Posted in Whathaveyou on August 26th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
A couple years ago, Sergio Chotsourian, formerly of Los Natas and currently of Soldati, Ararat, his Sergio Ch. solo work and South American Sludge Records issued a two-song release called Aurora. It was digital-only and I’m just going to assume that the new version of Aurora due to be issued as a CD/DL next month — on South American Sludge and Pirámide Records — is built off that. The opening title track, on the 2013 original, was over 19 minutes long, an experiment in drone looping topped off with echoing vocals, creating a pretty vast space. “El Herrero,” though much shorter, kept a similar mindset, just didn’t take it to quite the same lengths, blending it instead with Sergio Ch.‘s well established memorable songwriting.
I don’t know whether Aurora — the 2016 version — will work in the same way. If I had to guess, I’d imagine it will work along reasonably similar lines to how his 1974 full-length (review here) was issued first in a sort of demo form and then built out to be a complete album. The addition of other tracks here and instrumentation gives some clue as to the overall intent toward a fuller sound, but of course we won’t actually know until it’s out.
If you don’t already keep your eye on the South American Sludge Bandcamp page (linked below), it’s a treasure trove of underground heavy in a variety of styles from Argentina and beyond that’s easily worth your time and support. Just a word to the wise.
Album info follows. It’s in Spanish, but I’m pretty sure you can figure out what “guitarra” means, even if your language skills are as limited as mine:
Sergio Ch. – Aurora [CD] [S.A.S. 050]
Tracklist: 01 Aurora 02 El Herrero 03 La Heroina 04 Aurora II 05 El Laud 06 El Llano
Posted in Reviews on June 13th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
It is not an exaggeration to say that Sergio Chotsourian is perhaps the most important figure in South American heavy rock and roll in the last 20 years. Since the mid-’90s, he has spread an influence outward from Buenos Aires, Argentina, first in early Natas releases like Delmar and Ciudad de Brahman, as well as through that band’s later work as Los Natas and into other acts like the more experimental trio Ararat, whose three albums to-date stand as testament to a broadening aesthetic palette. Further evidence of that comes in projects like the one-off Solodolor, the newly-formed Soldati, Chotsourian‘s soundtrack to the film Los Viajes, and his recent collaboration with his daughter, Isabel Chotsourian on a digital single featuring the track “La Sal y Arroz” (posted here).
That song is of clear personal significance — a full-band version also appeared on Ararat‘s latest, 2014’s Cabalgata Hacia la Luz (review here) — and so it’s fitting that the solo rendition should lead off Chotsourian‘s first outing under the nom de plumeSergio Ch., 1974. Self-recorded and issued through his own South American Sludge imprint, 1974 began life as a short digital collection of home demos, but was eventually branched out to a 52-minute/13-song full-length. In addition to “La Sal y Arroz,” it also shares “Las Piedras,” “La Historia de Hanuman,” “La Familia y las Guerras,” “Los Escombros del Jardin” and “Los Viajes” with the aforementioned most recent Ararat, so it’s probably fair to think of the two as companions, though in truth, Chotsourian‘s work has blended together from one release to the next over the better part of the last decade, as evidenced in the move from the last (to-date) Los Natas record, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad (review here), into the self-titled Ararat debut (review here), along the same piano progression in 2009.
Piano is a key factor in the overall impression of 1974. Like John Lennon‘s Dakota demos, some of these tracks revolve around the minimal arrangements of piano and/or voice, as on the beginning of “Los Barcos,” or in “4737 Minutos” (that’s about 3.2 days), “Los Viajes” and the closing title-track. Even when not being played, the resonance of the piano seems to remain, whether it’s in bell chords or plucked notes on acoustic guitar in “Bed Room” or “Las Melodias,” or the subtly psychedelic echo on “Las Piedras” and the standout “Los Escombros del Jardin.”
Sergio Ch. brings in Walter Broide (Los Natas) and Alfredo Felitte (Ararat) to help on drums periodically and Milagros Arrom for a violin guest spot on “Los Barcos,” but otherwise 1974 is entirely his own, vocals, bass, guitar and the keys. He layers his voice depending on the song, resulting in varied atmospheres between built-out tracks like “La Sal y Arroz” and “Las Piedras” and more singular stretches like the minute-long “La Blusa,” a quick excursion of jangly slide guitar perhaps to lighten the atmosphere following “La Historia de Hanuman” and “La Familia y las Guerras,” which together typify the emotional weight under which a fair portion of the record is operating. These and “Los Barcos,” “4737 Minutos,” the rawer “Las Melodias” and “1974” create a melancholy crux, the wistfulness set forth in the opener built upon for the duration until the title-track seems to round out by cutting short having asked more questions than it answered. That, of course, is a guess, because the lyrics are in Spanish and that’s one of the many, many languages my ignorant ass doesn’t speak, but the prevailing impression comes through nonetheless of these tracks being as much an exploration of feelings as sonics.
As a result, 1974, like a lot of solo offerings, is deeply personal. Its sound is broad and expressive and gripping, enough so that one barely notices as elements like percussion, bass, violin, piano, etc., come and go and come again. These things are part of the overarching reach of Sergio Ch.‘s solo work, established here for the first time but definitely constructed from an ambience he’s brought to life in his bands before. The familiarity of some of this material bleeds through the different arrangements as well, and perhaps 1974 could come across as a richer listen for anyone who caught Cabalgata Hacia la Luz, but the other is by no means a prerequisite for the one. Though they share some songs, the two albums stand alone and the fluidity that Chotsourian brings to these tracks remains steady throughout the CD runtime.
That said, it’s easy — particularly given his track record for such things — to imagine that some of these songs might end up on future Chotsourian-related releases. Indeed they already have if one counts the Isabel y Sergio Ch. version of “La Sal y Arroz,” but even beyond that, fuller-arrangements of “Las Melodias” and “El Pastor de la Hormigas” seem by no means out of the question. Whether or not that happens — and if it does, with what project — of course will remain to be seen, but even if this stuff does continue to show up elsewhere, 1974 will remain a landmark in Chotsourian‘s catalog, because it’s the first full-length to bear his name alone and for the new sonic territory it covers in relation to his prior accomplishments. In mood, performance and execution, it engages on a richly human level.
I’ve made no attempt to hide my fandom for Los Natas over the years. Their 1996 debut, Delmar, has closed weeks on two separate occasions (see here and here), and stands among my personal favorite records, period. House burning, only time to save the Kyuss or the Natas, I pick the latter every time, and not just because I can re-buy the Kyuss records either. I was fortunate enough to see them live at Roadburn 2010, as much as one could see anything with the room so dark, and between chasing down their rare-cuts offerings like Rutation (review here) and putting their last album, 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad (review here), among the top of that year’s best — a trend that has continued as guitarist/vocalist Sergio Chotsourian has gone on to release three albums with his new band, Ararat, in the years since — the nerding-out has really only continued. As I check the mail to look for a Sergio Ch. solo record to review, I doubt it will abate anytime soon.
So when I tell you that 1999’s Ciudad de Brahman is a special album, understand I’m speaking as a fan of the band’s work front to back. Progressed from the laid back desert sands of Delmar to something harder-edged but still offering plenty of serenity, the 14-track offering would set up the rawer heavy style that began to show itself from their third record, 2002’s Corsario Negro, through the subsequent 2006 outing El Hombre Montaña and of course on El Nuevo Orden de la Libertad as well, the quiet, jammy explorations having found an outlet in the interim in other releases like Toba Trance I and II and München Sessions, all of which were issued between 2003 and 2005.
Like its predecessor, Ciudad de Brahman was put out in North America by Man’s Ruin Records, and between its instrumental stretches, songs like “Brisa del Desierto,” “Meteoro 2028,” the stomping “Alohawaii” and its eight-minute instrumental/longest track opener “Carl Sagan,” Natas‘ second (also their final before adding the Los) full-length is a rich summary of the varied sound they’d come to hone over their years together, Chotsourian and drummer Walter Broide working with a couple different bassists, including Miguel Fernandez here and Gonzalo “Crudo” Villagra in the band’s final (to-date) incarnation. As always, I hope you enjoy.
Took a full day off yesterday, which is something I don’t ordinarily allow myself to do, but there was a lot of travel involved. In the morning, The Patient Mrs., the little dog Dio and I rolled down from Massachusetts to Connecticut to do her family’s Thanksgiving dinner, and last night, from there, down to New Jersey, where we’ll essentially repeat the process today. Back north tomorrow.
It would be fine, but I’m having a flareup in my right ankle — you might recall I fell early this year, but that’s more a symptom than the root cause — that is remarkably painful and has kind of played havoc on the idea of walking, which, you know, one might do on a family holiday occasion, even if it’s just to the kitchen and back. Yesterday was an adventure, I expect today will be likewise. Every day is in one way or another.
I guess that’s my way of noting why I’m closing out the week early today, because basically I’m on my way out the door and over to see my family, with perhaps a quick stop off for a coffee and an ace bandage along the way. Monday, check back for Chron Goblin‘s new video, which I’m sure you’ve already seen but is fun nonetheless, and a full-album stream from We Lost the Sea. Tuesday, the Readers Poll goes up, so I guess it’s the kickoff for list season. Might try to do year’s-best-art in the next week or so. Still have a bunch of reviews waiting as well for Bevar Sea, Kind, Bedroom Rehab Corporation, and so on. I’ll do my best to squeeze in as much as I can when I can.
Thanks for reading, have a great and safe weekend, and please check out the forum and radio stream.
A couple weeks ago, when The Patient Mrs. was in Athens, Greece, on one of her I’m-brilliant-so-I-get-to-do-awesome-things field trips, she mentioned over Skype that she has passed by a record store. If there’s one thing I like, it’s record shopping on foreign soil, even vicariously, so I got the name from her — Sound Effect Records — and proceeded to look them up. The second I saw that owner Yiannis Andriopoulos had the nickname “Kaleidosmoker” I knew she had stumbled onto the right place.
Turns out Andriopoulos was a former ‘zine head with a long history in Greece’s heavy rock scene. Sound Effect also runs a label out of the store and has distributed cool stuff from Montibus Communitas and others, so I immersed myself in the thousands of selections on the Discogs page and started putting together a wishlist. I kept it to CDs — traveling with vinyl yourself is bad enough, let alone asking your wife to do it — and passed it on to her, with links, and told her when she went to the shop to ask for Yiannis, figuring that he’d be able to help her out with the stuff if she couldn’t find it.
Had to get a few Greek acts in there, and Planet of Zeus were on my mind for having recently checked out their Vigilantealbum (review here), so their first album, 2008’s Eleven the Hard Way, made the cut, as did Brotherhood of Sleep‘s 2009 self-titled debut. Both bands are native to Athens, and since I already had a copy of the new 1000mods, I was glad to dip back to some older, less available releases. There was also a ready stock of Nasoni Records stuff — not the first Weltramstaunen, unfortunately — but I asked her to grab Baby Woodrose‘s Dropout!collection of covers and a reissue of The Rising Sun‘s 1969 LP, Born to be Wild, as well as the 2CD Entering into the Space Country/Phaze Your Fearscollection from Øresund Space Collective.
When she got home this weekend, she surprised me by bringing not only those, but the 2LP version of Los Natas‘ El Universo Perdido de Los Natas, filling both the Nasoni and the vinyl quotas in one fell I’m-the-luckiest-dude-ever swoop. I have the corresponding CD version that Oui Oui/MeteorCity released in 2007, but both the thought and the gatefold were beautiful, and if it’s another excuse to spend some time listening to Los Natas, I’m not going to lose. Apparently at some point in her trip to Sound Effect, The Patient Mrs. also let it slip that she was buying for her husband, explained who I was, and Andriopoulos gave her a copy of one of Sound Effect Records‘ releases, a joint issue with Nowhere Street Music from the band Drug Free Youth called A Message fromNow.
And I’m glad he did, because apart from the Los Natas vinyl, the Drug Free Youth CD might be the find of the trip. A modded-out late-’60s-style psych rocker, it’s got plenty of garage organ and guitar jangle. It’s actually a message from eight years ago, having been released in 2006, but the sound and production date back way further than that. It’s got 15 tracks in about 45 minutes, and they keep things pretty simple structurally, otherwise, but the 7:47 closer “Visions of a Gypsy Queen” — Eastern European influence in the organ and all — the buzzsaw leads in “Time is Iced in an Instant,” and the steady wash of effects and echo overall provide plenty of nuance for those who’d dig below the raw retro veneer. It’s a cool vibe and I’m glad I got to hear it.
I probably won’t get to Athens anytime soon, but I hugely appreciated The Patient Mrs. keeping an eye out for some records on my behalf, and thanks to Yiannis from Sound Effect for steering her in the right direction on the stuff I’d checked out on his Discogs. There’s a ton of vinyl as well, and between that and the store’s website itself, plenty of fodder for perusal. Obviously no complaints from my end.
Drug Free Youth, Selections from A Message from Now (2006)
I know there are those who swing other ways when it comes to Natas, the formative Argentinian desert rockers who’d later add a Los to the front of their name, but to my ears, their debut Delmar is one of the most gorgeous albums I’ve ever heard. Seriously. I have affection for that record over most. If you’re more into the second one, Ciudad de Brahman, or maybe Corsario Negro or something they did thereafter, that’s awesome too. I’m certainly on board for the whole discography — my most recent welcome addition was the Rutation collection of previously unreleased material — but tonight, with how sweltering hot it’s been all day, it had to be Delmar to close out the week. It’s like I can hear the heat bearing down on me. Or maybe that’s sunstroke.
My alarm was set for 5 this morning, but I woke up at 4:57AM and agonized for two minutes before preempting it at 4:59. I wanted to get to work early in no small part to post the Carpet review and that interview with Steve Janiak from Devil to Pay. No regrets, but holy fucking shit I’m tired. At noon, The Patient Mrs. — who was coming up to Boston anyway to attend a wedding tonight — met me at my office and we split out to try to beat traffic northbound. Six-plus hours of traffic and intermittently cutting out A/C later, the little dog and I checked into the hotel where we’re staying after dropping The Patient Mrs. off at the aforementioned nuptials. I was tired then. Then I went and saw Hey Zeus, The Scimitar and The Brought Low at Radio. I’m even more tired now as we push toward 1:30AM. Go figure.
Next week though, a review of that show — spoiler alert: it was killer — and writeups on the new Trouble, The Flying Eyes and Black Willows records, one way or another. Also want to get something up on the Black Mare tape which is a solo-project from Sera Timms of Black Math Horseman and Ides of Gemini that’s ambientastic. Also a Lo-Pan check-in with drummer Jesse Bartz (always good to talk to him) ahead of next weekend’s The Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 in Brooklyn and I’m gonna put this one all in bold because I want it to stand out so someone might actually read it:
There’s a big surprise coming on Tuesday. I can’t say what it is yet but I think and hope you’ll dig it. Nothing’s ever 100 percent and things fall through, but I’m way stoked.
Speaking of things falling through, my housing plans. While we’re in Boston anyway, since we’re moving to Massachusetts in, oh, a week and a half, maybe it’s high time The Patient Mrs. and I found a place to live. After that house we were going to buy shit the proverbial bed — or at least poisoned it with carcinogenic gasoline additives — we now need to find a rental, and quick. Tomorrow’s the day. The truck and the movers are booked for next weekend. It’s tomorrow or it’s… well, Sunday, I guess. But definitely tomorrow’s preferable. The sooner the better.
So while we’re doing that, I hope like crazy you have a safe, terrific weekend. I’ll be back on Monday with more typo-laden riff worship.
So here’s an awkward moment for you: I was standing in back of The Purple Turtle at last year’s Desertfest in London, chatting with a couple of the rather sizable film and promotional crew that Cultura Tres brought with them from their native Venezuela (actually they were in Banda de la Muerte, from Argentina, and touring with the band, but I’m creating a narrative, so bear with me here) for the gig and their subsequent touring. Also there was their manager, Vania, in town from Bulgaria. Quite an international assemblage we made. One of the dudes along with Cultura Tres starts taking CDs out of a bag. Thinking he’s setting up a distro with a pile of CDs on the merch table, I’m immediately stoked out of my brains to see the cover above for what has turned out to be Los Natas‘ swan song release, 2011’s Rutation — an album that wasn’t released outside Argentina and one that at that point I’d already been trying for the better part of a year to get my grubby mitts upon.
“Holy shit!” I said with my usual amount of play-it-cool subtlety, “I’ll take that one.” Dude gave me the “uh…” look and some pitying soulexplained to me they weren’t selling those, they’d just brought them from South America for Vania. Feeling as much the fool as ever, I explained the trouble I’d had trying to sort out an encounter between myself and Rutation, which Los Natas released through their own South American Sludge imprint and eventually skulked away to down my weirdness in oversized Newcastles and take pictures of Cultura Tres, who were shooting footage for what would later become their “El Sur de la Fe” video. One of those times where I just have to hang my head and go, “Boy, is my face dumb.”
Actually seeing the disc had the effect of supercharging my search, but to no avail. I tried Oui Oui Records in Argentina, which has distributed Los Natas‘ stuff in their home country since 2003’s Bee Jesusbox set a decade ago, as well as a bevvy of worldwide distros North American, South American and European, eBay, Amazon sites from around the globe, etc. At this point, not to toot my own horn, but if I want to find a CD chances are I know where to look. Rutationdid not want to be found.
I wouldn’t say I gave up on it, because I have many late-night eBay searches that would indicate otherwise, but it became apparent to me that Rutationwas just one of those records I’d have to wait until it found me, rather than the other way around. Sorry, but if I can get a copy of Colour Haze‘s Chopping Machine (and I did), nothing’s totally unattainable, it just needs time. I waited for my time, and lo, right around the Xmas holiday a note comes in on Thee Facebooks from none other than Vania that she’s got a copy of the album for me.
Bless my miserable soul. I felt like I was waiting to adopt a puppy while I stood in line at the post office to pick up the package, sent from Bulgaria (for some reason Eastern European packages always require a signature). My stomach was tight with apprehension, but when I finally got the envelope and opened it, there was the disc. I swear to Robot Jesus there was a glow around it, and maybe it was leftover Xmas music, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t hear a choir singing. It went in the CD player before I even turned the car on, like it would play anyway before I turned the key. Some things just become an immediate priority.
In my reading about the album beforehand, I knew the recordings themselves were old. Rutationwas put to tape on a mobile unit in Buenos Aires in 1997, so it would’ve been after Delmarwas recorded but before Ciudad de Brahman — well into the time when they were still Natas, before the Los was added — the very heart of their most desert rocking period. Some of these tracks showed up on 1999’s Unreleased Dopes, and according to some sales I’ve seen on eBay, the band had cassettes of Rutationwith them when they toured the States in 2000, but the 2011 issue is the first official CD release that I know of, and I couldn’t have been more stoked to finally get to hear it.
Most of the tracks can be traced in different incarnations to Delmaror Ciudad de Brahman. Cuts like “Carl Sagan” and “Meteoro 2028,” arranged here as a desert-delic closing duo, and “Alohawaii” were excellent on the latter record and prove so again here, but the highlight of Rutation somewhat surprisingly is “Adolescentes,” a track I’d never really given much of a second glance on Ciudad, but which shines surrounded by “Siluette” (which I’ve yet to trace to another Natas release) and “Brisa del Desierto,” leading to the aforementioned closers. When they want to, Natas lock into fuzz riffing unrivaled in my experience, and you can hear that in “Polvareda,” but the airier parts of “Paradise” show that even at their rawest, there was room in the band’s approach for more than just riff-led Kyuss-isms.
All told, Rutationis just over 31 minutes long, but it still shows the character of what was then a young trio, and for the kindness of the gesture on Vania‘s part that got the disc from South America to Eastern Europe to New Jersey, I just had to write on it. It’s a gift I know I’ll appreciate for years to come, and if Los Natas really are done, then I consider myself all the more fortunate to have been able to get a copy of their last statement as a band.
Thought we’d do something a little different to close out this week. For my money, Natas‘ Delmar is probably the best album Man’s Ruin Records ever put out, and not to take away from what Kyuss accomplished — you could easily argue records like this wouldn’t exist without them and I don’t think you’d be wrong — but there have been many times where it’s one or the other and I wind up pulling Natas off the shelf instead. A full 16 years after its release, it remains gorgeous and has lost none of its potency.
The Patient Mrs. and I are in Boston for the weekend, which seems even farther away from the desert as I look out the hotel window and see it’s snowing, but I brought Delmar along for the ride and so it’s on my mind. No big change there, since it’s on the shortlist of my favorite albums ever, but with a couple listens through yesterday in the car, I figured another wouldn’t hurt. Still burns me that I haven’t been able to get ahold of the last Los Natas full-length, Rutation, that they released last year. With the band broken up though, what seems like distro only in their native Argentina and guitarist/vocalist Sergio Chotsourian moved on to the heavier but continually righteous Ararat — their second album, II (review here), has endured as one of this year’s finest — it doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. Hopefully I’ll bump into it somewhere along the way.
A bit about being in Boston: I’m moving here. Well, not here exactly, but about 45 minutes south to or near a town called Bridgewater. My brilliant wife — whose smokin’ hotness is matched only by her devastating intellectual prowess — got a professor’s gig at a college down that way that starts next fall, and as this weekend was likely to be my last opportunity to see the place before the holidays hit and the usual chaos erupted, here we are. We’ll drive down there in a bit and the basic idea is to check out the scene ahead of making the move sometime next summer, though apparently there’s a house on the market with an outdoor bar, which is about as close as I’ve ever heard to paradise.
That’s the reason for the delay on the review of the High on Fire/Goatwhore/Primate/Lo-Pan show, which otherwise would’ve gone up yesterday. I also saw Six Organs of Admittance last night up here, figuring they rule and if I’m gonna be here I’d better start getting out to stuff. Both of those reviews will go up early next week, and as I’ve lagged on album writeups lately, I might see if I can do two one day or something like that. I also still need to get that Bell Witch interview up, which I said I’d do this week and then never did. A bit of upheaval over here, and more time than I thought got taken up by adding to The Obelisk Radio. If you click that link and notice albums haven’t been added for two days, it’s only because — whoops — I filled the hard drive. My intent is to pick up a couple terabytes this weekend and get back to it as this week starts up, Monday or Tuesday.
Speaking of Monday, it’s December now, which means time to start the readers poll to find out everyone’s picks for the best albums of the year. Last year’s poll was good times and I’ve been looking forward to seeing what records stood out to everybody. My own list I’ll probably put up somewhere in the middle of the month — just when everyone’s really sick to death of self-important critics’ top 10s and 20s — and I know there are some tough choices in terms of deciding what’s to be included and in what order. It’s been a pretty wild year.
And as it starts to wind down, I hope as always that you enjoy what I’m doing with this site, that you dig the Natas, that you check in on the forum, take a listen to the Obelisk Radio stream and check back here for that High on Fire review, readers poll launch and much more. The one thing that never seems to be lacking is adventure. I’ll take that.
Founded in 1995 by Scott Hamilton, Detroit imprint Small Stone Records is the single most influential American heavy rock label of the post-Man’s Ruin era. What started as Hamilton releasing local Detroit acts of varied genres like Morsel, 36D and Perplexa soon took on a dedication to the heavy aesthetic that remains unmatched in both its scope and its reach of influence. Looking back, Five Horse Johnson‘s 1997 Double Down debut, seems to have been the beginning of Small Stone‘s turn down the fuzzly path. It’s like Hamilton followed the riff right down the rabbit hole and never looked back.
Now, 17 years on, Small Stone has a reach that goes beyond even the distribution of the albums it puts out. Thanks to the diligent work of Hamilton and oft-encountered names like Mad Oak Studios engineer/mixer Benny Grotto, mastering engineer Chris Gooseman, graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, among others, the label has earned a reputation for quality output that new releases are constantly reaffirming. Over the years, Man’s Ruin refugees like Sons of Otis, (The Men Of) Porn, Acid King and VALIS have come into the fold, but the crux of Small Stone‘s catalog is made up of acts like Roadsaw, Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone, Throttlerod, Puny Human and Novadriver, who no matter what else they put out or who they put it out with, will always be considered “Small Stone bands.”
That designation and those groups specifically have helped establish a core American-style heavy rocking sound that the label seems to delight in toying with even as it continues to promulgate. Next generation bands like Gozu, Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk, Backwoods Payback and even newer newcomers Wo Fat, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Mellow Bravo — who don’t yet have albums out on the label — are expanding its breadth, and recent international signees Asteroid, Abrahma, Mangoo, Nightstalker and Mother of God should help ensure that Small Stone keeps pushing both itself and genre boundaries well into the next several years.
One of the hazards, however, of an ever-growing catalog, is that it can be hard to figure out where to start taking it on, and to that end, I’m happy to provide you with 10 essential Small Stone picks. Note I didn’t say “the 10 essential Small Stone picks,” because the reality of the situation is this is just the tip of the fuzzberg. If it’s any indication, I started out with five and couldn’t leave the rest out.
Here they are, ordered by the date of release:
1. Novadriver, Void (ss-022/2001)
Still an album that’s more or less impossible to pin to just one genre, the stoner/space/weirdo jams of Novadriver‘s 2001 outing, Void, reside somewhere between Monster Magnet‘s early Hawkwind worship and the unbridled intensity of groove that came out of Detroit’s early- and mid-’70s heavy rock and proto-metal. The fact that Novadriver also came from the Motor City speaks to the label’s local roots, but if Void was coming out even today, it’d be coming out on Small Stone.
2. Los Natas, Corsario Negro (ss-028/2002)
Personally, I think 2005’s El Hombre Montaña is a better album and 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad is an even better album than that, but Corsario Negro earns the edge as a starting point because it was the beginning of the Argentinian rockers’ relationship with Small Stone (they too were left without a home in the wake of Man’s Ruin folding). Plus, if you haven’t heard them before and you get this, you can still marvel at the subsequent offerings. Either way, totally necessary.
3. Various Artists, Sucking the ’70s (ss-032/2002)
In a lot of ways, this is what it’s all about. Badass bands playing badass songs. By this point, The Glasspack, Los Natas, Fireball Ministry, Halfway to Gone and Five Horse Johnson (who lead off the first disc) had already put out at least one album through Small Stone, but Sucking the ’70s made the most of the label’s burgeoning reputation, bringing in Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy and Lowrider, along with bands who’d later add records to the catalog like Roadsaw, Suplecs and Lord Sterling, all covering hits and obscurities from the heavy ’70s. A gorgeous collection that would get a sequel in 2006. Still waiting on part three.
4. Dixie Witch, One Bird, Two Stones (ss-037/2003)
The Austin, Texas, trio would go on to become one of the most pivotal acts on the Small Stone roster, and they’d do so on the strength of their Southern riffs and the soul in their songwriting. Led by drummer/vocalist Trinidad Leal, Dixie Witch hooked up with Small Stone on the heels of their 2001 debut, Into the Sun, which was released by Brainticket, and quickly gained a reputation for some of the finest classic road songs that Grand Funk never wrote (see “The Wheel”). Their 2011 offering, Let it Roll, affirmed their statesmen status among their labelmates.
5. Sasquatch, Sasquatch (ss-044/2004)
I was pretty well convinced that when the L.A.-based Sasquatch released their self-titled debut in 2004, rock and roll was saved. Whoever it needed saving from, whatever needed to take place to make that happen, this record did it. Truth is, rock and roll didn’t really need to be saved — it needed a stiff drink, as we all do from time to time — but Sasquatch would’ve been right there even if it had. They’re a Small Stone original with all three of their records to date out through the label, and still one of the strongest acts in the American rock underground, even though they’d never be quite this fuzzy again.
6. Dozer, Through the Eyes of Heathens (ss-061/2005)
Even now, seven years later, I can’t look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “The Roof, the River, the Revolver.” Between that and songs like “Man of Fire,” “Born a Legend” and “From Fire Fell,” Swedish rockers Dozer made their definitive statement in their label debut (fourth album overall). Another former Man’s Ruin band, they’d already begun to grow past their desert rock roots by the time they hooked up with Hamilton, and Through the Eyes of Heathens played out like what heavy metal should’ve turned into after the commercial atrocities of the late-’90s. A gorgeous record and still a joy to hear.
7. Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (ss-074/2007)
It’s like they built nearly every song on here out of undeniable choruses. Even the verses are catchy. I’ve championed Agents of Ahriman since before I started this site, and I feel no less vehement in doing so now than I did then. A side-project of Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa that on this, their third album, included and featured members of Truckfighters, Lowrider, The Awesome Machine and others, Greenleaf became a distillation of many of the elements that make Swedish heavy rock unique in the world. It wasn’t aping classic rock, it was giving it a rebirth, and every Hammond note was an absolute triumph.
8. Iota, Tales (ss-084/2008)
Once, I had a t-shirt with the cover of Iota‘s Tales on the front. I wore it until it got holes, and then I bought another. That’s the kind of album Tales was. A trio crawled from out of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Iota took Kyuss, launched them into space, and jammed out for five, 10 or 20 minutes to celebrate the success of the mission. Recently, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano has resurfaced in the bluesier, more earthbound Dwellers, which teams him with the rhythm section of SubRosa. Their debut, Good Morning Harakiri, was a highlight of early 2012, building on what Iota was able to accomplish here while pushing in a different direction.
9. Solace, A.D. (ss-093/2010)
It took the better part of a decade for the Jersey-bred metallers to finish what became their Small Stone debut after two full-lengths for MeteorCity, but when it finally dropped, there was no denying A.D.‘s power. My album of the year in 2010, the band delivered front to back on seven years’ worth of promise, and though it was recorded in more studios than I can count over a longer stretch than I think even Solace knows, it became a cohesive, challenging album, giving listeners a kick in the ass even as it handed them their next beer. I still get chills every time I put on “From Below,” and I put it on with near-embarrassing regularity.
10. Lo-Pan, Salvador (ss-116/2011)
If you know this site, this one’s probably a no-brainer pick, but the Columbus, Ohio-based riff merchants took on unabashed stoner rock fuzz for their Small Stone debut (third album overall) and made some of 2011’s most memorable songs in the process. Subversively varied in mood and heavy as hell no matter what they were doing, every part of Lo-Pan‘s Salvador worked. There was no lag. Small Stone also reissued the band’s 2009 outing, Sasquanaut, in 2011, but Salvador surpassed it entirely, bringing the band to new heights of professionalism they’d confirm by touring, well, perpetually. They’re still touring for it. You should go see them and behold the future of fuzz.
That’s the list as much as I could limit it. If you want to immediately add five more, throw in Roadsaw‘s self-titled (they’re writing the best songs of their career right now, I don’t care how attached to the early records you are), Puny Human‘s Universal Freak Out, Halfway to Gone‘s High Five, Milligram‘s This is Class War and Five Horse Johnson‘s Fat Black Pussycat. If you want to semi-immediately add five more than that, get the reissue of Acid King‘s Busse Woods, Mos Generator‘sSongs for Future Gods, The Brought Low‘s Third Record, Tummler‘s Early Man and Erik Larson‘s The Resounding. There. We just doubled the length of the list.
And the real trouble? I could go on. We didn’t even touch on curios like Axehandle, Lord Sterling and Brain Police, or The Might Could‘s Southern aggression, Hackman‘s instrumentalism or the druggy post-grunge of VALIS. Suffice it to say that Small Stone is one of very few labels out there from whom any output will at least be worth a cursory investigation. As the label continues to grow and develop in 2012 and beyond with new bands and new releases from its staple acts, taking on new avenues of commerce — like releasing vinyl for the first time, which it did in 2011 — whatever changes might crop up, Small Stone seems ready to meet the future, distortion pedal first. Can’t ask more of rock than that.