Wrapping up #VinylDay2017

Posted in Features on July 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Grooves and platters galore. My motivation behind doing Vinyl Day 2017 was simple: I felt like listening to records and sharing that process. It was kind of an off-the-cuff thing. Just an idea I had and ran with it. I figure it doesn’t need to be anything more than that, right? Isn’t putting on an album its own excuse for putting on an album? I tend to think so.

And yeah, I made it a hashtag. Because it’s the future, and hashtags. Instagrammaphone and whatnot. I’m a novice at best when it comes to the social medias, but it seems to me that if you’re going to share a full day’s worth of what you’re listening to, that’s the way to do it. So that’s what I did. If I clogged up your feed or whatever and it pissed you off, sorry.

For anyone who might’ve missed it, it turned out to be nine records of various sorts. Here they are, complete with accompanying audio when I could get it, because it’s the age of instant gratification:

There you have it. Had to be Sleep to end it. Pretty awesome day of music on the whole, and whatever was on your playlist yesterday, if it was this stuff or anything else, I hope you enjoyed. I’m gonna call Vinyl Day 2017 a definite win. Thanks for reading.

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audiObelisk Transmission 060

Posted in Podcasts on December 22nd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk podcast 60

Click Here to Download

 

Consider this your usual disclaimer that, like any of this site’s coverage of year-end whatnottery, this podcast is by no means attempting to capture all of 2016’s best tracks. It is, however, over four hours long, and frankly that seems like enough to ask. If you decide to take it on and sample what I found to be some of the best material to come down the line over the last 12 months, please know you have my thanks in advance. For what it’s worth, it was a lot of fun to put together, and that’s not always the case with these.

But about the length. I’ve done double-sized year-end specials for a while now. It’s always just seemed a fair way to go. And the last few at least have been posted the week of the Xmas holiday as well, which for me is of dual significance since it just so happens four hours is right about what it takes to drive from where I live to where my family lives, so when I look at this massive slew of 34 acts, from the riff-led righteousness of Wo Fat and Curse the Son to the crush of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and SubRosa to the psychedelic reaches of Zun and Øresund Space Collective (who probably show up in podcasts more than anyone, oddly enough), I also think of going to see my family, which has become my favorite part of the holidays.

Whatever associations you might draw with it, I very much hope you enjoy listening. Thanks for taking the time.

Track details follow:

First Hour:

0:00:00 Wo Fat, “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind” from Midnight Cometh
0:09:35 Greenleaf, “Howl” from Rise Above the Meadow
0:14:57 Elephant Tree, “Aphotic Blues” from Elephant Tree
0:20:49 Brant Bjork, “The Gree Heen” from Tao of the Devil
0:26:27 Sergio Ch., “El Herrero” from Aurora
0:29:44 Child, “Blue Side of the Collar” from Blueside
0:35:31 Geezer, “Bi-Polar Vortex” from Geezer
0:43:59 Zun, “Come Through the Water” from Burial Sunrise
0:49:27 Baby Woodrose, “Mind Control Machine” from Freedom
0:54:11 Curse the Son, “Hull Crush Depth” from Isolator
0:59:31 Borracho, “Shot down, Banged up, Fade Away” from Atacama

Second Hour:

1:05:50 Scissorfight, “Nature’s Cruelest Mistake” from Chaos County
1:09:19 Truckfighters, “The Contract” from V
1:16:30 Spidergawd, “El Corazon del Sol” from III
1:21:24 Fatso Jetson, “Royal Family” from Idle Hands
1:26:13 Worshipper, “Step Behind” from Shadow Hymns
1:30:57 Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, “Y Proffwyd Dwyll” from Y Proffwyd Dwyll
1:39:42 Druglord, “Regret to Dismember” from Deepest Regrets
1:46:34 Moon Coven, “New Season” from Moon Coven
1:52:03 Gozu, “Tin Chicken” from Revival
1:59:49 Year of the Cobra, “Vision of Three” from …In the Shadows Below

Third Hour:

2:06:53 The Munsens, “Abbey Rose” from Abbey Rose
2:14:56 Lamp of the Universe, “Mu” from Hidden Knowledge
2:21:26 1000mods, “On a Stone” from Repeated Exposure To…
2:26:45 Church of the Cosmic Skull, “Watch it Grow” from Is Satan Real?
2:30:43 Vokonis, “Acid Pilgrim” from Olde One Ascending
2:37:35 Slomatics, “Electric Breath” from Future Echo Returns
2:43:02 Droids Attack, “Sci-Fi or Die” from Sci-Fi or Die
2:47:20 King Buffalo, “Drinking from the River Rising” from Orion
2:56:51 Comet Control, “Artificial Light” from Center of the Maze

Fourth Hour:

3:06:37 Øresund Space Collective, “Above the Corner” from Visions Of…
3:22:51 Naxatras, “Garden of the Senses” from II
3:33:14 SubRosa, “Black Majesty” from For this We Fought the Battle of Ages
3:48:23 Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, “Escape Through the Rift” from Tranquonauts

Total running time: 4:07:32

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 060

 

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The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2016

Posted in Features on December 20th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 30

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2016 to that, please do.

I say this every year: These are my picks. If you’re unfamiliar with this site, or you don’t come here that often, or if you do and just normally don’t give a crap — all of which is cool — you should know it’s all run by one person. One human being. Me. My name is JJ, and this is a list of what I think are the best albums that were released in 2016.

Since before 2016 began, I’ve kept a running list of releases. My criteria for what gets included in this list is largely unchanged — it’s a balance between what I feel are important records on the level of what they achieve, what I listened to most, what held some other personal appeal, and what I think did the best job of meeting the goals it set for itself. Pretty vague, right? That’s the idea.

The nature of worldwide heavy has become so broad that to encompass it all under some universal standard is laughable. Judging psychedelia, garage rock, heavy psych, doom, sludge and so on by the same measure makes no sense, and as genres continue to splinter and remake themselves as we’ve seen them doing all year and over the last several years, one must be malleable in one’s own taste. We’ve seen a new generation of heavy rock bands emerge in the last three-plus years. It’s been amazing, and there are a few pivotal second and third records that came out in 2016 to affirm that movement underway. Look for it to continue into 2017 and beyond.

This year more than any other seemed to want to bring the different sides together. A laudable goal. Thick riffing marked with flourish of psychedelia. Spacious doom bred against folk impulses. There’s been experimentation around melds that have led to considerable triumphs, and it just doesn’t seem to me that rigid standards can apply. It’s why I don’t grade reviews and never did.

Sound is evolving now as it always has been and as it will keep doing, but like any year, 2016 had a full share of landmarks to offer as a part of that process. As universal development hopefully remains ongoing, it’s only right that we celebrate the accomplishments helping to push it along its winding and sometimes divergent-seeming paths.

I have no doubt you know what I mean. Let’s get to the list:

30. Talmud Beach, Chief

talmud beach chief

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

Seems only fair to start with a record I couldn’t put down. Finnish trio Talmud Beach‘s second album and Svart debut, Chief, hit on just the right blend of laid back, semi-acoustic groove-blues, psychedelia and classic progressive folk rock, but with the exception of its sprawling dreamscape title-track (a welcome arrival at the finale), it also kept the songwriting simple, resulting in a natural, pastoral feel that only highlighted their melodic range in songs like “Mountain Man” and “Snow Snow Snow.” I think it flew under a lot of people’s radar, but I’ve kept going back to it over the course of the year and I see no reason to stop.

29. Comet Control, Center of the Maze

comet control center of the maze

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed June 22.

Space is still the place. I’ve already highlighted closer “Artificial Light” from Comet Control‘s sophomore LP, Center of the Maze as my favorite song of 2016, so I’ll spare you the longwinded treatise on its languid cosmic glories — this time — but consider this a reminder that that song was by no means the limit of what the eight-track release had to offer in terms of breadth. From the opening push of “Dig out Your Head” to the dream-drift of “Sick in Space,” it unfolded tonal presence and a melodic depth that engaged a gorgeous, multifaceted sonic wash as it moved onward toward that landmark conclusion.

28. Droids Attack, Sci-Fi or Die

droids attack sci-fi or die

Self-released. Reviewed Feb. 17.

There was not a level on which Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack didn’t make it clear they were going all-out, all-in on Sci-Fi or Die. Even the title speaks to the stakes involved. And sure enough, the trio executed their fourth album with a sense of urgency and professionalism in songcraft, production, artwork (discussed here) and nuance of presentation that managed to make even a song called “Clawhammer Suicide” a classy affair. As guitarist/vocalist Brad Van said on the hidden title-track, “Death to false stoner thrash.” Droids Attack brought that ethic and more to life across the entire record.

27. Beelzefuzz, The Righteous Bloom

beelzefuzz the righteous bloom

Released by Restricted Release and The Church Within. Reviewed Aug. 2.

A winding road brought Beelzefuzz around to following up their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), and as The Righteous Bloom brought guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt and drummer Darin McCloskey together with bassist Bert Hall and lead guitarist Greg Diener, it found their songwriting more expansive, more progressive and dug further into their own particular oddball sense of grandeur. I’ve said on multiple occasions that no one out there is doing what Beelzefuzz are doing and that continues to be true. Even as a first offering from a new lineup of the band, The Righteous Bloom took bold and exciting forward steps.

26. Foghound, The World Unseen

foghound the world unseen

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed July 6.

Down to business. Immediately. Not a moment to spare. Taking part in what can only be considered a landmark year for Ripple Music, Baltimore’s Foghound issued The World Unseen as an answer to their 2013 debut, Quick, Dirty and High (review here), and upped their game across the board. From the intensity in the hooks of “Message in the Sky” and Rockin’ and Rollin'” to the quiet interlude of “Bridge of Stonebows” and the mid-paced heavy rock nod of “Never Return,” they made a strong case for themselves among their label’s foremost acts and found individualism in the growth of their songwriting. It was a kick in the ass you weren’t going to forget.

25a. Egypt, Endless Flight

egypt endless flight

Released by Doomentia Records. Reviewed Dec. 11, 2015.

Put out by the band digitally in Dec. 2015 and issued on vinyl in 2016, Egypt‘s second LP, Endless Flight may be somewhat debatable in terms of when it actually landed (hence “25a.,” above), but the quality of the six-tracker more than warrants inclusion anyway. Rolling dense, massively-fuzzed groove, its nine-minute opening title-track set the course for the Fargo, North Dakota, three-piece, and they only grew the heavy revelry from there, as heard on the penultimate “Black Words,” which seemed to be chewing on rocks even as it played back and forth in tempo, build and push. The converted never had it so good.

25. 1000mods, Repeated Exposure To…

1000mods repeated exposure to

Released by Ouga Booga and the Mighty Oug Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 20.

There seems to be no stopping the Chiliomodi-based 1000mods, who with their third album have stepped to the forefront of Greece’s populous and vibrant heavy rock underground. Progressed well beyond where even 2014’s impressive Vultures (review here) found them, they seemed to hit a stride with Repeated Exposure To… thanks in part to road time and the ability to bring that energy directly into songs like the eight-minute roller “Loose” and the sizable crashes of “Groundhog Day.” Momentum working in their favor could be heard front-to-back from “Above 179” to “Into the Spell,” moving them toward something ever-more crucial and marking a considerable achievement along that path. 2017 might be a good time for them to test the waters with initial US shows.

24. Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy

black rainbows stellar prophecy

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed April 11.

Quick turnaround from Roman heavy psych magnate Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) and company, but though it hit just about 13 months after their fourth full-length, Hawkdope (review here), Black Rainbows, Stellar Prophecy wholly succeeded in making an impact of its own, cuts like the oozing, organ-laced “Woman” and 11-minute jam-out triumph “Golden Widow” showcasing an approach in a continuous state of refinement that seems to get rawer as it goes, shifting like a rogue planetoid toward some maddening cosmic realization. How something can seem both so frenetic and so blissful is still a mystery, and perhaps that’s part of what makes Stellar Prophecy resonate as it does, but either way, Black Rainbows brought together some of the year’s most efficient psychedelic immersion.

23. Borracho, Atacama

borracho atacama

Released by Kozmik Artifactz. Reviewed Nov. 14.

Borracho don’t seem to release an album until they have something to say. That was to their credit on Atacama, their third LP and label debut for Kozmik Artifactz debut. Also their second collection issued as a trio behind 2013’s Oculus (review here), it distinguished itself from its predecessor in its sense of overarching flow, shifting between the ahead-thrust of “Gold from Sand” into the 10-minute sample-laden jam “Overload” to start out with such ease that the listener had little choice but to follow along. With an expanded scope on “Drifted away from the Sun” and the lightly-strummed memento mori “Flower,” Borracho found new avenues of expression to complement their well established dense, heavy riffing, and took obvious care in crafting their most realized LP yet.

22. The Golden Grass, Coming Back Again

the golden grass coming back again

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed April 26.

Nothing Brooklyn’s The Golden Grass does feels like happenstance, and though their classic-styled boogie is imbued with a vibrant, friendly positive energy, there’s an underlying meticulousness in their arrangements and in their songwriting that came further into focus on Coming Back Again, their sophomore release 2014’s self-titled debut (review here). A more progressive take showed itself in “Reflections” and “Down the Line,” and taken in combination with the bookends “Get it Together” and “See it Through,” the three-piece stood on ground that was even more their own than on the first record, striking a careful balance between the willful exploration of new elements and the outright need for tracks to directly engage their listeners with catchy hooks and upbeat vibes. They did it. Expect continued growth.

21. Curse the Son, Isolator

curse the son isolator

Released by Snake Charmer Coalition and The Company Records. Reviewed March 1.

For something so awash in fuzz, so nodding in its rhythms, so let’s-push-the-vocals-back-under-this-huge-awesome-fucking-riff, Curse the Son‘s Isolator was also remarkably clearheaded in its purposes. With the added vocal harmonies of “Callous Unemotional Traits,” the far-off spaces of “Hull Crush Depth” and the stoner metal despair of “Aislamiento,” the Connecticut three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore, capital-‘d’ Drummer Michael Petrucci and newcomer bassist Brendan Keefe drew a direct, intentional line to sometimes-grueling (hello, “Sleepwalker Wakes”) weighted tonality and found justification for their largesse in its own being. Like 2012’s Psychache (review here), I expect to be returning to Isolator over a longer term than this single year of release.

20. Neurosis, Fires Within Fires

neurosis fires within fires

Released by Neurot Recordings. Reviewed Sept. 21.

I feel like I need to explain myself here. Make no mistake, NeurosisFires Within Fires is among the year’s most accomplished offerings. There’s just about no way it wouldn’t be. So why not top 10? Top five? It’s a question of timing. With the long-running post-metal progenitors, it’s always a longer digestion period. It was about two years before 2012’s Honor Found in Decay (review here) really sunk in, and I expect Fires Within Fires will work similarly over the greater term. Maybe a little guilt on my part for the disparity between its quality and its placement, but rest assured, Neurosis remain among the most imperative bands walking the earth, and as they took on the full brunt of 30 years of unmitigated progression through Fires Within Fires, they were no less brazen in pushing themselves creatively than they’ve ever been.

19. Conan, Revengeance

conan revengeance

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Jan. 19.

Though the narrative of Conan has remained largely unchanged since their inception — hack, slash, kill, riff — and they still bask in nigh-on-unmatched tonal slaughter, their third full-length brings a few key developments. Perhaps most notable from opener “Throne of Fire” onward is the vocal interplay between guitarist/founder Jon Davis and bassist/longtime-engineer Chris Fielding, who joined after 2014’s Blood Eagle (review here). Adding Fielding‘s deeper growls allowed Davis to subtly move into a cleaner shout, and the emergent dynamic between them made Revengeance a decidedly expanded affair compared to Conan‘s past work. Adding drummer Rich Lewis to the mix was no minor shift either, and as much as Conan had already established their sheer dominance, they also sounded refreshed and set themselves up to keep growing.

18. Baby Woodrose, Freedom

baby woodrose freedom

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Aug. 18.

Some records just feel like gifts, and though many of its lyrical positions were cynical — “Reality,” “21st Century Slave,” “Mind Control Machine,” “Red the Sign Post,” etc. — Freedom marked the 15th anniversary of Danish garage-psych rockers Baby Woodrose with dripping lysergic aplomb, reminding some four years after their last LP, 2012’s Third Eye Surgery (review here), that bandleader Lorenzo Woodrose is unparalleled when it comes to manifesting his take on the psychedelic victories of 13th Floor Elevators and classic-era Hawkwind — firmly at home levitating on the edge of time. Its swirl and underlying foundation of songwriting, its Richie Havens cover title-track, and its sprawling interstellar “Termination” were like a welcome check-in from another dimension, and I only hope it’s not four years before Woodrose sends the next signal. Earth needs this band.

17. Geezer, Geezer

geezer geezer

Released by Ripple Music and STB Records. Reviewed Nov. 10.

I’m not going to discount the shuffle of “Sunday Speed Demon” or sleeze of “Sunday Speed Demon,” but where Geezer‘s self-titled third full-length really showed how far the New York heavy blues-psych trio have come was in its extended midsection jams, “Sun Gods,” “Bi-Polar Vortex” and “Dust,” each of which showed a distinct approach while feeding into an engaging flow between them, offering a blend of trailmarker hooks as they drifted into realms of organic chemistry previously uncharted by the band. The slow-motion swing of “Hangnail Crisis,” raucous push of “Superjam Maximus” and concluding bounce of “Stoney Pony” brought them back down to earth to finish out with a symmetry to the album’s opening, but Geezer kept a collective hand on the controls the whole voyage and when they landed, it was an arrival indeed, and very much what their two previous records were building toward.

16. EYE, Vision and the Ageless Light

eye vision and the ageless light

Released by The Laser’s Edge. Reviewed Nov. 17.

Beautifully experimental with its 27-minute finisher “As Sure as the Sun,” EYE‘s Vision and the Ageless Light seemed throughout its whole 46-minute run to be executing a cohesive vision in its synth-soaked progressive textures. Between the intro “Book of the Dead” and the subsequent “Kill the Slavemaster,” “Searching,” “Dweller of the Twilight Void” and the already-noted closer, each piece had something different to offer that added to the full impact of the whole, and with guitarist Jon Finely and bassist Michael Sliclen joining founding drummer/vocalist Brandon Smith and synth/Mellotron/Moog-ist Lisa Bella Donna (also vocals and acoustic guitar), EYE added to the scope of 2013’s Second Sight (review here) and found a place for themselves where prog complexity didn’t need to come at the expense of memorable songwriting and spaced-out vibes. An absolute joy, front to back.

15. Fatso Jetson, Idle Hands

fatso jetson idle hands

Released by Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed Oct. 3.

Even Fatso Jetson themselves would probably have to admit that six years — even a six years that saw several splits, singles, etc. — was too long between albums. Fortunately, Idle Hands saw the desert rock forebears in top form as regards their quirk-fueled songwriting, angular approach to punk and inimitable groove. Following 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here) was no easy task, but with additional depth to the material from the contributions of guitarist Dino von Lalli — son of founding guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli and nephew of founding bassist Larry Lalli — guest spots from his sister Olive Lalli as well as Sean Wheeler (the latter moves second cut “Portuguese Dream” into high-echelon strangeness) and the ever-propulsive drumming of Tony Tornay, Fatso Jetson were both all over the place and right at the core of where they most ought to be sonically. At 56 minutes, it hardly seemed long enough.

14. Hexvessel, When We are Death

hexvessel when we are death

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Feb. 5.

Each song was like a different persona the band adopted momentarily, whether it was the Bowie-goes-proto-goth-prog of organ-ic opener “Transparent Eyeball” or the grim pastoralia of “Mirror Boy” and the condemnations/proclamations of “Drugged up on the Universe,” but wherever Hexvessel went on their third full-length and Century Media debut, When We are Death, that unifying theme went with them. Death. It was everywhere in the Finland-based genre-benders’ deeply varied approach, though its presence made their material in no way off-putting, and in the case of cuts like “Cosmic Truth” or the later “Mushroom Spirit Doors,” not even dark, and as it drew the tracks together despite working in different sounds and style, it became apparent that When We are Death worked because of a universal quality in songwriting and presentation allowing for such drastic shifts without any risk of losing the audience.

13. Zun, Burial Sunrise

zun burial sunrise

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Feb. 16.

Yawning Man guitarist Gary Arce — a key figure in the development of desert rock and a player of unmatched tone, period — had quite a year, between Zun‘s Burial Sunrise, his main outfit and his collaboration with Fatso Jetson vs. HifiKlub, but it was the dreamscape drift of songs like “Come Through the Water” and “All that You Say I Am” as well as the subtle hooks of “Into the Wasteland” and “All for Nothing” that, for me, made this the highlight. Sure, bringing in vocalists Sera Timms (Ides of Gemini, Black Mare) and John Garcia (ex-Kyuss, Slo Burn, Vista Chino, etc.) and having them swap back and forth between the tracks didn’t hurt either, but the wash of ethereal presence in Arce‘s guitar was an excellent showcase for his patience and improvisational sensibilities, and the spaces Burial Sunrise covered seemed to have an infinite horizon all their own. Will hope for a follow-up, will hope Garcia and Timms return, and will hope for a duet.

12. Elephant Tree, Elephant Tree

elephant tree elephant tree

Released by Magnetic Eye Records. Reviewed Jan. 29.

One had reasonably high expectations for the debut full-length from London’s Elephant Tree after their 2014 EP Theia (review here) so deftly blended spacious, sitar-laced heavy psychedelic rock with more visceral sludge impulses — a difficult mix to pull off — but I think it would’ve been impossible to see the quality of this self-titled outing coming in any substantive way. Gone were the screams, in was a depth of tone and nigh-on-perfect tempo — see “Dawn” and “Aphotic Blues,” as well as the acoustic “Circles” between them — and where some first albums have a kind of tentative, feeling-it-out vibe, guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley (interview here), bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, drummer Sam Hart and sitarist/vocalist/engineer Riley MacIntyre took utter command of the proceedings. They won’t have the element of surprise working for them next time, but as Elephant Tree made perfectly clear in its biggest surprise of all, neither do they need it.

11. Mos Generator, Abyssinia

mos generator abyssinia

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed July 12.

If you were to ask me to summarize in one word the last four-plus years of Mos Generator‘s tenure, since their reactivation with 2012’s Nomads (review here) and the subsequent lineup changes and hard-touring that followed 2014’s Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), I’d say “go.” I might say it three times: Go-go-go. One of three LP-ish offerings out this year, the studio album Abyssinia embodied this ethic as it started with immediate momentum on “Strangest Times” and “You’ve Got a Right” and seemed to push itself into new ground as it went. Guitarist/vocalist/founder Tony Reed brought heavy boogie to bear at a frenetic clip, but Abyssinia offset its early mania with later progressive stylization on “There’s No Return from Nowhere,” “Time and Other Thieves” and harmonized closer “Outlander,” so that in addition to representing their furious creativity, it also brought them to places they’ve never been before in sound.

10. Slomatics, Future Echo Returns

slomatics future echo returns

Released by Black Bow Records. Reviewed June 29.

In some ways, Future Echo Returns was simply picking up where Belfast’s Slomatics left off with 2014’s Estron (review here), as heard on the riff of lead-in track “Estronomicon,” but as the third in a purported trilogy following that record and 2012’s A Hocht, it also brought the tonecrushing three-piece to Skyhammer Studio to work with producer Chris Fielding (Conan) and presented a linear storyline that, while rife with standout moments in cuts like “Electric Breath,” the ambient “Ritual Beginnings” and ultra-catchy “Supernothing,” found a genuine sense of resolution in the finale “Into the Eternal” that spoke to the scope the entire work was meant to represent — not just itself, but an entirety spanning three albums. Not a minor feat, but what also made Future Echo Returns so resonant was how well the material stood on its own, so that even without the narrative context, it was immersive, hypnotic and unbridled in its heft.

9. Wo Fat, Midnight Cometh

wo fat midnight cometh

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed April 21.

After two landmarks issued by Small Stone in 2014’s The Conjuring (review here) and 2012’s The Black Code (reviews here and here), Texas forerunners of riff Wo Fat gave a concise rundown of their appeal in the six-track Ripple debut and sixth LP overall, Midnight Cometh. Their ongoing development as found them bringing together a two-sided personality of memorable songs and open, fluid jams, and cuts like “There’s Something Sinister in the Wind,” “Of Smoke and Fog,” “Three Minutes to Midnight” and “Nightcomer” emphasized the next stage of this process, while the shuffling “Riffborn” and swaggering blues rock of “La Dilleme de Detenu” gave listeners a chance to touch ground every now and again. Over the last two-plus years, Wo Fat have become a point of influence for other, particularly American, acts — see labelmates Geezer — and Midnight Cometh assured that will be the case going forward too; a status well-earned.

8. King Buffalo, Orion

king buffalo orion

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed July 29.

Offered up this summer as a limited self-release and picked up by no less than Stickman Records (Motorpsycho, Elder), Orion might be the most molten inclusion on this list. It’s also my pick for 2016 Debut of the Year, and to hear cuts like “She Sleeps on a Vine,” “Kerosene,” the sprawling closer “Drinking from the River Rising,” or even just to take the whole record front-to-back, which was clearly how the band intended it be experienced, there’s just about no competition in that regard that stands up. The Rochester, NY, three-piece showed marked promise on their 2013 demo (review here) and 2015 split with Lé Betre (review here), but the listenability of Orion — which earned every single one of its repeat visits — made it a triumph on a different level entirely, and distinguished King Buffalo as a formidable presence in the sphere of US heavy psychedelia, fostering a sound no less soulful for its outward cosmic reach and to-be-measured-in-lightyears scale of potential.

7. Wight, Love is Not Only What You Know

wight love is not only what you know

Released by Fat and Holy Records, Kozmik Artifactz, Import Export Music and SPV. Reviewed Sept. 7.

German outfit Wight answered significant anticipation on their third album, Love is Not Only What You Know, some four years after 2012’s Through the Woods into Deep Water (review here) and undertook a significant evolution in sound. A transition from a trio to a four-piece and adding a strong current of funk to their heavy psych groove and boogie resulted in cuts like “The Muse and the Mule,” the jammed-out “Kelele” and “The Love for Life Leads to Reincarnation,” which were as danceable as they were nod-ready, and when complemented by shorter classic rockers like “Helicopter Mama” and “I Wanna Know What You Feel” (still plenty funky) and the Eastern-tinged interlude “Three Quarters,” gave Love is Not Only What You Know scope to match its ass-shaking encouragement. It was a spirit unto itself among 2016 releases, but ultimately, the key to understanding the record was right there in the title: It was all about love, and wherever Wight went in a given track, they never lost sight of that.

6. Greenleaf, Rise Above the Meadow

greenleaf rise above the meadow

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Feb. 18.

A decade and a half after 2001’s Revolution Rock (discussed here), Sweden’s Greenleaf most embodied that ethic with Rise Above the Meadow, their sixth long-player and Napalm Records debut. 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here) represented the key step of founding guitarist Tommi Holappa (interview here) bringing vocalist Arvid Johnsson into the lineup, but Rise Above the Meadow built exponentially on what that album achieved, bolstered by work as a touring band and a revitalized songwriting process heard in “Howl,” “A Million Fireflies,” “You’re Gonna be My Ruin,” the stomping “Golden Throne” and “Tyrants Tongue,” among others. I refuse to discount the quality of Trails and Passes, 2012’s Nest of Vipers (review here) or 2007’s landmark Agents of Ahriman (review here), but as Greenleaf shifted toward a style more reminiscent of Holappa‘s later output with Dozer, they also seemed to stake their claim on the forefront of European heavy rock and roll, which was just waiting for them to do so.

5. Brant Bjork, Tao of the Devil

brant bjork tao of the devil

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 15.

Perhaps the most believable lyric of 2016 was the opening line of leadoff cut “The Gree Heen” from Brant Bjork‘s Tao of the Devil: “I got all that I need. I got the gree-heen.” From the prominent pot leaf on the cover to that single clause — which set the tone for that song’s mega-nod as much as everything that followed in the boogie of “Humble Pie” and “Stackt,” the so-laid-back-it’s-almost-unconscious title-track and the longer-form explorations of “Dave’s War” and the wah’ed-out “Evening Jam” — the inimitable Bjork seems to have embraced the role of stoner guru and the Godfather of Desert Rock. Tao of the Devil was his second release through Napalm behind 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here), which introduced the Low Desert Punk Band, and far from hanging its hat on the man’s historical accomplishments from his days in KyussFu ManchuCheVista Chino, etc., the 50-minute eight-tracker came fueled by the soul most typified in Bjork‘s solo catalog, which it’s increasingly easy to argue is his greatest contribution to the desert aesthetic. Definitely in his wheelhouse, but what a wheelhouse.

4. Asteroid, III

asteroid iii

Released by Fuzzorama Records. Reviewed Oct. 21.

What a relief it was to have Asteroid back, and what a relief it was to have III arrive some six years after II (review here) and find the Örebro, Sweden, trio’s certified-organic chemistry undulled by that long stretch. The songs — “Pale Moon,” “Last Days,” “Til Dawn,” “Wolf and Snake,” “Silver and Gold,” “Them Calling,” “Mr. Strange” — there wasn’t a miss in the bunch, and in addition to the reignited craftsmanship, III made clear a progression as players and the intent to move forward from guitarist/vocalist Robin Hirse, bassist/vocalist Johannes Nilsson and drummer Elvis Campbell (since replaced by Jimmi Kolscheen), so that the material didn’t just let listeners know Asteroid was a band again after having unceremoniously faded out for a half-decade, but gave a signal that perhaps they were just getting started. One can only hope that turns out to be the case, but either way, III felt like a reward dolled out to their fanbase after a long absent stretch, and one that, like II and their 2007 self-titled debut (discussed here) before it, will reverberate its echoes for years to come. Hands down 2016’s most welcome return.

3. Gozu, Revival

gozu revival

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed May 19.

Though it would carry the context of its scorching opener “Nature Boy” with it for the duration and, accordingly, hit with a more intense feel than its 2013 predecessor, The Fury of a Patient Man (review here), Gozu‘s fourth album overall and Ripple label debut was a kick in the ass on more than just that one level. It found the Boston foursome with the finally-solidified lineup of vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard, and while one could argue they still wound up under the banner of a heavy rock band, that became happenstance to the songs themselves. That is, even more than The Fury of a Patient Man or 2010’s Locust Season (review here), Gozu came across as writing not to style, but to their own impulses, as demonstrated in “Big Casino,” the echoing soul of “Tin Chicken” and shuffle-thrust of “Oldie,” and as they moved beyond their initial swath of influence into this individualized sonic persona, they reaped the benefits of the locked-in lineup and a process of craft that never sounded so purposeful. Revival was indeed typified by its vitality, but it was also the sound of a band maturing as a unit, becoming who they were meant to be, and there is almost nothing more exciting than that for a single album to represent. Plus, it had a song called “By Mennen,” and, you know, references.

2. Mars Red Sky, Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul)

mars red sky apex iii praise for the burning soul

Released by Listenable Records. Reviewed Feb. 24.

It was unreasonable to expect the third full-length from Bordeaux, France, trio Mars Red Sky to surpass 2014’s Stranded in Arcadia (review here) and the progressive crux that album brought to the warm tones and sweet melodicism of their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but Apex III (Praise for the Burning Soul) reinforced the elements that worked so well on previous outings while pushing inarguably onto what the band seemed to know was “Alien Ground” if the title of their intro was anything to go by. More over, it did so with a natural fluidity and poise that were as striking as they were encompassing in sound. Tying to earlier 2016’s Providence EP (review here) in concept and execution through that intro and the title-track following it, Apex III presented the to-date pinnacle of Mars Red Sky‘s growth in songs like “The Whinery,” “Mindreader,” the tear-inducing “Under the Hood,” the swing-happy “Friendly Fire,” the willful atmospheric crash of closer “Prodigal Sun” — each one a crucial advancing step from the trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Mathieu “Matgaz” Gazeau — and brilliantly fed them one into the other, so that in addition to the standout impressions of each, there developed a personality to the whole span of the album; a world of Mars Red Sky‘s own creation, where they dwelt for what seemed too short a time before returning to earth and on from here to who knows where next.

1. SubRosa, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages

subrosa for this we fought the battle of ages

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Aug. 26.

Most of all, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages was fearless. For their fourth album, Salt Lake City’s SubRosa adapted themes from 1924’s We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which laid out a futuristic dystopia wherein all identity is subsumed to the state and even love is outlawed when not properly sanctioned. This framework, obscure if influential, gave guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer/engineer Andy Patterson (formerly of Iota, among others), and a range of other contributors, a space in which to explore gender and LGBT issues across the six included tracks, and from the opening build and crush of the chorus to “Despair is a Siren” through the depiction of privilege in “Wound of the Warden,” the 97-second Italian-language ballad “Il Cappio” (translated: “the noose”) and into the gut-wrenching finale of “Troubled Cells,” their musical accomplishment was no less stunning than lyrics like, “Isn’t it good to be acquainted with darkness?/To caress it gently/To slit its throat,” from “Black Majesty.” Tense in its quiet stretches, harmonized vocally, given orchestral presence through its use of strings, flute, French horn, and so on, For this We Fought the Battle of Ages worked fluidly in what for most acts would be a contradictory modus of careful, meticulous arrangements and raw, emotional realism. No matter how deep it dove — and by the time identity was being erased and the state was taking control of the body on “Killing Rapture,” it was diving pretty deep — SubRosa never lost their sense of poise, so that the defiance in the last movement of “Troubled Cells” in which Heaven itself is rejected with the clearest of justifications, “Paradise is a lie if you’re not by my side,” the band seemed to stand as straight and tall as their multi-tiered righteousness would warrant. But even if one took For this We Fought the Battle of Ages with politics aside, its achievement in marrying post-metallic structures, gothic texture and progressive atmospherics was on a plane of its own making, operating under its own rules and in its own definitive space. Albums like it do not happen every year, and forward motion for genre as a whole is rarely so visible as it was in this special offering, which seems only fair to regard as a landmark for the band and anyone whose ears and hearts it touched.

The Next 20

Like any good Top 30, mine goes to 50. Here is the next batch:

31. Blaak Heat, Shifting Mirrors
32. Truckfighters, V
33. West, Space & Love, Vol. II
34. Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts
35. Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti
36. Causa Sui, Return to Sky
37. Vokonis, Olde One Ascending
38. Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Phantomonium
39. The Wounded Kings, Visions in Bone
40. It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting
41. Beastwars, The Death of all Things
42. Naxatras, II
43. Holy Grove, Holy Grove
44. Worshipper, Shadow Hymns
45. Wretch, Wretch
46. Colour Haze, Live Vol. I: Europa Tournee 2015
47. Zaum, Eidolon
48. Bellringer, Jettison
49. Young Hunter, Young Hunter
50. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Y Proffwyd Dwyll

From the kinetic desert artistry of Blaak Heat to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s ethereal synth-laden doom, there are more than a few essentials here. I’ve never before done a year-end list that had so many releases on it, but my motivation in doing so this time around couldn’t have been simpler: They were simply too good and had too much to offer to leave out. It would’ve been an oversight to do so.

Honorable Mentions

Even a Top 50 fails to grasp the full scope of what 2016 brought about musically, so here are even more, alphabetically:

Ancient Warlocks, II
Black Moon Circle, Sea of Clouds
Sergio Ch., Aurora
Lamp of the Universe, Hidden Knowledge
Mondo Drag, The Occultation of Light
Øresund Space Collective, Visions Of…
-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth
Spidergawd, III
The Well, Pagan Science
Wovenhand, Star Treatment

And if that’s still not enough, here are 60-plus more names who shouldn’t be left out of the discussion, also alphabetically:

Akris, Atala, Atomikylä, Backwoods Payback, Beastmaker, BigPig, Black Cobra, Black Lung, Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Bright Curse, Bus, Dee Calhoun, Captain Crimson, Child, La Chinga, Church of Misery, Conclave, Cough, Devil to Pay, Domkraft, Dot Legacy, Electric Citizen, Estoner, Eternal Elysium, Fatso Jetson & Gary Arce vs. Hifiklub, Fox 45, Goatess, Goblin Cock, Graves at Sea, Heavy Temple (they’ll be back on next year’s list), High Fighter, Holy Serpent, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Inter Arma, Joy, Kaleidobolt, Khemmis, King Dead, Lord, Lord Vicar, Merchant, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Helen Money, Monkey3, Moon Coven, Mother Mooch, Necro, New Keepers of the Water Towers, T.G. Olson, Oranssi Pazuzu, Pooty Owldom, Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Samavayo, Seremonia, Skuggsjá, Sourvein, Spirit Adrift, Stone Machine Electric, Suma, Surya Kris Peters, Swans, Throttlerod, Virus, Wasted Theory, Wretch, and Zaum.

Thank You

In case none of the above has made it clear, I’ll just say flat out that 2016 has been an amazing year for music, and that every time I feel like maybe underground heavy has hit a wall and there’s nowhere left for it to go, sure enough about three minutes later another record shows up that slaps me in the face with a reminder of just how wrong that notion is.

If you’re still reading — how could you be? — thank you so much for your incredible support throughout 2016 and all the years The Obelisk has been in progress. I already know that 2017 is going to bring some incredible music as well, but that’s another list for another time, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciate your being a part of this ongoing project, how much it means to me to have you here. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

And please, if there’s anything I forgot, got wrong, misspelled, or if you just think I used the word “breadth” too many times, please let me know about it in the comments.

One more time: Thank you.

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Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell, Tranquonauts: Gleam in the Rift

Posted in Reviews on November 1st, 2016 by JJ Koczan

seedy-jeezus-with-isaiah-mitchell-tranquonauts

Plucked from out of the cosmic ether and joining forces for Tranquonauts — maybe the name of the band, definitely the name of the album, possibly also the name of the sleepiest ’80s Saturday morning cartoon ever ported from Japan in order to sell action figures — the pairing of Melbourne heavy psych rockers Seedy Jeezus and Isaiah Mitchell isn’t overbearingly obvious. It’s not like the Earthless/Golden Void guitarist and the Aussie trio of guitarist/noisemaker/graphic artist Lex Waterreus, bassist Paul Crick and drummer Mark Sibson hang out on weekends, what with living on different continents at all.

Together with keyboardist Matt Murphy, the collaborative unit Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell execute two 20-minute instrumental vinyl sides, flowing and jammy-feeling, with a story told in seven words across the two titles “The Vanishing Earth” and “Escape Through the Rift.” Hard to be more concise than that, and for two tracks — which check in at 19:57 (opening with the longest song; immediate points) and 19:17, respectively — given to such open-feeling flow and which show no concern with getting anywhere other than as far out as they can go, presumably through that rift, that efficiency speaks to some underlying purpose.

When the release of Tranquonauts through Blown Music and Lay Bare Recordings was announced here, the B-side had a different title, “King of the Lepers,” so it’s not as if these things have been thrown together haphazardly, and the same goes for the sonic makeup of the tracks themselves. While the prevailing vibe drips from being so coated in lysergic ooze, there always remains a sense of intention behind the interstellar exploration in these pieces.

That’s impressive on its own, but becomes even more so when one factors in that Tranquonauts was recorded on two separate continents as well, with Waterreus, Crick, Sibson and Murphy working in Melbourne and Mitchell in California. The two groups have some history together, having shared a stage at Freak Valley in Germany on separate Earthless and Seedy Jeezus European tours and met there, but for not having actually gotten in a room to play, “The Vanishing Earth” and “Escape Through the Rift” are remarkably cohesive, with Murphy‘s keys adding Woo-esque flourish beneath washes of lead guitar early in the opener, bass and drums ensuring the structural integrity of the material remains intact even as it seems most likely to come flying apart later on.

Sibson and Crick turn in showcase performances on both “The Vanishing Earth” and “Escape Through the Rift,” the latter of which begins with a description of a peyote trip sampled by Waterreus. Not so much for the flash in their playing, but for the class of it, how they balance pushing the jams forward with giving the guitars room to ride out the extended solos as the keys bring an added sense of dynamics and melody.

seedy-jeezus-with-isaiah-mitchell-tranquonauts-back-cover

Likewise, the mix — Waterreus edited, Jason Fuller mixed and mastered — is gorgeous. “The Vanishing Earth” consumes with its depth, emphasizing the hypnotic repetitions at play, but it never gets boring or seems to lose its direction. The guitars step back late in the opener to some degree, and keys and effects come forward in a building wash that seems to signal the approaching end, and they ultimately finish quietly, setting up the drift to come on side B as the patient beginning of “Escape Through the Rift” gets underway following and coinciding with the aforementioned sample.

Here again, Murphy‘s keys shine, but the jazzy bass and guitar interplay accompanying isn’t to be undervalued. As one might expect, the two inclusions on Tranquonauts flow together pretty well — there’s no way they couldn’t given their makeup, frankly, unless the record was a complete failure — but there are distinctions in personality between them nonetheless. The opener takes a more active approach, has more push, particularly in its second half, while the closer holds to its subdued swirl into its organ-laced midsection and beyond, feeling even more psychedelic for it.

Granted, as they move through minute 14 and beyond, the freakout emerges until finally layers of what sounds like jet engines overhead bring the song to its conclusion, but even that is a gradual process — you’ll note a kick in the pace of Sibson‘s drums at 15:39 — and in the context of the prior jam, it feels like a natural progression from one to the other. Guitars and keys get fairly maddened by the end of “Escape Through the Rift,” but one assumes our heroes the Tranquonauts make it just in the nick of time and live to battle the forces of, what, squares?, for another day on some other planet, as amp noise rounds out the ending of the LP bearing the same name.

From Waterreus‘ holy-crap-inducing gatefold artwork, to the deluxe edition of the LP including a heavy rock-themed board game, to of course the songs that comprise it, Tranquonauts is a record that’s so clearly driven by the love of its creation that, if one can get down at all on the most basic level, it’s hard not to be won over by it. Will this be the first and only adventure of Seedy Jeezus with Isaiah Mitchell under the Tranquonauts banner? Seedy Jeezus served as the backing band for Mitchell‘s recent solo tour of Australia, so it would seem the plot only continues to thicken. If this is a one-off, though, it’s one bound to be treasured by those fortunate enough to snag it while the snagging’s good.

Tranquonauts, “The Vanishing Earth Pt. III

Seedy Jeezus website

Seedy Jeezus on Thee Facebooks

Isaiah Mitchell on Thee Facebooks

Isaiah Mitchell website

Earthless on Thee Facebooks

Seedy Jeezus webstore

Burning World Records webstore

Blown Music on Thee Facebooks

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Quarterly Review: Monolord, Teacher, Rosy Finch, Holy Mountain Top Removers, Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band, Swan Valley Heights, Cambrian Explosion, Haunted, Gods & Punks, Gaia

Posted in Reviews on October 4th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

the-obelisk-fall-2016-quarterly-review

Day Two starts now. I don’t know if you’re ready for it. I don’t know if I’m ready for it. Ah hell, who am I kidding? I love this stuff. No place I’d rather be right now than pounding out these reviews, batch by batch, all week. This one gets heavy, it goes far out, it rocks hard and relentless and it gets atmospheric. And more. But don’t let me try to sell you on reading it. Even if you skim through and click on players, I hope you find something you dig. If not today, then yesterday, or tomorrow or the next day. Or hell, maybe the day after. It’s 50 records. There’s bound to be one in there. Here we go.

Quarterly Review #11-20:

Monolord, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze

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A relatively quick two-songer issued via RidingEasy to mark the occasion of the Swedish trio’s first US headlining tour this summer, Lord of Suffering / Die in Haze offers a more stripped-down feel than did Monolord’s second full-length, Vænir (review here), which came out last year. The roll elicited by guitarist/vocalist Thomas V. Jäger, drummer Esben Willems and bassist Mika Häkki, however, remains unspeakably thick and the band’s intent toward largesse and nod continues to ring true. They’re in and out in 11 minutes, but the ethereal, watery vocal style of Jäger and the more earthbound pummel of the three-piece as a whole on “Lord of Suffering” and the grueling spaciousness of “Die in Haze” – not to mention the bass tone – show that Monolord are only continuing to come into their own sound-wise, and that as they do, their approach grows more and more dominant. They make it hard not to be greedy and ask for a new album.

Monolord on Thee Facebooks

RidingEasy Records website

 

Teacher, Teacher

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Seattle two-piece Teacher served notice early this year of their then-forthcoming self-titled, self-recorded debut LP, and it was easy to tell the Tony Reed-mastered full-length would be one to watch out for as it followed-up their prior EP1812, released in 2015. Arriving via Devil’s Child Records, the 10-track Teacher does indeed dole out a few crucial lessons from drummer/guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Ethan Mercer and guitarist/vocalist Solomon Arye Rosenschein. Whether it’s “Heavy Metal Parking Lot 1979” or the swinging “Peripatetic Blues” or the gone-backwards psych interlude “Wildcard Jambalaya” that immediately follows, the record basks in an organic diversity of approach drawn together by the clear chemistry already present between Mercer and Rosenschein. A harder edge of tone keeps a modern feel prevalent, but even the forward punker charge of “Mean as Hell” has classic roots, and as they finish with “Home for the Summer” as the last of three out of the four EP tracks included in a row to round out the LP, they seem to have entered the conversation of 2016’s most cohesive debuts in heavy rock. Their arrival is welcome.

Teacher on Thee Facebooks

Devil’s Child Records webstore

 

Rosy Finch, Witchboro

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There’s an element of danger to Rosy Finch’s debut long-player, Witchboro (on Lay Bare Recordings). Actually two. One: it sounds like it could come apart at any given moment – it never does. Two: any given one among its nine component tracks could wind up just about anywhere. Though the Spanish trio of bassist/vocalist Elena García, guitarist/vocalist Mireia Porto and drummer Lluís Mas keep individual songs relatively raw sounding – or at very least not overproduced as something so progressive could just as easily have wound up – but even the soothing “Ligeia” holds to a driving sense of foreboding. Punk in its undercurrent with more than a touch of grunge, Witchboro is as much at home in the atmospheric crush of “Polvo Zombi” as the quick-turning finale thrust of “Daphne vs. Apollo,” and its overarching impression is striking in just how readily it manipulates the elements that comprise it. Ambitious, but more defined by succeeding in its ambitions than by the ambitions themselves.

Rosy Finch on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings website

 

Holy Mountain Top Removers, The Ones Disappearing You

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Psychedelic surf? Wah-soaked, bass rumbling foreboding? Euro-inflected lounge? All of the above and much more get a big check mark from Nashville instrumentalists Holy Mountain Top Removers, whose The Ones Disappearing You LP covers an enviable amount of stylistic ground and still leaves room near the end for bassist/keyboardist Mikey Allred to lead a blues dirge on trombone. He’s joined by drummer/percussionist Edmond Villa and guitarist Anthony Ford, as well as guest trumpeter Court Reese and violinist Allan Van Cleave, and as they careen through this vast terrain, Holy Mountain Top Removers only seem to revel in the oddness of their own creation. To wit, the early jangle of “Monsieur Espionnage” is delivered with gleeful starts and stops, and the later “Serenade for Sexual Absence” given a mournful snare march and what sounds like tarantella to go with Van Cleave’s violin lead. Playful in the extreme, The Ones Disappearing You nonetheless offers rich arrangements and a drive toward individuality that stands among its core appeals, but by no means stands there alone.

Holy Mountain Top Removers on Thee Facebooks

Holy Mountain Top Removers on Bandcamp

 

Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, The Rarity of Experience I

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Philadelphia four-piece Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band must have worked quickly to turn around so soon a follow-up to last year’s debut album, Intensity Ghost (review here), but their second offering, The Rarity of Experience lacks nothing for growth. A two-disc, 72-minute 10-tracker also released through No Quarter, The Rarity of Experience hops genres the way rocks skip on water, from the exploratory psychedelic vibing of “Anthem II” to the Talking Heads-style jangle of “The Rarity of Experience II” and into horn-infused free-jazz fusion on “The First 10 Minutes of Cocksucker Blues” – which, by the way, is 12 minutes long. A big change is the inclusion of vocals, but the penultimate “Old Phase” still holds to some of the pastoral atmospherics Forsyth and company brought together on the first record, but principally, what The Rarity of Experience most clearly shows is that one doesn’t necessarily know what’s coming from Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band, and as much as they offer across this massive stretch, I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to expand their sound.

Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band on Thee Facebooks

No Quarter

 

Swan Valley Heights, Swan Valley Heights

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Initially released by the band in January, the self-titled debut from Munich heavy rockers Swan Valley Heights sees wider issue through Oak Island Records in an edition of 200 LPs. After rolling out the largesse of welcome-riff in opener “Slow Planet,” the three-piece dig into longform groove on “Alaska” (9:09), “Mammoth” (11:02) and “Let Your Hair Down” (9:35), finding a balance between hypnotic flow and deeply weighted tones. Riffs lead the way throughout, and while there aren’t a ton of surprises, once they make their way through “Caligula Overdrive,” the shimmer at the start of “Mountain” and some of the more patient unfolding of closer “River” called Sungrazer to mind and I couldn’t help but wonder if Swan Valley Heights would make their way toward more lush fare over time. Whether they do or not, their debut engages in its warmth and cohesion of purpose, and offers plenty of depth for those looking to dive in headfirst.

Swan Valley Heights on Thee Facebooks

Oak Island Records at Kozmik Artifactz

 

Cambrian Explosion, The Moon EP

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I can’t help but feel like Portland, Oregon’s Cambrian Explosion are selling themselves a little short by calling The Moon an EP. At five songs and 35 minutes, the follow-up to their 2013 The Sun outing boasts a richly progressive front-to-back flow, deep sense of psychedelic melodicism and enough crunch to wholly satisfy each of the payoffs its hypnotic wanderings demand. Sure sounds like a full-length album to my ears, but either way, I’ll take it. The four-piece set an open context in the intro noise wash of “Selene,” and while “Looming Eye” and “Mugen = Mugen” push further into ritual heavy psych, it’s in the longer “Innocuous Creatures” (9:24) and closer “Crust of Theia” (8:23) – the two perfectly suited to appear together on the B-side from whatever label is lucky enough to snap them up for a release – that The Moon makes its immersion complete and resonant, blowing out in glorious noise on the former and basking in off-world sentiment as they round out. Gorgeous and forward-thinking in kind. Would be an excellent debut album.

Cambrian Explosion on Thee Facebooks

Cambrian Explosion on Bandcamp

 

Haunted, Haunted

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Not sure if there’s any way to avoid drawing a comparison between Italian five-piece Haunted’s self-titled debut (on Twin Earth Records) and Virginian doomers Windhand, but I’m also not sure that matters anymore. With the two guitars of Francesco Bauso and Francesco Orlando meting out post-Electric Wizard churn and Cristina Chimirri’s vocals oozing out bluesy incantations on top as Frank Tudisco’s low end and Valerio Cimino’s drums push the lumber forward, it’s all doom one way or another. “Watchtower” has a meaner chug than opener “Nightbreed,” and the centerpiece “Silvercomb” delves into feedback-laden horror atmospherics, but it’s in the closing duo of “Slowthorn” and “Haunted” that Haunted most assuredly affirm their rolling intention. They’ll have some work to do in distinguishing themselves, but there’s flourish in the wash of guitar late and some vocal layering from Chimirri that speaks to nuance emerging in their sound that will only serve them well as they move forward from this immersive first offering.

Twin Earth Records on Thee Facebooks

Haunted on Bandcamp

 

Gods and Punks, The Sounds of the Earth

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Taking their name from a track off Monster Magnet’s 2010 outing, Mastermind, Brazilian heavy rockers Gods and Punks mark their debut release with The Sounds of the Earth, a self-released five-track EP awash in classic influences and bolstered through a double-guitar dynamic, maybe-too-forward-in-the-mix vocals and a rock solid rhythm section. These are familiar ingredients, granted, but the Rio de Janeiro five-piece present them well particularly in the mid-paced “The Tusk” and the catchy, more extended closer “Gravity,” and are able to put a modern spin on ‘70s vibing without becoming singularly indebted to any particular band or era, be it ‘70s, ‘90s or the bizarre combination of the two that defines the ‘10s. Gods and Punks are setting themselves up to progress here, and how that progression might play out – more space rock to go with the theme of their excellent artwork, maybe? – will be worth keeping an eye on given what they already show in their songwriting.

Gods and Punks on Thee Facebooks

Gods and Punks on Bandcamp

 

Gaia, A Cure for Time

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Mostly instrumental, deeply atmospheric and clearly intended to divide into the two sides of a vinyl for which it seems more than primed, A Cure for Time is the second album from Copenhagen post-metallers Gaia. Each half of the four-track/39-minute outing pairs a shorter piece with a longer one, and the flow the trio set up particularly on the closing title cut calls to mind some of YOB’s cosmic impulses but with a spaciousness, roll and context that becomes their own. Shades of Jesu in the vocals and the balance of rumble and echo on the earlier “Nowhere” make A Cure for Time all the more ambient, but when they want to, Gaia produce a marked density that borders on the claustrophobic, and the manner in which they execute the album front to back emphasizes this spectrum with a progressive but still organic flourish. I wouldn’t call A Cure for Time directly psychedelic, but it’s still easy to get lost within its reaches.sh

Gaia on Thee Facebooks

Virkelighedsfjern on Bandcamp

 

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Thief Release Thieves Hymn in D Minor Debut LP

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 21st, 2016 by JJ Koczan

thief

It looks like a total of 250 copies of Thief‘s debut album, Thieves Hymn in D Minor, have been printed. That doesn’t seem like very many at all, and even fewer when one considers the breakdown between red and black vinyl. Seems to me that if it’s the kind of thing one might be into, one might be inclined to get on it before the getting is no longer good. Available through Lay Bare Recordings — also responsible for recent outings by Yawning Man and the European distro for Seedy Jeezus & Isaiah Mitchell‘s collaboration — 100 copies will come with a special silkscreen art print as well, further sweetening the pot.

Lay Bare had this to say via the PR wire:

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New Lay Bare Recordings release THIEF – THIEVES HYMN IN D MINOR

Laid Bare from the city of Angels, THIEF, an ambient electronic project from DYLAN NEAL (hammered dulcimerist from the experimental black metal band Botanist). Seven haunting hymns on two vinyl editions.

LBR015, Two vinyl editions
1. 100 copies on Oxblood Red vinyl
2. 150 copies on black vinyl
3. With both color variations a special silkscreen printed art by Comaworx (http://www.comaworx.com/ ) can be ordered as a special indulgence for this release, only 100 printed!!

THIEF is a dark electronic project based in Los Angeles. Mixing a delicate relationship between choral and electronica – the sacred and the future – and featuring two live members of the highly acclaimed experimental black metal band Botanist, THIEF creates a new haunting story in the search for spirits in the machines.

THIEF’s debut LP Thieves Hymn in D Minor throws away the use of synths and pads and is crafted almost entirely out of manipulated sacred orthodox music. Its seven electronic tombs beautifully unravel over distorted beats creating a lush, shimmering atmosphere. Mixing electronica, trip hop, and experimental sounds together, Thieves Hymn in D Minor will be available on vinyl through Lay Bare Recordings.

In the studio, it is a one-man project, but live it also features R. Chiang (the other live hammered dulcimerist in Botanist) on drums and Chris Hackman on bass.

THIEF is:
Dylan Neal – All music, vocals, production
Robert Chiang – Drums
Chris Hackman – Bass, Vocals

http://burningworldrecords.com/artist/thief
http://laybarerecordings.com/
http://www.facebook.com/laybarerecordings/
http://thiefdom.com/
https://www.facebook.com/THIEFsounds/
https://soundcloud.com/thief_official
https://twitter.com/THIEF_SOUNDS
https://thief-official.bandcamp.com/

Thief, “Skin to Jade”

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Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti: Drifting South

Posted in Reviews on September 6th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

yawning man historical graffiti

The story goes that one night on Yawning Man‘s 2015 South American tour, the instrumental desert rock pioneers stopped into ION Studios in Buenos Aires. With just a single night in that hallowed space, which has played host to many great Argentinian acts and offerings, they put to tape the tracks that would become the Historical Graffiti LP — and it is LP/DL only, released on Lay Bare Recordings — their first full-length outing since 2010’s Nomadic Pursuits (review here).

Of course, in that six-year stretch, Yawning Man have hardly been inactive, shifting their lineup around founding guitarist Gary Arce and bassist/guitarist Mario Lalli (also Fatso Jetson), releasing the Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson split LP in 2013, and touring, Arce also stepping out of the band’s confines to participate in numerous collaborations, side-projects, guest appearances and so on. That spirit of being able to go anywhere and still bring something distinct is writ large all over the unassuming five tracks/33 minutes of Historical Graffiti, which is further set apart from its predecessor and in fact the whole of Yawning Man‘s catalog for its guest contributions.

Joining Arce, Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson are keyboardist/Mellotronist Malene Pedersen (also of Lewd Flesh), as well as violinist Sara Ryan and accordionist Adolofo Trepiana, whose contributions to opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Wind Cries Edalyn” and the closing title-track aren’t to be understated in providing a grounding but still gentle and melodic presence alongside the band’s otherwise dreamy tonality, which seems set for maximum drift across the album’s span.

Not a complaint, obviously. Yawning Man shine best when they shine like a hot sun — see also: any number of other desert-minded descriptors of Arce‘s shimmering, sentimental guitar tone — and for those who’ve spent years anticipating an announced full-length called Gravity is Good for You that remains elusive, it seems fair enough to take whatever comes at this point as regards output from Yawning Man proper. The sweet, lush immersion of Historical Graffiti, which bears the subtitle The ION Studios Session, Buenos Aires, Argentina on its front cover, makes it all the easier for the taking.

Yawning Man are known for their jamming, and a lot of the basis of their influence, particularly on European post-desert heavy psych, has been in that ethic of improvisation, but the depth of arrangement throughout, beginning with the layering of guitar and violin early on “The Wind Cries Edalyn,” speaks to some plan. I don’t know whether Ryan came in afterwards and dubbed strings over the basic tracks of guitar, bass, drums and keys, or what, but even as it runs deeper and introduces Trepiana‘s accordion, there’s a sense of a plan at work.

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That’s not to say the song’s foundation isn’t still a jam — it most likely is — just that the jam has been fleshed out in exciting ways that one might not necessarily expect from a Yawning Man release. That becomes the running theme as Historical Graffiti dips and dives, making its way through a tracklisting that offers its shortest cut in centerpiece “Naomi Crayola” (3:06) after “Her Phantom Finger of Copenhagen” (6:58), then works its way through consecutively longer songs again, “The Secret Language of Elephants” (6:28) and “Historical Graffiti” (7:49), to end out, all the while sounding fluid to a point of hypnosis, geared toward conveying the decades-in-the-making chemistry between Lalli and Arce as the foundation from which moments like the otherworldly soundscape of “Her Phantom Finger of Copenhagen” flow outward, gorgeous and consuming.

Elements come and go throughout. That is, the violin and the accordion aren’t on every song. Pedersen‘s keys are fairly consistent, but it’s Stinson‘s drums that make the primary impression on “Naomi Crayola,” pushing the quicker track with an initial straightforward beat that departs somewhat from the languid “Her Phantom Finger of Copenhagen” and “The Wind Cries Edalyn” before it.

The centerpiece shifts momentarily into a noise freakout once or twice but soon enough returns each time to its linear movement, fading out to the more subdued “The Secret Language of Elephants,” which seems to return Historical Graffiti to its arc, accordion and all, though there’s some more weighted thrust there as well that comes and goes — chorus-like, though I’d be hesitant in most cases to try and lay a structural expectation on anything Yawning Man do.

Still, it’s a memorable impression to start side B of the vinyl, Ryan‘s violin standing out in the song’s second half, and “Historical Graffiti” itself continues to make the most of this flourish while highlighting the perpetually underrated guitar tone of Arce, captured immaculately at ION with a full sound backed by the bass, keys, drums, violin and accordion that for those who’ve had experience with Yawning Man and those who haven’t should serve as a vibrant refresher of/introduction to what has always been at the core of the band.

Their lineup has continued to shift since Historical Graffiti was recorded, bringing in bassist Justine Summer Heaven and moving Lalli onto second guitar to work as a four-piece, but that core of who they are and what they do has remained constant despite whatever changes surround, and simply put, there’s no band on the planet who has done more to define the scope of desert rock than Yawning Man.

Historical Graffiti may be the result of stopping by a studio for a night in another country on an ongoing tour, laying down some tracks and moving on, but the scope it offers would’ve taken other groups months to conjure if they could at all, and in the end, it’s way less of a one-off and way more of a gift. It should be treasured accordingly.

Yawning Man, Historical Graffiti (2016)

Yawning Man on Thee Facebooks

Yawning Man on Bandcamp

Yawning Man website

Historical Graffiti at Burning World Records

Lay Bare Recordings on Thee Facebooks

Lay Bare Recordings website

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Yawning Man Release Historical Graffiti LP

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 22nd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

So uh, hey, there’s a new Yawning Man LP. It’s called Historical Graffiti and it’s out now vinyl-only through Lay Bare Recordings. The legendary desert rockers have stated their intentions toward a new record publicly in a variety of forms and with a variety of lineups, but Historical Graffiti is their first full-length outing since 2010’s Nomadic Pursuits, and its arrival coincides with the band’s upcoming European tour, set to kickoff on Sept. 1 with stops at Reverence Festival and Up in Smoke 2016, among others. The record comes as something of a surprise, as there wasn’t much lead-up –preorders, pre-release hype, etc. — at least that I encountered, but it seems to be out there now and available for purchase, so fucking a. Get on it while you can.

Band announcement, info from Burning World Records and tour dates follow:

yawning man historical graffiti

Yawning Man is proud to announce the release of our new album “HISTORICAL GRAFFITI” on Lay Bare Recordings!!!

Thank you to all our supporters that contributed to help us make this happen.

This unique and influential band from the Southern California desert has left their mark on bands such as Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age, making them one of the defining forces in the desert rock scene for over 20 years both in the U.S. and in Europe. Pinning Yawning Man to a specific genre is difficult, letting the music speaks for itself has fans from all over the rock, indie, psych and alternative spectrum are discovering the passion and dark beauty in Yawning Man’s music.

Throughout the instrumental cinematic rock landscapes of Yawning Man, the post-Ventures, haunting melodies & composition of guitarist Gary Arce are constantly being stretched, up-ended and sent deep into dark Joy Division territory, by the weird chords and heavy bass grooves of Mario Lalli and drummer Bill Stinson. The result is the kind of brooding and thunderous atmosphere that draws you constantly inward.

In this very special recording session done during the bands 2015 South American tour while in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The band was invited to record for one evening at the world famous and legendary ION Studios.The session featured guest appearances by Argentinian tango musicians Sara Ryan on violin and Adolfo Trepiana on bandoneon accordion as well as Malene Arce (wife of Gary Arce) on the Mellotron.

An Argentinian newspaper once wrote that the “condensed history of the nations music“ was to be found behind Ion’s doors, and they were spot-on with this description. Some of the country’s brightest musical legends, such as Astor Piazzolla, have reacted like ions with other musicians, and the energy that was released during this process condensed in the form of numerous classic records.

As the largest and most legendary sound studio in Buenos Aires, Ion remains one of the most remarkable recording venues in the world. It’s energy is evident in the spontaneous edgy beauty created by the band in this collaboration of special artists in a very special place.

YAWNING MAN Live:
01.09.2016 London Borderline UK
02.09.2016 Sint Niklaas Villa Pace Festival BEL
03.09.2016 Rotterdam Baroeg NL
04.09.2016 Karlsruhe Alte Hackerei D
06.09.2016 San Sebastian Dabadaba SP
07.09.2016 Zaragoza La Ley Seca SP
08.09.2016 Gijon Casino Acapulco SP
09.09.2016 Valada Reverence Festival POR
10.09.2016 Madrid Taboo SP
11.09.2016 Barcelona Rocksound SP
13.09.2016 Torino Cafe Liber ITA
14.09.2016 Milano Lo Fi ITA
15.09.2016 Munich Feierwerk D
16.09.2016 Berlin Swampfest D
17.09.2016 Gdansk B 90 Club POL
18.09.2016 Warsaw Chmury POL
19.09.2016 Dresden Ost-Pol D
20.09.2016 Prague Klubovna CZR
21.09.2016 Budapest Duerer Kert HUN
22.09.2016 Vienna Arena A
24.09.2016 Siegen Vortex D
26.09.2016 Wiesbaden Schlachthof D
27.09.2016 Zuerich Rote Fabrik CH
28.09.2016 Innsbruck PMK A
01.10.2016 Pratteln Up In Smoke Festival SWI

http://burningworldrecords.com/item/historical-graffity-lp
https://www.facebook.com/yawningmanofficial/

Yawning Man, “Rock Formations” Live in Buenos Aires, 2015

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