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.

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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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Review & Track Premiere: Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on October 20th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

causa sui vibraciones doradas

[Click play above to stream ‘El Fuego’ from Causa Sui’s Vibraciones Doradas, out Nov. 17 on El Paraiso Records]

There are few in the realm of heavy psychedelia who offer either the level of tonal depth or the overarching sense of warmth brought to bear by Danish instrumental four-piece Causa Sui. You might say they’ve done an entire group of releases — their three-volume-to-date Summer Sessions series — where the central focus was just that, but really, the bulk of their work tells the story, whether it’s the vitality of their live performance as captured in earlier 2017’s Live in Copenhagen (review here) and their prior live outing, 2014’s Live at Freak Valley (review here), or studio records like 2016’s psych-as-jazz Return to Sky (review here) and 2013’s desert-glorious Euporie Tide (discussed here). The five-track Vibraciones Doradas, released by the band’s own El Paraiso Records, is the latest chapter in this ongoing sonic narrative they’ve thus far put forth, and for fans of the group — a number in which I count myself — their return is welcome as always.

The new album is something of a surprise so soon after Return to Sky, but as one can hear in the fluidity once more conjured by guitarist Jonas Munk, drummer Jakob Skøtt, keyboardist Rasmus Rasmussen and bassist Jess KahrCausa Sui continue to work on their own level when it comes to style, able to shift between the feet-on-the-ground drumming that gives opener “The Drop” its churning beginning and the spacious guitar and keys of “El Fuego” that seem to float that 11-minute second song and side A finisher toward its graceful midsection build. Some of the progressive sensibilities of arrangement cast into Return to Sky have been dialed back — not all, but some — and the resulting live feel even in synth-laden centerpiece drone interlude “Viborera” as it long-fades into the straight-ahead desert riff at the outset of “Seven Hills” ahead of the nine-minute nodder-closer title-cut is flowing and gorgeous in kind. Especially after Live in Copenhagen, one didn’t expect a new studio LP from Causa Sui this year, and they’ve managed to sneak out one of the 2017’s best. Go figure.

Vibraciones Doradas quickly proves its headphone-worthiness with subtle effects swirl branching out from the layers of guitar in “The Drop,” adding a languid and psychedelic feel that contrasts as much as it complements Skøtt‘s surprisingly propulsive drumming. This continues into the multi-tiered solo in the midsection, keys and guitar intertwining for a melodically rich moment of dream-meets-push, and even as Causa Sui turn back toward more grounded fare, there’s Echoplex-ish swirl buried deep, filling out the mix, rising and receding in a current that joins the drums and bass in a fadeout after five minutes in as guitar pastoralia takes hold for the remaining two minutes of the track, hypnotic and otherworldly en route to the stick clicks that begin “El Fuego”‘s run of toms and bass, joined soon by wah guitar. Before long, a full tonal largesse is unveiled, but Causa Sui aren’t looking to crush so much as establish a range, and they set about that work with the earned ease of masters, building, crashing and careening as they will, but never clumsy in that process or putting themselves someplace they don’t actively want to be.

The fuzz in “El Fuego” from Munk should be nothing short of a joy for tone geeks, and as the longest inclusion on Vibraciones Doradas shifts into a patient sprawl at around three minutes into its 11 minutes, the ‘vibe’ indeed seems to be the central theme the album is constructing itself around. Even if this collection is more straightforward in a guitar-bass-drums-keys sense than was Return to Sky — that said, one hears chimes and such deep in the “El Fuego” mix — there remains a spaciousness to Causa Sui‘s method that presents itself in the peaceful ambience of “El Fuego”‘s middle. Once again, the band are by the time five minutes have passed engaged in a linear build toward an apex, but you’d almost never know it until almost another two minutes are gone and they’re arriving at their destination, so peaceful and serene is their spirit. This deep-trance state is something they do exceedingly well, and while “Vibraciones Doradas” will end the record with a wash that earns it the right to bear the album’s title, no doubt “El Fuego” is a model being followed one way or another.

causa sui

For those hearing it digitally or on CD, it’s easy to overlook “Viborera” after “El Fuego,” in part because its ethereal resonance follows that track in a not dissimilar manner to that of the ending of “The Drop” — a shift into transitional ambience — but while its stretch only lasts two minutes and could be argued simply as a means to make side B as long as side A, the lulling effect it has on the listener ahead of the upbeat kick-in of “Seven Hills” isn’t to be understated. Like “The Drop,” “Seven Hills” offers fluidity in its turns and a forward trajectory at once, but the answer-back it gives the opener is deeply affected by “Viborera” before it, which brings a different context to the underlying waves of synth and the emergent guitar leads. Kahr handles the bass beneath Munk‘s solo wash like he’s Causa Sui‘s secret weapon, and indeed he might be, but the soundscape the band are conjuring pulls the best from all four participants, and Rasmussen‘s keys and effects have a considerable say in the atmospheric impressionism of “Seven Hills” as they have all along, adding a contemplative feel to the movement-minded piece, which previews the final crescendo to come in the title-track with its own late-arriving swirl.

Oh, make no mistake: that swirl arrives right on time, just later in the song itself — crackling to a sudden finish as Skøtt sets the march of “Vibraciones Doradas” in motion with simple hits on his floor tom met by fuzzy guitar that before the first minute is done has unveiled its course in some of the biggest-sounding riffing I’ve ever heard from Causa Sui. It lumbers. It plods. Respite comes at about three minutes in as the band shifts into the beginning of what will be Vibraciones Doradas‘ last build, but the ensuing heft early in the titular cut suits them well and is something that feels fresh in their sound, taken on with no less boldness than they seem to take on every new element. There’s a noisy sense of near-impatience as the last build gets underway, marked by tension in the drumming and the layers of guitar, and the payoff that follows more than justifies it, hitting just about eight minutes deep into the nine-minute piece and finishing the record with a cacophonous celebration of its own sonic rite-making. One can hear Skøtt put his sticks down when the drums finish, and soon after, the last of the swirl is gone and Causa Sui leave their audience in silence.

That happens surprisingly fast, though I suppose one might say the same of the entirety of Vibraciones Doradas‘ 37 minutes. The band come in without pretense, set their mission in an instrumental sprawl of heavy psych that plays as much to the first part of that equation as to the second, and accomplish that mission without question or what feels like a single unnecessarily placed note. Efficiency and sprawl have rarely coexisted so peaceably, but if anyone was going to make that happen, it would almost have to be an act of Causa Sui‘s caliber. They persist in making themselves forerunners of the European underground, and their unyielding progression continues to result in some of the most satisfying and engaging fare to come from that vast, crowded sphere. It’s the kind of work that makes you happy to be alive to hear it.

Causa Sui on Thee Facebooks

El Paraiso Records

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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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Landing Announce Tour Dates & Taeppe EP

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 31st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

landing

Connecticut heavy psych drifters Landing are heading out at the end of June and into July for a tour that will take them as far west as Utah and all the way down to Atlanta in a matter of about two weeks’ time. The three-piece issued the full-length Third Sight (review here) last year through respected purveyor El Paraiso Records, and as they make ready to hit the road they’ll do so with a new, limited, tour-exclusive cassette in tow.

Titled Taeppe and presumably pronounced “tape,” the new offering will be a one-time pressing and only available at gigs, so if you don’t happen to make it out to a show, I guess tough luck, though maybe if we start a letter-writing campaign or something they’ll put a couple up on Bandcamp. They’ve got preorders up now ahead of an official June 27 release with a streaming track — also called “Tape” — that you can check out at the bottom of this post, beneath the tour announcement and some more PR-wire-type background.

Dig it:

landing tour

We’re hitting the road!

To coincide with the tour, we’re releasing a limited edition cassette EP titled “Taeppe” that will only be available at the shows. Pre-order link here: https://landing.bandcamp.com/album/taeppe-ep

June 27- Red Cross House, Northampton, MA
June 28- This Ain’t Hollywood, Hamilton, ON
June 29- UFO Factory, Detroit, MI
June 30- State Street, Indianapolis, IN
July 1- Foam, St. Louis, MO
July 2- Kitty Kat Club, Minneapolis, MN
July 3- Vaudeville Mews, Des Moines, IA
July 5- Diabolical Records, SLC, UT
July 8- Cheer Up Charlie’s, Austin, TX
July 9- Gasa Gasa, New Orleans, LA
July 10- 529, Atlanta, GA
July 11- Neptune’s, Raleigh, NC
July 12- TBA, Lynchburg, VA

Hope to see you out there!!

Bio:

Connecticut’s Landing have specialized in a mild and rural kind of psychedelia over the course of nearly two decades. Recent releases have seen them closer to post-punk and shoegaze territory than ever, but Third Sight – recorded specifically for El Paraiso Records’ Impetus series – builds on the hallucinatory soundscapes of the band’s earliest days.

And despite releasing one brilliant album after another the band remains appalingly under-appreciated. Perhaps because the tryyps Landing take are rooted in self-exploration. As trends in krautrock, drone, folk, and psychedelia ebb and flow, Landing remain unfazed. The door to Landing’s world is open, but there isn’t a flashing neon sign above it. These guys are far removed from the hustle and bustle of geographic cultural bubbles, both physically and spiritually.

Landing lineup for Taeppe EP:
Adrienne Snow • Vocals
Daron Gardner • Bass/Drones
Aaron Snow • Guitar/Synth/Drums/Bass/Vocals
Kryssi Battalene • Guitar on Side A
John Miller • Drums on “Together”

https://www.facebook.com/Landingtryyps
https://landing.bandcamp.com/
http://landingsite.net/
http://elparaisorecords.com/artists/landing
https://www.facebook.com/elparaisorecords/

Landing, Taeppe (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

El Paraiso Records on Thee Facebooks

El Paraiso Records on Twitter

El Paraiso Records website

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Review & Full Album Stream: Mythic Sunship, Land Between Rivers

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

mythic sunship land between rivers

[Click play above to stream Mythic Sunship’s Land Between Rivers in its entirety. Album is out today on El Paraiso Records.]

It hasn’t quite been a year since Copenhagen four-piece Mythic Sunship made their debut on El Paraiso Records with the three-song full-length Ouroboros, but that album receives a quick follow-up in the next three-cut installment from the heavy psych rockers. Titled Land Between Rivers, it both expands and contracts the ideas and notions the instrumentalists put forth last time out, adding time to jams here, trimming it there — the whole offering is shorter by about 10 minutes, if you’re counting — but showing a burgeoning conceptual grasp of immersing their listeners in tonal depth and overarching sonic sprawl.

The band — Emil Thorenfeldt, F. E. Denning, Kasper Stougaard Andersen, Rasmus Cleve Christensen — reportedly recorded “Nishapur” (15:31), “High Tide” (13:16) and “Silt” (6:19) in a kind of remote cabin in central Denmark, and with a mix by Jonas Munk of Causa Sui, the group who also helm El Paraiso and artwork to fit the imprint’s long-running aesthetic vision, it presents a cohesive take in sound, atmosphere and flow while asking little of its audience in terms of self-indulgence. An exploratory vibe feels genuine — that is, when Mythic Sunship dig into a jam like that on “Nishapur,” the really dig into it — and with a complementary thickness of low end to act as a grounding force, guitars roam freely in airy post-rock howls and sunburnt krautrock progressivism. They’re not reinventing the wheel as regards heavy psychedelic transcendence, but Mythic Sunship are clearly doing the work of developing a sonic persona through these jams, and the bouts of cacophony that emerge in the meantime like that nine minutes into the opener or at the swirling apex of “High Tide” excite with the dynamic taking shape.

They earn immediate points for launching this spacecraft with “Nishapur,” the longest track clearly intended to comprise the whole of the vinyl’s side A, and of course stretched out enough to be successful in that. Resonance is the first notion proposed on Land Between Rivers, with two guitars intertwining, one unfurling patient strum and the other a humming drone of sweet-toned feedback that shifts into sweetened noodling by the time the first minute has passed. Mindset: accomplished. One thing Mythic Sunship do really well is put the listener at ease and carry them along the record’s course. A graceful flow helps that — it’s not like they’re playing math rock or something so purposefully jagged-sounding — but even so, “Nishapur” presents as a particularly hypnotic effort, with the drums subtly entering at around 2:30 on soft tom hits beneath the guitars and bass.

mythic sunship (Photo-by-Trine-Pihl-Stanley)

They’re building, of course, and low end brings a bit of foreboding to the atmosphere, but they’re past the five-minute mark before things quiet down enough to let the listener know just how far the band has brought them. “Nishapur” enters its next movement over that steady current of drums and nods into a languid groove past its halfway point, shifting ultra-fluidly into a wash of noise that stretches about as far out as Mythic Sunship go on the record — a move that makes positioning the extended track as the leadoff seem even more bold. In a telling show of purpose, they bring the madness down gradually, one measure at a time, and in the last couple minutes seem to find a middle ground that could just as easily push toward another apex instead of crashing out as it does. Maybe the tape was running out? Whatever their reason, it wouldn’t be fair to say “Nishapur” feels cut short, but no question that had they decided to keep pursuing whatever it is they’re after in the song, the momentum is there.

Instead, they let that momentum shift into “High Tide” at the start of side B. Clearly intended to be complemented by the subsequent closer “Silt,” “High Tide” earns its watery title with a due sense of drift, a serenity resulting in the early motion of the guitar that calls to mind some of what Yawning Sons were able to affect on their Ceremony to the Sunset outing before the drums kick in to add more of a push and progadelic atmosphere amid the increasingly winding central progression. West Coast-style heavy psych boogie? Not quite, but not far off. Ultimately, Mythic Sunship‘s tones are fuller and less concerned with vintage ’70s-isms, and as “High Tide” moves through its first half, it opens from this build into a post-rock flow that meets with more proggy chug, spaces out even further moving past the halfway point and finding itself in a more patient linearity the second time around. That is, the shimmering guitar, forward drum push and lower-end rumble don’t strike quite as manic in the back end of the song as in the front, and as “High Tide” oozes toward its second apex, it does so more in a manner keeping with the prior “Nishapur” than in its own first half. Not going to complain either way.

After hitting its peak, “High Tide” recedes and “Silt” is what remains, some feedback leading into a full-breadth wash and thrust of fuzz and immersive tonal reach, as though the band wanted to prove as they rounded out the album that they didn’t need to cross the 10-minute mark to entrance their listenership if they didn’t want to do so. Point taken. Because they’re instrumental and because they create so much space in their sound, there’s room for growth in Mythic Sunship‘s methods in terms of playing more toward an experimentalism of arrangement — keys, percussion, strings, etc. — or even just varying tones in their material, but that’s not to say Land Between Rivers is missing anything, because simply, it isn’t. In its atmosphere and in the poise of its execution, it basks in the organic chemistry between Thorenfeldt, Denning, Andersen and Christensen, and that proves to be more than enough to transport them and their audience through these engaging and consuming jams. May they continue to develop on this path, and if they want to get a little weird along the way, that’s fine too.

Mythic Sunship on Thee Facebooks

Mythic Sunship at El Paraiso Records

El Paraiso Records on Thee Facebooks

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