Six Dumb Questions with Hotel Wrecking City Traders

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on October 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

hotel wrecking city traders

Since their inception over a decade ago, Melbourne’s Hotel Wrecking City Traders have consistently — which is not to say relentlessly — pushed themselves to grow as artists. They have also been consistently — which is not to say relentlessly — undervalued for the fruits of this effort. Since the first cacophonies of their 2008 full-length debut, Black Yolk, and through 2010’s Somer/Wantok (review here) single, their 2011 collaborative work with Yawning Man guitarist/desert rock figurehead Gary Arce (review here), 2012 splits with Sons of Alpha Centauri and WaterWays (review here) and Spider Goat Canyon and their more recent long-players, 2014’s Ikiryo (review here), 2016’s Phantamonium (review here) and the newly-issued Passage to Agartha (review here), brothers Ben and Toby Matthews have been on an outward sonic journey that has remained unafraid to take on psychedelic tenets even as it maintains the semi-mathy crunch of its roots.

To listen to Passage to Agartha in particular, it is striking just how far Ben (drums) and Toby (guitar) have come. Their sound on the Cardinal Fuzz/Evil Hoodoo and Bro Fidelity 90-minute offering is more expansive than it’s ever been — so much so, in fact, that they recently recruited Spider Goat Canyon‘s Josh Beagley to play bass, making them a trio for the first time — and whether that’s manifest in the 20-minute, drone-backed bonus exploration “Oroshi” or in the crunch-meets-post-rock of “Quasar” and the massive rolling low end of “Kanged Cortex” at the outset, the instrumentalists continue to revel in their adventure in a way that few bands can make sound so genuine. Passage to Agartha, no less huge in concept than runtime, was recorded in mere days and largely improvised, only further emphasizing the musical language the brothers have built between them over time and how fluid their execution has become across their years.

As advice goes, it seems counterintuitive, but if you’re unfamiliar with Hotel Wrecking City Traders, start with Passage to Agartha and work your way back. I know an hour-and-a-half-long record is a lot to dig into at an inexperienced outset, but I think by the time the siren wails backing the flow of the title-track roll around, Passage to Agartha tells a lot of the story of how Hotel Wrecking City Traders have become the band they are — or the band they were when they tracked this material, anyway; again, they’re a trio now and one looks forward to how their dynamic might shift as a result — and with the surrounding push in “Chasing the Tendrils” and the dream-coated-in-noise wash of “Ohms of the Cavern Current,” the richness that Toby and Ben are able to convey has never come through with such exciting and entrancing resonance.

Ben was kind enough recently to take on discussing his relationship with his brother, the processes by which Passage to Agartha came about, bringing in Beagley and more.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

Hotel-Wrecking-City-Traders-Passage-to-Agartha

Six Dumb Questions with Hotel Wrecking City Traders

Tell me about putting together Passage to Agartha. How did these massive tracks take shape, and was there anything specific you were trying to bring to the material coming off of Phantamonium? How much of your writing is born of improvisation and jamming?

We had no pre-written ideas prior to day one. It was all improvised over the two days we were in the studio, with two days of overdubs for the bass and synth parts. A fairly typical approach for us, really, though this time the added instrumentation took a little longer. We didn’t really have Phantamonium in mind when we did this one we kind of left the way Toby approached the main guitar parts open for additional parts. We always record live together and rarely do overdubs but this time we felt we wanted to try to broaden the scope of sounds and tried to create a more full and layered tapestry of sounds. Playing synth was a first for us on a record and I just did one pass over each track and what you hear is what you get.

What was your time in the studio like? Was it enough? How much were the songs fleshed out in the studio? Was there something particular you wanted out of the sound of the album this time around?

We had a lot of fun this time around. The engineer who also owns the studio, Max [Ducker] and his two dogs were there for the recording. The size of the room we recorded in was smaller than places we have gone in the past but Max really knows his gear and we trusted that he would be able to capture what we were after. He has mixed the band as a live engineer many times and is a good friend of the band so in terms of a working relationship it was super-relaxed and he brought some nice gear for us to use and has a golden working knowledge of his studio and its capabilities so we felt very relaxed the whole time.

The songs were 100 percent improvised over the two days so we just rolled with it and allowed the songs to dictate how we would approach the next one. For example, amp settings, pedals, tempo and those sorts of things but we have always been a very cerebral pair, Tobz and I, and we just got into a certain headspace and let the songs evolve completely naturally and of their own will.

We try to make each record we do different and I think this one kind of has elements of old approaches and also newer ideas as well as a real mixture of melody and sheer volume and velocity. It’s a double album, which was not our intention going in but once we were done and we had the labels in place to release it we knew it had to be a double as the songs were so long that we could really only fit one per side of vinyl.

Where does the space theme come from and how does it tie into the material for you? Is there a narrative taking place in the tracks? If so, what’s the story being told?

It’s certainly an expansive record in its length and also the sonic elements from one track to the next so it was the final version of the record that lent itself to a space themed sort of idea. The passage to Agartha being the mythical city in the centre of the Earth’s core. We’re nerds and love sci-fi and horror and it seemed like the right fit. Whilst there is no specific story, the songs definitely go from a faster, more melodic place and end up in a slower and more molten space by the end of the record.

“Oroshi” cuts off suddenly past the 22-minute mark. Was that actually the end of the piece? You’ve done longform jamming before, of course. Does a song like that just happen, or do you go into it with the intention of doing something more extended?

Yeah that was a single live take over a loop that Tobz made and we just went for it. I used mallets to play that track but we did not EQ the drum mics any differently. It has a sort of Steve Shelley/Sonic Youth vibe to the drums and we were limited only by the 22 minutes of guitar loop! Haha! So yeah, we had a timer counting down as we were against the clock. Lots of nods for that one. We deliberately made that one far looser and more soundscape based than the others and I believe it was recorded midway through the recording late on day one.

You’re past a decade now working as Hotel Wrecking City Traders. How do you feel about how the band has grown in that time, and how has your relationship changed as brothers and as bandmates? How much of the communication between you at this point is unspoken on a musical level, and how clear a picture do you have in your head of what each other wants to do with the band?

Tobz and I are super good friends and playing together for this long has cemented that. We’re probably more tolerant of each other from doing tours in Japan, Europe and New Zealand together on a budget.  Continuing to want to create together and do this has always been important to us. Most of our communication is unspoken to be honest. Musically we say very little to each other verbally and communicate via the music as it seems to be more pure that way and less preconceived. It seems to work quite well.

We recently added a bass player to the band and played our first show as a trio last month. His name is Josh [Beagley] and is from the band Spider Goat Canyon. We’ve been friends for a decade and played tons of shows together. We realized we wanted to play these songs off Passage to Agartha and knew we needed that extra component. We’ve been getting together every week and jamming and reworking this set of new songs so our sets can be half those and half improvised and expansive.

We were very happy to have this new album come out as a co-release between Cardinal Fuzz and Evil Hoodoo (who we worked with previously on Phantamonium). We sell way more records in Europe than we do in our own country and it made sense to do it that way. In terms of a clear picture of what we wish to continue doing – more records, more Aussie shows and definitely getting back to Europe next year is high on our list. We are also looking at NZ shows and Japan shows as well as it’s been four years since we were last there and we’d absolutely love to go back and hit up some new cities and towns.

Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Just a thanks to your good self for covering this release and all the support you have shown us over the years. We truly appreciate it. Other than that, please check out the record and shoot us a message if you would like to help us organize anything in Europe or anywhere for that matter. We always enjoy being able to travel as a result of the music we create and see new places.

Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Passage to Agartha (2017)

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Passage to Agartha

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Hotel-Wrecking-City-Traders-Passage-to-Agartha

[Click play above to stream Hotel Wrecking City Traders’ Passage to Agartha in its entirety. Album is out Sept. 25 through Cardinal Fuzz, Evil Hoodoo and Bro Fidelity Records.]

It might not always seem like it, but there’s a delicate balance at play at any given moment for Hotel Wrecking City Traders. Yes, the Melbourne duo proffer just under 90 minutes of new material on the six tracks of their fourth album Passage to Agartha — released through Bro Fidelity, Cardinal Fuzz and Evil Hoodoo — but on an aesthetic level, the two-piece of brothers Ben and Toby Matthews (drums and guitar, respectively) tread a line between crunch-tone noise derived from a punk influence and an expansive take on space rock and heavy psychedelia that they’ve developed over the course of their decade together in the band. Each of their releases has been a step forward in a process of refining and individualizing this approach, and Passage to Agartha follows suit in expanding the mindset of early-2016’s Phantamonium (review here) and adding for the first time overdubs of synth and bass to the live-recorded, mostly-improvised root tracks of guitar and drums.

Thus, on opener “Quasar” (11:04) and the subsequent “Kanged Cortex” (11:55), Hotel Wrecking City Traders not only immediately cast their listener into this ocean of intensity and flow, but they do so with their core energy intact and with new elements put to use in making them fuller in their arrangements — they recently added Josh Beagley (also of Melbourne’s Spider Goat Canyon) to the lineup to handle bass parts live — even as the beginning stretches of “Chasing the Tendrils” (17:00) course through proggy nuance that offerings like Phantamonium, 2014’s Ikiryo (review here), their 2012 splits with Sons of Alpha Centauri and WaterWays (review here) and Spider Goat Canyon, 2011’s collaboration with Gary Arce of Yawning Man (review here), the 2010 single, Somer/Wantok (review here), and their 2008 debut, Black Yolk, have been building toward in one way or another.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s taken Hotel Wrecking City Traders 10 years to “arrive” as they shift into cymbal wash and amp noise passing the midpoint of “Chasing the Tendrils” and come off the harder-thrusting reaches of “Kanged Cortex” with a fluid motion building on some of the more post-rock airiness of the earlier going, just that Passage to Agartha finds them at the to-date pinnacle of their stylistic development. And while it’s easy to be consumed by the length of the thing — I started off talking about balance for a release that’s nearly an hour and a half long; worth noting that the closer “Oroshi” (22:57) is listed as a CD/digital-only bonus track — it’s the progressive will that becomes so palpable throughout these extended cuts that is even more striking. One can still hear the underlying turns of Black Yolk in their sound, in the angularity of some of Toby‘s guitar parts or the shifts in Ben‘s rhythm, the forward push of his playing, but with a number of experimentalist releases behind them at this point, Hotel Wrecking City Traders have never sounded freer than they do in these explorations.

hotel wrecking city traders

The way they move through the crashing, keyboard-laden ending of “Chasing the Tendrils” and into the more serene launch of “Passage to Agartha” (14:43) — arguably the record’s most purely psychedelic cut and a telling moment as the title-track with its siren-esque background synth and hypno-repetitive guitar lines — is their own, and it’s the result of an organic growth captured on Hotel Wrecking City Traders releases long or short. As they make this particular “Passage,” amassing volume and patience of roll as they go en route to midsection churn and an eventual wash that seems to swallow the song entirely before cutting out circa the 12:30 mark to let Toby‘s guitar and synth drift to the finish, it only seems right to think of Passage to Agartha as another landmark in their ongoing creative journey, part of a timeline and a larger process rather than a stopping point in itself.

At least that’s the hope, because while Hotel Wrecking City Traders remain considerably undervalued even in the crowded sphere of the underground in their hometown, their work has proven vital time and again, as it does here. “Ohms of the Cavern Current” (11:40) closes the album proper with a focus on more rumbling low end and a somewhat more plodding march than that of the title-track before it, rounding out by settling into a crash-propelled last push that cuts out to fade on a repeating guitar line. When it comes to it, “Oroshi” is an album unto itself, or an EP perhaps, but either way a definite standalone focal point correctly positioned here as a bonus track. It shares its overarching hypnosis with the preceding material, but centers around a single background drone for its 22-plus minutes and so clearly has its own experimentalist intentions as well, drifting as it does over a fullness of wash that comes to life and shifts toward one last run of intense prog noodling before cymbal washes take hold at about 19 minutes in to signal the end stage of what’s ostensibly a captured-live piece created as it happened.

Toby and Ben, as brothers and as bandmates, have so clearly developed a musical language between them that Passage to Agartha almost seems to communicate in patterns beyond the construction of its riffs and various (and varied) parts, but it doesn’t at all fail to engage its audience either through the subtlety of its reach or the balance of influences it sets in motion across such a formidable span. Even for a group so much on their own wavelength, the sense of achievement Hotel Wrecking City Traders bring to their craft is easy to perceive, and as Passage to Agartha finds them at a new stage of maturity, the patience they demonstrate when they choose to in “Quasar,” or the title-track, or “Oroshi,” is yet another tool to be put to use alongside the fervency that can be so propulsive elsewhere. One never likes to speculate what the future might bring especially for a band so prone to outside collaborations and one-offs, etc., but as they move forward in a three-piece incarnation with Beagley on bass, it seems all the more like Hotel Wrecking City Traders are still just beginning to discover where their passage is taking them. All the better.

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 30

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:

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

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.

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

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.

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

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.

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

Released by Restricted Release and The Church Within. Reviewed Aug. 2.

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.

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

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.

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

Released by Doomentia Records. Reviewed Dec. 11, 2015.

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.

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

Released by Ouga Booga and the Mighty Oug Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 20.

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.

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

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.

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

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.

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

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.

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

Released by Snake Charmer Coalition and The Company Records. Reviewed March 1.

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.

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, NeurosisFires 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.

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

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.

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

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.

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

Released by Ripple Music and STB Records. Reviewed Nov. 10.

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.

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

Released by The Laser’s Edge. Reviewed Nov. 17.

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.

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

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.

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

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.

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

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.

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

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.

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

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.

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

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.

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

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.

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

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

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.

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

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.

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

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 KyussFu ManchuCheVista 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.

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

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.

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

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)

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

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.

1. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

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.

Honorable Mentions

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
Spidergawd, III
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.

Thank You

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.

One more time: Thank you.

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Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantamonium: The Harsh Expanse (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 14th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

hotel wrecking city traders phantamonium

Melbourne instrumental duo Hotel Wrecking City Traders will release their third album, Phantamonium on March 18 through Evil Hoodoo. That in itself is a departure for the brotherly instrumentalists, guitarist Toby Matthews and drummer Ben Matthews, as most everything they’ve done since their 2008 debut, Black Yolk, has been offered through their own Bro Fidelity imprint. One of several departures, as it happens. The two-piece’s last long-player was 2014’s Ikiryo (review here), which followed a 2010 single, Somer/Wantok (review here), a 2011 collaboration with Gary Arce of Yawning Man (review here) and 2012 splits with Sons of Alpha Centauri and WaterWays (review here) and Spider Goat Canyon, and they’ve been likewise active since that LP’s release, though perhaps more insular. In 2014, they released a single-song EP Ode to Chunn that found its origins in a mostly-improvised live-recorded piece of the same name (discussed here), and they followed that with Loose Alcoholic, a digital single, and a 2015 split LP with Hey Colossus (also on Evil Hoodoo).

In January of this year, they posted the 12-minute track “Coven” with guest second guitar from Raul Sanchez i Jorge (River of Snakes) that, while it doesn’t appear on Phantamonium, offered a glimpse of the album’s methods all the same, grown progressive, more patient and strikingly fluid from its initial angularity on Black Yolk, basking in a chemistry honed as much on stage as in the studio, Hotel Wrecking City Traders seeming to show up and play live no matter what the situation might be. Phantamonium finds them moving further away from the raw “one guitar, one drumkit” methodology and, with the help of Jorge toward an exploratory vibe they rightly call psychedelic noise. Presented as four extended tracks totaling 41 minutes across two clearly delineated sides, their new outing still holds onto an intensity born out of their jagged roots, but if Hotel Wrecking City Traders have been looking for a wavelength of their own this whole time, it would seem they’ve found it.

Soon enough into opener “Dusted Pines,” the second guitar is introduced as a wave of feedback and effects under a central intro line, the drums joining shortly thereafter as the 9:33 track begins to unfold. There’s no moment of explosion, no feverish burst, but parts build as they go forward, thicker tone kicking in after about three minutes and fuller fuzz at around 4:30, pushing ahead into an increasingly noisy wash, one guitar strumming furiously as the other casts out feedback lines, drums fueling the freakout all the while. There’s something almost ritualistic about it, but Hotel Wrecking City Traders have never had any kind of cultish element to them, so perhaps its just a trance they happen to cast. The song ends in feedback that shifts fluidly into the drum and what-sounds-an-awful-lot-like-bass-if-it-isn’t opening of the title-track, the side A closer and first of two songs in a row over 11 minutes long with side B opener “Droned and Disowned (Pt. 1)” following.

hotel wrecking city traders

Like its predecessor, “Phantamonium” is in no rush at its start, unfolding a serene and fluid jam with just a hint of tension underlying that will come closer to the fore as they head toward the halfway mark, click on rawer tones, and set into another build, but the opening sets a hypnotic sprawl that defines “Phantamonium” as much as the chaos that ensues, Ben‘s drums holding together an onslaught of riffing and feedback with dense thud and washing, piercing crash. After a few minutes of forward thrust, the guitars drop to feedback, the drums slow, and they shift into a massive, rolling progression that will carry the three of them to the noise-caked finish of the album’s first half, amp crackle fading as the last piece to go. A quick platter flip or, you know, the next file, and “Droned and Disowned (Pt. 1)” kicks in with an immediate surge of feedback that, if you listen closely, runs underneath the entire song, emerging once again at the ending fade as if to brag about having been there the whole time.

“Droned and Disowned (Pt. 1)” gets no continuation on Phantamonium, but the 20-minute “Droned and Disowned (Pt. 2)” appeared on the Hey Colossus split, and had some of the same underlying instrumental themes, so while some of it is by its very nature improvised or studio happenstance — one can only control how waves of feedback are going to act to a point — there are also plans at work. Drums are sparse at first on “Droned and Disowned (Pt. 1),” but take hold gradually and push through the initial post-rock wisps of guitar into more prog rocking heaviness, that feedback line almost maddening underneath as the band tries to run away from it but can’t. A wah solo at about nine minutes in hits on an apex, and soon enough later, they seem to resign themselves to locking in a slower groove, but that too comes apart as they move toward the slower fadeout, that feedback and what I assume are looped ambient notes going last into silence before the opening of closer and shortest track at 8:51, “Entering the Lodge,” starts with what feels like especially peaceful strumming considering the abrasion “Droned and Disowned (Pt. 1)” was able to affect by the time it was done.

That’s not to say “Entering the Lodge” doesn’t have its own feedback layer — it’s Theremin-esque, actually — but just that the central riff of the song is more toward the front, a kind of space/psych rock groove establishing itself over a forward drum push, building subtly but with not all that far to go in the first place, so a kind of casual trip to end off. It peaks, recedes, peaks again and ends in a big-rock-finish style of crash as if to highlight Hotel Wrecking City Traders‘ relationship between the studio and the stage, and fades its last noises over the final minute, a quiet ending to what at times has been a turbulent outing. That’s nothing new for the band — duo, trio, collaboration partners; in whatever incarnation a given release might find them working — but the second guitar throughout Phantamonium does add considerably to their ability to create a wash, and rather than give them something to lean on, it seems only to have driven their experimentalist tendencies to another level entirely. All the better. I don’t know if that’s a permanent situation or not, but for Phantamonium, it’s helped Hotel Wrecking City Traders take another step in their ongoing, continually thrilling progression.

Hotel Wrecking City Traders on Thee Facebooks

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audiObelisk Transmission 051

Posted in Podcasts on August 25th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Click Here to Download

 

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The last one was so late, it seemed only fair to get back on track and do this one early. Not that you’re sitting and waiting with baited breath for the next podcast, I know — not deluding myself to think otherwise — but it keeps me sane to stick to some imaginary/arbitrary feeling of timeliness that changes more often than not, so I’ll just say up front that I appreciate your indulgence. Wow. Sometimes these imaginary conversations get pretty heavy.

Speaking of heavy — and speaking of masterful segues! — the new podcast has plenty of it. The second hour actually gets pretty pummeling, what with the Ahab track and all, so I made sure a little extra psychedelic stuff got in at the front. Dig that Red Mountains track. Their album’s coming out on Nasoni, which should be all the endorsement you need. I’m also very much into the Pyramidal space jam, and if you get to hear it, that Brian Ellis & Brian Grainger record (El Paraiso is putting it out) is a gem. Think a more psychedelic Six Organs of Admittance, all instrumental.

Some killer samplings to be had here, so I won’t delay further. Hope you enjoy:

First Hour:
0:00:00 Tony Reed, “Still Born Beauty (Necromandus ’73)” from The Lost Chronicles of Heavy Rock Vol. 1
0:04:02 All Them Witches, “Dirt Preachers” from Dying Surfer Meets His Maker
0:07:43 Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “Waiting for Blood” from The Night Creeper
0:12:33 Red Mountains, “Sleepy Desert Blues” from Down with the Sun
0:19:58 T.G. Olson, “Heavy on Your Head” from The Boom and Bust
0:23:18 Pyramidal, “Motormind” from Jams from the Sun Split with Domo
0:33:30 Brian Ellis & Brian Grainger, “Treesmoke” from At Dusk
0:37:53 Vinnum Sabbathi, “Hex II: Foundation Pioneers” from Fuzzonaut Split with Bar de Monjas
0:45:18 Spelljammer, “The Pathfinder” from Ancient of Days
0:53:41 Derelics, “Ride the Fuckin’ Snake to Valhalla” from Introducing

Second Hour:
1:02:03 Ahab, “The Weedmen” from The Boats of the Glen Carrig
1:16:56 Lost Orb, “Low Ebb’s Lament” from Low Ebb’s Lament
1:34:10 Hotel Wrecking City Traders, “Droned and Disowned” from Split with Hey Colossus

Total running time: 2:00:41

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 051

 

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Hey Colossus and Hotel Wrecking City Traders Split 12″ Coming Friday

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 22nd, 2015 by JJ Koczan

hey colossus

hotel wrecking city traders

This one sounds like a winner. On Friday, Wild Animal Records and Bro Fidelity Records will release a split between UK outfit Hey Colossus and Melbourne’s Hotel Wrecking City Traders on 12″ vinyl that contains one extended track from each band. Apparently the two acts had been in touch for some time but finally got to play together when the Aussie duo hit Europe for a tour last year, including a slot at Desertfest in London.

I’ll admit I don’t know Hey Colossus nearly as well as Hotel Wrecking City Traders, but the six-piece band released a full-length titled In Black and Gold on Rocket Recordings, and if you know that label, that should be enough to pique your interest. In the meantime, Hotel Wrecking City Traders released their second full-length, Ikiryo (review here), last year just about the time they took off for Europe and followed it up with a single, “Loose Alcoholic,” at the end of 2014.

Split’s out at the end of the week, so here’s some PR wire info if you’d like to prepare:

hey-colossus-hotel-wrecking-city-traders-split

HEY COLOSSUS / HOTEL WRECKING CITY TRADERS SPLIT 12 INCH

This split’s been in the pipeline since 2006, Melbourne’s HWCT + London/Somerset’s HC have been long time talkers, finally meeting when they did some shows together in 2014. The Australian duo tore it round Europe for 3 weeks, HC hooked up for 3 of the shows (including the London Desertfest).

One long tune each.

HWCT go JAM-HEAVY with ‘Droned and Disowned (Pt.2)’, ripping on some mid 80’s NY insistent guitar clang, building and building, being led by the drums, chased by the riffs, 22 smoke filled mins.

HC take it doooooown with ‘Heaven Blows’, a 3am ‘question where you’re going with your life’ come down tune, drones flying about, twinkly dream synths, vocals from outta nowhere.

Split 12 / Download is out July 24th on Wild Animals Records + Bro Fidelity Records, both labels out of Melbourne, 216 copies (Various colored vinyl).

https://www.facebook.com/hotelwreckingcitytraders
https://hotelwreckingcitytraders.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/heycolossus
http://geni.us/itunesblackngold
http://wildanimalsrecords.blogspot.com.au/

Hotel Wrecking City Traders, “Loose Alcoholic” (2014)

Hey Colossus, In Black and Gold (2015)

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Hotel Wrecking City Traders Stream New Album Ikiryo in Full

Posted in audiObelisk on April 2nd, 2014 by JJ Koczan

I’ve made attempts in the past to describe the scope that Melbourne, Australia, instrumental duo Hotel Wrecking City Traders cover, but to be perfectly honest with you, I think I’ve fallen a little flat in doing so to date. When I first got a copy of their 2008 Black Yolk full-length debut, it seemed to me that the brotherly two-piece of guitarist Toby Matthews and drummer Ben Matthews were embroiled in a kind of post-punker noise rock. Their edges were sharp, the material angular, almost mathy. The subsequent 2010 Somer/Wantok 7″ single (review here) preceded a 2011 collaborative 12″ with Gary Arce of Yawning Man (review here), and both the pairing itself and the output showed shifting influences, the Wreckers taking on a more progressive, groove-based mindset, smoothing out. In 2012, they again partnered with Arce, this time taking part in a three-way split between his WaterWays project and UK instrumental proggers Sons of Alpha Centauri (review here) that once again expanded the Hotel Wrecking City Traders palette. Now, more than half a decade since their last long-player, the Matthewses return with Ikiryo on their own Bro Fidelity Records and seek to confound those who’d try to simplify their approach by sticking it in one category or another.

Ben and Toby — who also issued the solo album Sounds of Jura in 2013 under the moniker Toby Wrecker — offered a look at some of their present breadth late in 2013 with the one-song, largely-improvised 46-minute live video “Ode to Chunn” (discussed here). It was probably the best extended-form single of last year that never actually got a release, and Ikiryo continues to trace the development of Hotel Wrecking City Traders as a unit of multiple sonic affiliations. Over its vinyl-ready five-track, 36-minute sprawl, Ikiryo touches on Pelican pastoralia (see “Riley”), doomly minimalism (the midsection of opener “Breath”), post-desert joybringing (“Dance the Hempen Jig”), extended builds (the closing title-track), and on “Tetryl,” they seem to fuse the patient atmospherics of who they are now with the crunching riffs they offered in their beginnings while also experimenting either with vocals or something that sounds enough like them to serve that purpose. Likewise, there also seems to be some conversation happening way, way down in the mix of “Breath,” unless that’s just my brain receiving alien transmissions again. It’s vague. Could go either way. The point is, Hotel Wrecking City Traders are pushing themselves, experimenting, refusing to settle into any comfort zone, and for arriving six years after their first album, Ikiryo shows they haven’t wasted their time.

There’s at least six years’ worth of growth evident between the initial rush of “Breath” and the moodier, contemplative launch of “Ikiryo” — though the title cut rounds out with a viciously heavy payoff of its own — and along the way, they hit numerous peaks and valleys, striding out in the centerpiece “Dance the Hempen Jig” for a fuzz highlight memorable enough to be an anchor for anyone who finds themselves rudderless in stretches of linearity without traditional verses or choruses to ground them, Toby‘s guitar metering out airy lead lines over Ben‘s smoothed-out drum pattern. Even here they’re not without purpose or dynamic, and as much as they come to rest in a given part anywhere on Ikiryo, their use of repetition never goes from hypnotic to redundant.

Even now I find that none of this is really doing justice to Hotel Wrecking City Traders‘ heavy and increasingly expansive take. Fortunately, the duo have granted me permission to host a full stream of the album, so that instead of spinning my adjectival wheels to look for alternate uses of “deeply creative,” I can simply direct your attention to the player below and you can hear it for yourself. Score one for the nifty future in which we reside.

Ikiryo is out on CD April 16 as Hotel Wrecking City Traders begin a European tour (info an dates below). Enjoy:

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Hotel Wrecking City Traders’ (HWCT) first full length LP since 2008’s ‘Black Yolk’. After a series of successful collaborations & splits with Desert Rock forefathers Gary Arce, Mario Lalli (Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson) and a steady bout of touring Australia and Japan, the urge to record as a duo again was something that was important. So was emphasizing the song and the melody and crafting the riff. ‘Ikiryo’ is a more harnessed beast and comprises 5 songs that were written over the course of a 3 month period at the end of 2013. They were recorded in a mere 2 days, in January, 2014. This time working with engineer Jason Fuller at his Goatsound Studios in Melbourne. Jason’s background is well known as being in the heavier more metal realm (Brutal Truth, Blood Duster). The band were sought out by Jason and invited to record, ironically entering the studio with some of the most melodic and concise songs of their existence. The result is a vivid sonic journey over the course of 40 minutes that sees HWCT’s new approach spread across 5 measured sonic explorations. Improvisational aspects are still present but so is a confident and measured velocity. This is evident in the album’s title, suggesting a spirit leaving the body and moving around freely. The album is heavy, mind altering and noisy and still undeniably HWCT.

Ikiryo European Tour April/May 2014
Fri April 18th The Anvil, Bournemouth
Sat April 19th The Hole in the Wall, Colchester
Thu April 24th Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
Fri April 25th Church of St Thomas the Martyr, Bristol w/The Body, Arabrot, Hey Colossus
Sat April 26th The Desertfest, London
Tue 29th April RockSound, Barcelona
Wed 30th April IncivicZone, Sant Feliu de Codines
Thu 1st May Lion Cafe, Benicarlo
Fri 2nd May La Residencia, Valencia
Sat 3rd May Métrica, Málaga
Sun 4th May Mondongo Bar, Puerto Santa María — Cádiz
Mon 5th May Cruce de Caminos, La Zubia — Granada
Tue 6th May Wurlitzer Ballroom, Madrid
Wed 7th May El Reino, Cabezón de La Sal
Thu 8th May Sentinel Rock Club, Erandio + MEIDO
Fri 9th May Mogambo, Donostia + ERROMA + MEIDO
Sat 10th May AVV Arrebato, Zaragoza

Hotel Wrecking City Traders on Thee Facebooks

Bro Fidelity Records

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Hotel Wrecking City Traders Announce New Album Ikiyro and European Touring

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 12th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Australian duo Hotel Wrecking City Traders have announced they’ll release their first long-player in six years’ time in the form of Ikiryo. What will be interesting to hear in the instrumental outfit’s sophomore outing is how much their songwriting will have been affected by their collaborations over the last several years with the like of Gary Arce (review here) and the more psychedelic influence they showed late last year on the live recording “Ode to Guinn” (video here). Their last physical release was a 2012 split with WaterWays and Sons of Alpha Centauri (review here), so really, the Matthews brothers have a wide open range of places they could take their sound, including the crunching noise rock elements that were the driving factor of their 2008 self-titled debut.

Much to look forward to, and if you’re in Europe, a cool chance to see them live. They’ll be at Desertfest in London and more, as the PR wire informs:

HOTEL WRECKING CITY TRADERS ‘ Ikiryo’ (2014)

Hotel Wrecking City Traders’ (HWCT) first full length LP since 2008’s ‘Black Yolk’. After a series of successful collaborations & splits with Desert Rock forefathers Gary Arce, Mario Lalli (Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson) and a steady bout of touring Australia and Japan, the urge to record as a duo again was something that was important. So was emphasizing the song and the melody and crafting the riff. ‘Ikiryo’ is a more harnessed beast and comprises 5 songs that were written over the course of a 3 month period at the end of 2013. They were recorded in a mere 2 days, in January, 2014. This time working with engineer Jason Fuller at his Goatsound Studios in Melbourne. Jason’s background is well known as being in the heavier more metal realm (Brutal Truth, Blood Duster). The band were sought out by Jason and invited to record, ironically entering the studio with some of the most melodic and concise songs of their existence. The result is a vivid sonic journey over the course of 40 minutes that sees HWCT’s new approach spread across 5 measured sonic explorations. Improvisational aspects are still present but so is a confident and measured velocity. This is evident in the album’s title, suggesting a spirit leaving the body and moving around freely. The album is heavy, mind altering and noisy and still undeniably HWCT.

1. Breath (7:40)
2. Riley (4:15)
3. Dance the Hempen Jig (4:49)
4. Tetryl (6:18)
5. Ikiry? (13:39)
BRO FIDELITY RECORDS [BroFi010]

HWCT:
Toby: Guitars
Ben : Drums

Ikiryo European Tour April/May 2014
Fri April 18th The Anvil, Bournemouth
Sat April 19th The Hole in the Wall, Colchester
Thu April 24th Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff
Fri April 25th Church of St Thomas the Martyr, Bristol w/The Body, Arabrot, Hey Colossus
Sat April 26th The Desertfest, London
Tue 29th April RockSound, Barcelona
Wed 30th April IncivicZone, Sant Feliu de Codines
Thu 1st May Lion Cafe, Benicarlo
Fri 2nd May La Residencia, Valencia
Sat 3rd May Métrica, Málaga
Sun 4th May Mondongo Bar, Puerto Santa María — Cádiz
Mon 5th May Cruce de Caminos, La Zubia — Granada
Tue 6th May Wurlitzer Ballroom, Madrid
Wed 7th May El Reino, Cabezón de La Sal
Thu 8th May Sentinel Rock Club, Erandio + MEIDO
Fri 9th May Mogambo, Donostia + ERROMA + MEIDO
Sat 10th May AVV Arrebato, Zaragoza

www.facebook.com/hotelwreckingcitytraders
www.hotelwreckingcitytraders.bandcamp.com
www.reverbnation.com/hwct
www.brofidelity.blogspot.com
www.wombatbooking.com

Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Ikiryo Euro Tour Promo

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