First thing, let me give the immediate and familiar disclaimer: This isn’t everything. If I wanted to call this list “The ONLY 10 Album Covers that Kicked Ass in 2013,” I would. I didn’t do that, because there were way more than 10 covers that resonated when I saw them this year. The idea here is just to check out a few artists’ work that really stuck out as memorable throughout the year and really fit with the music it was complementing and representing.
As always, you can click the images below to enlarge them for a more detailed look.
The list runs alphabetically by band. Thanks in advance for reading:
Like Nick Keller‘s cover for New Zealand heavy plunderers Beastwars‘ 2011 self-titled debut (review here), the darker, moodier oil and canvas piece that became the front of Blood Becomes Fire(review here) created a sense of something truly massive and otherworldly. A huge skull with sci-fi themes and barren landscape brought to it foreboding memento mori that seemed to suggest even land can die. It was an excellent match for the brooding tension in the album itself.
The level of detail in Arrache-toi un oeil‘s cover for Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s full-length Tee Pee Records debut, The Edge of an Era(review here), would probably be enough for it to make this list anyway, but the Belgium-based art duo seemed thematically to bring out the swirl, chaos and underlying order within the Los Angeles trio’s desert psychedelia. Blue was for the vinyl edition, brown for the CD digipak (both were revealed here), but in either format it was a reminder of how much visual art can add to a musical medium.
Black Pyramid, Adversarial
Cover by Eli Wood.
I look at the Eli Wood cover for Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial(review here) as representing the task before the band in putting out their third LP. Released by Hydro-Phonic, the album found Black Pyramid coming head to head with both their audience’s expectations of what they were in their original lineup and their own will to move past that and become something else. If there was a second panel to the cover, it would show the arrow-shot warrior standing next to the severed head of the demon he slayed. Easily one of my favorite covers of the year. The scale of it begged for a larger format even than vinyl could provide.
It was such a weird record, with the interludes and the bizarre twists, that Samantha Allen‘s cover piece for Ice Dragon‘s Born a Heavy Morning (review here) almost couldn’t help but encompass it. The direct, but slightly off-center stare of the owl immediately catches the eye, but we see the titular morning sunshine as well, the human hand with distinct palm lines, illuminati eye and other symbols — are the planets? Bubbles? I don’t know, but since Born a Heavy Morningwas such an engrossing listening experience, to have the visual side follow suit made it all the richer.
Kings Destroy, A Time of Hunting
Cover by Aidrian O’Connor.
In Magyar mythology, the bird-god Turul is perched atop the tree of life and is a symbol of power. With its theme in geometry, Aidrian O’Connor‘s cover piece for Kings Destroy‘s ATime of Hunting — which was originally titled Turul– gave a glimpse at some of that strength, positioning the viewer as prey below a creature and sky that seem almost impossible to parse. I felt the same way the first time I put on the finished version of the Brooklyn outfit’s second offering, unspeakably complex and brazenly genre-defiant as it was.
Alexander von Wieding deserves multiple mentions for his 2013 covers for Black Thai and Small Stone labelmates Supermachine, but he always seems to save the best for his own project, Larman Clamor. The one-man-band’s third LP, Alligator Heart(review here), was a stomper for sure, but in his visual art for it, von Wieding brilliantly encapsulated the terrestrial elements (the human and reptile) as well as the unknowable spheres (rippling water, sun-baked sky) that the songs portrayed in their swampadelic blues fashion. It was one to stare at.
Similar I guess to the Beastwars cover in its looming feel and to the Black Pyramid for its scale, John Sumrow‘s art for Monster Magnet‘s Last Patrol(review here) mirrored the space-rocking stylistic turn the legendary New Jersey band made in their sound, taking their iconic Bullgod mascot and giving it a cosmic presence, put to scale with the rocketship on the right side. It stares out mean from the swirl and regards the ship with no less a watchful eye than Dave Wyndorf‘s lyrics seem to have on society as a whole.
There’s a mania to Orion Landau’s cover for Red Fang‘s third album, Whales and Leeches, and while the songs that comprise the record are more clearly structured, the collage itself, the face it makes when viewed from a distance, and the (from what I’m told is brilliant) cut-out work in the physical pressing of the album, all conspired to make one of 2013′s most striking visuals. As the in-house artist for Relapse, Landau is no stranger to landmark pieces, but this was a different level of accomplishment entirely.
Fuck. Look at this fucking thing! Galaxy spiral, vagina-dentata, creepy multi-pupil eyes and a background that seems to push the eye to the middle with no hope of escape even as blues and oranges collide. Wow. Sandrider bassist JesseRoberts‘(see also The Ruby Doe) artwork for Godhead (review here) is the only cover on this list done by a member of the band in question, and though I’m sure there are many awesome examples out there, I don’t know if any can top this kind of nightmarishness. Unreal. The sheer imagination of it.
When I put together a similar list last year, it had Summoner‘s first album under the moniker, Phoenix, on it, and with their second, they went more melodic, more progressive, and showed that heaviness was about atmosphere as much as tone, and that it was a thing to be moved around rather than leaned on. The Alyssa Maucere art, dark but deceptively colorful, rested comfortably alongside the songs, with a deeply personal feel and unflinchingly forward gaze, somewhat understated on the black background, but justifying the portrayal of depth.
As I said above, there’s a lot of stuff I could’ve easily included on this list, from The Flying Eyes to Sasquatch to Black Thai to Lumbar, Samsara Blues Experiment, Goatess, At Devil Dirt and others. Hopefully though, this gives a sampling of some people who are doing cool work in an under-represented aspect of underground creativity.
If I left anything out or there was a cover that really stuck with you that I didn’t mention, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Posted in Reviews on August 19th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
With his third Larman Clamor full-length in as many years, Hamburg-based singer-songwriters Alexander von Wieding continues the development of his established swampadelic blues aesthetic. Alligator Heart, which is von Wieding‘s second outing through Small Stone, is a somewhat rawer affair than last year’s Frogs(review here) or 2011′s Altars to Turn Blood(review here), but in stripping down some of the arrangements — less organ, more banjo — the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist has lost nothing of the rich mood of his prior outings, and indeed only given his songwriting and instrumental performances more space to flourish. Aiding in that as well is the fact that at over 38 minutes, Alligator Heart is the longest Larman Clamor album to date, and though the craft and construction has simplified in some ways, it’s also become more conceptually complex, as the two-part “Aether Bound I: Scorched Earth” and “Aether Bound II: Dust and Ghost” closing duo shows. Offset by catchier songs like “Banshee w’Me” and the grooving “I’m Buildin’ Ruins,” these ideas seem all the more engaging, particularly as they come accompanied by growth in von Wieding‘s vocal approach, which even on the five-minute East-meets-South stomper “She Sent Her Hounds” seems to have embraced more emotional complexity and seems to be in the process of growing beyond the guttural bluesman’s exclamations that have typified Larman Clamor‘s singing to date. As ever, the recording is overarchingly organic, giving a live-from-the-porch vibe — one can almost see the holes in the screen door — and gorgeous visuals also care of von Wieding also accompany, only adding to the completeness of the Alligator Heartpackage.
Because it has such a cohesive sound throughout, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the complexities in the individual pieces that occur throughout Alligator Heart, but the otherworldly feel that runs a thread (also threat) through each track has been these last several years a big part of what ties Larman Clamor‘s albums together, and the sense from the acoustic-led “Alligator Heart” on is exploratory. Von Wieding strums and feels out the parts after some subdued verses atop a rising bed of distortion, showing a bit of patience in the instrumental second half of the opener while letting “Banshee w’Me” pick up the tempo and provide the first of several landmark hooks that carve a path through the fog-coated bayouscape of Alligator Heart. The only thing missing is handclaps, but one should remember that von Wieding is working with a simpler palette this time around, so some of the flourish that prior albums may have led listeners to expect is replaced by a focus on the hooks themselves. “Banshee w’Me” is all ramble and brash groove, lead lines peppered in with tambourine meter, and leaves a lasting impression that its 1:25 runtime does little to hint at. “Perdition at Dawn” plugs in tight strumming and more blown-out singing with a strong build behind as snare hits come in to punctuate the march. Here, von Wieding sounds confident plucking acoustic notes that if they were played on a sitar you’d call them psychedelic, but it’s ultimately his vocals that carry the piece, and in that too, he’s in top form. His voice sounds less like something put on for the purpose of the tracks than something harnessed in response to a call from them. It’s a bigger difference than you might initially think.
Posted in Features on August 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
If you’re anything like me — and let’s just hope for your sake you’re not — then you’re sitting in front of your laptop staring at a calendar telling you it’s August wondering what the hell happened to June and July. Last time I turned around, it was barely summer, and now it’s starting to get cold at night.
We’re well past the halfway mark on 2013, and I know for some the year’s best picks are already set in mind, but there’s a ton of cool releases still to come before 2014 hits, and I figured now’s as good a time as any for a rundown of a few picks that seem to be sure to arrive prior to December 31. As much as anything’s ever “sure,” anyway. Subject to change, and all that.
With the gracious suggestions/assistance of those checking in on the forum (see that thread for many more picks) taken into consideration, here are 15 suggestions to be on a lookout for starting in September. Some of these I’ve heard, some I haven’t, but take it as a sampling of what I’m looking forward to, if nothing else.
And because I know nothing says “I know how to have a good time” like a list in order of release date, here goes nothing:
Vista Chino, Peace (Sept. 3)
It took me a couple listens to come around to Vista Chino‘s Peace (review here), but once I got to that point, there was no turning back. The much-anticipated Napalm Records debut from the four-piece birthed out of Kyuss Lives!, Peace ultimately moves forward as much as it looks back, and though much of the lyrics center around the lawsuit that forced Kyuss Lives! to change their name, the songs themselves do arrive at a certain place of acceptance by the end of the record, so that in the end it lives up to its title. Some won’t be able to make the leap over their expectations for what an album with Brant Bjork, John Garcia and Nick Oliveri on it should sound like, but most importantly, Vista Chino are pressing on and I hope this isn’t the last record they make together, even if Oliveri is already out of the band’s touring lineup.
Larman Clamor, Alligator Heart (Sept. 10)
The solo-outfit of graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, Larman Clamor has been pumping out quality swamp boogie for the last two years at a more than prolific clip. Last year, von Wieding made his debut on Small Stone with Frogs (review here), and while the forthcoming Alligator Heart (out through the same label) strips the approach down somewhat — as you can hear on the single “Banshee w’Me” — the murkedelic blues spirit remains supreme at the center of the project’s approach. Larman Clamor has flown relatively under the radar so far into its run, but showing a little bit of a poppier side on Alligator Heart‘s tracks might gain it some more attention. Von Wieding‘s songwriting continues to be worth the price of admission to the bizarre carnival he creates.
Windhand, Soma (Sept. 17)
Richmond-based cult sludgers Windhand made their debut on Relapse earlier this year on a split release with Cough — with whom they share a bassist and a hometown — and will follow that next month with Soma, their second LP behind their 2012 self-titled debut full-length. The band have only gotten darker and meaner since adding Cough‘s Parker Chandler on bass, and with that split heralding its coming, Somashould arrive with a fittingly devastating impact. Windhand have also put in no shortage of time on the road, and even as the new one comes out, they’ll be embroiled in a coast-to-coast US tour, so keep an eye out — and that goes for Europe too. I wouldn’t be surprised if a full tour with Inter Arma got announced around their joint Roadburn appearances next spring.
Sasquatch, IV (Sept. 24)
Sasquatch bloody Sasquatch. If you’ve got a face, these dudes’ll rock it right off. With IV(Small Stone) their first full-length since 2010′s III(review here), L.A. trio Sasquatch very casually offer a reminder that those who talk about how rock and roll needs to be “saved” don’t have a clue what’s really up, that rock and roll never went anywhere and that its awesomeness continues unabated. Need testimony? Check out the track stream for “The Message.” Classic grooves, class-y showoff solos, catchy tunes and later in the album even a foray into psychedelic jamming — let there be no doubt that Sasquatch have nailed down right where they want to be sound-wise and are ready to make the most of the good times they’re rolling out as they continue to lay their own railroad, grand and funky as it is. Soundgarden wishes they had this kind of edge.
Iron Man, South of the Earth (Sept. 30)
You’d pretty much have to be a jerk not to feel good about the fact that long-running, long-underappreciated Maryland doom stalwarts Iron Man are getting their due in the form of a Rise Above Records release for their new album, South of the Earth. I know that’s not the most impartial statement in the world, but seriously, who deserves Lee Dorrian-endorsed doom cred more than Iron Man? The names are few and far between. South of the Earthalready had me on the hook for being their first full-length with frontman Dee Calhoun on board alongside guitarist “Iron” Al Morris III, bassist Louis Strachan and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann, but with the hopefully increased profile of issue on Rise Above, who knows what could be in store for them once it’s out?
Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, Underground EP (Sept.)
Trippy Wicked caught me off guard last year with the heavier and more metal side that showed up on their Going Home long-player (review here), but this time I’m ready. I’ve readjusted my expectations for what the UK trio might unleash on the new Underground EP — set phasers to who-the-hell-knows — and after the quick mastery of the metallurgical arts they showed the last time out, I’m happy to follow wherever their creative whims might take them. I know this is a list of albums and technically an EP isn’t a full album, but screw it, I dig these guys and am fascinated enough by their progression that it’s worth including even the smaller release here. If the art for Underground(due out through Superhot Records) is anything to go by — and I don’t yet know that it is — we could be in for a pretty wild ride.
Earthless, From the Ages (Oct. 8)
San Diego instrumentalists Earthless are looking to make an epic return on From the Ages (Tee Pee Records), which is their first studio full-length in six years. Though they’ve had a steady stream of live releases, limited splits and the like, and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell released a debut album with the heavy psych outfit Golden Void last year, nothing’s quite the same as Earthless‘ righteous jams and extended progressions. Look out for the 31-minute title-track (one of four on the album; more info here) as Earthless step into the limelight and reap the momentum they’ve built through steady years of touring and critical acclaim. From the Agesmight just prove one for the ages.
Monster Magnet, Last Patrol (Oct. 15)
My only question when it comes to Monster Magnet‘s second album for Napalm Records — touted by frontman Dave Wyndorf as a return to their psychedelic beginnings — is how literally we’re supposed to take the title Last Patroland if indeed this is going to be the final go for the long-running and hugely influential New Jersey outfit. If so, they draw their circle as complete as they possibly could, and whether it’s “The Duke (of Supernature),” which has received nearly 23,000 plays since being premiered here on July 23, or the driving churn of “End of Time,” Monster Magnet tap into the spirit that propelled 1995′s Dopes to Infinity and readjust the balance of their influence in a way fans have been clamoring for for years now. The more I hear it, the more I need to hear it.
Pelican, Forever Becoming (Oct. 15)
A new Pelican album is an interesting enough proposition at this point — it’s been four years since the Chicago instrumental outfit released What We all Come to Need (review here) — but Forever Becoming (Southern Lord) has an added level of intrigue for being Pelican‘s first album without guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec. Stepping in to fill the second guitar spot is Dallas Thomas of The Swan King, and it should be interesting to hear how the band’s approach has shifted after almost half a decade and what Thomas brings to the well-established chemistry between bassist Bryan Herweg, drummer Larry Herweg and guitarist Trevor de Brauw. If the first track is anything to go by, Pelican still sounds like Pelican, and I’m not going to complain about that.
Corrections House, Last City Zero (Oct. 29)
Probably the bigger surprise would’ve been if the super-type group Corrections House didn’t make their full-length debut on Neurot, but still, word was welcome when it came down a couple weeks back that the conjoined efforts of Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Mike IX Williams (EyeHateGod), Bruce Lamont (Yakuza) and Sanford Parker (Buried at Sea, Minsk and the guy you want to record your album) were resulting in an actual album to follow up on their initial single and tour earlier this year. Whether the entirety of the record works in the kind of industrial, post-Godflesh noise crunch they brought to the stage on that tour (review here), we’ll just have to wait and see. But I’m damn interested to find out.
Red Fang, Whales and Leeches (Oct.)
Those who heard Red Fang‘s 2011 boot-to-the-ass second album, Murder the Mountains (review here), will probably find Whales and Leeches (named for a track off their 2008 self-titled debut) a reasonable follow-up. The Portland forerunners’ second offering through Relapse finds bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam even more front and center with clean vocals, and ultra-catchy songs like “Blood Like Cream” and “No Hope” seem to pick up right where Red Fang left off last time, offsetting Beam‘s poppier style with guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles‘ throaty grit . Watch out for much more to come on this one. Between the record itself and their formidable road ethic, you’re probably going to be hearing a lot about it.
The Melvins, Tres Cabrones (Nov. 5)
If you were to ask me how many records the Melvins have out in 2013, I’d go, “Uh… I dunno… six?” and the mere fact that that doesn’t seem like a ridiculous answer should be indicative of the frankly absurd pace at which the long-enduring Washington outfit add to their already insurmountable catalog. What makes Tres Cabrones (Ipecac) different? Reportedly, it’s a semi-reunion of the band’s 1983 lineup — as close as they were willing to get, was how Buzz Osbourne put it in the press release — that finds Dale Crover playing bass to make room for drummer Mike Dillard. The Melvins released the collection Mangled Demos from 1983 in 2005, but Tres Cabroneswill be entirely new material. You never know quite where the Melvins are headed next, and if anyone could find a way to go forward even as they go backward, it’d be them.
Sandrider, Godhead (Date TBA)
So in case you couldn’t tell by the “TBA” above, this one’s a bit of wishful thinking on my part. I don’t actually know that Sandrider (members of Akimbo and The Ruby Doe) will issue a follow-up to their 2011 self-titled Good to Die Records debut (review here) before the end of 2013, but golly, I hope they do. The band said on July 11 via their Thee Facebooks that they’d finished mastering the album, titled Godhead, for a Fall release, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see once it’s pressed and ready to go. The sooner the better, since that first record was a smoker and nothing says “autumn” like some noise crunch bombast. At least that’s what I have embroidered on my doilies…
Snail, Feral (TBA)
Not sure on the release date for West Coast riffers Snail‘s fourth album and third since reactivating in 2009 with Blood, but the recording’s reportedly done, so hopefully it’s not too long before they get it out. The band recently announced the departure of guitarist Eric Clausen, so they’re down to the original trio of guitarist/vocalist Mark Johnson, bassist Matt Lynch and drummer Marty Dodson, and how that will affect their sound on the follow-up to last year’s metallized self-release, Terminus (review here), remains to be seen, but if there’s any chance Snail might be able to get more road time in support of Feral, whenever it arrives, than no doubt it will have been worth the tumult in the meantime.And even if not, the album’s still one to watch for.
The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum (TBA)
Another one with no exact date, but according to producer Chris Fielding, it’ll be out before 2013′s over. Either way, when it lands, Consolamentum will serve as the Candlelight Records debut. It’s their fourth outing overall, and the second to be produced by Fielding and to feature frontwoman Sharie Neyland, whose work on 2011′s In the Chapel ofthe Black Hand (review here) made that album one of the year’s most satisfyingly bizarre and dreary doom offerings. Along with founding guitarist Steve Mills, Neyland returns for Consolamentum and whether it hits in 2013 or 2014, look for the band to progress from the last time out. Mills (interview here) is a relentlessly forward-thinking songwriter and his penchant for creating atmospheric and crushingly dark sonic spaces is not to be underestimated.
Whew. These things always take so much longer than I think they’re going to when I start writing names on Post-It notes.
Of course, this is just a sampling of what’s to come over the next few months. Borracho‘s new one is supposed to get a vinyl release, and A Storm of Light have a new record, plus I heard rumors of new Slough Feg (they have a new single that would seem to back that up) and a much-awaited Brothers of the Sonic Cloth full-length coming before the end of the year — I also, right now, quite literally this second, just got news of a new Diesto on Eolian Empire — so please don’t assume that if it’s not here it’s never coming or whatever. There’s so much out there, I always feel like I’m leaving out something big and/or awesome.
The Hamburg-based solo act of graphic designer Alexander von Wieding, Larman Clamor is set to release its third album, Alligator Heart, through Small Stone on Sept. 10. I was all set to post the bio I wrote for the album with the new single “Banshee w’Me,” but then realized I’d already posted it, so in the name of staving off redundancy, I’ll spare you this time around.
Alligator Heart follows last year’s Small Stone debut, Frogs (review here), and finds von Wieding with a more stripped down approach, his swamp-blues psychedelia emerging less from a kitchen-sink barrage of varying elements than from a consistent, steady run of banjo, guitar, foot-stomp percussion and his own gravely vocals. One as ever for brevity, “Banshee w’Me” is quick to make the point of a burgeoning fascination with pop hooks in Larman Clamor‘s songwriting, and in that, a fitting summary of the stylistic growth von Wieding has undertaken with this latest batch of songs.
More on the record to come, but enjoy the single until then:
Larman Clamor, “Banshee w’Me” from Alligator Heart
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 13th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
German purveyor of swamp-psych-blues Larman Clamor – aka Alexander von Wieding – has announced a Sept. 10 release for its fourth full-length, Alligator Heart. Like last year’s Frogs (review here), it’ll be released by Small Stone, and today the tracklisting and cover art were officially unveiled, and I was lucky enough to get an advanced listen to write the bio to go with the album.
Here’s that bio — in blue even though I wrote it — plus the cover, of course by von Wieding himself, and the tracklisting:
Larman Clamor, Alligator Heart bio
Larman Clamor is throwing a carnival. More of a street fair, really. You’ll find the sky is tinted a greenish yellow watercolor, the air is tepid and wet with humidity, bugs come in swarms, and later, a parade of children on the backs of reptiles will come out of the swamp and march down the crossroad.
Welcome to Alligator Heart.
The third Larman Clamor full-length, Alligator Heart follows on the heels of 2012’s Frogs, 2011’s Altars to Turn Blood and that same year’s debut self-titled EP. It is the most accomplished release to date from the solo-project of Alexander von Wieding – also illustrator for Karma to Burn, Wo Fat, Monster Magnet, Freedom Hawk, Infernal Overdrive and countless others – and like its predecessors, it masterfully captures a swamp-boogie atmosphere, updating blues and rock traditions with a down-home psychedelia that’s alternately creeping and malevolent and raising its hands in upbeat testimony. Based in Hamburg and begun in 2008, Larman Clamor pays a heavy debt to Delta blues (John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, Mississippi Fred MacDowell), but has never sounded so much like itself as on Alligator Heart.
Where Frogs reveled in its post-Tom Waits weirdness and von Wieding’s gravelly vocals, Alligator Heart strips away some of the extras to get at Larman Clamor’s muddy, folkish heart. Short ditties like “Banshee w’Me,” “Done No Good” and “I’m Buildin’ Ruins” stomp and clang as ever, but with surprisingly ripe hooks, and atmospheric pieces like “Sambucus Nigra” and the 16 Horsepower-style banjo echo of “Crow on a Wagon Wheel” show a side of Larman Clamor that’s able to make a case as much with minimalism as with an onslaught of varied elements. Rounding out with “Aether Bound I – Scorched Earth” and “Aether Bound II – Dust & Ghost,” Alligator Heart ultimately shows von Wieding’s most accomplished songwriting to date, and that as he pushes further away from the shore to get swept up in that river’s current, the results are all the more rewarding.
Blending acoustic and electric guitar, simple drums and throaty vocals, Larman Clamor presents an alternate view of tradition and a new take on its own approach. More and more, there’s nothing else that sounds quite like it.
So while you wait on the corner of that crossroad for the parade to go by, just make sure you keep a count of all your fingers. Alligator Heart has a bite with some mean teeth.
Tracklisting: 1. Alligator Heart 2. Banshee W’Me 3. Perdition At Dawn 4. Done No Good 5. Vines Of Yggdrasil 6. Been Cookin’ 7. Sambucus Nigra 8. She Sent Her Hounds 9. I’m Buildin’ Ruins 10. Crow On A Wagon Wheel 11. Aether Bound I – Scorched Earth 12. Aether Bound II – Dust & Ghost
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.