Posted in Features on January 1st, 2017 by H.P. Taskmaster
The poll is closed, the results are counted and the top 20 albums of 2016 have been chosen. Hard to argue with the list as it’s shown up over the course of the past month, so I won’t try. Instead, let me just say thanks to incredible amount of participants who contributed this year.
All told, between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, 612 people added their picks to the proceedings, compared to 388 in last year’s poll. Considering how much that number blew my mind on Jan. 1, 2016, I’m sure you can imagine how I feel about adding another 200-plus lists to the pot. In short, I’m astounded, deeply humbled and so, so, so grateful. I feel like we got enough of a sampling this year to give a genuinely representative showing for where people’s heads have been at, so thank you if you were a part of it.
Thank you as well as always to Slevin for running the poll’s back end and tabulating the results. As ever, the weighting system is one in which a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. You’ll find that list (plus some honorable mentions) below, followed by the raw-vote tally.
And after the jump, as has become the tradition, are the full lists of everyone who submitted, alphabetized by name. I’m in there too. It’s a huge amount to wade through, and even if you thought you heard everything in 2016, it should be more than enough to keep you busy for the next year.
One last note: I’m no statistician. Please allow for these numbers to change over the next couple days on some small level.
Top 20 of 2016 — Weighted Results
1. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh (375 points)
2. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow (368)
3. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (324)
4. Asteroid, III (302)
5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil (295)
6. Gozu, Revival (274)
7. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires (253)
8. King Buffalo, Orion (244)
9. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (238)
10. Conan, Revengeance (232)
11. Cough, Still They Pray (228)
12. Holy Grove, Holy Grove (218)
13. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (213)
14. Truckfighters, V (206)
15. Blood Ceremony, Lord of Misrule (200)
16. Khemmis, Hunted (192)
16. Red Fang, Only Ghosts (192)
17. Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (181)
18. Witchcraft, Nucleus (174)
19. Opeth, Sorceress (173)
20. Church of Misery, And then there Were None (159)
Honorable mention to:
Causa Sui, Return to Sky (157)
Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management (157)
Black Mountain, IV (148)
Mos Generator, Abyssinia (144)
Wretch, Wretch (140)
Look at those tallies for number one and two. That race was close all month. Wo Fat kept out front for the most part, but Greenleaf kept it interesting and Elephant Tree’s debut snuck in there at third, which I love to see, both because it’s their first album and because that record was indeed so great. King Buffalo, another debut, also made the top 10, underscoring those two as bands to watch, and though Brant Bjork, Conan, Asteroid, Neurosis, Gozu and Mars Red Sky might be more expected names, they still certainly delivered excellent records, so again, nothing to fight with here. Things flesh out a bit in the 10-20 range, but I don’t think there’s one album on this list you could call is “miss.”
Top 20 of 2016 — Raw Votes
1. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh (109)
2. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow (92)
3. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil (87)
4. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree (82)
5. Asteroid, III (80)
6. Gozu, Revival (76)
7. Conan, Revengeance (73)
8. Cough, Still They Pray (70)
9. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) (68)
10. King Buffalo, Orion (67)
11. Truckfighters, V (62)
12. Red Fang, Only Ghosts (61)
13. Khemmis, Hunted (60)
14. Blood Ceremony, Lord of Misrule (59)
14. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages (59)
15. Holy Grove, Holy Grove (58)
16. Church of Misery, And then there Were None (53)
17. Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (49)
17. Witchcraft, Nucleus (49)
18. Opeth, Sorceress (47)
19. Mos Generator, Abyssinia (45)
20. Black Mountain, IV (44)
20. Causa Sui, Return to Sky (44)
20. Wretch, Wretch (44)
Honorable mention to:
Goatess, II: Purgatory Under New Management (43)
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light (43)
Geezer, Geezer (41)
Crowbar, The Serpent Only Lies (41)
Gojira, Magma (37)
Slomatics, Future Echo Returns (36)
Graves at Sea, The Curse that Is… (35)
Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy (33)
Beastmaker, Lusus Naturae (32)
Vokonis, Olde One Ascending (31)
Left a few more honorable mentions in the raw-vote count, just for fun and so you could get more of a feel beyond the top 20 itself, which you’ll notice has a couple ties in it as the raw votes usually do and reorganizes a bit from the weighted results. One and two remain the same, however, and in the same order, and you’ll see Wo Fat was the only album that scored more than 100 votes on its own. As a whole, there were over 2,400 separate entries for albums this year, which is by far the most spread out that the voting has ever been. Frankly, with so many people involved and such a variety of stuff being voted on, I’m amazed anyone managed to agree on anything at all, but of course they did and once again a stellar list is the result.
Well, Happy New Year.
Before I go, thanks again to Slevin for the work put into running the back end of this site and this poll particularly. I show up with the finish lists, but it’s his code that makes it happen, and his efforts are appreciated more than I can say. Dude has never asked me for anything in the nearly eight years I’ve been a constant pain in his ass.
After the jump, you’ll find everybody’s list, alphabetized by name. Please enjoy browsing. I hope you find something awesome, because there’s certainly plenty in there that qualifies, and if you see something that looks like it appears often enough that it should be included in one or both of the counts above, let me know in the comments.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
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 2016 to that, please do.
I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.
Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.
The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.
This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.
Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.
I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:
Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.
Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.
There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.
A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.
Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.
Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.
There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.
Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.
Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.
Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.
For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.
I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, Neurosis‘ Fires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.
Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.
Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.
I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.
Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.
Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.
Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.
Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.
One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.
If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.
In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.
After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.
Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.
7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know
Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.
German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.
A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.
Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Che, Vista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.
What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.
Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.
2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)
It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.
Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.
The Next 20
Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:
31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll
From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.
Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:
Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment
And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:
Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.
In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.
If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.
And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.
Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ll admit I’m a little surprised at the shape this Quarterly Review has taken. As I begin to look back on the year in terms of what records have been talked about over the span, I find it’s been particularly geared toward debut albums, both in and out of wrap-ups like this one. There’s less of that this time around, but what’s happened is some stuff that doesn’t fall into that category — releases like the first two here, for example — are getting covered here to allow space for the others. Let’s face it, nobody gives a shit what I have to say about Russian Circles anyhow, so whatever, but I’m happy to have this as a vehicle for discussing records I still think are worth discussing — the first two releases here, again for example — rather than letting them fall through the cracks with the glut of new bands coming along. Of course things evolve as you go on, but I wish I’d figured it out sooner. Let’s dive in.
Quarterly Review #31-40:
Russian Circles, Guidance
From the warm wash of guitar that begins “Asa” onward, and no matter how weighted, percussive and/or chug-fueled Russian Circles get from there, the Chicago trio seem to be offering solace on their latest outing, Guidance. Recorded by Kurt Ballou and released through Sargent House, the seven-track offering crosses heavy post-rock soundscapes given marked thickness and distinct intensity on “Vorel,” but the record as a whole never quite loses the serenity in “Asa” or the later “Overboard,” crushing as the subsequent “Calla” gets, and though the spaces they cast in closer “Lisboa” are wide and intimidating, their control of them is utterly complete. Six albums in, Russian Circles are simply masters of what they do. There’s really no other way to put it. They remain forward thinking in terms of investigating new ideas in their sound, but their core approach is set in the fluidity of these songs and they revise their aesthetic with a similar, natural patience to that with which they execute their material.
Following their 2014 RidingEasy Records debut, …Lurar ut dig på prärien (discussed here) – which, presumably met with some pronunciation trouble outside the band’s native Sweden – Salem’s Pot return with Pronounce This!, further refining their blend of psychedelic swirl, odd vibes and garage doom riffing. They remain heavily indoctrinated into the post-Uncle Acid school of buzz and groove, and aren’t afraid to scum it up on “Tranny Takes a Trip” or the slower-shifting first half of “Coal Mind,” but the second portion of that song and “So Gone, so Dead” take a more classically progressive bent that is both refreshing and a significant expansion on what Salem’s Pot have accomplished thus far into their tenure. Still weird, and one doubts that’ll change anytime soon – nor does it need to – but as Pronounce This! plays out, Salem’s Pot demonstrate an open-mindedness that seems to have been underlying their work all along and bring it forward in engaging fashion.
International House of Mancakes – yup – is the follow-up to Bridesmaid’s 2013 long-player, Breakfast at Riffany’s, and like that album, it finds the Columbus, Ohio, instrumentalists with a penchant for inserting dudes’ names into well-known titles – see “Hungry Like Nick Wolf” and “Ronnin’ with the Devil” – but it also expands the lineup to the two-bass/two-drum four-piece of Scott Hyatt and Bob Brinkman (both bass) and Cory Barnt and Boehm (both drums). Topped off with KISS-meets-Village People art from W. Ralph Walters, there are shortages neither of snark nor low end, but buried underneath is a progressive songwriting sensibility that doesn’t come across as overly metal on cuts like “Ricky Thump” and doesn’t sacrifice impact or heft for the sake of self-indulgence. Opening with its longest track (immediate points) in “It’s Alectric (Boogie Woogie Woogie),” International House of Mancakes unfolds a heavy rock push that, while obviously driven in part by its sense of humor, earns serious consideration in these tracks for those willing to actually listen.
Too thick in its tones to be a completely vintage-style work, the sleazy vibes of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s Keep it Greasy! (on Rise Above) are otherwise loyal to circa-1971 boogie and attitude, and whether it’s the rewind moment on opener “U Got Wot I Need” or proto-metallic bass thrust of the “Hawkline Monster” or the brash post-Lemmy push of “Tired ‘n’ Wired,” the album is a celebration of a moment when rock isn’t about being any of those things or anything else, but about having a good time, letting off some steam from a shit job or whatever it is, and trying your damnedest to get laid. Radio samples throughout tie the songs together, but even that carries an analog feel – because radio – and the good Admiral are clearly well versed in the fine art of kicking ass. Familiar in all the right ways with more than enough personality to make that just another part of the charm.
The invitation to completely immerse comes quickly on the 13-minute “Delusion Sound,” which opens Landing’s Third Sight (on El Paraiso), and from there, the Connecticut four-piece sway along a beautiful and melodic drift, easing their way along a full-sounding progression filled out with airy guitar and backing drones, moved forward patiently by its drum march and topped with echoed half-whispers. It’s a flat-out gorgeous initial impression to make, and the instrumental “Third Site” and “Facing South” follow it with a tinge of the experimentalism for which Landing are more known, the former led by guitar and the latter led by cinematic keyboard. To bookend, the 14-minute “Morning Sun” builds as it progresses and draws the various sides together while creating a rising soundscape of its own, every bit earning its name as the vocals emerge in the second half, part of a created wash that is nothing short of beautiful. One could say the same of Third Sight as a whole.
While they’ve spent the last few years kicking around the deeper recesses of Brooklyn’s heavy underground, Reign of Zaius mark their debut release with the 26-minute Planet Of… EP, bringing together seven tracks that show what their time and buildup of material has wrought. Opener “Hate Parade” reminds of earliest Kings Destroy, but on the whole, Reign of Zaius are rawer and more metal at their core, the five-piece delving into shuffle on “Out of Get Mine” and showing an affinity for classic horror in both “They Live” – which starts with a sample of Roddy Piper being all out of bubblegum – and “Farewell to Arms,” previously issued as a single in homage to Evil Dead. The charm of a “Dueling Banjos” reference at the start of “Deliver Me” leads to one of the catchier hooks on Planet Of…, and the shorter “Power Hitter” closes with a bass-heavy paean to smoking out that digs into punkish summation of where Reign of Zaius are coming from generally as they continue to be a band up for having a good time without taking themselves too seriously.
Kind of a mystery just where the time goes on Sydney rockers Transcendent Sea’s self-released 50-minute first album, Ballads of Drowning Men. Sure, straightforward cuts like “Over Easy” and “Mind Queen” are easily enough accounted for with their post-Orange Goblin burl and boozy, guttural delivery from vocalist Sean Bowden, but as the four-piece of Bowden, guitarist Mathew J. Allen, bassist Andrew Auglys and drummer Mark Mills get into the more extended “Throw Me a Line,” “Blood of a Lion” and closer “Way of the Wolf” – all over 10 minutes each – their moves become harder to track. They keep the hooks and the verses, but it’s not like they’re just tacking jams onto otherwise structured tracks, and even when “Way of the Wolf” goes wandering, Bowden keeps it grounded, and that effect is prevalent throughout in balancing Ballads of Drowning Men as a whole. It takes a few listens to get a handle on where Transcendent Sea are coming from in that regard, but their debut proves worth at least that minimal effort.
Brothers Rael and Ryan Andrews, both formerly of Lansing, Michigan, art rockers BerT, revive their heavy punk duo Red Teeth with the four-song Light Bender 7” on GTG Records. Both contribute vocals, and Ryan handles guitar and bass, while Rael is on drums and synth through the quick run of “Light Bender, Sound Bender,” “Tas Pappas,” “134mps” and “Elephant Graveyard,” the longest of which is the opener (immediate points) at 4:49. By the time they get down to “Elephant Graveyard,” one can hear some of the Melvinsian twist and crunch that often surfaced in BerT, but whether it’s the ‘90s-alt-vibes-meet-drum-madness of “134mps” or the almost rockabilly riffing of “Tas Pappas,” Red Teeth – whose last release was eight years ago – have no trouble establishing personality in these songs. Approach with an open mind and the weirdness that persists will be more satisfying, as each track seems to have a context entirely of its own.
One can hear the kind of spacious darkness and through-the-skin cold of New England winters in this new split EP from Connecticut crushers Sea of Bones and grinding New Hampshire compatriots Ramlord from Broken Limbs Recordings. What the two share most of all is an atmosphere of existential destitution, but there’s an underlying sense of the extreme that also ties together Sea of Bones’ “Hopelessness and Decay” (10:36) and Ramlord’s “Incarceration of Clairvoyance (Part III)” (10:10), the latter of which continues a series Ramlord started back in 2012 on a split with Cara Neir. Both acts are very much in their element in their brutality. For Sea of Bones, this is the second release they’ve had out this year behind the improvised and digital-only “Silent Transmissions” 27-minute single, which of course was anything but, and for Ramlord, it’s their first split in two years, but finds their gritty, filthy sound well intact from where they last left it. Nothing to complain about here, unless peace of mind is your thing, because you certainly won’t find any of that.
Philadelphia-based five-piece Holy Smoke formed in the early hours of 2015, and the exclamatory Holy Smoke! It’s a Demo! three-track EP is their debut release. Opening with its longest cut (immediate points) in “Rinse and Repeat,” it finds them blending psychedelic and heavy rock elements and conjuring marked fluidity between them. As the title indicates, it’s a demo, and what one hears throughout is the first material Holy Smoke thought enough of to put to tape, but on “Rinse and Repeat” and the subsequent “Blue Dreams” and “The Firm,” they bring the two sides together well in a way it’s easy to hope they continue to do as they move onto whatever comes next, pulling off “The Firm” particularly with marked swing and a sense of confidence that undercuts the notion of their being their first time out. They have growing to do, and by no means would I consider them established in style, but there’s a spark in the songs that could absolutely catch fire.
Like the song it features, much of Landing‘s new video is impressionistic. Footage of vocalist Adrienne Snow reciting the lyrics is overlaid with a gently rolling tide, and elsewhere there are images of color and shapes that feel less geared toward telling a story than complementing the atmosphere of “Morning Sun” as a whole. There is, of course, plenty of atmosphere to complement. The Connecticut-based four-piece — Adrienne as well as Aaron Snow, Daron Gardner and John Miller — issue their new album, Third Sight, June 17 via El Paraiso Records, and though it only comprises four tracks, it effectively creates its own world within those songs and invites the listener to engage with it.
Third Sight is my first exposure to the New Haven outfit, who’ve been around since 1998, but better late than never for the bright tones and immersive ambience they bring to this latest and by my count eighth full-length outing, which as previously noted, may be one of two out before the end of the year. If you haven’t had the chance to check them out yet, “Morning Sun” might take a runthrough or two to really sink in, since invariably the first time it’ll just hypnotize and leave you wondering where the last five minutes just went when it’s done, but it proves immediately worth repeat, steadfastly conscious listens.
Catalog number: EPR034 Formats: CD/DL/LP (transparent green vinyl limited to 750 copies, includes download card) Release date: June 17, 2016 Distributed by: Cargo Records / Forced Exposure (US)
Connecticut’s Landing have specialized in a mild and rural kind of psychedelia for almost 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.
There’s a unique sense of motoric drift to these four long pieces, and an organic blend of rock instrumentation and analog electronics that brings to mind Eno’s best collaborations in the 1970s. But the group’s flair for fuzzy drones and new weirdsy commune-folk also betrays their affiliation with the experimental American east coast scene – playing shows with Bardo Pond, releasing a split EP with Windy & Carl, playing Terrastock a couple of times, among other things throughout their career.
Posted in Whathaveyou on May 19th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Unless you’re looking to be completely consumed by a warm wash of psychedelic serenity, I’d have to advise you to avoid Landing‘s new single at all costs. For the rest of you non-squares, dive into “Delusion Sound” below and I guarantee you won’t touch bottom. The Connecticut-based band formed in 1998 (how have I not heard them before???) but will make their label debut on El Paraiso next month with Third Sight, a new long-player that, at least according to their website, isn’t the only one that will be out this year — a Complekt album is mentioned in an update from February. Whatever. However much they do or don’t do for the rest of 2016, it seems from “Delusion Sound” like Third Sight is going to have plenty of wash to dig into as the lines between post-rock and psychedelia continue to blur. Sign me up for that drift.
Info follows as hoisted from El Paraiso‘s preorder page, also linked below:
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.
There’s a unique sense of motoric drift to these four long pieces, and an organic blend of rock instrumentation and analog electronics that brings to mind Eno’s best collaborations in the 1970s. But the group’s flair for fuzzy drones and new weirdsy commune-folk also betrays their affiliation with the experimental American east coast scene –these guys have played shows with their friends in Bardo Pond, releasing a split EP with Windy & Carl and playing numerous Terrastocks throughout their existence.
Listening through this LP is likely to stimulate mental images of rural winds blowing across vast American fields of grass, bonfires, blue rivers and power lines sailing through rolling hills. Landing’s psychedelia possesses a rare timelessness. We are proud to present this offering from the band in the El Paraiso catalog!
Posted in Reviews on March 7th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
It may be in part because it’s so steadfastly instrumental that Danish four-piece Causa Sui‘s output hits with such an evocative effect on the listener. The material, as on Return to Sky, the band’s latest and upwards of ninth full-length, depending on what you count — minus jam sessions, live outings and collaborations, it’s number four — is wide open and vehement in its will for exploration, clearly plotted but sounding off the cuff and based heavily on the organically-presented chemistry between drummer Jakob Skøtt, guitarist Jonas Munk, keyboardist Rasmus Rasmussen and bassist Jess Kahr that has only developed further since the band’s last long-player, 2013’s stunning Euporie Tide, as their subsequent offerings, 2014’s Live at Freak Valley (review here) and Pewt’r Sessions 3 (review here), also showed.
That may be thanks partially to the chances taken on solo records by Skøtt and Munk over the last several years, but either way, they’re clearly a stronger band since they started to release through their El Paraiso Records imprint, through which Return to Sky now surfaces and which has become since its start circa 2011 a home for deeply creative and naturalist progressive psychedelia. As their own staple act, Causa Sui flourish across the collected five tracks/45 minutes, which arrive in packaging that has become El Paraiso‘s signature style as an unassuming LP the breadth of which isn’t to be understated, sandwiching between an extended (over 10 minutes) opener and closer some of Causa Sui‘s most resonant studio work to date, and some of the most spacious. Even down to Skøtt‘s snare drum on “The Source” or the preceding opener “Dust Meridian,” Return to Sky establishes a wide-open sphere, and yeah, maybe because there’s so much room it’s so satisfying to get lost in its progression.
Drums lead the way into “Dust Meridian” for guitar, bass and keys to follow, but it’s not long before Causa Sui are cascading and bounding along tight turns backed by what feel like extra percussive layers (I have the feeling they’re not) which shift in a measure’s time into a subdued break of jazzy drumming, sparse guitar and keys and a gradual build on a keyboard riff to a full tonal wash that pushes them past the seven-minute mark, crashing and spacing out along the way, building a tension that drops out before eight minutes in as they let it go in favor of a momentary shift back into the bounding, which in turn ends quiet en route to the more heavy rocking swing of “The Source.” Also the shortest track at 6:36, there are moments on “The Source” that sounds tailor-made for a guest appearance by Sergio Chotsourian, formerly of Los Natas. That doesn’t happen — again, instrumental throughout — but the vibe is right in the song’s early trades between a driving riff and sparser stops and pauses. They dedicate the last two minutes or so to a drone and melodic wash exploration that’s as pastoral as it is encompassing, the drums sitting out while bass provides a foundation for guitar effects and far-off keys.
Listening to the album front to back, it’s the kind of change that’s so fluid it’s almost possible to miss and wonder a minute later where the hell you’ve just been, but it makes a suitably liquid transition into “Mondo Buzzo,” which closes out side A by playing jazzy heavy rock punches off quieter surroundings. Causa Sui weave their way through a soft early going and into heavier push so smoothly, Munk layering in a lead as they head toward the midsection, that it’s hard to follow their going, but “Mondo Buzzo” is striking as much for the weight behind its thrust as for its lush ambience, though it’s with the latter that the four-piece choose to close out side A, turning quickly back to softer jamming of increasing melodic gorgeousness as they make their way through the final few minutes, effects, guitar and keys given a continued sense of structure by the drums, but playing out a bright sunshine that’s more energy than matter, in motion though it is.
While the guitar starts the song, it’s Kahr who makes the most resonant impression in the beginning moments of “Dawn Passage” at the start of side B, a serene bounce emerging from beneath all the airiness overtop in the first minute, the keys adding to the atmosphere in swelling melodies before they drop out and the band continues on the course of a linear build, which is over by the time they hit four of the track’s total eight minutes but leads to more progressive interplay of guitar, bass and keys, percussion fleshing out the jam as they subtly make their way toward another crescendo, which they finish with about a minute to spare for closing out with vastness and soundscaping. It would be difficult for the closing title-track to push out further than Causa Sui have already gone, but the 11-minute finale is ultimately a defining moment for the record that I’m sure by no coincidence bears its name, less improvised sounding in parts, but still untamed and natural, it teases a takeoff at around a minute in and recedes back into watery guitar for a moment before the drums drop out and the guitar sets the build in motion that will consume the next minute-plus in increasingly intense push — the apex of the album.
The payoff, for everything, lasts until about four and a half minutes, and then airy, quiet, almost minimalist guitar chords ring out peacefully but actively over a still-very-much-in-motion bassline (that might be another layer of guitar) to progressive affect, tension held in the latter that will come to the fore over the next six minutes or so as the keys reenter and another build is underway, this time more freaked out and psychedelic. Drums return after a time and Causa Sui carefully, patiently, bring the track forward toward its last noisy peak, getting over to the other side and, of course, moving easily through to finish quiet with volume swells that sound — no doubt purposefully — like waves. Aside from how interactive a listen it is — which is to say, how much of oneself one can put into the listening experience — what’s most striking about Return to Sky is how short it feels. Granted, it is. Euporie Tide topped out at 64 minutes, and Return to Sky is 45; prime for a single-LP release. Whether it was the band’s intent to balance out the fervent stylistic expansion this album represents by taking less actual time, I don’t know, but to think of something so outwardly lush as also being in some way “stripped down” only adds to the depth of the experience, which is welcome, though Causa Sui were hardly lacking anyhow. Their creative pursuit is multifaceted and relentless, and Return to Sky is a well-placed landmark on the road they’re traveling.
Last month, Danish instrumentalists Causa Sui announced their upcoming album, Return to Sky, with a teaser video. That clip was short, but it showed the band reaching well beyond the warm desert-style tones of 2013’s Euporie Tide in favor of a more angular, experimental approach. Today, the band affirms both a March 18 release date and their progression in the first full-song to come from Return to Sky, titled “The Source,” in a kaleidoscoping new video. The track is still psychedelic in its roots, but Causa Sui are pretty clearly looking to expand what that designation means and what they do with it, playing off the chemistry they’ve developed over their decade-plus together and the various avenues members have pursued in solo projects over the last several years.
The four-piece’s reputation has rightly skyrocketed since Euporie Tide, but “The Source” seems more intent on building off what that album accomplished rather than repeating it, and some rougher edges and percussive thud along with the spacious guitars work well to do just that early on as Causa Sui make their way toward a tripped-out atmospheric break in the second half, guitars and keys creating a wash that caps the track on a long fade. Presumably that’s to set up the entry of the next song on Return to Sky, but not having heard the album yet in its entirety, I can’t speak to just how that interplay between tracks might go. However, as anyone who heard Euporie Tide, the subsequent Live at Freak Valley (review here) or Pewt’r Sessions 3 (review here) can attest, these guys are no strangers to creating a sense of flow from one piece to the next.
Use your imagination. They’re clearly using theirs:
Causa Sui, “The Source” official video
Causa Sui are back with a new studio record, the successor to 2013’s Euporie Tide, which consolidated the band as a crucial underground force in the European psych scene and spread their unique brand of warm-toned stoner rock to a wider audience. Return To Sky is a condensed piece of acutely experimental, yet immensely engaging, instrumental rock.
Each of the album’s five epics unfolds as a microcosm of the band’s genre-transcending psychedelia at large, yet adds something different to the whole. There’s a kind of musical metamorphosis taking place that’s deeply ingrained in the band’s natural flux by now: heavy, detuned riffs are transformed into wide, pastoral soundscapes, and fluid minimalism warped into swirling crescendos and back again. Occasionally the band even manages to sound turbulent, fuzzed-out yet strangely peaceful at the very same time.
Whereas so much of today’s psychedelic scene comes off as merely a tribute to a certain period of the past, Causa Sui seem to be on a different mission. More than any other record in their catalog Return To Sky declares their roots in the avant rock of the late 1990s – where different eras and genres merged into something that resonated as much with the present as it celebrated the past. It also reveals the fact that members of the band has had their hands in many different projects since the band’s debut album in 2005: solo excursions into synthesizer music, collaborations with members of Sunburned Hand Of The Man and Tortoise as well as film soundtracks, guest spots with krautrock legends Faust and Damo Suzuki and various improv sessions. It has all worked a subtle influence on the kind of band they have become.
Causa Sui’s music is now more earthy and heavy than ever before, but it’s ability to absorb everything from shoegaze and vintage Italian film music to spiritual jazz, afrobeat and minimalism into its fabric has matured as well. Never before has Causa Sui sounded as deep and mesmerizing as on this set.
Causa Sui: Jonas Munk: Guitars & electronics Jess Kahr: Bass Jakob Skøtt: Drums & Percussion Rasmus Rasmussen: Keys and electronics
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 27th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Papir guitarist Nicklas Sørensen gets the prize with the title of his solo album, Solo. Due out Feb. 19 on El Paraiso Records, the Danish six-stringer’s first offering under his own banner doesn’t quite find him entirely alone. His Papir bandmates show up on tracks like “Solo1” — the entire album is named in such a manner, one through six — to flesh out a full-band feel and complement the synth and quieter explorations that arise elsewhere. Like Papir, it’s instrumental and immersive, but also varied and distinct enough stylistically from the band that Sørensen claiming it as his own makes sense.
The LP version is limited to 500 copies. Can’t imagine those won’t go. Preorders are up now. Art, info and audio follow:
First solo album from Papir guitar player Nicklas Sørensen!
While there’s certain similarities with the oeuvre Nicklas has created with Papir it quickly becomes apparent that this is something quite different. “Solo” begins and ends with the instrument the Copenhagen native fully masters by now: the guitar. Throughout the album his main instrument is being explored as a generator of otherworldly, esoteric sounds as well as a compositional tool and – perhaps most importantly – a transmitter of pristine, cascading melodies.
There’s a peaceful, savory quality to the record that manifests a musical maturity. With help from the rhythm section of Papir as well as Causa Sui’s Jonas Munk (who also recorded the album in El Paraiso Records’ new studio), Nicklas has created a wide, shimmering sound that seems to allude to a multitude of different styles and traditions.
Considering that Nicklas is best known as a hard rocking guitar player with a knack for improvisation it’s perhaps surprising that his inclination for pattern-based minimalism, blissed-out ambience and experimental british “oceanic” music from the 1980s and early 1990s dominates throughout this set.
This is the kind of record that rewards repeated listens – each listen revealing new layers in the architecture of the sound. “Solo” is an affable, slowburning album where each component is given its own space and place to gently unfold and work its magic in the mind of the listener.