and second for New West following the mellow vibes of 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (review here). What finally sealed it? The songs. Working with producer Dave Cobb, the each-member-essential lineup of bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, key-specialist Allan van Cleave (Rhodes, Mellotron, piano, organ, etc.) and drummer/graphic artist Robby Staebler solidified their approach in exciting new ways on early cuts like the grunge-crunching “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” and the shuffling “Bruce Lee,” which hit in succession following the fluid lead-in of opener “Bulls,” an introduction of the organic psychedelia and heavy blues that the loose-swinging of “3-5-7″‘s nigh-on-gospel chorus and subsequent, almost maddeningly catchy “Am I Going Up?” would continue to push outward, thereby setting a linear course into a consciousness-capturing side B with “Alabaster” and the jammier “Cowboy Kirk” and “Internet” playing between melodic nuance and mindful, go-with-it drift. The unflinching strength of the material was matched perhaps only by the understatement of its delivery, which was the more staggering considering how easily the arrangements of background vocals on “Am I Going Up?” or  “3-5-7” could have come through as overblown or self-indulgent, and by the time they got down to the light weirdo-bluesy stomp of “Internet” — the key lyric and hook being, “Guess I’ll go live on the internet” — there was no doubting the genuine nature of the realization Sleeping Through the War represented for All Them Witches. Coupling that feeling of achievement with the sheer repeatability of the listening experience itself left no doubt that 2017 belonged to these tracks and the marvelous way the band wove between them, and that whatever other sounds All Them Witches may go on to explore and whatever else they may accomplish as a result, Sleeping Through the War was a truly special moment in their evolution that, as with the best of offerings in any year, will continue to resonate long after the calendar page has turned.

The Next 20

You know, I used to feel like once you got past a top 20, the numbers were arbitrary. Then I felt that way about the top 30. This year, I think I agonized more about what to include in numbers 31-50 than I did between 30 and the album of the year. Put that in your “go figure” file while you chew on these picks:

31. Cities of Mars, Temporal Rifts
32. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cypress Ave.
33. Snowy Dunes, Atlantis
34. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
35. PH, Eternal Hayden
36. Sasquatch, Maneuvers
37. Young Hunter, Dayhiker
38. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
39. Ufomammut, 8
40. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
41. Paradise Lost, Medusa
42. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
43. Arduini / Balich, Dawn of Ages
44. Primitive Man, Caustic
45. Motorpsycho, The Tower
46. Arbouretum, Song of the Rose
47. Hymn, Perish
48. Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle
49. Pallbearer, Heartless
50. Dool, Here Now There Then

There’s so, so much good stuff here. So much. The Cities of Mars debut was a treasure and the only reason it wasn’t on my top debuts list was because I haven’t had the chance to go back in and put it on. The Young Hunter record? Some of their best work yet. Hell, that Arduini / Balich album alone! Then you’ve got huge releases by Pallbearer, Ufomammut, Paradise Lost, Primitive Man, on and on. Like I said at the outset, one more album and my head was gonna explode this year. Way too much to ever hope to keep up with. One thing though I felt like I really wanted to emphasize including was Dool. They’re in the last spot, but make no mistake, in atmosphere and songwriting that album was something really special and loaded with potential. It’s not there because it came in last. It’s there to highlight the point of how much it should be on this list.

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

In case you also weren’t completely overwhelmed this year, maybe another batch of records will do the trick. Here’s some presented alphabetically:

Anathema, The Optimist
Blackfinger, When Colors Fade Away
Child, Blueside
Cortez, The Depths Below
Demon Eye, Prophecies and Lies
Elbrus, Elbrus
Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Five Horse Johnson, Jake Leg Boogie
Mirror Queen, Verdigris
The Obsessed, Sacred
T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
Outsideinside, Sniff a Hot Rock
Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
Steak, No God to Save
Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
Valborg, Endstrand
With the Dead, Love from With the Dead

Plus: Abronia, Lewis and the Strange Magics, Iron Monkey, Band of Spice, Puta Volcano, Galley Beggar, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, REZN, Green Meteor, Demon Head, Lord, Grigax, The Raynbow, Carpet, Norska, Les Lekin, Slow, Ixion, and I’m sure more that I’ll add as the names continue to pop into my head.

I did this back in June as well, but I also want to draw attention to a swath of quality live albums that came out this year. The top pick should be no surprise if you’ve been hanging around the site of late:

Live Albums:
1. SubRosa, Subdued Live at Roadburn
2. Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
3. Slomatics, Futurians Live at Roadburn
4. My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
5. Wight, Fusion Rock Invasion
5. Death Alley, Live at Roadburn

Thank You

It’s been a hell of a year, obviously. Musically and otherwise. As always, I cannot possibly come close to thanking you enough for your incredible and ongoing support of The Obelisk, of what this site is, what it’s become over its nearly nine-year run, what it will continue to become going forward from here. It is astounding to me and deeply humbling that you would possibly take time out of your busy day and your busy life to check out what’s going on here, and words fail me continually when it comes to feeling like I can properly convey my appreciation for that. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Tattoo it on my forehead.

Thank you to The Patient Mrs. for understanding how much I need to be doing this, to Slevin for keeping the site running on the technical end, to Behrang Alavi for taking over hosting earlier this year, to my family for their ongoing support, to The Pecan for sleeping late some mornings and giving me time to write, and to everyone who ever shared a link on social media or made a comment on a post or anything like that. To long-time readers and to newcomers alike — thank you so much. This year has seen a fair share of ups and downs, but the support this site gets sustains me in ways I never expected it could, and that would be impossible without you. Please know how crucial that is to me.

Well, that should do it. I know there are probably disagreements about where things landed on the list, what was included, what was left out, etc., as there always are. All comments are of course welcome — only thing I’d ask is you please keep it civil and respectful of the opinions of others. Otherwise, have at it. Please.

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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The Sonic Dawn Reissue Debut Album Perception in Audiophile Edition

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

I guess I didn’t notice that The Sonic Dawn‘s 2015 debut album, Perception (review here), sounded particularly rough in its original Nasoni Records version, but you can hear pretty clearly from the echoing reaches of “An Easy Heart to Break” the work that’s gone into remastering and remaking the album for this ‘Audiophile Edition.’ I’d be interested to know what specifically the band did to the recording — does this call for a track-by-track? — but even failing that, it’s an excuse to dig back into the record, which they followed up earlier this year with Into the Long Night (review here) on Heavy Psych Sounds, and I’m not about to complain about that. Hence the Bandcamp player at the bottom of the post.

Info follows as posted by the band on the social medias:

the sonic dawn perception vinyl

It’s here – the brand new Audiophile Edition of our debut album, Perception.

With its analogue remaster and fresh cut, straight out of Abbey Road Studios, Perception has never sounded better. Originally released on Nasoni Records in 2015, and sold out long ago, this is the first time the LP is available on black vinyl (180g of course). Crazy thing is, it has never been cheaper either!

Whether you prefer vinyl, CD or a high-quality download via Bandcamp, the improved sound will take you on a trip.

Buy or stream for free via https://thesonicdawn.bandcamp.com/album/perception

PS: Our shipping rates are the lowest in all of the EU and orders are shipped out daily before Xmas.

PPS: If you purchased Perception previously on Bandcamp, just re-download it to get the Audiophile Edition for free!

Tracklisting:
1. An Easy Heart to Break 03:47
2. Lonely Parade 03:17
3. All the Ghosts I Know 05:00
4. The Mustang 04:10
5. Black Cat Woman 02:46
6. Wild at Heart 05:38
7. It’s Tomorrow 02:00
8. Howlin’ Moon 03:24
9. Watching Dust Fall 05:04
10. Fading Soul 04:37

Perception is the debut album by The Sonic Dawn, first released on Nasoni Records, Oct. 31 2015.

What you get here is the Audiophile Edition from 2017, whether you prefer LP, CD or digital. Available as 96 KHz / 24 bit download.

The Sonic Dawn is:
Emil Bureau (guitar, lead vocals)
Jonas Waaben (drums)
Neil Bird (bass guitar)

https://www.facebook.com/thesonicdawn/
https://thesonicdawn.bandcamp.com/
http://thesonicdawn.com/

The Sonic Dawn, Perception (2015)

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Review & Track Premiere: Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on November 6th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

[Click play above to stream ‘På Kanten Af Verden’ from Uffe Lorenzen’s Galmandsværk. Album is out Nov. 10 on Bad Afro Records.]

It would be difficult to overstate the level to which Uffe Lorenzen has contributed to the Danish and wider European heavy underground. Better known by the stage alias of Lorenzo Woodrose, Lorenzen was a member of pivotal anti-trend psych rockers On Trial before going on to found Baby Woodrose and, with that group, assume a figurehead role for Danish garage rock and heavy psychedelia that he maintains to this day — to wit, Baby Woodrose‘s 2016 full-length, Freedom (review here), was marvelous — driven by a relentless creativity that has led him to not only evolve that band but found and contribute to other projects like Dragontears and Spids Nøgenhat, keeping a steady flow of releases through Bad Afro Records and other labels and building a listenership and influence that at this point spans more than a generation.

Galmandsværk is not the first solo album Lorenzen has produced — there was the Pandemonica series of home recordings captured in the ’90s and released in the early 2000s, and Baby Woodrose‘s origins certainly stem from his compositional and performance method — but it is the first solo album he’s ever produced under his own name, and that would not seem to be a decision made lightly. That an artist with nearly 30 years of output under his belt would suddenly decide a single long-player represents his intent enough to put his real name on it when he’s never done so before? Not only that, but the write and sing songs for the first time in his native language?

That may or may not make Lorenzen‘s 10 inclusions on the 36-minute Galmandsværk — the title of which loosely translates to “act of madness” — the truest manifestation of who he is as an artist at this stage in his career, but it should definitely catch the eye of his followers, and taken in kind with the psych-folk basis and arrangements in many of these cuts, it seems to drive toward the notion of conversing with bedrock influences in Lorenzen‘s overall milieu. To be sure, cuts like “Ny By” and the earlier “Ridset Plade” bear the hallmark guitar fuzz and Mellotron spaciousness one might expect from Lorenzo Woodrose, but the shift in context toward a peaceful feel — not to mention the xylophone on “Ny By” — approaches garage rock vintage-ism from a new angle and makes for a deeply satisfying progression in style.

Backed by the not-at-all-language-dependent foundation of Lorenzen‘s songwriting — a standard that remains seemingly unfuckwithable, as shown here in the flute-laden dreamer “Flippertøs” and acoustic, backmasked-sample, keyboard-and-psych-wash-guitar sublime freakout of the penultimate “Høj Som Et Højhus” — Galmandsværk is at once quintessentially his own and a bold foray into new ground, the acoustic origins of many of the arrangements remaining prevalent while nonetheless fleshed out by electrics, keys, percussion and sundry other elements.

uffe lorenzen photo james daltrey

This is especially true on the longest cut and near-centerpiece, “På Kanten Af Verden,” which introduces sitar and percussive elements early into its 5:23 in order to set up a later-emerging jam that hits circa 3:45 joined by more weighted electric guitar tone and provides a singular, standout moment for the record as a whole, at once patient and scorching. In the serenity around it of songs like the aforementioned “Flippertøs” or “Dansker,” which opens, its vibrancy and resonance shimmer all the more, and with the bouncing jaw harp of the subsequent “Sang Om Merværdi,” it marks a turn in energy level that keeps Galmandsværk dynamic and all the more accomplished in its overarching sense of balance.

Fans of Baby Woodrose will no doubt recognize many of the elements at play here from that band, and if nothing else I think that speaks to the level at which that group has come to stand for Lorenzen as a player and composer — somehow making the transition to releasing under his own name seem increasingly natural — but between the language swap and the acoustic basis of songs like “Dansker” and the catchy “Rimets Tyranni” at the outset, Galmandsværk has no trouble establishing its own framework separate from that group, and its distinction does nothing to undercut the atmosphere of immersion and playfulness of style throughout, whether that’s the garage flourish of “Ridset Plade,” the wistful melodicism of “Min Skygge” or the final otherworldliness of “Blues for Havet,” which marks the return of the sitar that showed itself on “På Kanten Af Verden” — the end of side B perhaps calling back to the end of side A; a nod to structure of form one could only call suitable given Lorenzen‘s penchant for same in his craft.

Individual tracks move in any number of directions between garage rock, acid folk and classic psychedelia, but if nothing else, Galmandsværk — the bulk of which was reportedly written by Lorenzen on an island off the coast of Morocco over a 10-week stretch — is properly presented under the artist’s name. It is his own, and he absolutely owns it across what despite the level of engagement remains an utterly manageable LP span. While I’ll admit to feeling somewhat at a disadvantage compared to someone who might be able to examine the lyrics on their own level for being in Danish and talk about Lorenzen‘s representation of himself, of Copenhagen, of Denmark and so on, what comes through clearly in this material regardless of the words being said is a universal nature of sonic equilibrium — a poise that holds itself forward as a crucial aspect no matter where a single track might veer around it.

This can be seen as a function of the single origin of the songs themselves, and with Lorenzen thus at the core, the album is entirely his own. It’s been floated the solo-project will be an ongoing modus of exploration for Lorenzen from here on out, and while it’s difficult to imagine Baby Woodrose being put to rest given the vitality of Freedom and the band’s continued impact, if he does indeed choose to focus elsewhere even for some measure of time, this first act of madness brims with potential for future development while emphasizing the root of what has always made his work so special. It is a triumph, a worthy landmark, and hopefully another step in the ever-forward path of a storied career.

Uffe Lorenzen, “Flippertøs” official video

Uffe Lorenzen on Thee Facebooks

Baby Woodrose on Thee Facebooks

Baby Woodrose on Bandcamp

Baby Woodrose website

Spids Nøgenhat on Thee Facebooks

Galmandsværk at Bad Afro Records Bandcamp

Bad Afro Records on Thee Facebooks

Bad Afro Records website

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Øresund Space Collective, Hallucinations Inside the Oracle: Ever Explorers

Posted in Reviews on October 24th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

oresund space collective hallucinations inside the oracle

For those who’d enter the vast, dense and nebular quadrant of the galaxy occupied by the ever-expanding catalog of Øresund Space Collective, Hallucinations Inside the Oracle makes for a decidedly convenient jumping off point. Sure, its four tracks and 82 minutes are comprised of massive, improvised works of spacefaring heavy psychedelia, marked out on pieces like “The Oracle Pt. 2” by hypnotizing waves of slowly unfolding and undulating particle drift, a kosmiche cascade that those familiar with the amorphously-comprised outfit spearheaded by synthmaster Scott “Dr. Space” Heller will tell you is just how it goes, but it’s also marked out by a pretty accessible core concept, whereas some of the ultra-prolific outfit’s other recent work, whether that’s 2016’s Visions Of… (review here) and the drone-driven Ode to a Black Hole (review here, 2015’s 3LP Different Creatures (review here) or 2014’s we-made-you-look-up-a-word Music for Pogonologists (review here), might be more difficult to easily grasp.

Recorded in Nov. 2016, Hallucinations Inside the Oracle is nonetheless rich in context in that it would seem to be a logical follow-up to/expansion on two other Øresund Space Collective-related offerings — namely the full-lengths crafted by the trio of former Siena Root sitarist KG WestmanHeller and Siena Root drummer Love Forsberg under the moniker West, Space and Love: 2012’s self-titled (discussed here), recorded in 2009, and last year’s West, Space and Love II (review here).

Though Forsberg doesn’t make an appearance on Hallucinations Inside the Oracle, the release does bring Westman into the fold of Øresund Space Collective proper, and his presence on sitar, synth and guitar is quickly felt in the opener “Reflections in the Mind’s Eye,” which at 21:51 is the first of the four side-consuming jams featured, followed by “ESP (Extreme Spatial Perspective)” (19:35), “The Oracle Pt. 1” (22:24) and “The Oracle Pt. 2” (18:27), and it’s Westman‘s contributions that most stand Hallucinations Inside the Oracle out as a place for newcomers to Øresund Space Collective to dive into. The sitar, which isn’t the first thing we hear on “Reflections in the Mind’s Eye” but is pretty close to it and certainly leading the way, presents an organic core that holds together beneath the inevitable swirl that takes hold from the surrounding lineup of Dr. Space, guitarist/synthesist Magnus, bassist Jiri, drummer Tim, bassist/percussionist Hasse, and guitarist/bassist/violinist/etc. Jonathan, and as far out as the Collective go in these tracks, that core helps set a mood that has a classic East-meets-West (pun maybe 25 percent intended) psychedelic vibe that only makes the surrounding fare more immersive.

oresund space collective

Such is demonstrated when “Reflections in the Mind’s Eye” devolves late into a wash of synth noise ahead of the more Tangerine Dream-style synthesized beatmaking on “ESP (Extreme Spatial Perspective).” There’s no sitar on the second piece from what I can discern, but the synth-fueled thruster fire is complemented by fuzzy guitar and layers of various other lysergic noises, swelling in volume and falling back into the depths of the mix, the very sound of a solar system taking shape from gravity’s pull and the condensation of stellar matter. Circa six minutes, “ESP (Extreme Spatial Perspective)” seems to suddenly come apart, but Øresund Space Collective are able to regroup and salvage the jam, redirecting toward a linear build that pays off with surprising thickness as it approaches and passes its 18th minute, thoroughly living up to and beyond its title. And when it’s over? It’s that synth line that remains as the final element to fade out, ending side B with a message of underlying cohesion — a cosmic plan at work.

And so there is. That plan further shows itself as Westman‘s sitar returns for “The Oracle Pt. 1,” his utter mastery of the instrument once more on display in graceful, gradual surroundings that indeed divide naturally as they’re split up — which is to say, it’s not like the jam was just cut in half in a random place; there’s a lull there where the drums seem to end the first part and begin the second, which also finds Westman moved off sitar onto synth and/or guitar. It’s a noteworthy change because it mirrors the dynamic between “Reflections in the Mind’s Eye” and “ESP (Extreme Spatial Perspective)” back on the first LP, though admittedly, “The Oracle Pt. 2” is less beat-driven than the side B inclusion. Still, the complementary nature of one piece into the next isn’t to be understated, and that it essentially happens twice over the course of Hallucinations Inside the Oracle, albeit in different forms, only makes the album an easier foothold for listeners less familiar with the group’s work or the generally massive scope it encompasses. For those less indoctrinated, it is as much about process as outcome, at least from the point of view of one hearing it.

Øresund Space Collective, as ever, are propelled toward and their music seems to emanate from the very moment of creation itself, the live-captured improvisation serving to represent the root of that moment, the first spark of the Big Bang and all the galaxies it set in motion. “The Oracle Pt. 1” and “The Oracle Pt. 2” represent this as perfectly as any Øresund Space Collective piece I’ve heard since the 45-minute “20 Steps Towards the Invisible Door” from Different Creatures (on which Westman also appeared), because as flowing as they are, they’re also incredibly open, given to whatever the moment of their crafting might bring, whether that’s a sitar lead in the first part or the drone-backed guitar exploration in the midsection of the second.

By following these impulses, Øresund Space Collective continue to hone their singular sonic identity and the resonance of their output continues to thrill and entrance in like measure. Indeed, no matter who seems to be involved in a given release, Øresund Space Collective never fail to offer something nuanced amid their overarchingly raw process, and Hallucinations Inside the Oracle is no exception for its progressive and gorgeously executed, extended course. It’s another check-in from a place in the galaxy that teems with such vibrancy and yet seems to only have a single inhabitant — which is to say, they’re in a space all their own.

Øresund Space Collective, Hallucinations Inside the Oracle (2017)

Øresund Space Collective on The Facebooks

Øresund Space Collective on Bandcamp

Øresund Space Collective website

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