Quarterly Review: Grails, Expo Seventy, Coltsblood, Rhino, Cruthu, Spacetrucker, Black Habit, Stone Angels, The Black Willows, Lamagaia

Posted in Reviews on March 31st, 2017 by JJ Koczan


Arrival. Welcome to the final day of The Obelisk’s Spring 2017 Quarterly Review. After today, I clean off my desktop and start over with a mind toward the next round, which in my head I’ve already scheduled for late June. You know, at the end of the next quarter. I do try to make these things make sense on some level. Anyway, before we get to the last 10 albums, let me please reiterate my thanks to you for reading and say once again that I hope you’ve found something this week that really speaks to you, as I know I have and continue to today. We finish the Quarterly Review out strong to be sure, so even if you’re thinking you’re done and you’ve had enough, you might be surprised by the time you’re through the below.

Quarterly Review #41-50:

Grails, Chalice Hymnal

grails chalice hymnal

Even if one counts the 2013 collection culled from GrailsBlack Tar Prophecies ongoing series of short releases that showed up via Temporary Residence, it’s been a long while since their last proper outing. Deep Politics (review here) was issued in 2011, but it seems the intervening time and members’ participation in other projects – among them Om and Holy Sons in the case of Emil Amos – disappear for Grails on Chalice Hymnal, which speaks directly to its predecessor in sequel pieces like “Deeper Politics,” “Deep Snow II” and “Thorns II,” taking the prog-via-TangerineDream cinematics of Deep Politics to vibrant and continually experimental places on the surprisingly vocalized “Empty Chamber,” the soundscaping “Rebecca” and the imaginative, evocative jazz homage “After the Funeral,” the album’s 10-minute closer. Hearing the John Carpenter keyboard line underpinning “Pelham,” I’m not sure I’d call Chalice Hymnal limitless in its aesthetic – Grails have definitive intentions here, as they always have – but they continue to reside in a space of their own making, and one that has yet to stop expanding its reach.

Grails on Thee Facebooks

Grails at Temporary Residence Ltd.


Expo Seventy, America Here and Now Sessions

expo seventy america here and now sessions

Yes. Yes. This. With extended two tracks – “First Movement” (22:17) and “Second Movement” (27:04) – unfolding one massive longform immersion that drones pastoral, delves into hypnotic bliss and fills the soul in that way that only raw exploration can, the America Here and Now Sessions from Kansas City (by way of the moon) outfit Expo Seventy is an utter joy to experience. Purposeful and patient in its execution, graceful in the instrumental chemistry – even with a second drummer sitting in amid the core trio led by guitarist Justin Wright – the album well fits the deep matte tones and nostalgic feel of its accompanying artwork, and is fluid in its movement from drone to push especially on “Second Movement,” which sandwiches a resonant cacophony around soundscapes that spread as far as the mind of the listener is willing to let them. Whether you want to sit and parse the execution over every its every subtle motion and waveform or put it on and go into full-brain-shutdown, America Here and Now Sessions delivers. Flat out. It delivers.

Expo Seventy on Thee Facebooks

Essence Music website


Coltsblood, Ascending into Shimmering Darkness

coltsblood ascending into shimmering darkness

After surviving the acquisition of Candlelight Records by Spinefarm, UK doom extremists Coltsblood return with their second album, Ascending into Shimmering Darkness, and follow-up 2014’s Into the Unfathomable Abyss (review here) with 54 minutes of concrete-thick atmospheric bleakness spread across five tracks. The headfuckery isn’t quite as unremitting as it was on the debut – a blend of airy and thick guitar in the intro of the opening title-cut (also the longest inclusion; immediate points) reminds of Pallbearer – but the three-piece thrive in this more-cohesive-overall context, and their lumbering miseries remain dark and triumphant in kind. A closing duo of “Ever Decreasing Circles” and “The Final Winter” also both top 12 and 13 minutes, respectively, but the shorter second track “Mortal Wound” brings blackened tendencies to the fore and centerpiece “The Legend of Abhartach” effectively leads the way from one side to the other. Still, the most complete victory here for bassist/vocalist John McNulty, guitarist Jemma McNulty and drummer Jay Plested might be “The Final Winter,” which melds its grueling, excruciatingly slow crash to overarching keyboard drama and becomes a work of cinematic depth as well as skull-crushing wretchedness. Such ambient growth fascinates and shows marked progression from their first offering, and even if the primary impression remains one from which no light escapes, don’t be fooled: Coltsblood are growing and are all the more dangerous for that.

Coltsblood on Thee Facebooks

Candlelight Records website


Rhino, The Law of Purity

rhino the law of purity

Once they get past the aptly-titled minute-long “Intro,” Rhino keep their foot heavy on the gas for the vast majority of The Law of Purity, their Argonauta Records debut album. The 10 included tracks veer into and out of pure desert rock loyalism – “Eat My Dust” comes across as particularly post-Kyuss, perhaps melded with some of the burl of C.O.C.’s “Shake Like You” – and the throttle of “Nuclear Space,” “Nine Months,” “A. & B. Brown” and “Cock of Dog” later on come to define the impression of straightforward push that puts the riffs forward even more than earlier inclusions like the post-“Intro” title-track or the more mid-paced “Bursting Out,” which hints at psychedelia without really ever fully diving into it. Capping with the roll of “I See the Monsters,” The Law of Purity reminds at times of earlier Astrosoniq – particularly in the vocals – but finds the Sicilian five-piece crafting solid heavy rock tunes that seem more concerned with having a couple beers and a good time than changing the world or remaking the genre. Nothing wrong with that.

Rhino on Thee Facebooks

Argonauta Records website


Cruthu, The Angle of Eternity

cruthu the angle of eternity

As it happens, I wrote the bio and release announcement for Cruthu’s debut album, The Angle of Eternity (posted here), and I count guitarist “Postman Dan” McCormick as a personal friend, so if you’re looking for impartiality as regards the self-released six-tracker, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for primo trad doom and classic metal vibes, the Michigan-based four-piece offer touches of progressive flourish amid the shuffle of opener “Bog of Kildare,” a grueling post-“Crystal Ball” nod in “From the Sea” and a bit of ‘70s proto-metallurgy in the closing title-track, which finds vocalist Ryan Evans at his most commanding while McCormick, bassist Erik Hemingsen (Scott Lehman appears as well) and drummer Matt Fry hold together the fluid and patient groove of weighted downer metal. The sense of Cruthu as an outfit schooled in the style is palpable through the creep of “Lady in the Lake” and the post-Trouble chug of “Séance,” but they’re beginning to cast their own identity from their influences – even the penultimate interlude “Separated from the Herd” is part of it – and the dividends of that process are immediate in these tracks.

Cruthu on Thee Facebooks

Cruthu on Bandcamp


Spacetrucker, Launch Sequence

spacetrucker launch sequence

From the Kozik-style artwork of their cover to the blown-out vocals on opener “New Pubes” of guitarist Matt Owen, St. Louis three-piece Spacetrucker – how was there not already a band with this name? – make no bones about their intentions on their late-2016, 26-minute Launch Sequence seven-track EP. Owen, bassist Patrick Mulvaney and drummer Del Toro push into a realm of noise-infused stoner grunge loyal to the ‘90s execution of “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop” in the stops of the instrumental “Giza” even as they thicken and dirty up their tonality beyond what Kyuss laid forth. The cowbell-inclusive “Science of Us” rests easily on Mulvaney’s tone and nods toward burl without going over the top, and cuts like “Old Flower,” the penultimate roller “Trenchfoot” and the closing post-Nirvana punker blast of “Ain’t Gonna be Me” reimagine a past in which the language of heavy rock was there to explain where grunge was coming from all along. Not looking to reinvent stylistic parameters in their image at this point, Spacetrucker is nonetheless the kind of band one might’ve run into at SXSW a decade and a half ago and been made a fan for life. As it stands, the charm is not at all lost.

Spacetrucker on Thee Facebooks

Spacetrucker on Bandcamp


Black Habit, Black Habit

black habit self titled

Clocking in at half an hour, the self-titled debut release from viola-infused Arizona two-piece Black Habit could probably qualify as an EP or an LP. I’m inclined to consider it the latter considering the depths vocalist/guitarist/bassist Trey Edwin and violist/drummer Emily Jean plunge in the five included tracks, starting with the longest of the bunch (immediate points) in the slow-moving “Escape into Infinity” before shifting the tempo upward for “Suffer and Succumb” and digging into deep-toned sludge marked out by consistently harsh vocals. I wouldn’t be surprised if Black Habit became more melodic or at least moved into cleaner shots over time, as the doomly centerpiece “South Beach” and more fuzz-rocking “Travel Across the Ocean” seem to want to head in that direction, but it’s hard to argue with the echoing rasp that accompanies the rumble and hairy tones of finale “Lust in the Dust,” as Black Habit’s Black Habit rounds out with an especially righteous nod. An intriguing, disaffected, and raw but potential-loaded opening salvo from a two-piece discovering where their sound might take them.

Black Habit on Thee Facebooks

Black Habit on Bandcamp


Stone Angels, Patterns in the Ashes

stone angels patterns in the ashes

Massive. Patterns in the Ashes is a malevolent, tectonic three-song EP following up on New Zealand trio Stone Angels’ 2011 debut, Within the Witch, as well as a few shorter live/demo offerings between, and it’s an absolute beast. Launching with the seven-minute instrumental “White Light, White Noise II” – indeed the sequel to a cut from the first album – it conjures a vicious nod and bleeds one song into the next to let “Signed in Blood” further unfold the grim atmospherics underscoring and enriching all that tonal heft. Sludge is the core style, but the Christchurch three-piece’s broader intentions come through with due volume on the grueling “Signed in Blood” and when “For the Glory of None” kicks in after its sample intro, the blasts and growls that it brings push the release to new levels of extremity entirely. As a bonus, the digital edition includes all three tracks put together as one longer, 21-minute piece, so the consuming flow between them can be experienced without any interruption, as it was seemingly meant to be.

Stone Angels on Thee Facebooks

Stone Angels on Bandcamp


Black Willows, Samsara

the black willows samsara

If Switzerland-based resonance rockers Black Willows had only released the final two tracks, “Jewel in the Lotus” and “Morning Star,” of their late-2016 second full-length, Samsara, one would still have to call it a complete album – and not just because those songs run 15 and 25 minutes long, respectively. Throughout those extended pieces and the four shorter cuts that appear before them, a palpable meditative sensibility emerges, and Black Willows follow-up the promise of 2013’s Haze (review here) by casting an even more immersive, deeper-toned vibe in the post-Om nod of “Sin” (8:08) and the more percussive complement, “Rise” (9:28), keeping a ritualized feel prevailing but not defining. From the lead-in title-track and the spacious psych trip-out of “Mountain” that gives way to the aforementioned extended closing duo, Black Willows find their key purpose in encompassing tonality and languid grooving. Nothing is overdone, nothing loses its patience, and when they get to the linear trajectory of “Morning Star,” the sense is they’re pushing as far out as far out will go. It’s a joy to follow them on that path.

Black Willows on Thee Facebooks

Black Willows on Bandcamp


Lamagaia, Lamagaia

lamagaia lamagaia

Anytime you’re at all ready to quit your job and explore the recesses of your mind via the ingestion of psychedelics, rituals and meditation, Sweden’s Lamagaia would seem to stand prepared to accompany. The Gothenburg four-piece offer two extended tracks of encouragement in that direction on their self-titled 12” (released through Cardinal Fuzz and Sunrise Ocean Bender), and both “Aurora” and “Paronama Vju” carry a heady spirit of kosmiche improvisation and classically progressive willfulness. They go, go, go. Far, far, far. Vocals echo out obscure but definitely there in post-The Heads fashion, but there’s Hawkwindian thrust in the fuzzed bass and drums driving the rhythm behind the howling guitar in “Aurora,” and that only sets up the peaceful stretch that the drones and expansive spaciousness of “Paronama Vju” finds across its 18:55 as all the more of an arrival. Immersive, hypnotic, all that stuff that means gloriously psychedelic, Lamagaia’s Lamagaia offers instrumental chemistry and range for anyone willing to follow along its resonant and ultra-flowing path. Count me in. I never liked working anyway.

Lamagaia website

Cardinal Fuzz webstore


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Grails to Release Black Tar Prophecies 4, 5 & 6 on Oct. 1

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 16th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

With an official release date just 10 days after the tour ends, I would think that Grails will have copies of the new compilation Black Tar Prophecies 4, 5 & 6 on hand for the shows. Hope so anyway; the timing would be a little unfortunate otherwise, but either way, the latest in the band’s ongoing Black Tar Prophecies series is due Oct. 1 and they’re hitting the road just a bit beforehand, including the first East Coast dates in a couple years. Good things are in the works for the adventurous Portland instrumentalists, however it winds up coming together.

Here’s the Black Tar Prophecies 4, 5 & 6 artwork and trailer and the latest off the PR wire:



Following the release of the most acclaimed album of their decade-long career, Deep Politics, Portland-based out-rock quartet Grails have revisited Black Tar Prophecies, their envelope-pushing, enigmatic series of eclectic musical experiments released in scarce editions that often disappear before fans discover their existence.

Black Tar Prophecies Vol’s 4, 5 & 6, set to drop October 1 on longtime label Temporary Residence Ltd., collects the last three volumes in the series, originally released as a limited-edition 12″ and a split LP with Finnish psych-rock phenoms Pharaoh Overlord. Exclusive to this collection is Volume 6, three previously unreleased tracks that run the gamut from found-sound collage to moody, piano-driven soundtracks to obscure erotic horror films that never existed (but should have). The collection hits just after the band’s previously announced run of US tour dates, an increasingly rare opportunity to see the virtuosic ensemble commute their otherworldly compositions to the material realm.

GRAILS TOUR DATES (all with Wrekmeister Harmonies and Lilacs & Champagne except where noted)
Sep 10 Nashville, TN The End
Sep 11 Atlanta, GA The Earl
Sep 12 Chapel Hill, NC Local 506
Sep 13 Baltimore, MD Metro Gallery
Sep 14 Philadelphia, PA Boot and Saddle
Sep 15 New York, NY St Vitus
Sep 16 Boston, MA Great Scott
Sep 17 Montreal, QC Il Motore
Sep 18 Toronto, ON The Drake
Sep 19 Detroit, MI Magic Stick Lounge
Sep 20 Chicago, IL Beat Kitchen
Sep 21 Lexington, KY Boomslang Festival *(only Grails)

Grails, Black Tar Prophecies 4, 5 & 6 Trailer

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Grails Announce Fall North American Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 25th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

One of my very favorite aspects of Grails is seeing what people call them. Because of all the many bands out there, the eclectic Portland outfit are among the most purposefully genre-less, and just when you think you’ve got a handle on what they’re doing, they delight in slipping that grip. They’re headed out on their first North American tour in two years — their last full-length was 2011’s Deep Politics (review here) and they released a split with Pharaoh Overlord last year on Kemado — and they’ll be bringing side-project Lilacs and Champagne and Wreckmeister Harmonies along on the trip.

Also sprach the PR wire:



The Portland-based out-rock/crate-digger quartet Grails have announced their first US tour in nearly two years. The dates, which primarily focus on major cities along the east coast, directly precede the band’s previously announced appearance at Kentucky’s coveted Boomslang Festival (full tour dates below). Grails are noted and respected not only for their unique and meticulous composition style, but also for their virtuosic instrumental prowess and riveting live shows. The scarcity of their performances renders attendance at these shows a veritable necessity.

Joining the group will be Lilacs & Champagne, the production moniker of Grails members Alex Hall and Emil Amos, who just dropped a video for “Sensations” from last year’s self-titled album on Mexican Summer, and Wrekmeister Harmonies, the musical mantle of Chicago-based multimedia composer JR Robinson, whose recent Thrill Jockey LP You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me bridges the chasm between minimalist neoclassical and blackened doom to harrowing and gorgeous results.

GRAILS TOUR DATES (all with Wrekmeister Harmonies and Lilacs & Champagne except where noted):
Sep 10 Nashville, TN The End
Sep 11 Atlanta, GA The Earl
Sep 12 Chapel Hill, NC Local 506
Sep 13 Baltimore, MD Metro Gallery
Sep 14 Philadelphia, PA Boot and Saddle
Sep 15 New York, NY St Vitus
Sep 16 Boston, MA Great Scott
Sep 17 Montreal, QC Il Motore
Sep 18 Toronto, ON The Drake
Sep 19 Detroit, MI Magic Stick Lounge
Sep 20 Chicago, IL Beat Kitchen
Sep 21 Lexington, KY Boomslang Festival *(only Grails)

Grails, “I Led Three Lives!” official video

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Buried Treasure in a Garden of Sound

Posted in Buried Treasure on November 26th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Driving past the homogenized “warmth” of the brick retail chains that have appeared since I was last down on the outskirts of Baltimore’s Fell’s Point neighborhood, I couldn’t help but think of John Brenner from Revelation discussing the inner harbor in that interview that went up last week. These places with all the trappings of economic stimulus except any investment back into the community that hosts them the way feet host blisters. There for a painful while and then gone. Pop.

It was different once I actually got into Fell’s Point. Not that the neighborhood wasn’t gentrified from its working class harbor roots, but that at very least it was actual gentrification, independently owned businesses or at least smaller, regional chains and a most welcome onslaught of pubs, eateries, and other gastro-type decadences. Kooper’s Tavern, where The Patient Mrs. and I had lunch, had tables set up outside selling oysters and recycling the shells for use by — wait for it — other oysters. Seems nobody is immune to the economic ravages of our age. Even the oysters have to buy used.

Fitting that act of conservation would be prelude to a radical haul whose like — in what otherwise might be considered a regular ol’ record shop — I’ve not seen in some time. Sound Garden (no relation) was just down the street from the pub where we ate and several others, and it wasn’t my first time there by any stretch (seems impossible that it would’ve been over three years ago, but I guess that’s why old posts are dated), but I didn’t remember it being quite the trove it was this time around. Walking up the middle of the three aisles, I went past the metal and the midsection divide — I’d come back to the metal, no worries — something strange compelling me forward, and that’s when I saw it:

The Psychedelic section.

Oh yeah, that’s right. The monkey that lives in my head where my brain should be clicked on the dim bulb of his cavernous abode and for a moment I said a prayer to my pagan octopus god that I might win the $300 million Powerball and come back to Sound Garden to purchase every album in the Psychedelic section on principle alone. A mere celebration of the existence of such a thing. Portrait of the mouth, drooling.

What fun I had. Flipping through was like opening presents. I limited myself to two discs about which I knew absolutely nothing but what was written on the eloquent description labels — Truth‘s Truth from 1969 and EscombrosEscombros, from 1970. The former is a poppy, folksy thing, not bad but not quite as bizarre as I was hoping based on the cover, and Escombros is a heavier Chilean obscurity that opens with a cover of Hendrix‘s “Stone Free,” so I guessed I was pretty safe in grabbing it. Turns out I was right about that. The vocals sounded mixed too high on my office speakers when I listened, but I expect on a different system, it might not be an issue at all, and there were a couple gems there anyway. Wicked Lady‘s Psychotic Overkill was a welcome find as well, all buzzsaw-this and early-’70s narcodelia that.

I also picked up Goat‘s World Music based on the tarantula-sized hype surrounding. That hype is probably earned, and however problematic I might find European acts copping a feel on some Fela Kuti afrobeat fuzz, they’re hardly the first and they did it well enough. I wasn’t quite enchanted, but sometimes with albums like that I go into it determined not to like them and usually find I don’t. That wasn’t the case with Goat.

In the “I reviewed this and I’m annoyed at buying it” category, the newest ones from Golden Void (review here), Astra (review here) and Six Organs of Admittance (review here) were fodder enough for a grumble, even if Astra and was used. Six Organs was $15 new and the sleeve isn’t even a gatefold. Call me a privileged shit if you want — boo hoo you don’t get free stuff, etc. — but for the time and effort I put into even a shorter review, I don’t think a CD is too much to ask, especially when I know that I’m one of like three remaining motherfuckers who cares in the slightest. Apparently the music industry disagrees. Grumble grumble, man.

One might include the new Neurosis (review here) in that category as well — and the Grand Magus I didn’t even step to this time around — but the fact is on that one I was just being impatient and that a physical promo of Honor Found in Decay would show up sooner or later (it did, today). However, my wanting to hear it right that minute met with such logic on the field of diplomacy and the compromise reached was that I’d buy the digipak edition, because it’s limited and the promo would likely be the jewel case anyway. I never got the digi version of 2007’s Given to the Rising and there’s a little bit of me that still regrets it. That same part is very much enjoying listening to “My Heart for Deliverance” as he types this.

There were odds and ends as well. With Kalas on my brain after The Johnny Arzgarth Haul resulted in another promo, Used Metal paid dividends in the first full-artwork copy I’ve ever owned — and in case you were wondering why I care so much about physical media, that’s how long I remember shit like that — and over in Used Rock, the first Grinderman happened to be situated next to a special edition of 2009’s Grinderman 2, the unmitigated sleaze of which I friggin’ loved at the time, as well as Grails‘ cinematic 2012 outing, Deep Politics (review here).

I wound up with a used copy of Dungen‘s 2002 third album, Stadsvandringar, getting the band confused with Black Mountain, I think because they both used to have the same PR. Thanks a lot, Girlie Action Media circa 2005. I felt a little pathetic when I discovered my error, but I checked out the Dungen and it wasn’t bad, covering some of the same sunny psych folk territory that Barr did on their 2012 sophomore installment, Atlantic Ocean Blues (track stream here), and giving me a new context for not onlyBarr, but a slew of other acts as well. Could’ve been much worse.

Cap it off with a used copy of Lewis Black‘s The Carnegie Hall Performance from 2006 — a stellar two-disc show recorded in the depths of American hopelessness post-Katrina but for the bit about air traffic control — and when I brought it all to the counter, the dude asked me, “Are you local?” I said I wasn’t and he said, “Well, I’m going to give you a discount anyway.” It was much appreciated, regardless of the geography involved, and by the time I left Sound Garden, I was more pleased with the outcome I carried in a red plastic bag than I’ve been coming from a single record store in a long time. Probably since I visited Flat, Black and Circular in Lansing, Michigan, over the summer, and that’s saying something.

My hope is that it’s not another three years before I get back there — appropriately enough, Lewis Black has a whole section early into his show about time moving faster as you age, and he’s absolutely right — but whenever it is, Sound Garden is definitely on the must-hit list for next time I’m in Baltimore. If you want to look them up, their website is here.

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Grails’ Black Tar Prophecies Vol. 5 to Arrive as Split LP with Pharaoh Overlord

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 17th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Nifty news for anyone who’s followed the always-intriguing progression of Portland’s Grails, in that the fifth installment in their ongoing Black Tar Prophecies series of releases will come in the form of a split with Finnish outfit Pharaoh Overlord. The last album from Grails proper was 2011’s Deep Politics (review here), and this will be the first Black Tar Prophecies to be a split since the very first in 2006 came out as part of a release with Red Sparowes.

The band may be instrumental, but the PR wire speaks the following:

GRAILS split w/ Pharaoh Overlord

Kemado Records announces its October 30 release of Grails’ new offering, Black Tar Prophecies, Vol. 5, the latest in the band’s Black Tar Prophecies series.

From Portland, Oregon, Grails feature drummer Emil Amos, also of Om. Making music under the Grails name for a decade now, the instrumental band have released music on labels such as Temporary Residence, Neurot, and Robotic Empire. Pitchfork bestowed this review upon them: “From stoner sludge to swirling desert rock to meditative mood music, Grails run an impressively wide gamut… Grails’ constantly changing sound makes every moment arresting, not simply the big crescendos.”

Kemado will release Grails’ Black Tar Prophecies, Vol. 5 on October 30 as one side of a split LP, the other side belonging to Finland’s Pharaoh Overlord, featuring members of prolific Finnish band Circle.

BrooklynVegan is now streaming “Chariots”, the lead track off Grails’ side of the split.

Grails head to Australia in October:
Oct 13 – Melbourne, AU @ The Corner (w/ Tortoise)
Oct 14 – Perth, AU @ UWA (This Is Nowhere Festival w/ Tortoise)
Oct 17 – Brisbane, AU @ The Zoo
Oct 18 – Melbourne, AU @ Northcote Social Club
Oct 19 – Sydney, AU @ Oxford Art Factory

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Plunging into the Depths with Grails’ Deep Politics

Posted in Reviews on March 16th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

After releasing their first two albums on Neurot, Portland, Oregon instrumental unit Grails began their association with Temporary Residence by appearing on the avant Black Sabbath tribute Everything Comes and Goes, covering the mother of all doom tracks, “Black Sabbath.” The newly-issued Deep Politics is Grails’ third full-length since then, and their sixth overall if you count the EP compilation Black Tar Prophecies Vols. 1, 2 & 3 on Important Records. From their 2003 The Burden of Hope full-length debut through 2008’s two LPs, Take Refuge in Clean Living and Doomsdayer’s Holiday, Grails had a remarkably prolific period, and though they released the Acid Rain DVD in 2009 and the fourth Black Tar Prophecies came out in 2010 (Vol. 5 is impending), the last couple years hasn’t found them nearly as present on the road or keeping the same level of productivity in terms of releases. That’s owed in no small part to drummer Emil Amos joining Om as the second half of the duo with Al Cisneros (Sleep, Shrinebuilder), as well as releasing solo material under the moniker Holy Sons, but he’s not the only one. Guitarist Zak Riles has also released an accomplished, meditative solo album, and toured with Portland singer-songwriter M. Ward. The effect all this has had is that the Grails of 2011 is a completely different animal.

Maybe that’s disingenuous. Grails has always shown diversity on their releases, beginning with The Burden of Hope and developing almost immediately an ethic for genre-transcendence on the 2004 follow-up, Redlight. On Deep Politics, however, the breadth of their creativity expands to bounds that are simply beyond anything they’ve ever done before. There are two sides to that. By reaching into new areas of sound, exploring (boldly) new influences, Grails today literally and physically cannot do what they’ve done before. I’d say this might disappoint some followers of the band, but I think if you’ve managed to stick it out this far with Grails, you probably expect something different each time out, and the sound the four-piece concoct on Deep Politics should be a boon to almost anyone who approaches it with an open mind. Their penchant for rich, contemplative atmospherics – a kind of think-thinky aural darkness – continues to run through the music, but across songs like the extended “I Led Three Lives” or the earlier “Corridors of Power,” Grails – the lineup completed by guitarist Alex Hall and bassist/pianist William Slater – bring in elements of dub and synthesized orchestration to affect an ambience like none they’ve experimented with previously. Beats back Native American flute sounds on “Corridors of Power,” which is a direct change from the lush and more organic build of opener “Future Primitive” – a manic guitar line running underneath like some kind of heart monitor – and the more piano- and guitar-driven reinterpretation of Morricone compatriot Bruno Nicolai’s “All the Colors of the Dark” score, from the 1972 film of the same name.

Immediately, Deep Politics surges with confidence and self-awareness. The title-track, led into by “Corridors of Power,” seethes with longing that comes through Slater’s piano work – so much so that about two minutes in, the music stops and Amos reintroduces it on drums, as though the song itself, said, “Oh what’s the point?” and tried to shut itself down. String-sounds texture “Deep Politics,” as they do much of the album, and there’s an acute sense of melody and rhythm in the guitars that feels more based in jazz than rock. “Deep Politics” is structured around, built from, the piano line, but in its later moments, it’s the strings that come to the fore, and it’s probably the most gorgeous realization to come from Grails to date, complemented by the shorter side A closer, “Daughters of Bilitis,” which seems to blend all the elements together: the electronic beats, the synth strings, the guitar and piano. It’s shorter than the title cut, and something of a comedown on the CD, but it makes sense thinking in terms of a vinyl release, which Grails always seem to do.

Read more »

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audiObelisk: Grails Premiere Track from Deep Politics

Posted in audiObelisk on January 11th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Maybe you’re like me and you slept late this morning, got to work late, and have been struggling the whole day to try and get your shit done. The thought of another impending snowstorm for the American East Coast has me staring out the window looking for the first flake, and since my Tuesdays are usually a wash anyhow, this one just seems especially immobile.

This Grails track came down the wire a few days ago, and because I don’t seem to be able to accomplish anything else this afternoon, here it is. The song is called “I Lead Three Lives,” and it comes off the instrumentalists’ new album, Deep Politics, which is due out in March on Temporary Residence. Please enjoy.

I Lead Three Lives

Here’s the full tracklisting for the album:

1. Future Primitive
2. All the Colors of the Dark
3. Corridors of Power
4. Deep Politics
5. Daughters Of Bilitis
6. Almost Grew My Hair
7. I Led Three Lives
8. Deep Snow

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Grails Have Fun with Juxtaposition in Trailer for Deep Politics

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 15th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Nothing says “we know how to have a good time” like a union between ’70s soundtrack sonics and horrific video. Portland, Oregon, instrumentalists Grails demonstrate their talent for pitting one against the other in the below teaser trailer for Deep Politics, apparently out March 8, 2011, on Temporary Residence. As someone who became used to a steady stream of Grails albums at six-month intervals, this first release since 2008’s Doomsdayer’s Holiday will be a most welcome arrival.

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