Second week in a row I’m trying this, since the universe didn’t seem to collapse on itself after the first one — unless you count how bad I fucked up lineups; they’re fixed now. Once again we cover some pretty wide ground geographically and stylistically (also alphabetically!), so let’s get to it:
Buddha Sentenza, South Western Lower Valley Rock
Released last year as their debut on World in Sound Records, the 14-track full-length South Western Lower Valley Rock is Buddha Sentenza‘s follow-up to 2009′s exploratory Mode 0909 (review here). The 46-minute outing from the German instrumental fivesome pairs longer pieces like the classic rocking “Arrested Development” (5:04) and prog-jamming “The Monkey Stealing the Peaches” (2:49) off of brief transitional interludes taking their name from letters in the Greek alphabet. I’m not sure what “A-B-G-D-E-Z-I” is meant to indicate — the tracks being “Alpha,” “Beta,” “Gamma” and so on — but they pair remarkably well with the other pieces, and the emergent feel is not unlike that of My Sleeping Karma‘s 2012 outing, Soma, methodologically as well as aesthetically. Perhaps the highlight of South Western Lower Valley Rock is its longest component, “Debris Moon,” which in just under nine minutes weaves nighttime atmospherics and heavy psych ambience into what’s still a subdued track, never quite paying off the tension it creates until the subsequent “Epsilon” shifts into the aforementioned “The Monkey Stealing the Peaches,” giving even more of a clue that Buddha Sentenza are working in a whole-album mindset, rather than thinking of South Western Lower Valley Rock in terms of its individual tracks. The album makes sense on this level, and on CD presents an immersive, linear listening experience that casts a deceptively wide stylistic berth between keyboard-infused krautrock worship, heavy rock and psychedelia, offering fluid motion from in less skilled hands could easily come across as disjointed elements. They make that My Sleeping Karma comparison almost too easy, but the interludes are ultimately essential in creating the flow, as the ease of movement between the desert crunch of “Tzameti,” “Eta” and Eastern-vibing closer “Psychonaut” underscores. Some of Buddha Sentenza‘s best moments are in playing styles off each other.
Chrome, Half Machine from the Sun: The Lost Tracks from ’79-’80
While the liner notes tell of their having been designated “too accessible” at the time, the 18 songs on Chrome‘s Half Machine from the Sun are still plenty weird. As the title indicates, the release is a compilation of yet-unissued cuts from 1979-1980, the era of Half Machine Lip Moves and Red Exposure for Chrome‘s key collaboration between guitarist/vocalist Helios Creed and drummer/vocalist Damon Edge and arguably the point at which that incarnation of the band’s far-out blend of proto-punk, New Wave, psychedelic rock and experimental pop was at its most potent. Sure enough, Half Machine from the Sun crisscrosses genres on an almost per-track basis, be it the weirdo electro stomp of “Looking for Your Door,” the space rock noise wash of “Morrison” or “Sub Machine,” which turns an almost manic drum beat into the foundation of an otherworldly guitar and vocal exploration. They can and will go anywhere, as “Charlie’s Little Problem” and the creeper keyboards of “Ghost” showcase, but if there’s anything tying Half Machine from the Sun (which is out through King of Spades Records following a successful crowdfunding campaign to have it pressed to CD) together, it’s the fact that nothing is tying it together. Tape loops, analog synth, bizarre vocals, structure out the window — and yes, this is still the “accessible” side of Chrome — these songs nonetheless leave any number of memorable impressions, even if that impression winds up in an overarching sense of “God damn this band was weird.” Gloriously so. Chrome, under the direction of Helios Creed, have reportedly been at work on new material, so maybe all the better to give fans advance notice via this collection, which provides 73 minutes of alternate universe brainfodder to sate the curious and the passionate alike. A fan piece, but a welcome one.
The self-released debut EP from New Jersey-based progressive black metallers Hercyn, Magda, arrives in a full jewel case — the pressing is limited to 100 copies — wrapped in twine. I guess that’s meant to take the place of shrinkwrap, and in that, it’s certainly a more natural-feeling option. Magda‘s namesake track is a 24-minute blend of Euro-doom melancholy, blackened gurgles, grand riffing and ambient weight from the Jersey City trio of guitarist Michael DiCiania, guitarist/vocalist Ernest Wawiorko and bassist Tony Stanziano. About the only thing holding back the EP’s organic vibe is the fact that the drums are programmed, which gives the complex, ambitious “Magda” a mechanical base for what’s otherwise a relatively human sound; the guitars are buzzsaw sharp, but not necessarily without tonal warmth, and particularly in blastbeaten stretches, one almost wants something less precise to go along with the rawness in those guitars, as well as in the bass and Wawiorko‘s vocals. Nonetheless, as lead and rhythm layers intertwine past “Magda”‘s midpoint, there’s beauty in the dismal and a sense of the potential in Hercyn to fluidly cross genre boundaries even more than they already are. That lead is well plotted and sustained, and tempo and chug vary as the song reaches and moves beyond its apex in the second half, with the band offering a bit of Enslaved and Woods of Ypres influence in the interplay of keys and strings. I don’t know if they’ll try to find an actual drummer — for a first release, Magda hardly seems half-assed in its presentation, so maybe this is it; I hear industrial is on its way back — but Hercyn have started with a work of striking intricacy, and prove wholly comfortable in the longer form. An impressive and hopefully portentous debut.
The Warlocks, Skull Worship
Acid fuzz like a field you could lay down and lose an afternoon in is the contraband trafficked by L.A. freakouts The Warlocks, whose amorphous sonic ooze is every bit in mirror to their lineup, which has seen no fewer than 20 cats come and go and stick around over the course of the last decade and a half. With guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist/bassist Bobby Hecksher as the core around which the eight tracks of the 40-minute Skull Worship swirl, the oft-shoegazing psychedelia isn’t given to complete chaos, but man, The Warlocks go way, way out and don’t seem overly concerned with how they’re getting back. Joining Hecksher for the adventure are guitarist JC Rees, guitarist Earl V. Miller, bassist Chris DiPino and drummer George Serrano, as well as Tanya Hayden, who stops by to add some cello to “Silver and Plastic,” which sounds like what I always secretly hoped Radiohead would deliver instead of the pretentious mopey schlock they put out until they decided they were too smart for albums or whatever. The Warlocks, who had a couple records out on Tee Pee before jumping to Zap Banana/Cargo Records for Skull Worship, at times call to mind the very, very British moments of Crippled Black Phoenix, but then the psychedelic wash of “Chameleon” or “It’s a Hard Fall” takes hold and the whole vibe is groovier, thicker, more multi-colored molasses, whatever other attitude it might convey. The album hits its stride just when you think it might start to drag, and the closing “Eyes Jam” sounds like its backwards cymbals, feedback and drones could just go on into perpetuity, like if the record never returned and the loop kept repeating. Some heady moments, but should be right on the level for those properly tuned in.
The White Kites, Missing
Immediately and throughout much of the duration of Polish psychedelic pop rockers The White Kites‘ debut LP, Missing (out on Deep Field Records), the vibe is Beatles. Lots and lots of Beatles, from the Sgt. Pepper-style organ circus swirl of opener “Arrival” on through the McCartney piano bounce of the penultimate “The Missing.” It is a 50-minute album, and much of the lighthearted atmosphere it creates stems from its modern interpretation of the legendary Liverpudlians in their psych era. Hard to rag on a band for digging The Beatles — it’s like yelling at a fish for breathing underwater. And as a seven-piece that includes flute, recorders, keyboards, citole, a variety of percussion, clarinet, ukulele and so on, The White Kites aren’t lacking for sonic diversity — vocalist Sean Palmer has quite a task in tying the album together — but as intricate and progressive as Missing gets, it’s still taking the Lennon/McCartney byway to get there. The corresponding songwriting team for The White Kites seems to be Palmer and bassist/keyboardist Jakub Lenarczyk (presented as Lenarczyk/Palmer), and they’re more than capable in their charge, but hints of early Pink Floyd and King Crimson seem to be waiting to emerge from “Turtle’s Back” and “Beyond the Furthest Star,” like they’re trying to get out and be more prominent in the band’s sound but are overpowered by the traceable poppiness. That doesn’t stop Missing from being enjoyable — unless you’ve never liked The Beatles, maybe — or “Beyond the Furthest Star” from being the highlight, it just means that The White Kites have room to shift the sonic balance should they choose to do so their next time around. Until then, impeccable production and imaginative arrangements throughout give an impression of a band just beginning their discovery.