T.G. Olson, Riding Roughshod: Torch Songs

Posted in Reviews on December 27th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

tg olson riding roughshod

Even for T.G. Olson, four full-lengths in a year is a lot. The once and perhaps future guitarist/vocalist of Across Tundras started 2018 by issuing Owned and Operated by Twang Trust LLC and A Stone that Forever Rolls (both reviewed here) consecutively in February and March, and it would seem Autumn has been no less productive, with Earthen Pyramid (review here) in September, the two-songer single Wasatch Valley Lady and the Man from Table Mountain (review here), and the latest collection, Riding Roughshod at the end of October. One might perhaps speculate that the successive-month patterning of albums is the result of two especially productive writing periods, but given Olson‘s solo discography — I don’t even know what number release he’s up to in the past five-plus years, but it’s well into the teens at least, and more still if one counts his noise outfit Inget Namn or his drone incarnation Funeral Electrical, not to mention the odd Across Tundras offering here and there; it’s all up on the Bandcamp site for Electric Relics Audio Artifacts, his label, as name-your-price downloads — it’s hard to imagine a time at which he’s not writing songs.

It may well be he just had time in those two seasonal blocks to record when he didn’t over the summer. In any case, four full-length albums in eight months would be enough to make Hawkwind blush, but it’s not necessarily out of character for Olson, and it’s one of the reasons to most admire his project: it’s relentless. As subdued, as melancholic as some of his output can be — and certainly is on Riding Roughshod as well, its nine-song/36-minute run based around acoustic guitar and vocals with layers of wistful pedal steel and other, more experimental aspects rolled in — there is an immediacy to it as well. It is an attempt on Olson‘s part to capture the barebones roots of American folk music, and to put his own twist thereupon. Does that make a song like “Cautious Eyes” or the preceding “Chaser” something along the lines of experimentalist traditionalism? It’s in this collision of ideas that Olson seems most comfortable.

Recording specifics for Riding Roughshod are sparse, but it seems most likely Olson tracked the songs DIY as is his wont, and along with the album, he has it tagged “A=432HZ,” referring to the tuning of A at a frequency said to have healing properties toward cosmic oneness. I’m neither an expert on music theory nor frequency manipulation, but songcraft-as-catharsis is certainly an easy idea to get on board with, and if that’s what’s happening here, so be it. From the opening title-track — making the album like poem titled for its first line — onward, a resonance persists thanks in no small part to the atmospheric layers of drone and various other instruments worked in as Olson seems to harness a mountainous naturalism to a fervent sense of human presence within an overwhelming landscape.

tg olson

“Riding Roughshod” is the shortest track on the long-player that shares its name, and “Chaser” and “Cautious Eyes” follow and lead into the in medias res beginning of “Sunday Morning,” which is wistful enough to almost beg for a weepy country fiddle but does just fine with the guitar instead. His voice has a kind of breathy approach that is very much his own with no less twang than the backing pedal steel, but whether he’s forward in the mix as on the centerpiece “Keep it Hidden” or farther back as on the title-cut, he never fails to do what will best serve the song in ambience and overarching presentation. That impulse is no less a signature for Olson than his style of singing, but he barely stops to notice before he’s on to the next piece, single, project or album. Still, “Pickup Truck” is sentimental enough that its opening guitar line calls to mind The Beatles‘ “Yesterday,” and, though it’s only a little over four minutes long, almost too easy to get lost in when it comes to the emotionalism on display. The subsequent “Backslider” holds truer to a guitar-in-open-space feel, but fits atmospherically with the surroundings and the preceding “Pickup Truck,” seeming to stop early only to let the guitar carry it quietly out.

The sometimes (purposefully) choppy waters of Olson‘s cascade of craft seem to smootth themselves out as the penultimate “Bless the Singer of he Torch Song” takes hold, its lyrics far back and murky following the opening title-line. “Bless the Singer of the Torch Song” is a highlight here in the spirit of “Pickup Truck,” “Riding Roughshod” or “Sunday Morning,” but closer “Trespasser” provides a last-minute experimentalist thrust, as Olson dons an angry-Dylan vocal style and tops his plucked guitar strings in double-layered fashion. A sample of someone yelling, presumably at a trespasser, is worked into “Trespasser,” and it gives the final cut on Riding Roughshod a standout element of its own, apart from the rest of the record before it. Olson has used samples and field recordings before, so it’s not out of line with his work necessarily on the whole, but it does serve as a last reminder of just how broad his creative process has become.

That intensity is as encompassing as it is fascinating, since it not only results int his glut of material in an ever-growing discography, it also never seems to fail to result in a quality of material and a distinct sound that belongs to Olson entirely. His work has only become all the more his own during this prolific stretch, and whether it continues or his winds carry him elsewhere, there’s no doubting who you’re hearing when you’re listening to a T.G. Olson release, and one can’t help but view the mania with which he seems to create albums and, on a more basic level, songs, as building an archive, some message from a particular now to a particular future. Maybe he’s thinking of it on those terms and maybe not, but the effect is the same, and his driven creative sensibilities continue to result in individualized endeavors waiting to catch the imagination of any and all who wander in their direction.

T.G. Olson, Riding Roughshod (2018)

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Quarterly Review: Earthless, Satan’s Satyrs, Mantar, Child, T.G. Olson, Canyon, Circle of the Sun, Mythic Sunship, Svarta Stugan, Bast

Posted in Reviews on December 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

There isn’t enough coffee in the universe, but I’ve got mine and I’m ready to burn the living crap out of my tongue if that’s what it takes to get through. We’ve arrived at Day 4 of the Quarterly Review, and though we’re less than halfway to the 100-album goal set by some maniac sitting at his kitchen table with a now-burnt tongue, there’s been an awful lot of good stuff so far. More even than I thought going into it, and I slate this stuff.

That said, today’s list is pretty killer. A lot of these bands will be more familiar than maybe has been the case or will be on some of the other days of this Quarterly Review. It just kind of worked out that way as I was putting it together. But hey, a few bigger bands here, a few “debut EP” demos there. It’s all good fun.

So let’s go.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Earthless, From the West

earthless from the west

Bonus points to whatever clever cat correctly decided that Earthless‘ 2018 studio album, Black Heaven (review here), needed a companion live record. With artwork mimicking a Led Zeppelin bootleg of the same name, From the West arrives through Silver Current and Nuclear Blast capturing the most powerful of power trios earlier this year in San Francisco, and it’s like the fire emoji came to life. With Mike Eginton‘s bass as the anchor and Mario Rubalcaba‘s drums as the driving force, guitarist Isaiah Mitchell starts ripping holes in the fabric of spacetime with “Black Heaven” and doesn’t stop until 64 minutes later as “Acid Crusher” dissolves into noise. Of course “Gifted by the Wind” from the latest LP is a highlight, and suitably enough, they cover Zeppelin‘s “Communication Breakdown,” but I’m not sure anything tops the extended take on “Uluru Rock” from 2013’s From the Ages (review here) — and yes, I mean that. Of course they pair it with the 1:48 surge of “Volt Rush,” because they’re Earthless, and brilliant is what they do. Every set they play should be recorded for posterity.

Earthless website

Silver Current Records on Bandcamp

Earthless at Nuclear Blast webstore

 

Satan’s Satyrs, The Lucky Ones

satans satyrs the lucky ones

Encased in cover art that begs the Spinal Tap question, “what’s wrong with being sexy?” and the response that Fran Drescher gave it, Virginia classic heavy rockers Satan’s Satyrs return with their fourth full-length, The Lucky Ones (on RidingEasy and Bad Omen), which also marks their first record as a four-piece with guitarist Nate Towle (Wicked Inquisition) joining the returning lineup of bassist/vocalist Clayton Burgess, guitarist Jared Nettnin and drummer Stephen Fairfield, who, between the fact that Burgess founded the band and played in Electric Wizard, and all the lead guitar antics from Nettnin and Towle, might be the unsung hero of the band. His performance is not lost in the recording by Windhand‘s Garrett Morris or Burgess‘ own hefty mix, and as one would expect, Satan’s Satyrs continue to deliver deceptively refined ’70s-heavy vibes caked in cult biker horror aesthetics. Some songs hit more than others, but Satan’s Satyrs‘ dust-kicking approach continues to win converts.

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RidingEasy Records on Bandcamp

Bad Omen Records on Bandcamp

 

Mantar, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze

mantar the modern art of setting ablaze

One generally thinks of Hamburg duo Mantar as having all the subtlety of a bone saw caught on video, and yet, in listening to “Seek + Forget” from their third album, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze (on Nuclear Blast), there are some elements that seem to be reaching out on the part of the band. Guitarist Hanno‘s vocals are more enunciated and discernible, there is a short break from the all-out blackened-sludge-punk assault that’s been their trade since their start in 2012, and “Obey the Obscene” even has an organ. Still, the bulk of the 12-track/48-minute follow-up to 2016’s Ode to the Flame (review here) is given to extremity of purpose and execution, and in pieces like the churning “Anti Eternia” and the particularly-punked “Teeth of the Sea,” they work to refine their always-present threat of violence. Closer “The Funeral” brings back some of the quiet moodiness of intro “The Knowing” and underscores the point of sonic expansion. I hope next time they use a string section.

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Nuclear Blast website

 

Child, I

child i

It took me a few minutes to get to the heart of what my problem with Child‘s I EP is. Really, I was sitting and listening to “Age Has Left Me Behind” — the first of the three included tracks on the 20-ish-minute 12″ — and I had to ask myself, “Why is this annoying me?” The answer? Because it’s not an album. That’s it. It’s not enough. Kudos to the Melbourne, Australia, heavy blues trio on having that be the biggest concern with their latest release — it follows 2016’s righteously-grooved Blueside (review here) — and kudos to them as well for their cover of Spirit‘s “The Other Song,” but of course it’s the 10-minute jam “Going Down Swinging” on side B that’s the immersive highlight of I, as Child‘s balance of softshoe-boogie and expansive mellow-psych is second to none in their subgenre. It’s not an album, and that’s kind of sad, but as a tide-ya-over until the next long-player arrives, I still does the trick nice and easy. And not to get greedy, but I’d take a II (or would it be You?) whenever they get around to it.

Child on Thee Facebooks

Kozmik Artifactz website

 

T.G. Olson, Wasatch Valley Lady & The Man from Table Mountain

tg olson wasatch valley lady and the man from table mountain

Across Tundras frontman T.G. Olson, who by now has well lapped that band’s output with his solo catalog, would seem to have sat down with his guitar sometime in the last week and put two songs to tape. The resulting 10-minute offering is Wasatch Valley Lady & The Man from Table Mountain, its component title-tracks stripping down some of the more elaborate arrangements he’s explored of late — his latest full-length, Riding Roughshod (review pending; it’s hard to keep up), came out in October — to expose the barebones construction at root in his Rocky Mountain country folk style. “Wasatch Valley Lady” and “The Man from Table Mountain” make an engaging couple, and while Olson has a host of videos on YouTube that are similarly just him and his acoustic, something about the audio-only recordings feel like a voice out of time reaching for human connection. The first seems to have a natural fade, and the second a more prominent rhythm showcased in harder strum, but both are sweet melodies evocative as ever of open landscapes and wistful experience.

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T.G. Olson/Across Tundras on Bandcamp

 

Canyon, Mk II

canyon mk ii

The Deep Purple-referential Mk II title of Canyon‘s second EP, also the follow-up to their 2017 debut LP, Radiant Light, refers to the lineup change that’s seen Dean Welsh move to drums so that he and guitarist Peter Stanko can welcome bassist/vocalist Fred Frederick to the fold. The three included songs, the hooky “Mine Your Heart,” expansively fuzzed “Morphine Dreams” and bouncing “Roam” make a hell of a first offering from the reconstituted trio, who capture classic heavy naturalism in a chemistry between players that’s mirrored in the songwriting itself. Canyon‘s 2016 self-titled debut EP (review here) held marked promise, and even after the full-length, that promise would seem to be coming to fruition here. Their tones and craft are both right on, and there’s still some gelling to do between the three of them, but they leave no doubt with Mk II that this incarnation of Canyon can get there. And, if they keep up like this, get there quickly.

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Canyon on Bandcamp

 

Circle of the Sun, Jams of Inner Perception

Circle of the Sun Jams of Inner Perception

One man jams! Psych-jam seekers will recognize Daniel Sax as the drummer for Berlin-based trio Cosmic Fall. Circle of the Sun is a solo-project from Sax and Jams of Inner Perception collects six tracks for 39 minutes of adventuring on his own. Sax sets his own backbeat and layers bass and “effectsbass” for a full-lineup feel amid the instrumental creations, and those looking to be hypnotized by the space-rocking jams will be. Flat out. Sax is no stranger to jamming, and as one soaks in “Jamming in Paradise” or its nine-minute predecessor “Liquid Sand,” there’s little mistaking his intention. Curious timing that Circle of the Sun would take shape following a lineup change in Cosmic Fall — perhaps it was put together in the interim? — but whether Jams of Inner Perception is a one-off of the beginning of a new avenue for Sax, its turn to blues noodling on “Desert Sun,” thick-toned “Moongroove” and fuzzy roll on “Acid Dream” demonstrate there are plenty of outer realms still to explore.

Circle of the Sun on Thee Facebooks

Circle of the Sun on Bandcamp

 

Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music

Mythic Sunship Another Shape of Psychedelic Music

The simplest way to put it is that Mythic Sunship‘s Another Shape of Psychedelic Music lives up to the lofty ambitions of its title. The Danish band is comprised of guitarists Kasper Stougaard Andersen and Emil Thorenfeldt, bassist Rasmus ‘Cleaver’ Christensen, drummer Frederik Denning and saxophonist Søren Skov, and with Causa Sui‘s Jonas Munk — who also produced the album — sitting in on the extended “Backyard Voodoo” (17:41) and “Out There” (13:53) as well as overseeing the release through El Paraiso, the band indeed makes there way into the far out reaches where jazz and psychedelia meet. It’s not about pretentiously saying they’re doing something that’s never been done. You’ll note it’s “another shape” and not a “new shape” or the “shape to come.” But immersion happens quickly on opener “Resolution” (14:23), and even quicker cuts like “Last Exit,” “Way Ahead” and “Elevation” carry the compelling spirit of forward-thinking creativity through their dynamic course, and if Mythic Sunship aren’t the shape of psychedelic music to come, it’s in no small part because there are so few out there who could hope to match what they do.

Mythic Sunship on Thee Facebooks

El Paraiso Records website

 

Svarta Stugan, Islands / Öar

svarta stugan islands oar

Islands / Öar — the second word being the Swedish translation of the first — is the 40-minute debut full-length from Gothenburg atmospheric heavy post-rock instrumentalists Svarta Stugan, who demonstrate in influence from Hex-era Earth on the opener “Islands III” but go on in subsequent tracks to pull together a sound distinct in its cinematic feel and moody execution. Five out of the seven component tracks are “Islands” pieces, which are presented out of order with “Islands IV” missing and “Islands Unknown” perhaps in its place, and the respective side A/B finales “Inner Space” and “Prospects Quatsi” standing apart. Both bring to bear a style ultimately consistent with the melancholy so rife throughout Islands / Öar as a whole, but they’re obviously intended as outliers, and so they seem to be. The LP release follows a couple shorter outings, issued over the past six-plus years, and it’s clear from the depths and range on display here in the build-to-crescendo of “Inner Space” alone that Svarta Stugan haven’t misspent their time in their progression to this point.

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Svarta Stugan on Bandcamp

 

Bast, Nanoångström

bast nanoangstrom

Largesse of scope and largesse of tone work in tandem on Bast‘s Nanoångström full-length on Black Bow, as they bring together aspects of post-metallic churn and more extreme metal methods to hone a style highly individualized, highly weighted and as much cosmic as it is crushing. Through six tracks and 57 minutes, the London trio (plus two guest spots from Chris Naughton of Winterfylleth) careen and crash and set an atmosphere of chaos without actually being chaotic, their progressive craft working to tie the songs together into a larger impression of the work as a consuming entirety. It’s the kind of record you pick up and still hear new things in by the time they put out their next one. Production from Chris Fielding at Skyhammer Studio only helps creates the heights and depths of their dynamic, and whether they’re rolling out the severity of closer “The Ghosts Which Haunt the Space Between the Stars” or laying out the soundscape of “The Beckoning Void,” Bast shape the tenets of genre to suit their needs rather than try to work within the barriers of any particular style. Nanoångström is all the more complex and satisfying for their efforts in that regard.

Bast on Thee Facebooks

Black Bow Records webstore

 

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T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid: Monument

Posted in Reviews on October 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

tg olson earthen pyramid

Those who follow or attempt to follow the prolific solo output of T.G. Olson, frontman of Across Tundras who since at least 2011 has embarked on a wide-ranging and regularly-added-to string of records — mostly digital releases dropped without fanfare as name-your-price downloads on Bandcamp, but some with physical issue either concurrent or after their arrival — will note that Earthen Pyramid is his third full-length of 2018. Arriving behind February’s Owned and Operated by Twang Trust LLC and March’s A Stone that Forever Rolls (both reviewed here), one might think of it as something of a spiritual companion to the latter. Spiritual, if not necessarily sonic. A Stone that Forever Rolls was minimalist compared to the nine-song/46-minute Earthen Pyramid, based around troubadour-style acoustic guitar and some other flourish added for variety.

Also 16 minutes longer, Earthen Pyramid offers more of a full-band feel. Drums are a notable inclusion as an element not always used in Olson‘s solo work, and that’s really just the start of it. Layers of acoustic and electric guitar, vocal effects, lap steel, keys, who the hell knows what else — it all comes together in a collection that casts itself across a vast sprawl that’s an immediate standout in the Olson catalog. How then does it relate to the prior outing? The dedication. Earthen Pyramid is dedicated to Sadie, and A Stone that Forever Rolls was for Odin; Olson‘s dogs, who reportedly sat in the studio with him on every record he’s ever made, and both of whom passed away this year. Having recently been through such a loss myself, Earthen Pyramid strikes a nerve there as it opens with “Under the Dog Star,” including a quick come-command whistle in its midst, but if I was going to feign impartiality in the first place, I’d simply write about something else. Fan as I am of Olson‘s work, given the timing of Earthen Pyramid, I was all the more predisposed to its favor. Even so, with its periodic wash of fuzz and hints of tonal heft in songs like “Don’t Step on Her Boots” and the low-end-centric “Stripes” later on, it’s legitimately a distinct piece in Olson‘s ongoing discography.

He may or may not have another complete album posted by the time I finish this sentence, but even if he does, it’s clear Earthen Pyramid was intended as a special way of paying homage to those lost loves and members of his family. That’s not the only theme of the songs — I should add “fortunately” to that, since if it was, it would make for a somewhat excruciating listen — but in the bookends of opener “Under the Dog Star” (also the longest track at 6:12; immediate points) and closer “Little Pine Big Pine,” it comes through well enough, and the context, which Olson explains as something of a celebration of the life particularly of Sadie, who was in the studio when the album was created, adds to the emotional impact of the material overall and serves as the impetus for the broader arrangements. If one thinks of the title Earthen Pyramid, the image of a burial mound shouldn’t be too far from mind.

tg olson

Even considering that, though, a given listener doesn’t necessarily need that backstory in order for the tracks on Earthen Pyramid to make an impression. Particularly those who’ve longed for a proper full-length to follow-up Across Tundras‘ 2013 outing, Electric Relics (review here) — note they also had a single out late last year — will find some solace in the depth of mix for songs like “Rivers to the Ocean” and “Delta Healer,” neither of which shies away from conjuring tonal fullness or the wash that results. Melodic humility, rhythmic patience and a sense of procession throughout are signature elements in Olson‘s songwriting, but it’s how they’re used on Earthen Pyramid that makes the difference. He can and often does make an acoustic guitar sound “heavy” in an emotional and atmospheric sense, and with the uptempo “Shameless Killers” and the subsequent, slide-laced centerpiece “Delta Healer,” he shows both his penchant for winding guitar lines and rambling rhythms — expressed in the latter through only the most basic timekeeping low in the mix — and a range within the sphere of the album itself.

And as clear as the intent can seem when one understands what’s at work behind Earthen Pyramid, the landscape-building drones of “After the Jasper Fire” that fade away to lead into the aforementioned “Stripes” provide their own resonance. Likewise, the breadth of guitar on “Strips” — there are at least four discernible layers, between acoustic, electric, slide and effects, along with at least two layers of percussion — has no trouble showcasing its mindset regardless of the circumstances behind its creation. Ultimately, what ties the material together despite shifts in approach one way or other is, of course, Olson himself. His vocals, sometimes forward in the mix, sometimes consumed by the wash surrounding, are a uniting element, but no less so is the style of craft that has become so much his own particularly through the last five years of offerings, issued one into the other as though being tossed into eternity for eternity to sort out later. Soothing as the material sometimes is, there is an underlying intensity of the creativity that drives “Talkin’ Country Miles” and “Little Pine Big Pine” at the finish, and really, the entire album preceding.

That extends to the creation of Earthen Pyramid itself — the actual writing and recording it — and to the impulse that has sculpted the ever-growing catalog for which it serves as the latest installment. As “Little Pine Big Pine” finds its resolution in an echoing guitar line not entirely dissimilar from that of Abronia‘s “Glass Butte Retribution,” Olson comfortably pushes into the ending of the collection with a suitably wistful march that seems to echo the sentiment at its root in its fadeout. As ever for his work, Earthen Pyramid is a moment captured. Moments happen and are gone, like everything. Whatever the next one — moment, album — brings, Earthen Pyramid preserves its specific time for Olson himself. That may be a double-edged sword when one considers the grieving process, but the beauty in these songs is nonetheless replete with the love behind their expression. As that lasts after the immediate pain of loss subsides, so too will Earthen Pyramid remain.

T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid (2018)

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Review: T.G. Olson, A Stone that Forever Rolls & Owned and Operated by Twang Trust LLC

Posted in Reviews on March 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

tg olson a stone that forever rolls

The first thing you need to know about this review? Its temporal mechanics are all wrong. Chronologically speaking, Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC was released before A Stone that Forever Rolls. The difference, mind you, is less than a month. Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC came out on Feb. 28, and A Stone that Forever Rolls on March 14. A couple weeks between them doesn’t seem like such an egregious flip to make — though if he keeps to his about-two-weeks pace, Olson should have another full-length out by the time this review goes live.

Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC and A Stone that Forever Rolls represent the latest outings in a prolific stretch that, at this point, goes back years for Across Tundras frontman and solo experimentalist/singer/songwriter T.G. Olson. They arrive concurrent to outings from other projects like Inget Namn, Funeral Electrical and even an Across Tundras collection, and represent his first solo works of 2018.

Last year found Olson releasing Searching for the Ur-Plant (review here) and Foothills Before the Mountain (review here), and if one goes further back, 2016 brought about La Violenza Naturale (review here), the From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues single (discussed here) and the albums The Broken End of the Deal (review here) and Quicksilver Sound (discussed here), and so on back to about 2012 and probably before that. Point is, Olson gets his work in. He is of a rare breed of the relentlessly creative, and though I said it as a joke earlier, I really couldn’t be surprised if he posted another long-player to the T.G. Olson/Across Tundras Bandcamp sometime soon. Or maybe he’ll go a year. One never knows.

But when it comes to A Stone that Forever Rolls and Owned and Operated by Twang Trust LLC, there is one definitive aspect tying them together to the point where I feel comfortable giving them a conjoined review: resonance. And in a thrilling and important-to-consider showcase of Olson‘s range as an artist, it’s two very different types of resonance that we’re talking about. A song like “Bless yr Heart My Friend,” which would seem to be about Olson‘s dog Odin, who recently passed away (and condolences there), brims with sincerity and emotionalism. It is raw in its approach and upfront in its acoustic-led post-Dylan/Guthrie folkism. And it’s the kind of song that makes you tear up when you hear it.

tg olson owned operated twang trust

This stands in direct contrast to just about all of Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC, which delights in the Earth-gone-weirder drones and explorations of airy pieces like “When the Bee Balm is in Bloom,” which seems to be backed by ghostly howls, or the earlier “Where Were You When,” the droning of which takes on an almost religious quality, as though among Olson‘s many manipulated sounds was a hymn or a chant to something of the sort bent beyond recognition. Considered alongside the easy sway of the opening title-cut from A Stone that Forever Rolls or the doubled-vocal layers of the subsequent “The Storm’s a Comin’,” ad they would almost seem to be the work of different artists, but that’s simply Olson following one impulse over another as a theme around which to work.

He’s more than capable of steering a record in either context, of course, and has plenty of experience in doing so, and if the sweet melody of “In the Valley of the Tomb of the Kings” and the flute-laden melancholy of “Still They Haunt Us” is coming from someplace completely different from the Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC opener and longest track (immediate points) “Running Fight” with its open-air guitar minimalism or the haunting swirl and swell of “Carpenter Blues” — which may or may not feature manipulated vocals; it’s hard to tell. In this way, the one release enhances the listening experience of the other and paints a broader picture of Olson‘s creative reach in general, not that that was much in question for anybody who’s followed his work over these last several years and managed to actually keep up.

Frankly, neither approach would count as new ground for Olson, who has established a comfortable niche for himself as a folk singer while still seeming to push himself forward in terms of crafting material, a song like “Around a Slow Dying Fire” conveying a sense of urgency despite its calm exterior. Nonetheless, if familiar to those who’ve kept tabs on his work, both Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC and A Stone that Forever Rolls reaffirm the breadth of Olson‘s output and, whether taken together or separately, bring together folk and experimentalism in a way few artists can or would dare to try. Remember near the outset when I said Olson was relentlessly creative? Well, the emotionality and exploratory drive behind these records, along with the rest of his ever-growing and increasingly complex discography, are just further examples of what makes him stand alone in that unrelenting.

T.G. Olson, Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC (2018)

T.G. Olson, A Stone that Forever Rolls (2018)

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T.G. Olson Releases New Album A Stone that Forever Rolls

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

So maybe you’re saying to yourself right now, ‘Hey, didn’t this loser blogger dope post about a new T.G. Olson record like two weeks ago?” Indeed, he — I mean I — did. That album was the more experimentalist Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust, LLC (info here). This one is the more structured, more crisply produced A Stone that Forever Rolls, which begins with the psychedelic folk of its opening track and unfolds gracefully through eight tracks and 30 minutes of gorgeous arrangement balance and a clearly different intent than the last time out.

I think next chance I get to do so — so, next month maybe? — I’ll probably review the two releases together, just to give the side-by-side and really emphasize how different they are. Two things though that worry me about A Stone that Forever Rolls. First, Olson dedicates it to Odin, who he then names “DOGGOD,” which tells me that his dog died. And that sucks in a way that few things sucks. Condolences to Olson for the loss.

Also in not-as-tragic-but-hardly-fortunate news, it would seem Olson‘s Roland VS-1680 — the “VS” standing for “virtual studio,” as in,his recording apparatus — has bit the dust. These things are replaceable but hardly cheap, and while I doubt it’ll hold Olson up for all that long, it’s still a pain to deal with.

At least the album is beautiful. It was released in the usual manner: posted at the Across Tundras Bandcamp page with little fanfare beyond a post on Thee Facebooks. You can stream and download it at the bottom of this post. Other info follows:

tg olson a stone that forever rolls

T.G. OLSON – A Stone that Forever Rolls

The end of an era…

Adios Odin and the VS-1680 aka “The Machine”

1. A Stone That Forever Rolls 03:56
2. The Storms a Comin’ 03:43
3. Down in the Draw 03:20
4. Still They Haunt Us 04:16
5. Around a Slow Dying Fire 03:54
6. In the Valley of the Tomb of the Kings 03:16
7. Slow Tick 04:29
8. Bless yr Heart My Friend 03:46

Recorded ~ Mixed ~ Mastered : January – March 2018 by T.G. Olson

For Odin ~ DOGGOD

https://www.facebook.com/AcrossTundrasBand/
https://acrosstundras.bandcamp.com/

T.G. Olson, A Stone that Forever Rolls

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Across Tundras Release New Single Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Somehow, no matter how many times I sign up for the email updates and no matter how regularly I check in, I perpetually feel like I’m playing catch-up with the Across Tundras/ T.G. Olson Bandcamp page. Releases tend to show up unannounced, and by the time they’re there, well, you’re already late. There’s been a flurry of activity of late as the prolific-as-ever Tanner Olson has made a number of offerings available as limited CDRs with handmade packaging in addition to posting new outings from his drone projects Inget Namn and Funeral Electrical — lest we forget it’s only been two months since his latest solo album, Searching for the Ur-Plant (review here), surfaced as well — and yeah, it’s a lot to keep up with.

Nonetheless, any new Across Tundras is good news as far as I’m concerned. Their next full-length has been in progress on one level or another for a couple years now, and in 2015, they issued the stopgap Home Free EP (discussed here) that was said at the time to feature tracks that would be on the record. I don’t know if the same applies to the just-issued two-songer Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain, but for a recently-recorded sampling of the band’s trademark heavy rambling style and a more acoustic-based complementary piece, I’m not about to complain. 10 minutes of new Across Tundras; today was a good day.

As ever, the release is available as a name-your-price download via the Bandcamp page linked below, so go and get it before the next offering shows up and you’re already behind. Trust me, it can happen. In thinking of the delay on the new Across Tundras LP though, note that Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain was recorded between Olson and bassist/drummer Matt Shively in Nebraska and Virginia. That’s one hell of a geographic divide to overcome for a writing/recording session. Might explain some of what’s taking so long, even if they’re just working as a two-piece rather than the band’s traditional trio incarnation.

Alright, here’s the goods:

Across Tundras Blood for the Sun Hearts for the Rain

Across Tundras – Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain

Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Matt Shively and Tanner Olson in Plattsmouth, NE and Roanoke, VA in the Summer of 2017.

1. Blood for the Sun 05:32
2. Hearts for the Rain 05:28

Tanner Olson – Guitar, Vocals
Matt Shively – Bass, Drums

Released December 8, 2017.

https://www.facebook.com/AcrossTundrasBand/
https://acrosstundras.bandcamp.com/

Across Tundras, Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain (2017)

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T.G. Olson, Searching for the Ur-Plant: Solitary Brigade

Posted in Reviews on November 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

tg olson searching for the ur-plant

T.G. Olson is rarely far off from his next release. At this point, the Across Tundras frontman has settled into a steady rhythm where every few months, new songs will be recorded and presented for those who’ll have them as name-your-price downloads on Bandcamp. Sometimes — as in the case of his latest, Searching for the Ur-Plant — these DIY digital offerings will be complemented by limited, usually gorgeous and suitably organic-looking handmade CDRs pressed through the auspices of Olson‘s Electric Relics Records imprint. Sometimes not. Either way, the next thing always seems to be on the horizon. This has led to a remarkably productive few years and an increasingly complex narrative as to just what Olson‘s solo work encompasses in terms of style and craft.

Searching for the Ur-Plant was preceded this Spring by the full-length Foothills Before the Mountain (review here), which in turn followed a busy 2016 that produced La Violenza Naturale (review here), the From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues single (discussed here) and the albums The Broken End of the Deal (review here) and Quicksilver Sound (discussed here), and the newer work follows a path distinct from its most immediate predecessor in a way that makes it more difficult to guess what Olson‘s next move might be. Other, of course, than (presumably) putting out another record. Because that’s kind of how he does. The question is how that record will be defined, and the reason that’s harder to determine as a result of the eight-song Searching for the Ur-Plant is because how much it strips down the approach taken on Foothills Before the Mountain.

On sheer sonic terms, the drone-folk arrangements of cuts like opener “On a High Like a Mountain” or the later “New Resistance Blues” aren’t necessarily new ground for Olson, but they represent a turn from what seemed to be more full-band-style fare his last time out toward a more distinctly “solo” feel. The story goes that the material was “handmade from scratch during one rainy week in October 2017. All songs were written new on the spot and recorded one by one until 33:32 minutes had been laid to bare to tape,” and having been completed on Oct. 11, Searching for the Ur-Plant found issue three days later: written, performed, recorded, produced, mixed, mastered and pressed by Olson himself.

At its most minimal, as on “Time Flies By and By,” the album carries that insular feel, but there’s also a good bit of reaching out done in these tracks, which from the early Paul Simon-style bounce of “The Old Brigade” to the later handclaps of the penultimate “Back on the Cross” seem to be in conversation with the human interaction at the root of Americana and folk traditionalism — the idea that songs were meant to be shared, sung by groups together, and so on.

t.g. olson

A big difference is in percussion and the general lack thereof, and where Foothills Before the Mountain was less shy about including drums, those handclaps in “Back on the Cross” are about it as far as outward timekeeping goes. Elsewhere, the key seems to be in call and response vocals — a theme “On a High Like a Mountain” sets early and which continues through the repetition-minded, harmonica-laced “A Constant Companion,” “Time Flies By and By,” “The Old Brigade,” “Trying to Take it All In,” “New Resistance Blues,” and closer “The Ur-Plant” itself — Olson answering his vocal lines in delayed time over acoustic and electric guitar that free-flows between drift and ramble, wistful and playful.

Given the timeline in which Searching for the Ur-Plant was put together — written and tracked in the span of a week — that such consistencies would develop makes sense. Sometimes an idea just gets stuck in your head and needs to be exorcised, and despite that steady element, the songs remain varied in their intent, whether it’s the classic melancholy of “A Constant Companion” with its echoes of airy slide guitar or the soft and swaying guitar and harmonica execution of “The Ur-Plant,” which rounds out in less chorus-focused fashion than cuts like “On a High Like a Mountain” or “The Old Brigade,” but with an absolute center based in the realization of its pastoralia, humble even as it brims with creativity and understated nuance. This too is familiar ground from Olson, but brought to bear with a fascinating patience that would seem to fly in the face of the urgency with which Searching for the Ur-Plant was written and constructed.

It would’ve been easy, in other words, for Olson to come across as rushed on a record that took a week to make. But he doesn’t. Instead, he harvests an eight-song/33-minute collection that sidesteps expectation while remaining quintessentially his in terms of atmosphere and overarching style, which is a balance that, so well struck as it is, defines Searching for the Ur-Plant and serves as the basis for its ultimate success. In intent and manifestation, Olson‘s work would struggle to be any less pretentious than it is, but it remains propelled by a fierce and apparently unyielding creativity, and though this particular outing makes it harder to imagine where Olson might go next — whereas after Foothills Before the Mountain he seemed so primed to continue working toward one-man-band-style arrangements — that unpredictability, met head-on by such depth of songwriting, only becomes yet another asset working in Olson‘s favor.

The discography he’s built at this point is something truly special, and whether one meanders through it as through tall, pathless grasses, or follows step by step as each installment arrives, journey and destination alike seem to satisfy with a warmth all their own. Searching for the Ur-Plant winds up in a lonelier place than some of Olson‘s other offerings, but its sense of longing is resonant, beautiful, and honest. Clearly the search continues.

T.G. Olson, Searching for the Ur-Plant (2017)

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T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain: Streams of Life Below

Posted in Reviews on April 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

tg-olson-foothills-before-the-mountain

The latest in a long string of solo full-lengths from founding Across Tundras guitarist/vocalist T.G. OlsonFoothills Before the Mountain nonetheless represents a landmark in the prolific South Dakota-based songwriter’s steadily-expanding catalog. Where recent outings like 2016’s La Violenza Naturale (review here), From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues single (discussed here) and The Broken End of the Deal (review here) and Quicksilver Sound (discussed here) long-players found Olson — who indeed works alone on most of these offerings, playing any and all instruments and recording and releasing DIY as he does here — dug into drone-folk meditations, working to bring together acoustic country blues authenticity and a pervasive experimentalism of form, Foothills Before the Mountain leans decidedly in a different direction.

In some cases, with a song like new-album centerpiece “Dust on the Wayside,” the change is mainly the inclusion of louder and distorted electric guitar and drums laid on top of a similar acoustic foundation, but from the opening title-track onward, Olson seems willing to shirk off minimalism in a way that feels like a significant shift, bringing in flourish of keys, flute, percussion, etc., in mindful arrangements or even just working to play the acoustic and electric guitar off each other more directly, as in “Dying on the Silver Screen,” the second track. Songs vary in structure and overall feel, some darker, some brighter, but all are marked by a production that, while raw, allows for depth enough to mostly bury the vocals in the mix, and all carry the rhythmic ramble and sway that has become perhaps the defining hallmark of Olson‘s songwriting style — or certainly wound up no less so than his Dylanesque approach to singing.

Already noted, the placement of Olson‘s vocals in the mix throughout these tracks — low, always under the guitar, usually coated in reverb; somewhat obscured by the surrounding instrumentation — comes across as entirely purposeful. So much so that as the somewhat intense guitar line of “Foothills Before the Mountain” gives way to the roll of “Dying on the Silver Screen,” which is probably as close as Olson has come in a solo context to sounding like his main outfit, and the drearier march of “No More Debts to Pay,” which is the longest cut on Foothills Before the Mountain at 5:38, one can’t help but wonder if the music itself isn’t intended as an aural representation of landscape. That is, if the fullness of sound around him isn’t the mountain and his own presence is at the foothills, lower, looking up, the way his vocals seem to be echoing to the higher altitude of the guitar laid over.

This impression holds through the moody “A Stones Throw,” and while even at their barest, Olson‘s songs always carry a sense of space with them, that space has yet to spread as wide as it does on Foothills Before the Mountain, and if the tracks are meant to tie together in this way, the theme of being made small by surrounding nature would fit not only with the starkness of the prairie that Olson calls home but also his long-running allegiance to conveying a sense of place in both his solo material and with Across Tundras, the post-Earth Americana rumble of “A Stones Throw” only providing further evidence of intent as it distant-thunder-rumbles some impending threat into “Dust on the Wayside” as the gateway to the record’s second half.

t.g. olson

The winding guitar line of the aforementioned centerpiece feels like a moment of arrival, with a steady build of guitar and handclap-easy punctuation of drums behind, but “simplicity” has proven to be a point of deception for Olson before and it is here again, as neither the elements at use nor their arrangement in the mix are at all haphazard or lacking consciousness behind them. Foothills Before the Mountain, while still sounding as organic as anything Olson has done as a solo artist in the last several years, brings forth an entirely different level of purpose in his songwriting.

I don’t think that’s overstating it, since the shift is one from doing the work of a one-man outfit to basically doing the work of a band. It’s a new mindset. The backing flute in “Leader of the New Death” might be an echo of the opening title cut, but the guitar, drums, drones, vocals and other elements at play around it seem geared toward conveying plurality, and likewise the rhythmic pickup of “What’s Mine,” which pushes the guitar even farther forward in an almost teasing verse progression, slow winding but over a straight-ahead percussive march. Olson‘s in there, a human presence in this wide-cast reach, but perhaps at his most vague, and the contrast between his obscurity and the clarity of definition in the acoustic and electric guitar, the bass and the drums is yet another example of the atmospheric crux of Foothills Before the Mountain: the evocation of landscape through soundscape and exploring where a person fits in that.

The Rocky Mountains are a humbling sight, to put it lightly, and with those foothills in mind it’s maybe not wrong to think of Olson as humbling himself before them in “What’s Mine,” ironic as that might make the title, but either way, the overarching impression of humanity as a small thing and nature as a big thing is the core of what the record presents conceptually, and it remains vigilant as side B heads toward its finale with “From Where You Came” and “Cut Losses.” The latter, the closer, is the shortest inclusion at 4:21 and it follows a tempo kick in “From Where You Came,” which boasts more stomp than just about anything before it, marked by an echoing snare, howling lead line and crisp strum. Also speedier than “What’s Mine” or “Leader of the new Death,” “Cut Losses” closes out instrumentally and comes fairly close to a genuine wash between its low and high ends, a current of drone playing out beneath energetic guitars and far-back percussion, tonal fuzz and acoustics melding together one last time against a backdrop of ghostly noise, culminating in a decisive but not necessarily cold finish.

When Olson first posted Foothills Before the Mountain — which, like all his releases, is available name-your-price from the Across Tundras and T.G. Olson combined Bandcamp page — I speculated that perhaps the fuller sound was itself the foothills and the mountain before it/them was the prospect of a new album from Across Tundras, whose last long-player, Electric Relics (review here), came out four years ago. Having dug further into Foothills Before the Mountain, I’m not sure I still feel that way. It’s certainly not impossible that’s Olson‘s intent, that this record should be a transition back into actually functioning as part of a complete-band lineup, but it seems more likely that the mountain in question here is creativity itself, and that, like all works in one way or another, these songs are telling the story of their own making even as their execution expands and in some ways redefines the scope of their creator’s aesthetic. I won’t guess at what Olson will do next, as to do so would simply be an opportunity to be wrong, but as much development as he’s shown as a singer-songwriter over the last several years, Foothills Before the Mountain feels like a crucial forward step for and from him, and whatever it leads to can only benefit from the lessons to be gleaned in its tracks.

T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain (2017)

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