Friday Full-Length: Iota, Tales

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 24th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

What a record. I’ve mentioned Iota here and there over the years, mostly when talking about other bands, but it’s now been 10 years since the Salt Lake City-based trio released their debut and apparent swansong, Tales, on Small Stone, and it seems high time the album got a revisit. In hindsight, it was a collection ahead of the curve in its blend of straightforward heavy rock riffing and more open-feeling jams, and even when it came out, it was clear the band were onto something special. I was still working print mags at the time and I remember calling it “like Kyuss in space,” and I stand by that to some degree. Under the mountain-filled skies of Utah, Iota harnessed a style that was as comfortable in the high-rolling lead guitar strut deep into the seventh minute of “The Sleeping Heathen”‘s total 10 as it was tearing through the opening duo of “New Mantis” and “We are the Yithians,” neither of which was half as long. Those two tracks, however brief, were utterly crucial to the overall impression made by guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano, bassist Oz Yosri and drummer/engineer Andy Patterson in what followed.

To wit, with “New Mantis” (4:40) and “We are the Yithians” (3:37) at the outset, Tales subsequently launched into three cuts that would comprise roughly 84 percent of its runtime. “The Sleeping Heathen” (10:42), the sprawling “Dimensional Orbiter” (22:56) and closer “Opiate Blues” (8:14) shot outward from where Tales began, but the context of the two opening tracks gave a straightforward edge to even the most dug-in jams of “Dimensional Orbiter,” which as it hit the five-minute mark, pivoted from its hook and the gritty vocal delivery of Toscano into a consuming instrumental rush that continued until after 19 minutes in, when a slowdown brought the vocals back atop masterful crashing and more wah-drenched lead work. “Dimensional Orbiter” was and remains a gorgeous demonstration of the potential in Iota‘s sound, but the basic elements from which it was crafted are right there in “New Mantis” and “We are the Yithians.” From the furious chug and snare punishment that started the former to the tension of its verses and the takeoff into a solo before the first half was done, to the hook that emerged through the barrage of high-desert tonality and ethereal who-the-hell-knows-what-they’re-talking-about lyrics, and into the semi-metallized slower-thrash riffing of “We are the Yithians,” catchy, quick, efficient as it was, the sense of Iota careening from one movement to the next was palpable even before “The Sleeping Heathen” took hold.

And once it did, it was the beginning point of an entirely different stage of the album. I’d call it a transition point, but it really wasn’t. While “The Sleeping Heathen” picked up at a sprint from “We are the Yithians” and would turn fluidly into “Dimensional Orbiter” on the other end, its place on the record was hardly just about making the shift from one side of the band’siota tales personality to the other. That’s part of what made Tales so special. There was of course a flow between — and plenty within — its tracks, but a huge part of the reason it all worked so well was simply that Toscano, Yosri and Patterson had the confidence to pull it off. Toscano was a grounding presence as a frontman, and the importance of his leading the band through the return to structure in the final minutes of “Dimensional Orbiter” isn’t to be understated for the work it did in establishing Iota‘s songwriting as central. Yeah, they jammed way, way, way out, but they didn’t let the track end without bringing it back either. That was the job of “Opiate Blues,” with its harmonica-laced wash of fuzz and all-gone-not-coming-back vibe. But all the more, then, what “Dimensional Orbiter” did was to show that Iota were conscious of what they were doing in the material. It might sound like they were getting lost in the vastness of their own making, and maybe they were for a while, but they weren’t about to actually stay lost. I’ll happily maintain that Iota‘s Tales was one of 2008’s most exciting albums, and if it showed up now, a decade later, I’d still be dying to hear what the band did next.

A lot’s changed in 10 years, of course, but you take my meaning. Consider the vinyl revival. Tales, as the runtimes and track placements were on the original disc, wouldn’t work on vinyl. You’d probably have to drop off “Opiate Blues” and lose that harmonica-jam finish to close with “Dimensional Orbiter” as a standalone cut on side B. Side A would work with “New Mantis,” “We are the Yithians” and “The Sleeping Heathen” as they are, but the linear aspect of the record would be gone and it would be a marked change in the overall affect. Maybe it would be cool, but I’m not sure sacrificing the closer to fit on a 12″ would be a fair enough trade. But 2008 was a different time. It was a moment of transition in the social media landscape, but even more than that, consider that Texas’ Wo Fat, who’d made their debut in 2006 with The Gathering Dark, would release Psychedelonaut the next year and embark on a similar course of blending straightforward rock with jammier fare. Their take was bluesier, and they certainly went on to do it more than once, but it stands as another example of how new the idea was at that point. Iota were right on the cusp of that movement waiting to happen.

Then nothing happened. They played SXSW a couple times and would talk about new material for a while, but by the second half of 2009, Toscano was beginning to establish his new outfit, Dwellers, and they’d go on to release two records also through Small Stone to-date, while Patterson would take hold of the drums in SubRosa and continue to build his reputation as a producer. Careers took different paths, and gradually Iota became a footnote and a case of what-coulda-been-style potential unrealized. I heard as recently as last year they had some new jams, but nothing has come to the surface as yet, and in the meantime, everyone seems plenty busy otherwise. SubRosa‘s For This We Fought the Battle of Ages (review here) was the best album of 2016, and Dwellers, whose 2014 outing, Pagan Fruit (review here), continues to get periodic revisits, have reportedly started hammering out material for a third LP, to which one looks forward. Yosri was playing with Bird Eater alongside members of the crushing Gaza, but they broke up in 2014. Iota had early demos with different personnel in the rhythm section, but Tales stands alone as the document of what they accomplished during their time. And 10 years after the fact, it still kicks unreasonable amounts of ass.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

We were getting ready to leave Connecticut the other day — prepping for the by-now-so-familiar-The-Pecan-doesn’t-even-really-mind-it-anymore trip south to New Jersey for a final week here before the semester starts and we have to go back to Massachusetts to hunker down for the winter ahead. I was packing the car. I had a laundry basket full of clean clothes coming south, and the baby didn’t want to be put down. He’s got three teeth, working on numbers four and five already, and has been hair-trigger pretty much daily for the last three weeks running. Brutal. I said, “You wanna go for a ride in the laundry basket?” and he gave me a look like, “The fuck kinda question is that chief OF COURSE I wanna go for a ride in the laundry basket,” so I loaded him in, he held onto the sides and I marched out to put the basket in the car. Fine.

I think it must have been when I pulled the basket up onto the back bumper so I could open the hatch on The Patient Mrs.’ car that my back went out. Brutally out. This was Wednesday early on and it’s Friday morning as I write this and I’m still considerably uncomfortable. I’ve spent the last two days with heating pads and ibuprofen and I’m better than I was by Wednesday evening when we got here and I couldn’t really move, but very clearly something was pulled. Something necessary for basic functions. It has sucked, and it continues to suck. Yesterday I could pick the baby up, but couldn’t really hold him long. Just to kind of put him from one place to the other. No way to live.

My father always had chronic back pain. My sister as well, for years. Real genetic lottery winner, this one.

So that’s kind of peppered my last couple days, and by “peppered” I mean “been excruciating and frustrating.” But so it goes. In addition, I’ve been up in the middle of the night doing Obelisk stuff so that I can be available during the day to watch the baby so The Patient Mrs. can work. Working the overnights. “Four-shift crew rotation, Riker. Get it done.” I don’t actually mind that. I can relax and not be as rushed to get things done, but it does pretty much necessitate a nap later on. And every now and then I cry a bit.

–Wow. So I just went fucking apeshit and typed out a whole miserable screed about depression and pills and being a wreck. I deleted it, it’s gone, but it was there. It sucks that I’m not really comfortable enough to post that kind of thing here anymore. I used to feel like I could say anything at any time. Now, it’s setting myself up for bullshit.

Bummer.

Let’s do the notes instead. That’ll be productive. Did you listen to that Moab track today? That record smokes, so I hope so. Here’s what’s up for next week as of now:

Mon.: Clutch review; The White Swan track premiere.
Tue.: Fvzz Popvli track premiere/review; news catchup.
Wed.: Constant Lovers track premiere.
Thu.: Juicer track premiere.
Fri.: Ramprasad EP full stream.

Busy busy, as ever. Probably Monday we’ll head back north to Connecticut and then follow-up with a return to Massachusetts thereafter. The Patient Mrs. has to go be brilliant as she will at a conference in Boston next weekend, so I’m on baby duty for the duration there, which is fine. I should be able to move by then.

Which reminds me: ibuprofen.

I’m gonna finish downing this coffee, fire off an email or two and go back to bed hopefully for 90 minutes or so until The Pecan wakes up. If you need me this weekend, I’m on the social medias and checking in as much as I can getting ready for next week. That Clutch review is going to be a fun one to put together.

Alright. Great and safe weekend, please. And please too, forum and radio:

The Obelisk Forum

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