The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2018

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the-top-30-of-2018

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 2018 to that, please do.

It just wouldn’t be a year if it wasn’t completely overwhelming, right?

2018 has certainly met that standard and then some. The swath of output, whether it’s a new generation adopting and adapting established methods or out and out reinventing the stylistic wheel and then pushing it uphill on a seemingly endless barrage of tours, has been staggering, and it’s still happening. There’s a little more than a week to go in the year. You think a band isn’t putting something out today? Of course they are. It’s every day. It’s all the time.

But this year wasn’t just about quantity either. I think one of my biggest struggles in writing about albums in 2018 — and with the last Quarterly Review and various premieres and video posts that were basically album reviews in disguise, let’s estimate we’re somewhere past 300 records reviewed one way or another — was in conveying just how killer so much of the stuff coming through was. How many times can you say the word “awesome?” Well, I’m sure we’ll see it a few more times before this list is over, so there you go.

I say something like this every time I do a list, but please keep in mind these are my picks and I’m one person. But I am a person. I know there’s the whole internet-anonymity thing, but I assure you, I’m a human being (more of a cave troll, really) typing these words. I’m all for everyone sharing their own picks in the comments, and all for passionate advocating, but please, let’s keep it civil and respectful. These things can spiral out of control quickly, but let’s remember that we’re all human beings and worth of basic courtesy, even if some of us are dead wrong about a good many things. You should definitely punch nazis, though.

Thanks in advance for reading. Here we go:

[UPDATE: You’ll notice the inclusion of an ’18a.’ I had Stoned Jesus in my notes as number 18 initially and they got dropped as I was adjusting things along the way. I’ve added them back in, but it didn’t seem fair to bump everyone else down after the post had already been published. That was the best I could come up with for a solution. If you’re pissed about one more killer record being added, please feel free to email me and tell me all about it.]

30. The Skull, The Endless Road Turns Dark

The Skull The Endless Road Turns Dark

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Chicago’s The Skull had no small task before them in following up their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) — let alone living up to their pedigree — but their second album demonstrated a creative growth that sacrificed nothing of memorability when it came to songs like “Breathing Underwater” and “All that Remains (Is True).” They got down to work and got the job done, which is what a working band does. 2018 was by any measure a fantastic year for doom, and The Skull were a big part of why.

29. Foghound, Awaken to Destroy

foghound awaken to destroy

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Nov. 21.

The Dec. 2017 murder of Rev. Jim Forrester was tragic. No other way to say it. Foghound, who were in the midst of making Awaken to Destroy at the time, put together an album that not only features Forrester‘s last recorded performance, but pays respect to his memory while the wound is still raw and manages to kick ass all the while. It’s a record that can’t ever be divorced from its circumstances — just can’t — and so it can be a heavy listen in more than just its tones, but it’s basically Foghound proving they’re unstoppable. And so they are.

28. Orange Goblin, The Wolf Bites Back

orange goblin the wolf bites back

Released by Spinefarm Records. Reviewed June 13.

Who among us here today is not a sucker for Orange Goblin? Come forward an be judged. I mean, really. Nine records deep, the London sceneforgers are nothing less than an institution, beloved by boozehounds, riffhounds, doomhounds, and really, a wide variety of hounds the world over. Also dudes. With its essential title-track hook and highlight cuts in “Ghosts of the Primitives” and “Burn the Ships” — or, you know, any of them — they added to one of heavy’s most unshakable legacies with an album as furious as it is welcoming to its generations-spanning fanbase.

27. Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe

fu manchu clone of the universe
Released by At the Dojo Records. Reviewed Feb. 15.

There are two kinds of people in this world, and they’re both Fu Manchu fans. Clone of the Universe turned heads with a guest appearance from Rush‘s Alex Lifeson on the 18-minute side-B-consuming “Il Mostro Atomico,” but really to focus on that instead of “Intelligent Worship,” “(I’ve Been) Hexed,” “Don’t Panic,” “Slower than Light,” etc., is only seeing half the point of the album in the first place. The long-running lords of fuzz hit a new stride with 2014’s Gigantoid (review here), and Clone of the Universe was in every way a worthy successor.

26. Witch Mountain, Witch Mountain

Witch-Mountain-Witch-Mountain
Released by Svart Records. Reviewed May 16.

It was an unenviable task before Witch Mountain in replacing vocalist Uta Plotkin, but founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nathan Carson found the right voice in Kayla Dixon and solidified the lineup with her and bassist Justin Brown enough to make a declarative statement in Witch Mountain‘s self-titled LP. That’s the story of it. They pulled it off. Met with what was unquestionably a bummer circumstance, they pushed through and moved their sound forward through a new beginning — and not their first one. Watch out when their next record hits.

25. Windhand, Eternal Return

windhand eternal return

Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Richmond, Virginia, doomers Windhand‘s second collaboration with producer Jack Endino produced a marked and purposeful expansion of their sound, encompassing classic grunge influences and a heavy psychedelic swirl that added color their previously-greyscale sonic haze. Resonant in tone and emotionalism, Eternal Return readjusted Windhand‘s trajectory in such a manner that, where one might’ve thought they knew where the band were headed in terms of their progression, they’ve made themselves a less predictable outfit on the whole. For that alone, it’s a triumph. Then you have the songs.

24. Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

Released by King Pizza Records. Reviewed April 18.

I don’t even want to admit how long I was waiting for Sun Voyager‘s first long-player to show up, but when it finally did, the New York trio did not disappoint. Catchy, energetic, fuzzed-out tunes with driving rhythms and a heavy psych flourish, they tapped into shoegaze and desert vibes without losing any sense of themselves in the process, and if the extra wait was so they could be so remarkably coherent in their expression on their full-length, then I wouldn’t want it to have shown up any sooner. An easy pick to stand among 2018’s best debut albums. Now to wait for the next one.

23. Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed July 27.

It should tell you something that after working quickly to produce three albums, Louisiana’s Forming the Void are still defined by their potential. If I had my druthers, I’d put the recent Ripple signees on tour for the bulk of 2019, across the US and in Europe for festivals and support-slot club shows, really give them an opportunity to hammer out who they are as a band and then hit the studio for LP four. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but they’d only be doing the universe a favor by kicking into that gear. As it stands, their progression is palpable in their material and they stand absolutely ready for whatever the next level might be for them.

22. Spaceslug, Eye the Tide

spaceslug eye the tide

Released by BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed June 29.

Aside from the speed at which Spaceslug have turned around offerings — with Eye the Tide following 2017’s Mountains and Reminiscence EP (review here) and Time Travel Dilemma (review here) full-length and their 2016 debut, Lemanis (review here) — the Polish outfit have undertaken significant progression in their sound, moving from pure heavy psychedelic warmth to incorporating elements out of extreme metal as they did on Eye the Tide. Adding to the latest record’s accomplishment is the smoothness with which they brought seemingly opposing sides together, only adding depth to an approach already worthy of oceanic comparison.

21. Conan, Existential Void Guardian

Conan Existential Void Guardian
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 14.

Conan‘s reign of terror has been unfolding for more than a decade now, and each of their albums has become a kind of step along a path of incremental growth. Consider the melody creeping into the shouts of founding guitarist Jon Davis, or the emergence of bassist Chris Fielding as a vocal presence alongside, the two sharing a frontman role more than ever before while welcoming drummer Johnny King to the fold of destructive tonality and doomly extremism. Existential Void Guardian may end up just being another stomp-print on their way to the next thing, but it affirmed the fact that as much as Conan grow each time out, their central violence continues to hold sway.

20. Pale Divine, Pale Divine

PALE DIVINE S/T
Released by Shadow Kingdom Records. Reviewed Nov. 21.

Look. A new Pale Divine record doesn’t come along every day, so yeah, their self-titled was probably going to be on my list one way or the other, but it definitely helps that not only was it their first outing in six years since 2012’s Painted Windows Black (review here), but it had the songs to live up to a half-decade-plus of anticipation. It marked the first studio appearance from bassist/backing vocalist Ron “Fezz” McGinnis alongside guitarist Greg Diener and drummer Darin McCloskey — now both of Beelzefuzz as well — and made a strong argument for how much Pale Divine deserve more than 20 years on from their initial demo to be considered classic American doom.

19. Mos Generator, Shadowlands

mos generator shadowlands
Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed May 11.

The return and rise to prominence of Washington pure heavy rockers Mos Generator might be the underground’s feelgood story of the decade, but it hasn’t by any means been easily won. In addition to rebuilding the band however many albums ago, guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed has put in innumerable hours on tour and worked to actually develop the group creatively in addition to in terms of stage presence. This is shown throughout some of the classic prog elements making their way onto Shadowlands, and perhaps some of the collection’s moodier aspects are born of the aforementioned road time as well. Hard for that kind of thing not to be a slog after a while, but at least they have killer tunes to play.

18a. Stoned Jesus, Pilgrims

STONED JESUS PILGRIMS

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 5.

The only safe bet about Stoned Jesus‘ fourth long-player, Pilgrims, was that it was going to sound different than the third. That 2015 outing, The Harvest (review here), preceded the band touring to celebrate the fifth anniversary and after-the-fact success of 2012’s Seven Thunders Roar (review here), but Pilgrims defied narrative in that instead of incorporating elements from the second record in more of a heavy psych or jam sound, Stoned Jesus instead showcased a tighter, more sureheaded sense of craft than they’ve ever displayed before, and arrived on Napalm Records with a collection of songs that demonstrated the growth and sense of creative will that drives them. While one can take a look at their moniker and think immediately they know what’s coming, Stoned Jesus have made themselves one of the least predictable bands in heavy rock.

18. Backwoods Payback, Future Slum

backwoods payback future slum

Self-released. Reviewed Aug. 15.

“Pirate Smile.” “Lines.” “Whatever.” “It Ain’t Right.” “Threes.” “Cinderella.” “Generals.” “Big Enough.” “Alone.” “Lucky. Mike Cummings, Jessica Baker, Erik Larson. Every player, every song, every minute. If you want to know what heart-on-sleeve sounds like, it fucking sounds like Backwoods Payback. In their line from hardcore punk to grunge to heavy rock, they encompass experiences and emotionalism that are both shown in raw form throughout Future Slum, and build all the while on the chemistry they set out in developing with 2016’s Fire Not Reason (review here), when they welcomed Larson to the lineup on drums and revitalized their mission. Also worth noting, they were the best live band I saw this year. Anywhere.

17. Corrosion of Conformity, No Cross No Crown

corrosion of conformity no cross no crown

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed Jan. 3

No question the excitement of C.O.C. putting out their first record with frontman Pepper Keenan involved since 2005’s In the Arms of God was one of this year’s top stories in heavy. And No Cross No Crown tapped directly into the spirit of 1994’s Deliverance (discussed here) and 1996’s Wiseblood (discussed here) in terms of direction, while updating the band’s style with a four-part 2LP in mind. In some ways, it’ll be their next album that really gives listeners a sense of where they’re at and where they might be headed, but as welcome returns go, having Keenan alongside Mike DeanWoody Weatherman and Reed Mullin is in no way to be understated, and neither is the quality of their output together, then and now.

16. Naxatras, III

naxatras iii

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 14.

It is no simple feat to hypnotize an audience and convey serenity while at the same time holding attention with songcraft, so that the listener isn’t actually so much unconscious as malleable of mood and spirit in such a direction as the band suggests. Greek trio Naxatras have worked quickly to become experts at this, and their third full-length fosters tonal warmth and jammy progressions with an overarching naturalism that finds them so committed to analog recording that one can buy direct transfers of the tape master of III. Some acts take classic-style practices as an aesthetic choice. With Naxatras, it seems to be the stuff of life, yet their sound is only vibrant and human in a way that, at least one hopes, is even more representative of the future than the past.

15. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions

clutch book of bad decisions

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Aug. 27.

It was time for Clutch to make a change in producers, and the Maryland overlords of groove seemed to know it. Known as a live band, they went with Vance Powell, who’s known a live band producer. The results on Book of Bad Decisions might not have been so earth-shatteringly different from 2015’s Psychic Warfare (review here), which was the too-soon follow-up to 2013’s Earth Rocker (review here) — both helmed by Machine — but the inimitable four-piece indeed succeeded in capturing the electricity of their stage performance and, as ever, treated fans to a collection of songs bearing Clutch‘s unmistakable hallmarks of quirky lyrics, funky rhythms and heavy roll. They may always be a live band, but Clutch‘s studio work is in no way to be discounted, ever, as this record reaffirmed. Plus, crab cakes.

14. Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Released by Pelagic Records. Reviewed Aug. 3.

After 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), I wasn’t sure Ancestors were going to put out another record. They kicked around word of one for a while, but it wasn’t until the end of last year that it really seemed to congeal into a possibility. And by then, who the hell knew what they might get up to on a full-length? With Suspended in Reflections, in some says, they picked up where they left off in terms of finding a niche for themselves in progressive and melodic heavy, but I think the time showed in the poise of their execution and the control of the material. Suspended in Reflections can’t help but be six years more mature than its predecessor, and that suits its contemplative feel. In tracks like “Gone,” and “The Warm Glow,” they tempered their expansive sound with an efficiency that can only be had with time.

13. High on Fire, Electric Messiah

high on fire electric messiah

Released by eOne Heavy. Reviewed Sept. 28.

The narrative here was hard to beat. Matt Pike spending an album cycle talking about Lemmy Kilmister and paying homage to his dirt-rock forebear and the gods of old? It doesn’t get much more perfect than that. Electric Messiah was the third collaboration between High on Fire and producer Kurt Ballou behind 2015’s Luminiferous (review here) and 2012’s De Vermiis Mysteriis (review here), and while it seemed after the last record that the formula might be getting stale, the band only sounded more and more lethal throughout the latest offering. Even putting aside their contributions to underground heavy, they’ve become one of the most essential metal bands of their generation. Metal, period. Doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re talking about it. If you’re listening to High on Fire, you know it. Usually because you’ve just been decapitated.

12. Yawning Man, The Revolt Against Tired Noises

yawning man the revolt against tired noises

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed July 2.

You know, if you take the time to separate Yawning Man from their 30-plus-year history and their legacy as one of the foundational acts of what later became desert rock, and you listen to The Revolt Against Tired Noises, you’re still left with basically a dream of an album. Mostly instrumental, as is their wont, they nonetheless had bassist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson) sing this time around on a version of the previously-unreleased “Catamaran,” which Kyuss covered once upon a whenever although Yawning Man had never officially put it to tape. But really, that and all other novelty aside, guitarist Gary Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are a chemistry unto themselves. I don’t know if they’ll ever be as huge as they should be, but every bit of acclaim they get, they’ve earned, and if The Revolt Against Tired Noises helps them get it, all the more so.

11. Greenleaf, Hear the Rivers

greenleaf hear the rivers

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Nov. 26.

Swedish heavy rock mavens Greenleaf have become an entirely different band than they once were. No longer a Dozer side-project from guitarist Tommi Holappa with a rotating cast of players, they’re a solidified, road-tested, powerhouse unit, and Hear the Rivers bleeds soul as a result. Holappa, frontman Arvid Hällagård, bassist Hans Fröhlich and drummer Sebastian Olsson sound like they’re absolutely on fire in the album’s tracks, and far from being staid or formulaic as one might expect a sixth long-player to be, Hear the Rivers built on what the band accomplished with 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) and came across as all the more vital and nearly frenetic in their energy. I won’t say Greenleaf has seen their last lineup change, because one never knows, but the band as they are today is the realization of potential I don’t think even Greenleaf knew was there.

10. Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

Released by Blacklight Media / Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 4.

Five records deep into a career into its second decade, Gozu haven’t had a miss yet. Admittedly, some of their early work can seem formative considering where they are now, but still. And after the 2016 rager, Revival (review here), to have the band return to the same studio — Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where strides producer Dean Baltulonis — for the follow-up allows for the four-piece to directly show how their sound has grown more encompassing in the last couple years. And it has. Equilibrium is a rich and varied listen that holds true to Gozu‘s well-established penchant for soulful vibes and crunching, hard-hitting riffs and groove, but while it shares the directness of approach with Revival, it makes moves that a band could only make moving from one record to the next. I expect nothing less their next time out as well, because a decade later, that’s Gozu‘s proven track record.

9. Monster Magnet, Mindfucker

monster magnet mindfucker
Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 23.

The battle for the best album title of 2018 ended early when New Jersey everything-rockers Monster Magnet announced the release of Mindfucker. And what else to call a Monster Magnet LP at this point? They’ve stopped writing to genre. They’re driven by the creative mania of frontman/founder Dave Wyndorf, and they’ve seen psychedelic expanses and commercial success the likes of which would serve the tenure of four lesser bands. What’s left to do but whatever the hell you want? So that’s what Monster Magnet are doing. It just so happens that while they’re doing it, they’re still basically outclassing the entirety of the former planet earth as songwriters. As Monster Magnet fan in 2018, there was nothing more I could’ve asked than what Mindfucker delivered. And if you’re still trying to get your brain around it however many months later, you’re not alone. I think that’s the idea.

8. Apostle of Solitude, From Gold to Ash

Apostle of Solitude From Gold to Ash

Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Feb. 20.

Best doom album of 2018. The combination of craft and passion behind the delivery. The way the dark tones fed into the emotions so clearly on display and sheer presence of it in listening to songs like “Keeping the Lighthouse,” “Ruination by Thy Name” and “My Heart is Leaving Here.” Apostle of Solitude never seem to be the highest profile band out there, but their work seems never to be anything less than outstanding, and I refuse to accept them as anything less than among the most pivotal American acts out there making traditional doom. And not just making it, but making it their own, with a sense of new pursuits and individualism that extends to playing style as well as atmosphere. I know doom isn’t exactly in short supply these days — figuratively or literally — but if you miss out on what Apostle of Solitude are doing with it, you’ll only regret it later. I’ll say it one more time: Best doom album of 2018.

7. Holy Grove, Holy Grove II

holy grove ii
Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 31.

Every now and again, anticipating the crap of an album really pays off, and such was the case with Holy Grove II, the Ripple Music debut from the Portland outfit whose 2016 self-titled (review here) seemed like such a herald of excellence to come while also, you know, being killer. Holy Grove II brought the four-piece of vocalist Andrea Vidal, guitarist Trent Jacobs, bassist Gregg Emley and drummer Eben Travis to entirely new levels of composition and execution. In songs like “Blade Born,” the shorter, sharper “Aurora,” the patiently rolling “Valley of the Mystics,” “Solaris” and closer “Cosmos,” which boasted a not-really-necessary-but-definitely-welcome guest vocal appearance from YOB‘s Mike Scheidt, — and oh wait, that’s all of the tracks — Holy Grove entered a different echelon. Anticipation will likewise be high for Holy Grove III, but it’ll be hard to complain with this record to keep company in the meantime.

6. All Them Witches, ATW

all them witches atw
Released by New West Records. Reviewed Sept. 18.

Over five All Them Witches albums, the Nashville four-piece have gone from a nascent heavy Americana jam band to one of the most distinct acts in the US underground. Their development in sound is chemistry-driven, so it was a risk when the founding trio of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) and drummer Robby Staebler welcomed new keyboardist Jonathan Draper into the lineup to take the place of Allan van Cleave. Amid a more naturalist production than that of 2017’s Sleeping Through the War (review here), the revamped four-piece flourished in terms of songwriting and conveying their stage-born sonic personae. From the gleeful fuckery of opener “Fishbelly 86 Onions” to the memorable moodiness of “Diamond” and the back-end jam “Harvest Feast” en route to the stretched-out end of “Rob’s Dream,” All Them Witches essentially confirmed they could do whatever they wanted and make it work.

5. YOB, Our Raw Heart

yob our raw heart
Released by Relapse Records. Reviewed June 7.

Actually, if you want a sample of YOB‘s raw heart, the place to go is probably 2014’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here), but whatever the Eugene, Oregon, shapers of cosmic doom might’ve lacked in titular accuracy on their eighth long-player, they made up for in a new, statesman-like posture. Their approach was mature, hammered out to a professionalism working completely on its own terms, and they never sounded so sure of who they are as a band or as confident of their direction. In extended cuts “Beauty in Falling Leaves” and “Our Raw Heart,” they explored new and progressive textures and melodies, and managed to reaffirm their core aspects while finding room for conveying emotion that came across as nothing but ultimately sincere. They have been and still are one of a kind, and as they continue to move forward, they remain a band that makes one feel lucky to be alive to witness their work. Our Raw Heart was perhaps more refined than it let on, but the heart was there for sure, as always.

4. Brant Bjork, Mankind Woman

brant bjork mankind woman

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Sept. 13.

I’m not going to say I wasn’t a fan of the (relatively) harder-hitting approach Brant Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band took on 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here), but Mankind Woman brought in some more of his soul influences, and whether it was the subtly subversive funk of “Chocolatize” and “Brand New Old Times” or the callout “1968” and laid back vibes of the title-track and “Swagger and Sway,” Bjork — working with guitarist Bubba DuPree on songwriting and production — offered a definitive look at what has made his 20-year solo career so special and demonstrates not only his longevity and his legacy, but his will to continue to progress as an artist honing his craft. His discography is well populated by now to be sure, but Mankind Woman represents a turn from the last couple records, and if it’s in any way portentous of things to come, it bodes well. Bjork is right at home nestled into classic-style grooves, and his legacy as one of the principal architects of desert rock is continually reaffirmed.

3. Earthless, Black Heaven

earthless black heaven

Released by Nuclear Blast Records. Reviewed March 15.

They’ve been great, not just good, for a long time now, and as forerunners of the San Diego heavy scene, they’re godfathers to an up and coming generation of bands taking their influence — let alone acts from the rest of the world — but Black Heaven is a special moment for them because of its departure. No, it wasn’t not the first time guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sang on an Earthless recording, but it did represent a tip of the balance in that direction for the band on a studio full-length, and that resulted in a special moment. Album opener “Gifted by the Wind” was one of the best songs I heard this year, and while “End to End” and the all-thrust “Volt Rush” affirmed that more traditional songwriting was well within the grasp of Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, they still found space for a sprawling jam or two, keeping their claim on the instrumentalism that’s (largely) fueled their tenure to date. Earthless don’t want for acclaim, but every bit of it is earned, and while their primary impact has always been live, Black Heaven saw them construct a traditional-style LP that still bore the hallmarks of their collective personality. It was the best of all worlds.

2. King Buffalo, Longing to Be the Mountain

king buffalo longing to be the mountain
Self-released/released by Stickman Records. Reviewed Sept. 27.

In the dark early hours of 2018, the Rochester, New York, trio of guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay, bassist Dan Reynolds and drummer Scott Donaldson issued the Repeater EP (review here) as a follow-up to their 2016 debut, Orion (review here), so Longing to Be the Mountain didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but even with Repeater preceding its arrival, I don’t think anyone necessary expected King Buffalo‘s second album to have such a scope or to be so engrossing with it. In its melody, patience, atmosphere and heft, it was an absolute joy to behold. Its songs were memorable at the same time they were far-reaching, and while Orion was already my pick for the best debut of 2016, Longing to Be the Mountain realized even more potential than that record had hinted toward. It could be intimate or majestic at its whim, and its dynamic set an individual characterization of heavy psychedelia and blues-style sprawl that the band wholly owned. With production by Ben McLeod of All Them Witches behind them, they worked to serve notice of a progression undertaken the results of which are already staggering and still seem to be looking ahead to the next stage, literally and figuratively. One of the principal standards I use in constructing this list every year is what I listen to most. That’s this record.

1. Sleep, The Sciences

sleep the sciences

Released by Third Man Records. Reviewed May 1.

Obviously, right? To some extent, when Sleep surprise-announced on April 19 they’d release their first album in 15 years the next day, and then did, they took ownership of 2018. Even with records still to come at that point from YOB and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike‘s own High on Fire, there was no way that when the end of the year came around, it wasn’t going to be defined by the advent of a new Sleep record. And even if it sucked, it would probably still be Album of the Year, but fortunately, as Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Om) and drummer Jason Roeder (also Neurosis) took their long-running stage reunion to the studio, they brought material that highlighted the best elements from all players. Pike‘s wild soloing, Cisneros‘ meditative vocals and Roeder‘s intricate but smooth style of roll all came together in older pieces like “Antarcticans Thawed” and “Sonic Titan” and newer highlights “Giza Butler” and “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” and aside from the excitement at their existence, they showed the mastery of form that Sleep had been demonstrating live since 2009 and which they hinted toward in the 2014 single, The Clarity (review here). A new Sleep full-length was something long-discussed, long-rumored and long-considered, but when it finally happened, I think the results vaporized expectation in a way no one could’ve anticipated. There’s a reason Sleep are Sleep. Having The Sciences as a reminder of that brought about the defining moment of 2018.

The Next 20

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a Top 30 at all if it didn’t go to 50. Don’t try to make sense of it, just look at the records.

31. Atavismo, Valdeinfierno
32. Grayceon, IV
33. Clamfight, III
34. Seedy Jeezus, Polaris Oblique
35. Megaton Leviathan, Mage
36. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Wasteland
37. Arcadian Child, Superfonica
38. Freedom Hawk, Beast Remains
39. The Machine, Faceshift
40. Messa, Feast for Water
41. Black Rainbows, Pandaemonium
42. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Science Fiction
43. Domkraft, Flood
44. Träden, Träden
45. Mythic Sunship, Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
46. Samavayo, Vatan
47. Foehammer, Second Sight
48. Bongripper, Terminal
49. Mansion, First Death of the Lutheran
50. Sunnata, Outlands
51. Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters, Come and Chutney

Believe me when I tell you, I sweated over this section more than I did the actual top 30. Mansion should be higher. So should Chubby Thunderous, though something in me thought they might like being #50 on a list of 30. Church of the Cosmic Skull, Clamfight, Black Rainbows, Foehammer, Seedy Jeezus, Messa, Domkraft. All of these were fucking awesome. And there are more (we’ll get there). Eventually numbers add up. I won’t say a bad word about any of these. That’s it.

Honorable Mention

This section always winds up expanded as other people point out things I missed and so on, but here’s what I’ve got in the immediate, alphabetically:

  • Alms, Act One
  • Ape Machine, Darker Seas
  • Belzebong, Light the Dankness
  • Black Moon Circle, Psychedelic Spacelord
  • Blackwater Holylight, Blackwater Holylight
  • Bong, Thought and Existence
  • Carpet, About Rooms and Elephants
  • Churchburn, None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery
  • Deadbird, III: The Forest Within the Tree
  • Dead Meadow, The Nothing They Need
  • Death Alley, Superbia
  • Drug Cult, Drug Cult
  • Dunbarrow, II
  • Electric Citizen, Helltown
  • Eagle Twin, The Thundering Heard: Songs of Hoof and Horn
  • Evoken, Hypnagogia
  • Funeral Horse, Psalms for the Mourning
  • Fuzz Evil, High on You
  • Graven, Heirs of Discord
  • Graveyard, Peace
  • Green Dragon, Green Dragon
  • Green Druid, Ashen Blood
  • Here Lies Man, You Will Know Nothing
  • High Priestess, High Priestess
  • Horehound, Holocene
  • IAH, II
  • JIRM, Surge ex Monumentis
  • Killer Boogie, Acid Cream
  • Lonely Kamel, Death’s Head Hawkmoth
  • MaidaVale, Madness is Too Pure
  • Moab, Trough
  • Mountain Dust, Seven Storms
  • Mouth, Floating
  • Mr. Plow, Maintain Radio Silence
  • T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid
  • Onségen Ensemble, Duel
  • Orango, Evergreen
  • Owl, Nights in Distortion
  • Pushy, Hard Wish
  • Rifflord, 7 Cremation Ground/Meditation
  • River Cult, Halcyon Daze
  • Rotor, Sechs
  • Somali Yacht Club, The Sea
  • Sumac, Love in Shadow
  • Sundrifter, Visitations
  • Svvamp, Svvamp II
  • Thou, Magus
  • Thunder Horse, Thunder Horse
  • Weedpecker, III

Special Note

Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to include these in the list proper because they’re not really underground releases, but there were two more records I especially wanted to highlight for their quality:

  • Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog
  • Judas Priest, Firepower

Best Short Release of the Year

Normally I’d do this as a separate post, but as a result of being robbed earlier this year, I feel like my list is woefully incomplete. If you have any demos, EPs, splits, singles, etc., to add to it, please feel free to do so in the comments below. Still, the top pick was clear:

  • Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard & Slomatics, Totems Split

Rarely do two bands work in such coherent tandem to their mutual benefit. Here are a few other essential short releases for 2018, alphabetically:

  • All Them Witches, Lost and Found
  • Alunah, Amber & Gold
  • Canyon, Mk II
  • Demon Head, The Resistence
  • Destroyer of Light, Hopeless
  • Ecstatic Vision, Under the Influence
  • Godmaker & Somnuri, Split
  • Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul
  • King Buffalo, Repeater
  • Minsk & Zatokrev, Split
  • Sleep, Leagues Beneath
  • Stonus, Lunar Eclipse
  • Sundecay, Gale

Looking Forward

A good many albums have already been announced or hinted at for 2019. I in no way claim this to be a complete roundup of what’s coming, but here’s what I have in my notes so far, in absolutely no order:

Kings Destroy, Lo-Pan, Cities of Mars, Heavy Temple, Mr. Peter Hayden, Curse the Son, High Fighter, Destroyer of Light, Year of the Cobra, Buffalo Fuzz, Zaum, The Sonic Dawn, Alunah, Candlemass, Elepharmers, Grandier, Dorre, Abrahma, Mars Red Sky, Eternal Black, Elephant Tree, Atala, No Man’s Valley, Sun Blood Stories, Crypt Sermon, The Riven, Hibrido, Snail, Red Beard Wall, 11Paranoias, Dead Witches, Monte Luna, Captain Caravan (LP), Swallow the Sun, Oreyeon, Motorpsycho, Vokonis, Hexvessel, Saint Vitus, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Kind, Mastiff, Shadow Witch, Om.

Okay, That’s It

Yeah, no, I’m serious. List is done. Everybody go back to your lives. Your families miss you.

Really though, while this is by no means my last post of 2018, I can’t let it pass without saying thank you so much to everyone for checking out the site this year, or for just digging into this, or for sending me music, or hitting me up on social media, sharing a link, anything. Thank you. Thank you. I could never have imagined when it started out where it would be now. Or that I’d still be doing it. Your support means more to me than I can say, and I thank you so much for being a part of this with me.

So thanks.

If you have something to add to the list, please do so by leaving a comment below, but keep in mind as well the above note requesting civility. Please don’t make me feel stupid because I forgot your favorite record. I forgot a lot of people’s favorite records. I’m one dude. I’m doing my best.

And please keep in mind if you’ve got a list together that the Year-End Poll is open and results will be out Jan. 1.

Everybody have a great and safe 2019.

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The Mad Doctors Tour Starts Tonight; New Single Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 28th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the mad doctors

You know, I was going to start out this post by wondering if Brooklyn trio The Mad Doctors knew that there was already a sequel to the 1992 movie Sister Act. It also starred Whoopi Goldberg, came out in ’93, and it was called Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. But you know what? I bet The Mad Doctors already knew that shit. And if you think about it, doesn’t that just kind of make the joke funnier? So the title of their new single, “Sister Act II: Electric Boogaloo (What if Idris Elba was the Next James Bond),” isn’t only a goof reference on the first Sister Act, it’s even more tongue-in-cheek because it’s a fake sequel to that movie when there’s already a real one. Plus, that whole thing with Idris Elba in the parenthesis. I believe the answer is, “white people on the internet got really pissed off about something that doesn’t matter in the slightest,” which, you know, is kind of the answer to any such “what if” scenario.

Because white people love bitching about shit that doesn’t matter. Like the deficit.

Other point: the title of the new The Mad Doctors single is clever as hell and the band are headed out on a Northeastern run as of this very evening to support it. I doubt they’ll be explaining the joke to everyone as they go, like, “It’s funny because there’s already a movie,” but you know, it’s still pretty funny. And the song’s streaming at the bottom of this post and a name-your-price download, so even better.

Details

the mad doctors tour

The Mad Doctors – Sneakin Out The Web Tour

Northeast coffee fiends, booze hounds (and pitbulls), party rock boys, and folks of all things n stuff – after PIZZAFEST V we’re hitting the road for a week and spending some good quality time with our pals Fire Heads from Wisconsin!! It’s gunna be fuzzy! Check us out in the following places:

M 5/28 – Saratoga NY – Desperate Annie’s
Tu 5/29 – Portland ME – Matthew’s Pub*
W 5/30 – Salem MA – Koto*
Th 5/31 – Pawtucket RI – News Cafe*
F 6/1 – Stamford CT – Riot at Amadeus*
Sa 6/2 – Rutherford, NJ – The Jungeon
* = Fire Heads (WI)

Tour poster by Erick Freuhling (of Fire Heads)

The Mad Doctors are:
Seth Applebaum – Gtr/vox
Joshua Park – Bass
Greg Hanson – Drums

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The Mad Doctors, “Sister Act II: Electric Boogaloo (What if Idris Elba was the Next James Bond)”

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Review & Full Album Premiere: Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

[Click play above to stream Sun Voyager’s Seismic Vibes in its entirety. Album is out April 20 on King Pizza Records.]

Here’s a post from May 2014 about how Sun Voyager‘s debut album would be out that summer. The band had two demos to their name at that point — early 2013’s Cosmic Tides and late 2013’s Mecca (review here) — and though it turn out their first long-player would in no way be out that summer or any time between then and now, they filled the intervening years via splits with Greasy Hearts (discussed here) and The Mad Doctors (review here), as well as 2015’s Lazy Daze EP (review here). The Orange County, New York, heavy psych outfit discussed the making of their full-length and even went so far as to post the opening track “Trip” in early 2017. So to say that Seismic Vibes, which at last sees release through King Pizza Records, has been a while in the making is maybe understating it a little.

They’ve kept consistent playing live shows, and since Lazy Daze came out they’ve pared down their lineup from a two-guitar four-piece to a trio — though in addition to the core of vocalist/guitarist Carlos Francisco, bassist/guitarist/vocalist Stefan Mersch and drummer Kyle Beach, the album’s credits also list Evan Heinze on keyboard and Sam Bey on percussion; that trio may or may not be in a process of expansion — and between that and leaking tracks from the originally self-titled Seismic Vibes, one could hardly accuse them of laziness in bringing the record to fruition. Sometimes these things just take a while. Tracked by Paul Ritchie down the Jersey Shore and mastered by Alan Douches, the eight-song/34-minute offering that has resulted from whatever arduous process was undertaken can only be considered worth the effort.

Maybe that’s not saying much, but the point to be made is that one can hear on Seismic Vibes the growth that’s taken place in Sun Voyager‘s sound even since Lazy Daze, which opened with “God is Dead,” a song that’s turned into the extended, jammed-out closer on the full-length. That track is the only carry-over between the two outings, and as one might hope, Sun Voyager use the opportunity of their first full-length to showcase the dynamic they’ve worked hard through the last several years to build. The keys and vocal arrangement on a song like “Hair Brained” speak to an increase in complexity overall, not to mention the sitar-sounding guitar solo that follows and the effects swirl surrounding, but even the opening salvo of “Trip,” “Open Road” and “Caves of Steel” seem to signal a driven purposefulness of intent — that is, the fact that these tracks aren’t just cobbled together, but placed consciously to affect the listener’s experience of the record. All under four minutes and pointedly uptempo, the first three tracks work quickly to establish the momentum that will carry the listener through the ensuing dynamic that unfolds.

sun voyager

Beginning with an unassuming hum, “Trip” is among the catchiest hooks on Seismic Vibes, tambourine and all, and the keyboard-laced “Open Road” holds a tension in its drums that drives mellower verses into the more densely-fuzzed chorus, keyboards filling out the melody during the verse and the cacophonous-but-quick payoff at the end. Mersch‘s bass and Francisco‘s guitar swirl begins “Caves of Steel,” but this too unveils itself quickly as a fuzz riot, and thrusts into tom runs backing a hook repeating the title line and a jammy ending that cuts short at about 3:10 but sounds like it could just as easily keep going into perpetuity. Though it too is short at 3:38, there’s a marked change in pace as “Stellar Winds” comes on, and for the first time, Sun Voyager introduce their more languid side; a sound more derived from shoegaze than the spaced-out semi-punk of “Caves of Steel” just prior. Francisco‘s voice is well-suited to drift, which is not something every singer can pull off, and though “Stellar Winds” is mellower than the first three cuts, it still offers a sense of build and turns directly into “Hair Brained,” which is arguably the speediest and most active inclusion here, reminiscent as it is of some of early Nebula‘s frenetic stoner punk.

As noted, the keys are a factor in fleshing out “Hair Brained,” and they play a role in offsetting the bouncing rhythm as it makes its way to a winding cold-stop finish, and it might be the keys as well that tie “Hair Brained” to the subsequent “Too Much,” which is an immediate switch in method from its predecessor and the most open-feeling song on Seismic Vibes, molten and hypnotic in a way that much of the record has simply chosen not to be. At five minutes, its roll is second in length only to the aforementioned “God is Dead,” and the two tracks are separated by the 3:35 “Psychic Lords,” a slowdown leading to the quiet/loud tradeoffs as Sun Voyager find a place for themselves in a niche of cosmic grunge that calls back to the hooks earlier on the album without giving up the expansion that’s happened since.

The start of “God is Dead” is a bit jarring coming out of the subdued end of “Psychic Lords,” and I suspect it will be all the more for anyone who encountered Lazy Daze, as it was a standout there, but in this redone, expanded version, it provides a fitting summary of just about everything Seismic Vibes delivers, with a jammy feel underscoring forward drive, shifts in tempo and a controlled psychedelic sensibility that’s light on self-indulgence and still manages to feel like it’s exploring new terrain. One would be remiss in not noting that though it’s been some time in its realization, this is still Sun Voyager‘s debut album, and yes, there is room for the band to continue to grow into their sound, to refine their balance of volume and tempo and straightforward and open structures, but the core of songwriting is there as it has been for the last half-decade, and there’s little chance Seismic Vibes won’t end up as one of 2018’s best first LPs. As a fan of the band, I’m just glad it finally happened.

Sun Voyager on Bandcamp

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Sun Voyager Post New Single “Too Much”; Seismic Vibes Preorders Available

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 25th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

sun voyager

April is still a good ways off, but New York heavy psych rockers Sun Voyager have unveiled a second single from their debut album, Seismic Vibes, and considering how long the record has been in the making, one can hardly blame them. You might recall the video for “Caves of Steel” premiered here from the King Pizza Records offering, which is set to arrive on April 20, and now they’ve also revealed the fuzzy “Too Much” as a follow-up sampling of their rolling-groove wares and the sense of lumbering and crash that some of the heavier moments of Seismic Vibes harness while still staying true to the echoing spaces of the vocal melodies.

I’ve made no bones about being a fan of the New York trio in the past and that remains very much the case having now heard the full-length after waiting years for it to show up. I know we’re in January, but I’ve no doubt it’ll be one of my favorite debuts of the year when December rolls around, and I’ll still have much more to come on it before April gets here, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, dig:

sun-voyager-seismic-vibes

Sun Voyager – “Too Much”

As the time for Seismic Vibes approaches, we’re happy to share its second single with you. “Too Much” is now streaming on our Bandcamp page, where you can officially pre-order the Digital Album or 12″ Vinyl and receive an instant download of the first two singles (including “Too Much” and “Caves of Steel”) as well as the rest of the LP the minute it is released on April 20th, 2018 on King Pizza Records. You can catch us on tour this March on our way to SXSW.

https://sun-voyager.bandcamp.com/album/seismic-vibes

Seismic Vibes Tracklist:
Trip
Stellar Winds
God is Dead
Psychic Lords
Harebrained
Carousel
Strange Birds
Fifth Dimension
Ride On

Sun Voyager is:
Carlos Francisco – Guitar, Vocals
Stefan Mersch – Bass
Kyle Beach – Drums

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Sun Voyager, “Too Much”

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Sun Voyager Premiere “Caves of Steel” Video; Debut LP Seismic Vibes Available to Preorder

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Whathaveyou on December 5th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

sun voyager photo by seth applebaum

I don’t even want to talk about how long I’ve been waiting for the debut album from Sun Voyager, but suffice it to say, it’s been a while. The New York-based heavy psych trio’s early EPs, 2015’s Lazy Daze tape (review here) and 2013’s Mecca (review here), brought immersive thrills delivered with the inimitable energy of youth, and splits with Greasy Hearts (discussed here) in 2014 and The Mad Doctors (discussed here) last year only furthered anticipation. Though it’s taken them a fair minute to get there, the band will issue their first long-player in the form of Seismic Vibes via King Pizza Records on April 20, 2018. The album actually exists. You can preorder it now direct from the label.

And I suggest you do. Not just because the numbers are limited, but because Seismic Vibes — about which I’m of course hoping sun voyager seismic vibesto have much more coverage over the course of the next several months — indeed follows through on the potential Sun Voyager has continued to show over the last several years, drawing from grunge, psych, shoegaze, post-rock, heavy riffing, garage stylization and beyond and mashing it all together into songs that are neither pretentious nor overly wrought. A cut like “Hair Brained” howls  and shuffles with should-get-TeePeeRecords‘-attention abandon, while “Open Road” sets a foundational hook early and the later “Psychic Lords” drifts languidly into a vision of heavy indie/neopsych to lead into charged finale “God is Dead.”

That song, or rather a shorter, four-piece version of it, opened Lazy Daze, and opener “Trip” was unveiled earlier this year with a prior album update, so not all of Seismic Vibes will be unfamiliar to those who’ve been keeping up, but the 34-minute run Sun Voyager bring to bear feels in its initial impressions like it’s been worth the wait, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to host the preorder and tour-date announcement below, as well as the video for the uptempo “Caves of Steel,” which boasts one of the record’s catchiest choruses. You’re going to want to watch it more than once, so be ready to commit more than the actual three and a half minutes of the song itself. That’s really just the beginning of it.

All info follows the clip on the player below, courtesy of the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

Sun Voyager, “Caves of Steel” official video premiere

Sun Voyager Premiere “Caves of Steel”; Seismic Vibes Available to Preorder

Hudson Valley natives Sun Voyager are thrilled to premiere the video for their new single, “Caves of Steel,” off the debut album Seismic Vibes coming out April 20th on King Pizza Records.

This eight-song journey is Sun Voyager’s first true long player and it’s a planet-shattering thunder mountain possibly too nasty for your turntable. It was recorded by Paul Ritchie in Neptune, NJ, produced by Sun Voyager, Paul Ritchie, and keyboardist Evan Heinze, mastered by Alan Douches at West West Side Music in New Windsor, NY, and album art was designed by Boston’s TJ Freda.

Seismic Vibes is available for preorder today on vinyl with exclusive options limited to 100 White, 100 Gold, as well as Interstellar Black.

Tracklist:
1. Trip
2. Open Road
3. Caves of Steel
4. Stellar Winds
5. Hair Brained
6. Too Much
7. Psychic Lords
8. God is Dead

The name “Caves of Steel” is taken from an Isaac Asimov novel about robots living among us in society and the music video was directed by Danghul Bangyana filmed mostly at Tweed Mountain in Nyack, NY.

Catch Sun Voyager on tour this month:
12/7 – Knoxville, TN – The Pilot Light
12/8 – Boone, NC – Black Cat Burrito
12/9 – Richmond, VA – Lucy Lane
12/10 – Montclair, NJ – The Meatlocker
12/11 – Saratoga Springs, NY – One Caroline
12/12 – Allston, MA – Great Scott
12/13 – Brooklyn, NY – Zone One at Elsewhere*
* – w/ Elephant Stone

Sun Voyager is:
Carlos Francisco
Stefan Mersch
Kyle Beach

Preorder link: http://kingpizzarecords.storenvy.com/products/22483149-sun-voyager-seismic-vibes-lp

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The Mad Doctors Announce November Touring

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 31st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the-mad-doctors-Photo-Jeanette-D-Moses-Pizzamania-Portraits

Granted, I’m not exactly on my A-game as regards general mental power this week, but it took me a while to figure out where Brooklyn’s The Mad Doctors were going with naming their tour ‘November Pain.’ Once I figured it out it seemed pretty obvious, but yeah, it was a minute or two of actual, conscious thought before I got there. ‘Danksgiving’ — way more obvious. Making the connection between ‘November Pain’ and the Guns ‘n’ Roses song “November Rain” was a bit more of a challenge. Again, that one’s on me. I’m sure most human beings wouldn’t have the same kind of trouble, what with the higher brain function and whatnot.

Following the release of their second long-player,  No Waves, Just Sharks (discussed here), earlier this year, The Mad Doctors issued a follow-up split via Twin Earth and King Pizza Records with Heavy Traffic (review here). I guess in the end the band couldn’t decide which clever name they wanted to give the run, but either way, they’ll be out for 10 days supporting both of the recent offerings, playing with Rye PinesSun VoyagerBlack HatchZip-Tie Handcuffs and a whole bunch of others. Details on the shows are available through the Thee Facebooks event page, linked following the dates below.

Goes like this:

the mad doctors tour

The Mad Doctors – November Pain / Danksgiving Tour

We are hitching up the minivan and hitting the road in search of gravy. It’s NOVEMBER PAIN/DANKSGIVING so come party with us, ya turkeys!

Three bearded, lab-coated creeps strung out on a dumpster beach, hi-fiving the sun. Two parts fuzz, one part reverb, and a jigger of formaldehyde.

Wed – 11/8 – Brooklyn @ Our Wicked Lady
Thur 11/9 – New London CT @ 33 Golden St.
Fri 11/10 – Boston @ The Rat’s Nest
Sat 11/11 – Upton MA @ Paulson Stained Glass Studio
Sun 11/12 – Milford NH @ Union Coffee Co.
Mon 11/13 – Saratoga Springs NY @ One Caroline
Tues 11/14 – New Paltz NY @ Snugs
Wed 11/15 – Baltimore @ The Crown
Thur 11/16 – Harrisonburg VA @ Crayola House
Fri 11/17 – Richmond @ Hardywood
Sat 11/18 – Philly @ Tralfamadore

Poster art by Tav Palumbo / Heavy Traffic.

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The Mad Doctors & Heavy Traffic, Split 7″ (2017)

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Review & Full Stream: Heavy Traffic & The Mad Doctors, Split 7″

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

heavy-traffic-mad-doctors-split

[Click play above to stream the new split between Heavy Traffic and The Mad Doctors in its entirety. Seven-inch is out Sept. 22 via Twin Earth Records and King Pizza Records.]

It’s a quick one, but there’s enough cacophony in the split between Heavy Traffic and The Mad Doctors to make a larger impression than its seven-minute runtime might lead you to believe. The two New York-based bands pair up for a mini-platter with the cooperation of their respective labels, Twin Earth Records and King Pizza Records, and really, that’s about where the cooperation ends. From the point of its existence onward, the split is much more about brash noisemaking than being friendly, though both bands certainly seem to be having a good time. Maybe “mischief” is the right word. Yeah. It’s like if the night before Halloween was a two-song sampler of what these groups have to offer; as though a release might somehow throw rolls of toilet paper into the tree in your front yard or egg your car. Take that, suburbia.

Pressed in an edition of 500 copies with smaller numbers on clear (150), gold (150) and black (200) vinyl, the split brings one song each from Heavy Traffic and The Mad Doctors, both of whom are following up on relatively new releases. In the case of the four-piece Heavy Traffic, their sixth full-length, Plastic Surgery (review here), was issued late in 2016 via Twin Earth, and the 4:44 of “Daylight Ripoff” begins side A with a fervent charge that answers the heavy psychedelic blister-raising they proffered with the album, which was the debut of the lineup that found guitarist Ian Caddick and drummer/vocalist/cover-artist Tav Palumbo — both formerly of Santa Cruz, California, blowout psych-gazers Spanish Moss — joined by bassist Dave Grzedzinski and drummer Dan Bradica (which presumably moved Palumbo to guitar/vocals, though don’t quote me on that).

Whether or not “Daylight Ripoff” was recorded at the same time as Plastic Surgery or under similar live-tracked conditions, I don’t know, but it’s certainly a believable. The song begins with just a momentary wail of feedback before lurching forth with a blast and wash alike, melodic vocals topping a thrust that could just as easily have come from modern black metal as heavy psych. It’s a surprising way to begin, and no doubt that’s exactly what Heavy Traffic had in mind. About 20 seconds in, they find their footing a prog-metallic churn of intertwining guitars at 53 seconds, they slam on the brakes to hit into a Sabbathian lumber that will slow even further as they hit the second minute, maintaining a spaciousness and fuzzed tonality as it nods itself seemingly into oblivion. The “but wait — there’s more!” moment happens just before the three-minute mark when they bring back the melodious assault that began “Daylight Ripoff” and cycle through it and the more angular riffing again before a distant lead echoes out behind tense chug and a build on the toms in the last minute.

This fades out relatively quickly and relatively noisily and “Daylight Ripoff” seems like anything but as it ends having been marked by its dizzying tempo changes and drawn together through the vague but resonant vocals laid over its shifting bulk. One might be tempted to call it a kitchen-sink approach, but Heavy Traffic keep the arrangement to their two guitars, bass, drums and voice, even if those common elements are put to uncommonly madcap use. In relation to Plastic Surgery, “Daylight Ripoff” feels altogether more unhinged than groove-rolling cuts like “Rule of Nines” or “Three Stigmata,” and whether its punkish refusal to settle into a pace or method is indicative of an overall shift in direction on the part of the band or just a one-off experiment in style and/or structure, it’s impossible to say, but the weirdo vibe suits Heavy Traffic well. If “Daylight Ripoff” is them continuing to refine and explore options with their approach and this relatively new lineup, one can hardly argue with either the variety or the intensity with which they deliver.

Though their inclusion is shorter and more straightforward, The Mad Doctors hardly come across as subdued upon the flip to side B. Their cleverly-titled “Yuengling Malmsteen” checks in at 2:57 and is the first new music they’ve had out since their earlier-2017 sophomore full-length, No Waves, Just Sharks (discussed here). The trio of guitarist/vocalist/recording engineer Seth Applebaum, bassist Joshua Park and drummer Greg Hanson, who also runs King Pizza Records, employed a few guests throughout that album for vocals and had spoken word samples peppered throughout as they shifted between surf punk and heavier impulses, crafting a rare union in atmosphere that actually worked without being either overly punkish, overly surfish, or a crude amalgam of desert and garage, while still sounding impressively off the rails and unpredictable — it really was something, if you didn’t hear it — but here it’s just the three of them and they once again adjust the balance.

“Yuengling Malmsteen” doesn’t feel intended to be a summary of The Mad Doctors‘ sound as a whole — I suspect it would have at least as tough a time in providing that summary as I just did — so much as a quick-burst showcase of their craft in general. Its push begins with a deceptive jangle before unveiling a full tonal boar moving at a crisp tempo that shortly opens to the first verse. Momentum is held in Hanson‘s drums throughout and before the first minute is done, The Mad Doctors have trod through the verse and chorus both in shoving, party-time fashion. Not a moment is wasted, but “Yuengling Malmsteen” doesn’t necessarily feel stripped down either — vocals are soaked in reverb and the guitar and bass are both weighted and present a depth of tone, the former particularly with a quick-but-drawn lead around two minutes in that shimmers before a final chorus takes hold to drive the song to its somewhat understated finish. The thickened thrust that kicks in before each verse proves especially righteous, and “Yuengling Malmsteen” is primarily about motion and its own forward drive, which it fulfills while giving the sense that if one just continued to let the record play, ApplebaumPark and Hanson would be on to the next track in no time at all.

Of course, that’s not the case, but in each band giving listeners a look at what they do, Heavy Traffic and The Mad Doctors both acquit themselves well in terms of songwriting and style without necessarily sounding like they’re competing with one another in the way of splits with groups more sonically akin. That’s not to say they don’t have anything in common, just that while both show a strong sense of personality on this short release, those personalities are distinct enough that there’s never going to be any confusion about who it is saying what with their material. Heavy Traffic raise a few questions as to where they might be headed and The Mad Doctors reaffirm the deceptive depth of their latest album, and among the traits the two bands share is a clear efficiency with which this is accomplished. Like I said at the outset, it’s over and done in about seven minutes.

Heavy Traffic on Thee Facebooks

Heavy Traffic on Bandcamp

The Mad Doctors on Thee Facebooks

The Mad Doctors on Bandcamp

Twin Earth Records webstore

King Pizza Records webstore

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Pizzafest 4 Set for June 22-24 in Brooklyn

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Next weekend — not this weekend, the one after that — King Pizza Records hosts Pizzafest 4 in Brooklyn at The Gutter and El Cortez. The lineup boasts 21 bands by my count playing over the course of three days from June 22 to June 24, and I’ll readily admit that I’m completely unfamiliar with more than half of them. To be honest, that’s a big part of the appeal to me in putting together a post about it.

Sure, names like Sun Voyager — who released their latest single, “Trip” (posted here), in January — and The Mad Doctors, whose No Waves, Just Sharks (discussed here) came out in April, are readily familiar, and so too are several others, but Panther MartinThe UndersMax Pain and the Groovies? Well I feel like a real square in saying so, but I’ve never heard these bands and have no idea what they might sound like. Isn’t that fantastic?

There are few better feelings for me than go-do-your-homework when it comes to finding new bands, and with King Pizza‘s penchant for finding the off-kilter in noise, punk and psych, I’ve little doubt there are more than few here worth digging into. So if you need me, I’ll be doing that. Think of the lineup as a checklist and feel free to dig in as well:

pizzafest 4 poster

Pizzafest 4 – June 22-24 @ The Gutter & El Cortez, Brooklyn, NY

Pizzafest a three-day festival of rock n roll, pizza, comedy, weirdo art, and more.

Following tradition, we’re also releasing a tape that weekend – this year for Brooklyn indie rockers El Silver Cabs.

Lineup:

Thur June 22 @ The Gutter (200 N 14th St. Brooklyn)
7pm, $8
Evolfo
Sirs & Madams
Jacques le Coque (CT)
Greasy Hearts
Lumps

Fri June 23 @ The Gutter (200 N 14th St. Brooklyn)
7pm, $8
The Mad Doctors
The Lushpockets (MD)
The Rizzos
Deadly Lo-Fi (GA)
Super FM
Max Pain & The Groovies

Sat June 24 @ El Cortez (17 Ingraham St. Brooklyn)
3pm, $10
The Royal They
Sun Voyager
Panther Martin (CO)
El Silver Cabs (tape release)
Suzies (MI)
Francie Moon (NJ)
Garbage Brain (NJ)
The Unders
Spowder (NJ)
Leg Days
+ DJ Dollarbin & DJ Bagels & Lox spinning after the bands/all night long

All daze hosted by Casey Regan
+ Readings from the Book of Yum Yums by Pizza Scribe Napolitano
++ Pizza
+++ More weirdness

All shows 21+
Snag discount 3-day tickets: http://ptix.co/2prfrD3

https://www.facebook.com/events/301790700240896/
http://ptix.co/2prfrD3
http://kingpizzarecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/kingpizzarecs/

Sun Voyager, “Trip”

The Mad Doctors, No Waves, Just Sharks (2017)

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