The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

Posted in Features on December 18th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-debut-albums

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 2017 to that, please do.

Every successive year brings an absolute inundation of underground productivity. Every year, someone new is inspired to pick up a guitar, bass, drums, mic, keyboard, theremin, cello — whatever it might be — and set themselves to the task of manifesting the sounds they hear in their head.

This is unspeakably beautiful in my mind, and as we’ve done in years past, it seems only fair to celebrate the special moment of realization that comes with a band’s first album. The debut full-length. Sometimes it’s a tossed-off thing, constructed from prior EPs or thrown together haphazardly from demo tracks, and sometimes it’s a meticulously picked-over expression of aesthetic — a band coming out of the gate brimming with purpose and desperate to communicate it, whatever it might actually happen to be.

We are deeply fortunate to live in an age (for now) of somewhat democratized access to information. That is, if you want to hear a thing — or if someone wants you to hear a thing — it’s as simple as sharing and/or clicking a link. The strong word of mouth via ubiquitous social media, intuitive recording software, and an ever-burgeoning swath of indie labels and other promotional vehicles means bands can engage an audience immediately if they’re willing to do so, and where once the music industry’s power resided in the hands of a few major record companies, the divide between “listener” and “active participant” has never been more blurred.

Therefore, it is a good — if crowded — time for an act to be making their debut, even if it’s something that happens basically every day, and all the more worth celebrating the accomplishments of these first-albums both on their current merits and on the potential they may represent going forward. Some percent of a best-debuts list is always speculation. That’s part of what makes it so much fun.

As always, I invite you to let me know your favorite picks in the comments (please keep it civil). Here are mine:

telekinetic-yeti-abominable

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Debut Albums of 2017

1. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
2. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
3. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream
4. Dool, Here Now There Then
5. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days
6. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
7. Vinnum Sabbathi, Gravity Works
8. Tuna de Tierra, Tuna de Tierra
9. Brume, Rooster
10. Moon Rats, Highway Lord
11. Thera Roya, Stone and Skin
12. OutsideInside, Sniff a Hot Rock
13. Hymn, Perish
14. Riff Fist, King Tide
15. Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree, Medicine
16. Abronia, Obsidian Visions/Shadowed Lands
17. Book of Wyrms, Sci-Fi Fantasy
18. Firebreather, Firebreather
19. REZN, Let it Burn
20. Ealdor Bealu, Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain

Honorable Mention

Alastor, Black Magic
Devil’s Witches, Velvet Magic
Elbrus, Elbrus
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Grigax, Life Eater
High Plains, Cinderland
Kingnomad, Mapping the Inner Void
Lord Loud, Passé Paranoia
Masterhand, Mind Drifter
The Necromancers, Servants of the Salem Girl
Owlcrusher, Owlcrusher
Petyr, Petyr
The Raynbow, The Cosmic Adventure
Savanah, The Healer
War Cloud, War Cloud
WhiteNails, First Trip

I could keep going with honorable mentions, and no doubt will add a few as people remind me of other things on which I brainfarted or whathaveyou, preferably without calling me an idiot, though I recognize that sometimes that’s a lot to ask. Either way, the point remains that the heavy underground remains flush with fresh infusions of creativity and that as another generation comes to maturity, still another is behind it, pushing boundaries forward or looking back and reinventing what came before them.

Notes

Will try and likely fail to keep this brief, but the thing I find most striking about this list is the variety of it. That was not at all something I planned, but even if you just look at the top five, you’ve got Telekinetic Yeti at the forefront. Abominable is something of a speculative pick on my part for the potential it shows on the part of the Midwestern duo in their songcraft and tonality, but then you follow them with four other wildly different groups in Rozamov, Mindkult, Dool and Eternal Black. There you’ve got extreme sludge from Boston, a Virginian one-man cult garage project, Netherlands-based dark heavy rock with neo-goth flourishes, and crunching traditionalist doom from New York in the vein of The Obsessed.

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s not just about one thing, one scene, one sound, or one idea. It’s a spectrum, and at least from where I sit, the quality of work being done across that spectrum is undeniable. Think of the prog-doom majesty Arduini/Balich brought to their collaborative debut, or the long-awaited groove rollout from Vinnum Sabbathi, or how Italy’s Tuna de Tierra snuck out what I thought was the year’s best desert rock debut seemingly under everybody’s radar. Stylistically and geographically these bands come from different places, and as with Brume and Moon Rats, even when a base of influence is similar, the interpretation thereof can vary widely and often does.

That Moon Rats album wasn’t covered nearly enough. I’m going to put it in the Quarterly Review coming up just to give another look at the songwriting on display, which was maddening in its catchiness. Maddening in its cacophony of noise was Stone and Skin from Brooklyn’s Thera Roya, which found itself right on the cusp of the top 10 with backing from the ’70s heavy rock vibes of the post-Carousel Pittsburgh outfit OutsideInside. Norway’s Hymn thrilled with their bleak atmospheres, while Australia’s Riff Fist showed off a scope they’d barely hinted at previously, and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree offered surprises of their own in their warm heavy psych tonality and mostly-instrumental immersion. That record caught me almost completely off-guard. I was not at all prepared to dig it as much as I did.

Thrills continue to abound and resound as the Young Hunter-related outfit Abronia made their first offering of progressive, Americana-infused naturalist heavy, while Book of Wyrms dug themselves into an oozing riffy largesse on the other side of the country and Sweden’s Firebreather emerged from the defunct Galvano to gallop forth and claim victory a la early High on Fire. REZN’s Let it Burn got extra points in my book for the unabashed stonerism of it, while it was the ambience of Ealdor Bealu’s Dark Water at the Foot of the Mountain that kept me going back to it. An album that was genuinely able to project a sense of mood without being theatrical about it was all the more impressive for it being their first. But that’s how it goes, especially on this list.

There you have it. Those are my picks. I recognize I’m only one person and a decent portion of my year was taken up by personal matters — having, losing a job; pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, etc. — but I did my best to hear as much music as I could in 2017 and I did my best to make as much of it as new as I could.

Still, if there’s something egregious I left out or just an album you’d like to champion, hell yes, count me in. What were some of your favorites? Comments are right down there. Let’s get a discussion going and maybe we can all find even more music to dig into.

Thanks for reading and here’s to 2018 to come and the constant renewal of inspiration and the creative spirit.

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Review & Track Premiere: Lord Loud, Passé Paranoia

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on April 4th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Lord-Loud-Passe-Paranoia

[Click play above to stream ‘Moths to Light’ from Lord Loud’s debut album, Passé Paranoia, out April 18 on King Volume Records.]

It doesn’t necessarily present this way superficially, but among the most striking aspects of Passé Paranoia is the balance it strikes between its influences and the varying sides of its sound that is emerging from them. That is, one can listen to the King Volume Records-delivered debut full-length from Van Nuys duo Lord Loud and take it as a mostly-uptempo fuzz rocker, or one can dig deeper into what guitarist/vocalist Chris Allison and drummer/vocalist Michael Feld are doing across its garage-inflected nine tracks/33 minutes.

Either pays dividends, frankly. Following up their 2015 In EP (discussed here), Lord Loud have the hooks and groove to catch attention on a quick runthrough. But if one is willing to really listen to the turns in songs like “They are Coming” or the earlier “The Givers,” there’s more to be found there in atmosphere and execution than might elicit a, “hey, cool rock brah,” if you were at the show. Where some cuts offer jangle — opener “Dream Weaver,” “The Givers,” “The Hand” — and others righteous fuzz — “Eyes Have Hands,” “The Wolf,” the penultimate “Moths to Light” — and still others moments of pure psychedelic drift — the rolling “Star Bright Eyes,” the minimal “They are Coming” and the payoff of closer “Swirling” — it’s the ways in which these songs interact with each other and within themselves that really make Lord Loud‘s work stand out. In other words, the balance.

No doubt inspiration is culled from modern garage rock on both the indie and heavy sides of that coin, but there’s a classic sensibility at work as well that comes through particularly in the sans-frills structures of pieces like “Eyes Have Hands,” “The Wolf” and even “Moths to Light” — which, at 4:18, is among the longer inclusions, where the other two are shorter. And while Allison and Feld would in no way be the first modern garage-psych-fuzz band to nod in the direction of 13th Floor Elevators and others of that ilk, to listen to the Dead Meadow roll of “Eyes Have Hands” pick up from “Dream Weaver” at the outset of Passé Paranoia, it becomes even more apparent the two-piece are working in a somewhat broader context.

Tempos shift easily throughout the album, the production is raw enough to bury the vocals and rough-up Feld‘s drum sound, but not so raw that the changes in guitar tone don’t carry across between “Eyes Have Hands,” “The Givers” and “The Wolf” en route to the slowdown of “Star Bright Eyes” that, presumably, serves to close out side A following a considerable build of momentum through the first four tracks. It and “Swirling” at the end of side B are the only songs to top five minutes on Passé Paranoia, so that mirroring would make sense, at least, and as the centerpiece of the tracklisting, “Star Bright Eyes” is meant to feature either way; a position earned through a combination of fluidity, breadth and impact. When Lord Loud want to, they’re able to spread their sound wide — as they do by layering lead lines over deep-toned low-end fuzz late in “Star Bright Eyes” — but they’re also keen at times to rein that in quickly and pursue something leaner, which the 2:22 “The Hand” would seem to signify as it revitalizes the push of Passé Paranoia at the start of the album’s second half.

lord loud moths to light

But even with “The Hand,” when one hears it in relation to “Star Bright Eyes” prior, the context changes. It has its own late solo, ended cold, and while taken on its own that might not mean much, in light of Passé Paranoia as a whole, it’s an example of Lord Loud putting elements to use in a variety of ways. The same idea used to make a different song. Especially with this as their debut full-length, that’s an important aspect of what they’re doing, because it demonstrates that while they might come across as loose and swinging and all blown-out swagger and proto-punk whatnot, there’s conceptual effort put into both the songwriting and the actual construction of the record, which takes another turn with the minimalist early going of “They are Coming,” Feld not even kicking in on drums until two of the track’s three minutes have passed.

I wouldn’t go as far as to call it progressive, and neither do I think it’s trying to be (yet), but it shows Lord Loud are at least thinking about what they’re doing. They follow “They are Coming” with “Moths to Light,” one of Passé Paranoia‘s strongest hooks and most blasted-out riffs; a blend that serves well to represent a decent swath of the record’s style, including the psych vibes in its wah-soaked finishing solo. This gives way to the relative stomp of “Swirling,” which delivers the title line en route to the aforementioned final push and boasts a melodic depth in its vocals and dream-toned fuzz guitar that is among the most welcome elements yet from Lord Loud.

Could it be the band showing off late that they’re willing to toy with pop as they move into Beatlesian piano and la-la-la bounce along with their fuzz and true-to-the-title swirl? Possible. Given the consciousness on display elsewhere, I’d believe it, but either way, their work in defiant expansion of the two-piece form is just one more manner in which Passé Paranoia conveys the sense of freedom it feels not to be bound by either how many instruments one person can hold at a time — though with samplers and laptops, Feld and Allison aren’t doing anything here that couldn’t be recreated on stage — nor by genre convention. That makes Passé Paranoia feel even bolder as a debut, and though its ultimate presentation is the band making what they do sound and look easy, like something they just belted out in an afternoon (granted they did build their own studio and record themselves), the results yield a much richer and more resonant first impression.

Lord Loud on Thee Facebooks

Lord Loud on Bandcamp

King Volume Records webstore

King Volume Records on Bandcamp

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Lord Loud Post “Tune In” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 8th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

lord-loud-photo-by-jon-shoer

I guess when you live in L.A. it might be easier to put together a professional-looking music video than when you’re, say, anywhere else on the planet. Heavy noise duo Lord Loud take full advantage of that ability with their new clip from “Tune In,” breaking out Atari aesthetics and some old tube televisions to get their point across while raging out through the shortest song on their 2015 In EP, released on tape via New Mexico’s King Volume Records as one of three offerings in an all-cassette boxed set that has me very seriously contemplating a $19 purchase. Because it looks frickin’ awesome and any label keen enough to snag these dudes earns a certain amount of immediate trust on my part. If you’re wondering, the other two bands in the set are doomers Lord Mountain, from Santa Rosa, California, and Brooklyn instru-sludgers Dead Things.

As regards Lord Loud, and as regards “Tune In,” it’s rife with no-nonsense Stoogesery that, on the In EP, complements the broader-ranging tripout of “Living Mystery” with a sense of edge that carries through the material surrounding. That is to say, while it’s only under two minutes long and follows the somewhat-similarly-minded handclap-laden garage-ism of “Searching for the Thief,” the effect “Tune In” has as the centerpiece lasts into “No Regard” and the two longer cuts that end In, “Living Mystery” and the subsequent “Silent Spoken.” Since this is my first time hearing the band or the EP, it makes for a cool way to be introduced, though if you’re like me and haven’t fully dug into the release yet — or bought that tape! — you should be aware that, while righteous, it doesn’t necessarily represent the entirety of the thing, despite the thing being a relatively quick 20 minutes long.

If your thing is name-your-price downloads — and at this point I find it hard to imagine it isn’t, because that’s the world we live in — in addition to the tape boxed set, Lord Loud have In generously available as one via their Bandcamp.

You’ll find that link at the bottom of this post and the video for “Tune In” below, which I hope you enjoy:

Lord Loud, “Tune In” official video

“Tune In” song written and performed by Lord Loud
Single off their “In” EP out on King Volume Records!

Chris Allison – Guitar/Vocals
Michael Feld – Drums/Vocals
Produced and mastered by Geoff Halliday

Tape, Full Digital EP, and single track available for purchase at http://lordloudmusic.bandcamp.com

Lord Loud on Thee Facebooks

Lord Loud on Bandcamp

King Volume Records webstore

King Volume Records on Bandcamp

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