Posted in Radio on December 19th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m pretty sure the world isn’t gonna end, the poles aren’t gonna reverse and the ancient aliens won’t be coming back at the end of this week, but if all that did happen, I think Larman Clamor would make an excellent endtimes soundtrack — or at very least a good way to screw with our new/old martian overlords. Just yesterday, the one-man German psych-blues alter ego of visual artist Alexander von Wieding issued a new single called “Gorgon’s Gold (Shallow Gloom all Round Me),” dropping it as a pay-what-you-want download over at the project’s Bandcamp page.
Von Wieding brings his abiding affection for weirdness to the track, a “regular” version — such as it is — of which appeared on this year’s Frogsfull-length (review here), yowling out raw blues over loose acoustic guitar strings. Also included in the download is an instrumental take on the song, decidedly less frenetic and ending with some contemplative sustained notes, that shows how much the vocals really add to Larman Clamor‘s bizarre sensibility and threatening atmosphere. Now in rotation, here’s the Bandcamp stream as well:
Whatever medium you enjoy music through, LPs, CDs, digital, tapes, reel-to-reel, Edison cylinders, the fact of the matter is that artwork — the visual representation of the album — makes a huge difference in the overall impression a record makes. There are bands who slave away for months negotiating fine details with artists and there are bands who snap a picture of themselves and throw it out front on their way to grab their next beer. Both methods have yielded classic results.
As 2012 winds down, I thought it might be fun to go back to the start of the year and take a look at some of the best album art that accompanied some killer albums. This isn’t the Best Albums list, just some of what I think is the Best Art. I’ll try my best to keep my reasons short as we go along alphabetically:
Alcest, Les Voyages de l’Âme
The sort of gloomy lushness that artist Fursy Teyssier brought to the cover for Alcest‘s Les Voyages de l’Âme was breathtaking from the first glance. Teyssier (also of Les Discrets; interview here) wonderfully captured the morose beauty in Alcest‘s music and painted a masterpiece that transcended “rock art” as much as the album itself transcended black metal or any other genre in which one might try to pigeonhole it.
The sentinel that has now graced the cover of the last couple Conan releases has mirrored the British act’s ascent in joining the ranks of great heavy metal mascots. Tony Roberts, who drew the piece on the cover of Monnos, has become an essential part of the band’s mythology, meeting their ultra-crushing tonality with visuals that seem to work in atmospheres no less oppressively brutal. If art was ever heavy, it was heavy here.
A pretty simple idea, but wonderfully executed, the front of Portland neo-traditionalists Doomsower‘s debut EP, 1974, came from an EPA photo documentary project that took place the same year. I picked it for this list not because it was so intricate or anything like that, but proof that sometimes something that seems basic can also be just right for the songs — the rails parallel, but joining, seeming to indicate Doomsower‘s journey undertaken.
Electric Moon, The Doomsday Machine
The question wasn’t so much would there be an Electric Moon cover on this list, but which one? The prolific German heavy psych jammers have a cache of treasure in the work of bassist Komet Lulu, and when it came time to choose from among the several recordings the band released in 2012, The Doomsday Machine stood out as a departure from the bright colors and classic psychedelia, being a painting by Lulu‘s father, Ulla Papel. Here’s to genetics.
Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
Having also handled Groan‘s split with Finnish trad doomers Vinum Sabbatum, W. Ralph Walters outdid himself with Groan‘s full-length follow-up, The Divine Right of Kings. With strong References to Hieronymus Bosch‘s vision of hell, Walters visualized the band’s move into classic metal and mixed it with manic get-stoned-and-stare kitchen-sinkery much as Groan continued to consort with brash heavy rock and doom. Walters‘ work on Blue Aside‘s The Moles of a Dying Race was no less distinct an achievement.
Larman Clamor, Frogs
Aside from thinking frogs are awesome in general, I was stoked to see how incredibly well Alexander von Wieding‘s art for his band Larman Clamor‘s 2012 offering fit the music. Otherworldly, darkly psychedelic and caked in haze, the dead stare of the frankenfrog on the front of Frogs perfectly matched von Wieding‘s swampy, bluesy style and looked even better on vinyl. Having also contributed to records by Lord Fowl, Wo Fat, Cortez and others this year, von Wieding has made himself one of the most essential heavy rock artists the world over.
Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay
Were it not for the discussion about the process of putting it together in the interview I did with Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till at the end of October, Josh Graham‘s cover for Honor Found in Decay — especially being so similar in idea to his work on Soundgarden‘s King Animal — probably wouldn’t have made this list, but knowing the level of construction that went into making the piece, from painting the jawbones to using artifact arrowheads from Slovakia, I couldn’t help but see it in a different light. Graham‘s ended his association with Neurosis, but if this is how he went out, they couldn’t have asked for more.
I had spent some serious time with Summoner‘s Phoenix by then, had been in talks with the band about releasing it on The Maple Forum, but it wasn’t until I held the LP in my hands at SHoD and really saw the Alyssa Maucere cover in-person that I realized what I was looking at. And once you see it, it’s not really subtle at all. Get it yet? There’s a cock and balls on the right side. I gotta give it to the Boston outfit and to Maucere for sneaking and yet not at all sneaking that one in there. Hey, if you don’t appreciate some phallic humor every now and again, you’re probably not going to start a website called The Obelisk.
Ufomammut, Oro: Opus Primum & Oro: Opus Alter
Is it cheating to include both covers from Ufomammut‘s Oro two-album series? Probably. Do I give a shit? Not in the slightest, because the Italian collective — who for visual purposes go by the name Malleus — tapped into new territory of psych art with the pieces for Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter, manifesting the idea of “psychedelic metal” in the actual style and inks used, while also contrasting dark and light and conveying the permanent nature of gold itself and the notions of hypnotic ritual that show up in their music. These covers were proof that Ufomammut are more than just the masters of their sound.
Another Tony Roberts creation, but in a completely different style from Conan‘s Monnos above, the bleak cover of UK nautical doomers Undersmile‘s 80-minute debut LP Narwhal seemed to embody everything the band had to offer on the album. It was dark, with hard drawn structural lines, but also sprawling, encompassing every panel of the digipak and running into the liner much as Undersmile‘s oceanic themes ran into every minute of the music, crushingly heavy or minimalist and ambient. Less about the titular creature within and more about the sea itself, it conveyed an utter hopelessness and the smallness of humanity when set against something so massive as the sea.
There were plenty more I could’ve included here — records from High on Fire, Om, Graveyard, Wight, Caltrop, Ancestors, Samothrace, Vulture and several others all are worthy of honorable mention, but for one reason or another, these were the standouts to me and I hope you agree that even in this go-ahead-and-download-it age of immediate convenience, the visual art remains pivotal to an album experience.
Someone you think got left out? If you’ve got any suggestions to add, agreements or disagreements, I’d love to get a discussion going in the comments, so please, have at it.
Posted in Reviews on September 10th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Previously known only as V, the lone contributor to Larman Clamor’s boogie-ready assault of darkened Americana has pulled back the veil of mystery and revealed himself to be none other than Hamburg-based artist Alexander von Wieding, whose work has graced album covers from Karma to Burn, Trouble, Cortez and Nuclear Assault as well as Wo Fat, Lo-Pan, Mangoo, Sun Gods in Exile, Infernal Overdrive and countless others from the Small Stone Records discography. It should probably come as little surprise, then, that Small Stone (who’ve hit a point in their regularity of releases as to be more or less a permanent fixture around here) has signed on for the release of Larman Clamor’s second full-length collection of weirdo psych blues, Frogs. The album follows last year’s course-setting Altars to Turn Blood LP (review here) and self-titled EP (review here), and though I wrote the same in the bio for the release, I have no hesitation to note that it’s von Wieding’s best and most atmospherically solid collection yet. To his and the album’s benefit, the multi-instrumentalist/vocalist keeps it short, but over the course of Frogs’ 31 minutes and 11 tracks, he nonetheless develops a full-length flow — more even than the last time around – while also keeping the songs memorable within themselves. The unquestionable standout of the bunch is “The Mudhole Stomp,” which is as fitting a description of the Larman Clamor sound as I’ve heard, but von Wieding’s alternate-universe garage swamp blues makes for several such highlights, shifting into a moody midsection only to revive the barnyard boogie later on in the album’s second half. Greater incorporation of gritty electric guitar soloing amid the sometimes central, sometimes companion acoustic grooves and the perpetual threat of a far-back organ melody make Frogs just as dangerous as anything Larman Clamor has released to this point, and though the depth of arrangement has deepened, the project has maintained the sense of rawness central to the authenticity of its presentation. That is, if Larman Clamor went prog, it wouldn’t work. It needs to be this stripped down. It needs to sound like there’s one man behind it, hooked up to however many noisemaking contraptions he might be.
That said, one wonders what even a song like the opening title-track might sound like with some layer of unexpected percussion behind it – some pans being banged on, for example, or even the smack of two bricks into each other – in time with the track’s irresistible get-down pulse. The rhythm is no less effective for their absence, von Wieding leading the way (his own way, that is) with a George Thorogood-esque start-stop guitar and sundry grunts about the frogs coming into his house. I had no idea Hamburg had amphibian issues, but climate change is a bastard and at this point I’ll believe anything. Like all of Larman Clamor’s output to date, “Frogs” effectively contrasts its urban origins with countrified swagger, and in any case, von Wieding isn’t the first city boy in the world to sing about the swamp. He does it well, and “Seven Slugs o’ Mud” might not bring Frogs past five minutes into its total runtime, but the opening duo has enough movement in it to break a sweat nonetheless, quickly establishing and pushing forward within a heavy momentum punctuated by tambourine and a continuingly appropriate thematic of all things slimy, cold-blooded and found in or around pondscum. “Seven Slugs o’ Mud” is fuller sounding, bordering on some of von Wieding’s appreciation for Tom Waits – the organ would put it over the top on that regard, but it’s not to be – and makes a solid setup for the contrast that the instrumental minimalism of “Mill Wheel Alchemy” provides, acoustic guitar providing both melody and rhythm in a series of taps and strums that lead to thicker, fuzzier electrics, loosely, vaguely riffed behind a mounting solo that one imagines played through a busted old amp in the woods, far away from any ears but those of the tape machine onto which it was recorded. If Frogs establishes anything, it’s von Wieding’s prowess as a guitarist. As the sole instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter in all of Larman Clamor, he leaves himself room to handle a bit of soulful lead work in the record’s more atmospheric stretches, “Mill Wheel Alchemy” being one of them, before “The Mudhole Stomp” offers Frogs’ most potent take on the bizarre balance in the band’s sound between gravely-delivered blues and psychedelic grooving.
Posted in Features on December 9th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is made up of my personal picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your top 11 to that yet, please do.
It was an impossible task to keep up with everything that came out this year. I’ll say flat out that I didn’t. There are records that I just didn’t get to hear, and I should note at the outset that this list is mine. It’s based on my personal opinions, what I listened to the most this year and what I think 2011′s most crucial releases have been.
I’ve spent the better part of this week (and last, if brain-time counts) constructing this list, and I finally got it to a point where I feel comfortable sharing. Since last December, I’ve kept a Post-It of names, and all year, I’ve logged bands I’d want to consider for the final top 20. In the end, there were 78 bands and more that I didn’t get to write down for whatever reason. 2011 was nothing if it wasn’t overwhelming.
But here we are, anyway, and it’s done. Let’s get to it:
This is nothing if not a sentimental pick. Last year, I put Electric Wizard in the #20 spot because the record wasn’t out yet, and this year, I’m putting Suplecs (interview with bassist Danny Nick here) in just because I couldn’t imagine this list without them. Until literally a few minutes before I clicked “Publish” on this post, there was someone else in this spot, but ultimately, it had to be them. The New Orleans trio’s first record in half a decade wasn’t what I listened to most in 2011, it wasn’t the best album, or the most important, or career-defining, but when it came right down to it, god damn, I was just happy to have Suplecs back. It had been too long.
After a while, I was kind of shocked to find myself continuing to listen to Favourite State of Mind, the second album by Polish rockers Elvis Deluxe. The record’s dynamics didn’t immediately open up to me, but once I dug into the songs, I was wowed by their balance of catchy hooks and substantial-sounding riffs. The album was genre-relevant without being genre-minded, with vocal changes, organ, atmospheric shifts and a whole host of moods and turns. After hearing their 2007 debut, Lazy, I wasn’t expecting much out of the norm from Favourite State of Mind, and I’m still thrilled by just how wrong I was, and “Take it Slow” is among my favorite single songs of the year.
The gloomy opening statement from former Warning guitarist/vocalist Patrick Walker turned heads around the world with its unabashed emotional conviction, which was so much the central focus of the record as to be made a novelty by those who don’t usually consider doom an emotionally relevant genre (the widespread arguments against that notion I’ll leave for another time). What most stood out to me about The Inside Room was how the sentimentality translated into a gorgeous melodic sensibility and resulted in a lonely mood that was engrossing. On that level, it was easily among 2011′s most effective releases. It made you feel what it seemed to be feeling.
It was an album that lived up to its name. Return to Earth marked the remaking of one of heavy rocks most stoned outfits: Acrimony. But, as Sigiriya (interview with drummer Darren Ivey here), the four-piece (down from five) would show that the years since the demise of their former band had found them progressing as musicians, resulting in a sound less directly stoner, more modern, more earthy. The songs, however, were what made it. It’s still a rare day that goes by that I don’t hum at least part of the chorus of “Mountain Goat” to myself, and if Return to Earth was a new beginning for these players, I can’t wait to see where they go next.
In addition to being Totimoshi‘s first album for At a Loss following the end of their deal with Volcom, Avenger was the first Totimoshi record since 2003′s ¿Mysterioso? not to be produced by Page Hamilton, and where 2006′s Ladrón and 2008′s Milagrosa moved away from some of the noisy crunch in the guitar of Tony Aguilar (interview here), Avenger managed to be both a return to form and a progression of the band’s melodicism. It seems, as ever, to have flown under most radars, but Totimoshi continue to refine their songwriting and have become one of the heavy underground’s most formidable and least classifiable bands.
With their 2010 EP release, upstart British trio Grifter informed us that The Simplicity of the Riff is Key, and on their self-titled Ripple Music debut, they put that ethic to excellent use, resulting in straightforward, catchy songs that were as high-octane as they were low-bullshit. The ultra-catchy “Good Day for Bad News” showed Grifter at the top of their form, and with a dose of humor thrown in, Grifter was the drunken stoner rock party you always wanted to be invited to and, of course, finally were. Now if only I could get Skype to work and get that interview with Ollie Stygall moving, I’d be happy to tell him personally he put out one of 2011′s most kickass rock records.
I don’t know what’s most impressive about The Book of Knots‘ Garden of Fainting Stars — the songs themselves or that they were able to make any songs at all. With upwards of 20 guest spots around the core four-piece, the third in a purported trilogy of records from the avant rock originalists was an epic in every listen. Songs like “Microgravity” and the Mike Watt spoken word “Yeager’s Approach” pushed the limits of both genre and expectation, and miraculously, Garden of Fainting Stars was cohesive and enthralling in its narrative aspect. If it really was their last album, it was triumphant in a manner befitting its expanding-universe thematics.
Had it been a full-length, Invisible White would be higher on this list. Many out there who were enamored of Ancestors‘ 2008 Neptune with Fire debut have gone on to bemoan the Californian collective’s shift away from extended sections of heavy riffing and tales of sea monsters and other things that go “doom” in the night. I’m not one of them. The Invisible White EP was a brave step along a fascinating progression, and as Crippled Black Phoenix didn’t release a new album in 2011, I was glad to have Ancestors there to fill that morose, contemplative void, and I look forward to seeing how they expand on the ideas presented on Invisible White (if they decide to stick to this direction) for their next full-length.
Speaking of shifting approaches, still-young Massachusetts trio Elder also moved away from the Sleep-centric methods of their 2008 self-titled debut on the follow-up, Dead Roots Stirring. Still based very much around the guitar work of Nick DiSalvo (interview here), Elder songs like “Gemini” and the über-soloed “The End” pushed an influence of European heavy psych into the band’s aesthetic, and the result was both grippingly heavy and blown of mind. As an album long delayed by mixing and business concerns, when Dead Roots Stirring finally arrived, it was a relief to hear that Elder, though they’d varied the path, were still headed in the right direction.
Hands down the year’s best traditional doom release. The Wretch so gleefully and so earnestly employed the conventions of ’80s-style doom — most especially those of Saint Vitus and Trouble — that even though the lyrical and musical content was miserable, I couldn’t help but smile as I listened. Songs like “Bastards Born” and “The Scovrge ov Drvnkenness” pushed The Gates of Slumber away from the barbarism the Indianapolis outfit had been touting on their last couple albums, including 2008′s Conqueror breakthrough, in favor of a more purely Chandlerian plod. “To the Rack with Them” remains a standout favorite and a line often referenced in my workplace dealings.
I don’t know what you say to someone at this point who doesn’t like Weedeater. It just seems like a terrible way to go through life, without the madman ranting of “Dixie” Dave Collins (interview here) echoing perpetually in your ears, or never having witnessed their ultra-viscous fuzz in person. Jason… the Dragon was one of the earliest landmark releases of 2011, and practically the whole year later, it retains its hold, whether it’s the stomping fury of “Mancoon,” the lumbering groove of “Long Gone” or the surprisingly melodic “Homecoming.” The hard-touring, hard-hitting band did right in recording with Steve Albini to capture their live sound, and Jason… the Dragon was their strongest outing yet in terms of both songwriting and that unmistakable quality that makes Weedeater records Weedeater records.
I was surprised to see Rwake crack the top 10. Not because their first album in four years, the Sanford Parker-produced Rest, wasn’t superb, but because of how much the songs on the album stayed with me after listening. The Arkansas band’s last outing, Voices of Omens, was heavy and dark and had a lot going for it, but Rest upped the songwriting on every level and together with frontman CT (interview here) adopting a more decipherable shout over most of the record’s four main extended tracks, Rwake felt like a band reborn, and theirs was a highlight among several 2011 albums that showed there’s still room for individual growth and stylistic nuance within the sphere of post-metal.
It was back and forth, nine and eight, between Rwake and Hull for a while, but when all was said and done, the fantastic scope of Beyond the Lightless Sky gave the Brooklyn triple-guitar masters the edge. With a narrative structure behind it and a breadth of ambience and crushing, post-doomly riffing, Beyond the Lightless Sky was the defining moment that those who’ve followed Hull since their Viking Funeral demo have been waiting for. In concept, in performance, in sound and structure and heft, it absolutely floored me, and of all the heavy records I’ve heard with the tag applied to them in 2011, Hull‘s second full-length seems most to earn the tag “progressive.” A stunning and groundbreaking achievement.
One of 2011′s most fascinating developments has been the boom in European heavy psychedelia, and the self-titled debut from French band Mars Red Sky was among the best releases to blend a jam-based sensibility with thick, warm fuzz and memorable riffs. Together with the sweet-hued vocals of Julien Pras (interview here), those riffs made for some of the most infectious hooks I heard all year on songs like “Strong Reflection” and “Way to Rome,” and where other bands jammed their way into psychedelic oblivion, Mars Red Sky were able to balance their focus on crafting quality songs, so that although they sounded spontaneous, the material was never self-indulgent or lacking accessibility. One just hopes they don’t lose sight of that musical humility their next time out.
There was a point earlier this year at which I had forgotten about All We Destroy. After reviewing it in March, I simply moved on to the next thing on my list, and the thing after, and the thing after. But before I knew it, in my head was the voice of Jackie Perez Gratz, singing the line “As I live and breathe” over her own cello, the guitar of Max Doyle and Max Doyle‘s drums. It got so persistent that, eventually, I went out and bought the record, because the mp3s I’d been given to review simply weren’t enough. That was probably July, and I don’t think I’ve gone a week since without listening to Grayceon. So although I classify it in the same league as Rwake and Hull in terms of what it accomplishes in and for its genre, All We Destroy gets the extra nod for the fact that I simply haven’t been able to let it go. And though I’ve come to further appreciate “Shellmounds,” “Once a Shadow” and “A Road Less Traveled,” the 17-minute “We Can” — from which the above-noted lyric is taken — remains the best single song I heard in 2011.
On paper, this one should’ve flopped: Band with minor buzz and a cool video hooks up with indie rock dude to record an album of dopey riffs and beardo bombast. Instead, Red Fang‘s second album and Relapse debut became the 2011 vanguard release for the Portland heavy underground, which is arguably the most fertile scene in the US right now. They toured the record widely, and made another killer video for the mega-single “Wires,” but the reason Murder the Mountains is top five material is because it’s lasted. It was February that I reviewed this record, and March that I interviewed guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles, and I still can’t get “Into the Eye” and “Hank is Dead” and “Number Thirteen” (especially the latter) out of my head. When it came down to it, the songs on Murder the Mountains lived up to any hype the album received, and I’m a sucker for quality songwriting. I mean, seriously. That key change late into “Number Thirteen?” It’s the stuff of the gods.
I wasn’t particularly a fan of Swedish rockers Graveyard‘s 2008 self-titled debut. Even watching them at Roadburn in 2010, I was underwhelmed. But when I heard Hisingen Blues and was able to get a feel for what the retro-minded foursome were getting at stylistically — and most of all, that they were acknowledging that they were doing it without being glib or ironic about it — I found the material irresistible. We’re getting into seriously indispensable records now; ones that I’ve been unwilling to leave home without since they came, in, and Graveyard‘s Hisingen Blues has been a constant feature in heavy rotation. Everything from the devilish testimony of the title-track to the wiry guitars of the chorus to “Ungrateful are the Dead,” to the Skynyrd-ified solo capping “Uncomfortably Numb”: It’s been a year of revelry in all of it, and since they overcame my prejudice to impress on such a level, Graveyard (interview with drummer Axel Sjöberg here) are all the more deserving of their spot on this list.
What I hear in the second album from Dutch trio Sungrazer is the heralding of a new generation of fuzz rock. Taking influence from their forebears in Colour Haze and Kyuss, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets (interview here), bassist/vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders followed and surpassed their stellar 2010 debut on every level, playing heavy riffs on expansive psychedelic jams and still finding room for some of 2011′s most memorable choruses in songs like “Sea” and “Goldstrike.” In so doing, Sungrazer affirmed the character of next-gen European fuzz and placed themselves at the fore of their scene, with touring and festival appearances to support. For their warmth of tone and for the fact that I spent the better part of the summer streaming the record through the Dutch website 3voor12, there was no way they were going to be left out of the top 20. It wasn’t until I sat down and actually put the numbers together, though, that I realized how vital Mirador actually was.
I was lucky enough to be sent some rough listening mixes of Ohio outfit Lo-Pan‘s Small Stone Records debut (following a reworked reissue of their Sasquanaut sophomore full-length), and in my email back to label head Scott Hamilton, I told him I thought he had a genuine classic on his hands. A year, I don’t even know how many Lo-Pan gigs and listens through Salvador later, I still feel that way 100 percent. If you were from another planet, and we got to talking at a bar, and you asked me what rock and roll should sound like in the place where I’m from, I’d hand you Salvador. I still think they should’ve started the album with “Generations,” but if that’s my biggest gripe, they’re clearly doing alright. “Bird of Prey” was the best live song I saw all year, and I saw it plenty, and cuts like “Bleeding Out” and “Struck Match” set the standard by which I’ll judge American heavy rock for a long time to come. Like the best of any class, Salvador is bigger than just the year in which it was released, and at this point, I don’t know what else to say about it.
This is as good as it gets, and by “it,” I mean life. YOB‘s last album, 2009′s The Great Cessation, was my album of the year that year as well, and I knew from the second I heard the self-produced Atma that nothing to come this year would top it. Like Ufomammut‘s Eve in 2010, Atma brings the entire genre of doom along with it on the new ground it breaks, refining what’s fast becoming YOB‘s signature approach even as it pushes ever forward. I still have to stop whatever I’m doing (not exactly good for productivity) whenever “Prepare the Ground” comes on, and songs like “Adrift in the Ocean” and “Before We Dreamed of Two” were humbling. Seriously. Humbling. Listening to them was like looking at those photographs from the Hubble that cover trillions of miles that we’ll never know and reveal gorgeous colors where our naked eyes only see black. If that sounds hyperbolic, thanks for getting it. YOB guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt (interview here) is, almost in spite of himself, one of American doom’s most crucial contributors, and with Atma, he and the rhythm section of bassist Aaron Reiseberg and drummer Travis Foster released what is without a doubt the best album of 2011.
A few quick housekeeping items and we’ll call it quits. First, honorable mentions. If this list went to 25, also included would be The Wounded Kings, Earth, Larman Clamor, Olde Growth and The Atlas Moth. Roadsaw were also in heavy consideration, so they’re worth noting, as are many others.
Obviously, I couldn’t include them, but two of my favorite releases in 2011 also came from Blackwolfgoat and HeavyPink, and I’m thrilled and honored to have helped put them out in the small way I did.
And as I said above, there are records I didn’t hear. I haven’t heard the new Black Pyramid yet. Or Orchid. Or a bunch more that I could go on listing. I’m only one man and this is only my list, for better or worse. Again, I really do hope you’ll contribute yours to the group poll, the results of which will be out Jan. 1.
I’ll probably have some more to wrap up 2011 as the month winds down, but until then, thank you so much for reading this and the rest of the wordy nonsense I’ve put up the whole year long. Your support and encouragement means more than I’m able to tell. Here’s to 2012 to come.
Posted in Reviews on November 2nd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
A mere six months after the release of their self-titled debut EP, the apparently-well-motivated German outfit Larman Clamor returns with the inevitable follow-up full-length, Altars to Turn Blood. Perhaps even more impressively, they do so having lost one of their two members. Following the somewhat mysterious departure of drummer, organist and engineer R, Larman Clamor is down solely to guitarist, vocalist and visual artist V. You wouldn’t know it from the sound of Altars to Turn Blood — and in fact R might actually be on the record; the timing on his departure isn’t quite clear – which is as fully conceived and realized as was the EP, with an even bolder and crisper blend of gospel, blues, psychedelically-tinted Americana and throaty incantations. The atmosphere is nearly all swamp, and Larman Clamor seem to revel in breathing that moist air, rejoicing with Baptist fervor in arrangements of foreboding acoustic guitar, subdued moments leading to bombast, the occasional interjection of distortion, organ, hand-claps, etc. Arrangement-wise, Altars to Turn Blood is complex, but Larman Clamor do well to also make it cohesive, so that the record is never especially out of balance where it doesn’t mean to be, and where clarity of sound never comes at the sacrifice of natural feel, and vice versa.
Because the arrangements are varied however stylistically consistent the songs might be, Altars to Turn Blood is best heard at least once on headphones. There are some parts that are just so quiet, so intimate, that proximity between speakers and ears actually comes to matter as it rarely does. Whether it’s the organ whistle underscoring the late-arriving “Handful of Hex” or the Delta swing of centerpiece “Limb Creek Boogie,” there’s something to be said for embracing the live feeling Larman Clamor create and making the listening experience as personal as possible. You don’t have to close your eyes, but it might help. It’s also worth noting that, at just under 25 minutes, Altars to Turn Blood is an almost unspeakably-quick listen, but that too winds up working to the record’s advantage. There’s no way it’s anything less than a full-length album. The nine songs express a complete structural and atmospheric idea and with each audible clicking on and off of the tape recorder, you’re re-immersed in the naturalistic feel; the tape hum feels always present in the sparse moments, somehow enhancing even the chant-backed 36-seconds of “Lost Path through the Mountains.” The album opens with its title-track, which also winds up being one of the more raucous moments, the layered distorted whispers of the titular line adding more than a modicum of danger to the forceful strumming and percussive build. Blown-out yelling, glass bottle banging, guitars, bongos, and, finally, release with laughter, and Altars to Turn Blood is under way. “Lost Path through the Mountains” is underscored by what sounds like banging on the side of an acoustic guitar, and that leads right into the electrified “Deep in the Tar,” which is no less rhythmic.
It’s here that Larman Clamor inject their bluesy take with a bit of love for the heavy: That riff is simply undeniable. Layered vocals result in a highlight cut and one of Altars to Turn Blood’s most lasting impressions, but most of all, what the song does is teem with an energy that’s both unbridled and restrained. There’s just something about “Deep in the Tar” that feels like it wants to punch you in the face, which makes the turn into the masterfully subdued beginning of “Woven From Blood” all the more impressive. V adopts a dry-throated vocal worthy of Scott Kelly for the first verse, but the song soon develops backing vocals, distorted guitar, organ and hand-claps to go with its heavy-footed, ultra-simple initial percussion line. At a sprawling 4:14, “Woven From Blood” is the longest song on Altars to Turn Blood, and really, it’s a full-length unto itself at that point. A bluesy guitar solo weeds its way in at around three minutes, and the next minute morphs into a jam that could last another 10 and I wouldn’t have complained. But as much as the band has going on, there’s nothing on these songs that feels superfluous, and 10 minutes of indulgently riding out the same part probably would be, so kudos to the band for moving directly forward into the get-up-out-your-chair “Limb Creek Boogie,” and keeping the album as lean as possible. This kind of guitar line I always associate with John Lee Hooker, but you could probably find other electric blues sources as well, and probably someone better suited to make the connection. Either way, the acoustic slide guitar that seems to come out of nowhere to end the track nonetheless provides suitable transition into “Great Plains Lizard Priest,” which in turn capitalizes on the elements that Larman Clamor have managed – in just 13 minutes, mind you – to turn into “familiar.”
Posted in On the Radar on April 20th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
In the interest of continuing to use On the Radar to spread the word on cool and interesting new acts I actually dig, I humbly present Hamburg, Germany, duo Larman Clamor, whose project seems to be drawing the long line between drunken gospel and heavy rock, injecting some demented psych and garage blues along the way. Their first, self-released, self-titled EP is available now for listening on Bandcamp, on Facebook, and most conveniently, on the player below.
Comprised of the singly-lettered R (drums, organ and engineer) and V (guitar, vocals and art), Larman Clamor‘s sound is both busy and subdued. A drunken preacher stumbling down a rain-soaked road in the middle of the night might start belting out Larman Clamor opener “Ghost Daze & Rhythm,” which is one of two tracks on the demo with handclaps. The songs are diverse in their approach, but consistent in atmosphere, and there’s even a bit of humor (there just has to be) driving the vocals on “Drone Embassy.” It’s a quick release, and there’s an awful lot going on stylistically, but Larman Clamor‘s warped sensibility makes the EP fascinating from the start.
Fans of the experimental and terminally weird will want to check out the tracks, and consider yourself as doing so with my recommendation. Another cool band taking disparate genre elements and making something of their own from them, I look forward to hearing what Larman Clamor do next.