Posted in On Wax on March 19th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
If you’ve got a mind to dig it, Mystery Ship don’t skimp on the vibe. Their straightforwardly-titled EP II(review here) was an attention-getter last year, and though it comes accompanied by Adam Burke artwork of a much different style (that sleeve is white, despite any shadow in the picture), the new, subsequent Knick Knack Records 7″ single, Bridgeburner b/w Chinatown, follows suit in continuing the development of Mystery Ship‘s retro grooving. There’s an awful lot of heavy ’70s loyalist rock and roll out there, but an awful lot less of it comes from the States, and on “Bridgeburner” and “Chinatown” — both of which are denoted on back of the record sleeve as being the A side — the Seattle four-piece make a solid argument for American contribution to the form of classic heavy rock.
Unpretentious and unaggressive, but still weighted in tone and forceful in their push, their take isn’t wholly unlike that of like-minded East Coasters The Golden Grass, though Mystery Ship have an inherently bluesier style and get down with some post-Graveyard shuffle, particularly here on “Bridgeburner,” which sets out on a warm bassline from Alex Hagenah (also vocals) that sets an organic tone for the entrance of guitarist Josh Kupferschmid, lead guitarist/vocalist Michael Wohl and drummer Travis Curry, none of whom disrupt it. Like both songs are listed as the A side, both also start with some in-studio mention of whether or not the tape is rolling, so that live feel is no accident as “Bridgeburner” moves from its strong hook into a Wohl led break that’s somewhat airy despite the tension held in Curry‘s toms. A boogie good for the soul, and not the last they have to offer.
Hagenah and Wohl trade who takes the lead vocal on “Bridgeburner” and the more swing-heavy blues of “Chinatown,” but neither song is wholly one or the other up front, and that works to the benefit of both and the distinction of one from its flipside. “Chinatown” only feels like it’s missing snaps to be complete in an alternate-universe lounge kind of way, but it makes due with its classy-in-spite-of-itself feel and offers a chorus somewhat more in the pocket than that of “Bridgeburner,” but making sly use of clean tones in the verse only to feed to dirtier leads later on, of course bookending with a last refrain, delivered more fervently.
They’re in and out in under eight minutes — unless it takes you 10 to get up and flip the record — and since both “Bridgeburner” and “Chinatown” were recorded in Jan. 2013, they more or may not show where Mystery Ship are now, more than a year later, but the quality of the songwriting makes Bridgeburner b/w Chinatowna significant-enough stopgap that it’s worth digging into. I’ll be interested to hear how Mystery Ship‘s penchant for variety plays out over the course of a debut full-length, and just how bluesy they’ll go when given the opportunity to really meander. Could a 10-minute psych/blues freakout be in the works? Got my fingers crossed.
Posted in Reviews on September 23rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Presented across two vinyl sides released by Knick Knack Records, the aptly-titled EP II from Seattle foursome Mystery Ship revels in a swath of classic heavy rock and blues influences. One might also see them as taking cues from the European retro-minded jetset, acts like Graveyard and Kadavar, but as they display in the smoothly executed jam/build on the closing “Wild Eyes,” they have a sensibility of their own to work within, and a recording job from Jack Endino results in a sound that’s wholly natural, but not reaching for any kind of heavy ’70s lo-fi analog-ism. Nothing against that approach or for it, it’s just now what Mystery Ship do on EPII. Rather, guitarist/vocalist Michael Wohl, bassist/vocalist Alex Hagenah, guitarist Josh Kupferschmid and drummer Travis Curry take classic swing — and in this, the work of the rhythm section particularly is not to be understated — and couple it with an easy, engaging laid back flow that lasts throughout EPII‘s 18 minutes, giving an increasing view of complexity at work leading up to the culmination of “Wild Eyes.” “Better Off,” “Paleodaze,” “Man about Town” and “Wild Eyes” each arrive as longer than the last, and the effect that has is that Mystery Ship increasingly draw the listener into the progression. The release isn’t really long enough to give a full-album flow, but given how one song moves to the next, whether it’s the quick one-two of “Better Off” into “Paleodaze” or the more languid shift between “Paleodaze” into “Man about Town” — never mind the side switch that brings “Wild Eyes” into the mix — there’s enough overarching groove on EP IIto reinforce the idea that Mystery Ship will have no trouble crafting that full-album flow when they get there.
The overall course of EP IIis somewhat less epic than the Adam Burke cover art might lead one to believe — even “Wild Eyes,” which tops seven minutes, does so without relinquishing its modest, organic vibe — though the cover remains appropriate for the classic atmosphere Mystery Ship proffer. As was the case with the classic rockers from whom they’re taking influence — and with the modern, mostly-European retro bands working under similar influence, for that matter — there’s a lot of blues in Mystery Ship‘s aesthetic. Not surprisingly, Wohl and Kupferschmid lead the way on guitar, starting at a running pace on “Better Off” and hitting an early stride of intricate but not technical-sounding or showy stylistic engagement. Swaggering through a motor-ready riff, the opener is as lively as the band gets here, but they prove early that they can work across a variety of paces to effect a quality chorus that’s memorable if rushing past, extra “woo!”s added just to let the listener know the band’s also having a good time with all that boogie. “Paleodaze” makes excellent use of the two guitars from the start, but is slower and more open in the verse, bluesier all around. The interplay of lead and rhythm line gives some effect of modern heavy metal, but the context and execution is altered to make it work here, and though they’re still moving at a decent clip, when they break to a more uptempo instrumental jam in the second half of “Paleodaze,” the difference is striking, and no less so when they transition into the final verse and you realize it’s only been about three and a half minutes when the song ends. Working with a lyrical narrative and a change in vocals — could be Hagenah taking the fore from Wohl or vice versa, I don’t really know — “Man about Town” is a highlight of EP II for hitting the middle ground between the first side and the second. The lines, “I couldn’t tell if they were fighting/Till the older man went down/But he took his bottle with him/You could tell it by the sound,” make for a singularly memorable verse that’s no less a hook than the chorus that follows and as they open up to full-sounding near-shuffle, Mystery Ship nonetheless display a patience of composition that distinguishes them outright. A return to the chorus prior to the concluding stomp only further implants it in the consciousness.
Posted in Reviews on October 16th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
I am constantly working at a deficit. Financially, yes, because like many of my countrymen I’m am tens of thousands of dollars in debt — but also in terms of reviews. I’malwaysbehind on reviews. Hell, it was into July of this year before I finally put the kybosh on writing up anything from 2011, and I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t put my foot down on it, I’d still have year-old albums going up or older. My to-do list grows like a witchcult.
It’s not something to complain about and I’m not complaining. I’m stoked people give enough of a shit to send their CDs in to be reviewed — especially those who actually send CDs — and it’s for that reason that I do this second reviewsplosion (first one here).
Yeah, as ever, I’m behind on reviews, but I’m also working on being more concise — I swear I am; check out the At a Glance reviews if you don’t believe me — and one of the things I liked so much about the last reviewsplosion was it forced me to get to the fucking point. As direct a line as possible to a review. Boiling the idea down to its essential core.
With that in mind, here’s my attempt to both balance my review budget and be as clear as humanly possible. Hope you dig:
Altar of Oblivion, Grand Gesture of Defiance
The subject of some spirited debate on the forum, the second record from Danish five-piece Altar of Oblivion revels in traditional doom methods. There’s an air of pomp in some of the songs — “Graveyard of Broken Dreams” lays it on a little thick — but by and large, Grand Gesture of Defiance(Shadow Kingdom) is a more than solid showing of genre. Classic underground metal flourishes abound, and while it’s not a record to change your life, at six tracks/34 minutes, neither does it hang around long enough to be overly repetitive. You could do way worse. Altar of Oblivion on Thee Facebooks.
Blooming Látigo, Esfínteres y Faquires
Primarily? Weird. The Spanish outfiit Blooming Látigo make their debut on Féretro Records (CD) and Trips und Träume (LP) with the all-the-fuck-over-the-place Esfínteres y Faquires, alternately grinding out post-hardcore and reciting Birthday Party-style poetry. They reach pretty hard to get to “experimental,” maybe harder than they need to, but the on-a-dime stops and high-pitched screams on tracks like “Onania” and “Prisciliano” are well beyond fascinating, and the blown-out ending of “La Destrucción del Aura” is fittingly apocalyptic. Who gave the art-school kids tube amps? Blooming Látigo on Bandcamp.
Five years since their second offering, Green Magic, left such a strong impression, Italian stoner rock trio El-Thule return with Zenit (Go Down Records), which makes up for lost time with 50 minutes of heavy riffs, fuzzy desert grooves and sharp, progressive rhythms. The band — El Comandante (bass), Mr. Action (guitar/vocals) and Gweedo Weedo (drums/vocals) — may have taken their time in getting it together, but there’s little about Zenit that lags, be it the faster, thrashier “Nemesis” or thicker, Torche-esque melodic push of the highlight “Quaoar.” It’s raw, production-wise, but I hope it’s not another half-decade before El-Thule follow it up. El-Thule on Thee Facebooks.
Botanist, III: Doom in Bloom
It’s a nature-worshiping post-black metal exploration of what the History Channel has given the catchy title “life after people.” If you’ve ever wondered what blastbeats might sound like on a dulcimer, Botanist‘s third album, III: Doom in Bloom has the answers you seek, caking its purported hatred of human kind in such creative instrumentation and lyrics reverent of the natural world rather than explicitly misanthropic. The CD (on Total Rust) comes packaged with a second disc called Allies, featuring the likes of Lotus Thief and Matrushka and giving the whole release a manifesto-type feel, which suits it well. Vehemently creative, it inadvertently taps into some of the best aspects of our species. Botanist’s website.
Say what you will about whiteboys and the blues, the bass tone that starts “Nobody Get Me Down” is unfuckwithable. And Seattle trio GravelRoad come by it pretty honestly, having served for years as the backing back for bluesman T-Model Ford. The album Psychedelta (on Knick Knack Records) jams out on its start-stop fuzz in a way that reminds not so much of Clutch but of the soul and funk records that inspired Clutch in the first place, and though it never gets quite as frenetic in its energy as Radio Moscow, there’s some of that same vibe persisting through “Keep on Movin’” or their Junior Kimbrough cover “Leave Her Alone.” Throaty vocals sound like a put-on, but if they can nail down that balance, GravelRoad‘s psychedelic blues has some real potential in its open spaces. GravelRoad on Thee Facebooks.
The Linus Pauling Quartet, Bag of Hammers
Texas toast. The Linus Pauling Quartet offer crisp sunbursts of psychedelic heavy rock, and after nearly 20 years and eight full-lengths, that shouldn’t exactly be as much of a surprise as it is. Nonetheless, Bag of Hammers(Homeskool Records) proffers a 41-minute collection of heady ’90s-loving-the-’70s tones while venturing into classic space rock on “Victory Gin” and ballsy riffing on “Saving Throw.” Being my first experience with the band, the album is a refreshing listen and unpretentious to its very core. Eight-minute culminating jam “Stonebringer” is as engaging a display of American stoner rock as I’ve heard this year, and I have to wonder why it took eight records before I finally heard this five-man quartet? Hits like its title. LP4′s website.
Odyssey, Abysmal Despair
It’s the damnedest thing, but listening to Abysmal Despair, the Transubstans Records debut from Swedish prog sludge/noise rockers Odyssey, I can’t help but think of Long Island’s own John Wilkes Booth. It’s the vocals, and I know that’s a really specific association most people aren’t going to have, but I do, and I can’t quite get past it. The album is varied, progressive, and working in a variety of modern underground heavy contexts nowhere near as foreboding as the album’s title might imply, like Truckfighters meets Entombed, but I just keep hearing JWB‘sKerry Merkle through his megaphone. Note: that’s not a bad thing, just oddly indicative of the greater sphere of worldwide sonic coincidence in which we all exist. If anything, that just makes me like Abysmal Despair more. Odyssey on Soundcloud.
Palkoski, 2012 Demo
Conceptual Virginian free-formers Palkoski released the three-track/67-minute 2012 demo earlier this year through Heavy Hound. Most of it sounds improvised, but for verses here and there that emerge from the various stretches, and the band’s alternately grinding and sparse soundscapery results in an unsettling mash of psychotic extremity. It is, at times, painful to listen, but like some lost tribal recording, it’s also utterly free. Limited to 100 CDs with a second track called “The Shittiest EP Ever” and a third that’s a sampling of Palkoski‘s ultra-abrasive noise experimentation live, this one is easily not for the faint of heart. Still, there’s something alluring in the challenge it poses. Palkoski at Heavy Hound.
Radar Men from the Moon, Echo Forever
Following their charming 2011 EP, Intergalactic Dada and Space Trombones, the Eindhoven instrumental trio Radar Men from the Moon (On the Radar’ed here) return on the relative quick with a 51-minute full-length, Echo Forever. More progressive in its jams, the album’s psychedelic sprawl shows the band developing — I hesitate to compare them to 35007 just because they happen to be Dutch, but the running bassline that underscores “Atomic Mother” is a tempter — but there’s still an immediacy behind their changes that keeps them from really belonging to the laid-back sphere of European jam-minded heavy psychedelia. They’re getting warmer though, stylistically and tonally, and I like that. Interesting to hear a song like “Heading for the Void” and think Sungrazer might be burgeoning as an influence. Cool jams for the converted. Radar Men from the Moon on Bandcamp.
Sound of Ground, Sky Colored Green
There are elements of of Yawning Man, or Unida or other acts in the Californian desert milieu, but basically, Moscow’s Sound of Ground sound like Kyuss. They know it. Their R.A.I.G. debut full-length, Sky Colored Green, makes no attempt to hide it, whether it’s the “Green Machine” riffing of “Lips of the Ocean” or the speedier Slo-Burnery of “El Caco,” though the metallic screaming on “R.H.S.” is a dead giveaway for the band’s youth, coming off more like early Down than anything Josh Homme ever plugged in to play. While not necessarily original, the trio are firm in their convictions, and Sound of Ground tear through these 11 tracks with engaging abandon. The Russian scene continues to intrigue. Sound of Ground on Thee Facebooks.