Friday Full-Length: Solarized, Neanderthal Speedway

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 6th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Solarized, Neanderthal Speedway (1999)

Primo fuzz the way they used to make it. New Jersey heavy rock, like my beloved Garden State itself, will always hold a special place in my heart, but I’ll confess I never got to see Solarized live. That hasn’t stopped me from over the years periodically taking Neanderthal Speedway or its 2001 follow-up, Driven off the shelf and giving them a spin. And why would it? The albums, the first of which came out on Man’s Ruin Records on April 9, 1999, have a fuzz and personality of their own, but listening back to the 12 tracks of Neanderthal Speedway now, my head is flooded with associations, from the riff of “Solar Fang” being directly tied to Monster Magnet‘s “Zodiac” to the low end work that Lou Gorra was simultaneously bringing to his own band, Halfway to Gone, while doubling alongside Solarized‘s core founding duo of guitarist/vocalist Jim Hogan and drummer Reg Santana, to the smell of sweaty summer nights at the Brighton Bar in Long Branch and the ride back north on the Parkway. Rounded out by guitarist Pete Hauschild on the debut, Solarized were never the highest-profile of the New Jersey heavy underground set, which at the time was being widely picked up by labels big and small in the wake of Monster Magnet‘s commercial success, whether it was Core on Atlantic, Solace on MeteorCity, Halfway to Gone on Small Stone, or The Atomic Bitchwax on Tee Pee.

There was certainly plenty enough rock to go around, and one can hear the punker roots that a lot of the above bands share/shared in Solarized‘s “Psyclone Tread,” but like so many others of their ilk, slowing down (some) and fuzzing out suited Solarized impeccably. They started Neanderthal Speedway at a good clip with “Nebula Mask,” seeming to answer Californian desert rock directly with a decidedly Eastern Seaboard crunch to their guitar tones. Hogan‘s vocals were clean but not overly melodic — another punk trait — and the drive of the tracks on the whole was more geared toward rawness than patience, even when it came around to cuts like “Shifter” on which Ed Mundell and Tim Cronin — both of Monster Magnet at one point, now of The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic and The Ribeye Bros., respectively — turned in guest appearances on guitar and percussion. Solarized seemed far more comfortable in the middle ground of songs like “Fire Breather,” “Gravity Well” and “Black Light Swill,” digging into hooks and hard-hitting, mid-paced riff-led fare, given to an overarching nod, but not necessarily slow in itself. Even a song like “February Sixth (Anti-Life Equation),” which boasted such rhythmic swing, kept to a solid tempo. Hey, if you’ve got a thing, and it works, go for it.

The four-piece’s original bio for Neanderthal Speedway, which was posted here seven years ago, noted Hogan‘s and Santana‘s connections to Daisycutter, in which Cronin and Mundell also played, as well as The Atomic Bitchwax‘s Chris Kosnik later on, and called Solarized “atomic boogie rock.” Fair enough. To hear “Aftermath,” it’s a decent description, and though Solarized saved the most of their lysergy for when Mundell showed up as on “Cloud King” or the excuse-me-I-believe-you-have-it-backwards instrumental closer “Monolith,” and it worked for them when they broke it out, but their sound was by no means a constant one way or they other. That worked for them too. Here’s the full bio in case you don’t feel like clicking the link:

solarized neanderthal speedway bio

As you can see, it was a pretty easy sell. Fuzz-drenched heavy rock and roll from what was at the time one of the country’s most fertile underground scenes. After Man’s Ruin went under, Solarized hooked up with MeteorCity for Driven — the label had also put out the Jersey Devils split with Solace (discussed here) in ’99 — and then seemed to sort of dissolve by the mid-aughts. Jim and Reg, who share the last name Hogan these days, play together in the punk band Defiance Engine, and Reg has another new outfit called 19DRT who’ll play their first show on April 20 at the Mill Hill Basement in Trenton. Ah, memories of that place.

I guess I’ve got New Jersey on the brain because, you know, I wish I lived there, but whatever the case, as always I hope you enjoy.

If how long it’s taken me to put together this post and how much of the last hour I’ve spent asleep with my head down on the kitchen table is anything to go by, I probably should’ve gone back to bed at some point after the alarm went off at 4:30AM. Perhaps the hint I should’ve taken was when I looked at my phone and it was 4:45 and I’d missed the first two rounds of the alarm. It was not my most fluid of mornings.

But that only feels fair enough since this was the LONGEST FUCKING WEEK EVER. Oh my god damn was this week long. Yesterday, I was sitting in The Patient Mrs.’ car waiting to pick her up from work and I fell asleep with my head on the steering wheel as I tried to calm The Pecan in the back seat, who was screaming like a madman — because he hates when the car sits still, likes it when the car moves. He finally quieted down and we both fell asleep at about the same time with the car idling outside the library on her campus. Some time later there’s a knock on the driver’s side window and I’m shocked awake. I jumped and rolled down the window and told the cop, “You scared the shit out of me,” which is apparently something you can say when you’re 36 years old, so white you’re practically transparent, and driving a Volvo with a baby and a dog in back. I told him I was waiting for my wife and my explanation for why I was unconscious was as simple as pointing to the back seat and saying, “five month old.” He said, “It gets better,” and went on his way.

But still, longest week ever. I can’t believe it’s not next Wednesday yet. Between the Quarterly Review, getting the last bits of the Roadburn ‘zine in place — still working on that — and other writing projects, my big luxury yesterday was stopping to go the bathroom and take a shower. I didn’t have time to do either, really. What a wreck. The Quarterly Review wraps on Monday, which will be a relief, and then it’s back toward some semblance of normality.

Subject to change as always, here are the notes for the week:

Mon.: QR6, Brond track premiere.
Tue.: Rancho Bizzarro EP stream, Green Desert Water video premiere.
Wed.: Shrine of the Serpent track premiere.
Thu.: Hound the Wolves Six Dumb Questions; Greenbeard video premiere.
Fri.: Mirror Queen video premiere.

So yeah, that plus catching up on all the news that slipped through the cracks this week should be a nice break. That’s why I get paid the big bucks. Ha.

On that happy note, I wish you a great and safe weekend. If you need me, I’ll still be here, trying to catch up. Maybe I’ll even answer some email and Facebook messages for the first time in like a week.

Please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: The Desert Sessions, Volume I. Volume II

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

The Desert Sessions, Vol. I & II

Imagine you’re an alien sent to Earth on a mission of galactic diplomacy. You’ve done your homework, read the full portfolio, and you feel pretty confident in your ability to get here, know the score, drop off your pamphlets about joining the interstellar union of planets (that’s not to say “Galactic Federation”) and get back out again. Easy peasy.

So you find what seems to be a decent parking spot for your craft at a strip mall or wherever and land outside a record store. You have your clipboard under your arm to give you a sense of authority and you walk into the place — because in your portfolio it says that record stores are where Earthlings conduct their most important diplomatic transactions; totally true, by the way — and blaring through the speakers is the 1998 compilation Desert Sessions Vol. I & II. You hear John McBain‘s weepy lap steel guitar on “Monkey in the Middle.” You hear the bizarre preach that starts off the record and the even more bizarre preach that finishes it. You hear Josh Homme and Dave Catching‘s intertwining guitars on the jazzy and psychedelic “Cowards Way Out.” And what the hell can you possibly think is happening? Wouldn’t you have to immediately get back in your ship and space-truck the hell out of there? Final report: Earth is too weird for first contact.

The first of them issued some 20 years ago this month, the Desert Sessions releases — there would wind up being 10 of them recorded between 1997 and 2003, compiled two per CD, with the first six pressed independently on vinyl — have become something of a legend of desert rock. A glorious tale of shroom-laden spontaneous creative endeavor, spearheaded by a recently-enough post-Kyuss Josh Homme, at that point really just getting going with Queens of the Stone Age — who over the subsequent years would derive songs like “Avon” and “Monster in the Parasol” from Sessions material — working under the moniker The Acquitted Felons at Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, CA, with the even-then-unfuckwithable lineup of McBain (Monster Magnet, Wellwater Conspiracy), Brant Bjork (ex-Kyuss, Fu Manchu), Alfredo Hernández (Yawning Man, Queens of the Stone Age), Ben Shepherd (Soundgarden, Wellwater Conspiracy), Pete Stahl (earthlings?, Goatsnake) and studio owners Fred Drake and Dave Catching, it’s a narrative almost too fitting to the genre: anti-establishment, raw creativity, drugs. It’s so on-its-own-terms it might as well be in its own language.

And in a way, it is. First released in 1997 as Volume I: Instrumental Driving Music for Felons and 1998 as Vol. II: Ships Commander Butchered (well, at least we know what happened to our interplanetary diplomat), the first two Desert Sessions installments were independent vinyl EPs before Man’s Ruin brought them together as a single 10-song/39-minute full-length CD, which frankly works better. Whether it’s the nine-minute bizarro-garage push of “Cake (Who Shit on The?)” or the more straightforward “Johnny the Boy,” on which Homme seems to do his best vocal impression of Fatso Jetson‘s Mario Lalli, whatever else you might say about The Desert Sessions and the stories of their making, they are vibrantly creative outings, especially earlier on. Spontaneity abounds throughout the first two volumes, and pulled together on a single disc, the listener gets a sense of being at Rancho de la Luna with The Acquitted Felons as they draw inspiration from the land around them, from each other, and yeah, probably from a healthy-ish amount of psilocybin. These tracks and the others in the editions that would follow have become something of historical footnotes perhaps to the wider stylistic contributions of Queens of the Stone AgeMasters of Reality, et al to the sphere and scope of this era of desert rock, from which much of the subgenre’s influence continues to derive, but even so the substance of the release itself more than justifies holding Vol. I & II in such regard. Two decades later, it’s a disc that remains gleefully, irrepressibly weird, and in so doing captures an essential part of the spirit of desert rock too often lost in favor of simple fuzz tones and Kyuss-style riffing.

Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not a model that’s been followed more often. When I think about locales with booming heavy undergrounds — from Austin, Texas, to Portland, Oregon, to Berlin, London, Barcelona, Rome, Athens, and so on — it seems like there would or should be someone picking up this form and bringing something new to it. It doesn’t have to be a “desert session,” necessarily, but just the notion of getting a group of musicians together who respect each other, putting them in a studio fora  couple days and seeing what comes out of it. Can you imagine if members of Causa SuiPapir and Baby Woodrose got together? Or Electric Moon and Øresund Space Collective? You could have 10 “sessions” of material in an afternoon! Or how about Gabriele Fiori from Black Rainbows putting together a team with contributions from Ufomammut members and others from around the Roman underground? Or the 1000mods guys leading the charge for Greece? There’s so much potential in the notion, I suppose, that it’s kind of sad it hasn’t happened.

I guess these things can be hard to coordinate, even if they might end up staving off an alien invasion.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Going to make this quick because it’s five in the morning and as good as this coffee is, I’m writing with one eye open as a result of being so gosh dern tired. I got back last night at about midnight from seeing Corrosion of Conformity and Red Fang rip it up in Worcester, Mass., which is more than an hour away from where I live (what isn’t?) and was magically awake again at 2AM, so yeah a bit of punishment.

I’ll be reviewing that show for Monday. Next week is also packed with streams and premieres. Here’s the notes, obviously subject to change:

Mon.: All Souls album stream/review; C.O.C. live review.
Tue.: River Cult track premiere/review; Zhora video.
Wed.: Green Lung EP stream.
Thu.: Green Druid review/track premiere; Six Dumb Questions with Black Space Riders.
Fri.: Lonely Kamel track premiere.

Like I said, packed.

As regards a personal update for anyone who’s been keeping up the last couple weeks or who reads the photo floatovers — not that there’s ever anything to read in the photo floatovers; please ignore the snark behind the curtain — it’s been a really tough time. I’m being treated for an eating disorder and it’s playing havoc with my body and mental state. I’m doing the work I need to be doing, doing what I’m told and all that shit, eating, but yeah, it’s been a really low time for me on a personal level and that has manifested in some pretty dark thoughts and impulses. I’m doing my best to get through it for my wife and our baby. That’s all I really want to say at this point about it.

On a brighter note, a lot of people said a lot of really nice things about the site this week on the occasion of the ninth anniversary, here and on the social medias, and that was thoroughly appreciated. Thank you for giving a crap. It’s the reason I’m up at five in the morning putting this post together. Well, that and persistent anxiety issues. But the point is it’s definitely both as a factor, and your ongoing support of The Obelisk means more to me than I can say. Thank you.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. I’m going to eat a hamburger today. I’m a little nervous about it and unsure if I’ll have it with eggs or on a bun, but either way, this thing is happening. That and singing Deep Purple and Dio to my son while changing his diapers will be my adventure for the next couple days.

Please don’t forget to check out the forum and radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Unida, Coping with the Urban Coyote

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 13th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Unida, Coping with the Urban Coyote (1999)

Among the many branches of the Kyuss family tree, Unida continue to hold a special place. Their story will perhaps forever be one of oh-what-could’ve-been, and though their legacy is marked by the abruptness with which their momentum was cut short, the quality of their debut and only officially released album to-date, Coping with the Urban Coyote resonates perhaps even more now, 18 years after its original release, than it might’ve at the time it came out on Frank Kozik‘s Man’s Ruin Records. Certainly to listen to the eight tracks and 41-minutes, there’s little to make it sound anything less than vital. With so much time passed and so much that’s happened since, that would only seem to emphasize how special a release it actually is and has been all along.

Unida formed in 1998 and made their debut the next year by including their The Best of Wayne-Gro EP as part of a split with Sweden’s Dozer released by MeteorCity. Later in ’99, Coping with the Urban Coyote would surface on Man’s Ruin as their proper first album. With frontman John Garcia fresh off his time in Slo Burn, whose Amusing the Amazing LP was issued in 1997, the ex-Kyuss singer seemed poised to once again make an impact in the heavy rock underground. And so he did. Joined in Unida‘s Coping with the Urban Coyote lineup by guitarist Arthur Seay, drummer Mike Cancino and bassist Dave Dinsmore — who’d later be replaced by Scott Reeder (ex-KyussThe Obsessed, etc.) — Garcia presented a new outfit that tightened the desert rock approach of Kyuss on songs like “Plastic” and the blasting “If Only Two,” delving into his trademark patterning of repeating lines in his lyrics, pushing out vocals with from-the-gut soulfulness, and capturing the spirit of place that few other vocalists from that region or elsewhere have been able to match since, while also presenting trippier fare on the nine-minute finale “You Wish” and finding a sound that was distinct enough from Kyuss to not simply be recapturing what was lost in a way that Slo Burn seemed at times to be trying to do. Unida may have been working in a similar sphere, but they were their own band already on their first record, even with Garcia‘s strong ties to his own sonic past.

The Unida story has been told many times, both here and elsewhere, and so I don’t necessarily think I need to delve into the details of the fate of their follow-up to Coping with the Urban Coyote, but just as a refresher: what was originally titled For the Working Man and later became known as The Great Divide was tracked by mega-producer Rick Rubin and set to be issued through Rubin‘s American Recordings imprint through Island Def Jam in 2002. The record company shelved it, owned it, and that was basically the end. It’s been bootlegged many times since and accordingly is readily available online, but it’s never been officially released, and the commercial potential it represented in terms of bringing Unida — and really desert rock as a whole, since although they had two records out, Queens of the Stone Age were still about a year away from “happening” on a more widespread level and claiming that forerunner mantle as their own — to a broader audience went unfulfilled. A much, much worse fate than the album deserved, and it was effectively the end of the group. Unida played sporadic shows throughout the years, and notably they got back together to headline Desertfest London in 2013 (review here), and would head to Berlin to play there and tour Australia with Beastwars, also reissuing Coping with the Urban Coyote via Cobraside Distribution in 2014 with a bonus disc of live tracks from their Desertfest performance.

Of course, in the intervening years, Seay and Cancino went on to form House of Broken Promises and would issue the debut long-player, Using the Useless (review here), via Small Stone in 2009. It wasn’t until this fall that release got a follow-up — the Twisted EP came out last week on Heavy Psych Sounds and the band is on tour in Europe to promote it — but with Unida seemingly once more at rest, presumably there’s time for Seay to focus on the other outfit.

That’s nothing to complain about, though, because as much as Unida‘s circumstances and narrative define the band, and as much as Garica‘s presence as frontman leaves an indelible mark on their output, I’d argue gladly that it’s Seay‘s underlying songwriting ability that is the most distinguishing factor, and I think revisiting Coping with the Urban Coyote plainly demonstrates that. To listen to the clear-headed riff that drives “Nervous,” the flourish leads peppered throughout that track or the start-stop swing in opener “Thorn,” the forward thrust of “Black Woman” and the penultimate “Dwarf It” or the mid-paced ease with which “Human Tornado” is brought to bear, and the rolling spaciousness of “You Wish,” even in light of everything that’s happened since (and hasn’t happened since) with this band and its players, the vision of Seay‘s craft is so purposeful in hitting all its marks and yet still comes across as natural and born of the chemistry between himself, Garcia, Cancino and Dinsmore.

I’d also say that’s the key factor that’s allowed Coping with the Urban Coyote to hold up so well over time. Something to keep in mind as you dive in and think about either chasing down The Great Divide via some interwebular chicanery or finding yourself a copy of that Cobraside reissue (which is about where I’m at, honestly), and of course either way, I very much hope you enjoy.

Thanks as always for reading.

I decided to let myself sleep late today, by which I mean the alarm was set for 6AM. I woke up at 5:23AM and decided quickly that I was too conscious to bother with the remaining 35 pre-alarm minutes. Been a stressful few days as The Patient Mrs. and I continue to await the arrival of The Pecan. Her due date is Sunday, but really it feels like it could be any minute now. Today would work. Tomorrow. Whenever. He’ll come when he comes. The catchphrase we’ve been using is “babies are born on their birthday.” I’m sure everyone says the same shit when waiting like this. Few things in life turn out not to be cliches one way or another.

Our families are excited. We had kind of a final pre-baby get-together last weekend in Connecticut and that was really good if also kind of tiring. The Patient Mrs., as one might expect, has been especially beat the last few days, as we’ve gotten invariably closer to the beginning stages of labor, and I can see the change. She went to a couple meetings at work yesterday and was alright when she first got home, but once she had some dinner and keyed down a bit had very clearly hit a wall. We went to bed at about 8PM to lay down and I read for a while to The Pecan from the Star Trek novel I’m currently making my way through. I don’t know how into the adventures of Will Riker among the Romulans this kid will ultimately be, but it seems the least I can do to start him off right, especially while words are just sounds to help bonding. It’s not like he really needs to know what a subspace warp field is at this point.

That’ll come later.

But while we’re already not really sleeping and we’re doing stuff like making sure there’s gas in the car (there isn’t currently) to get to the hospital when the time comes to go, and our bags are packed and we’ve got our for-labor positions and massages all practiced with the doula and the midwife and as much as the stage can be set, the stage is set, the bottom line is we’re really excited to have this baby. Yeah, it’s a huge difference and everything in my life is about to get turned upside down and all the rest of that stuff — diapers and priorities will likewise be changed — but the anticipation of what’s coming is huge at this point. We can’t wait to meet him. Say hi and whatnot. It’ll be cool. I hope he’s not a dick. Ha.

Before I head out, here’s a schedule for next week that’s obviously more tentative and subject to change without notice than ever:

Mon.: The Spacelords review/stream; The Road Miles video premiere.
Tue.: The Age of Truth review/stream; new I Klatus video.
Wed.: Year of the Cobra review/stream; new Bushfire video.
Thu.: Cities of Mars review.
Fri.: Special surprise review/stream that I can’t talk about yet but that is going to rule. I don’t want to give it away, but stay tuned.

I’ve tried to mitigate stuff in light of the impending Pecan, and that’s about as well as I could do to be minimal. If it comes to it and I need to kill news posts to make room, I will, but we’ll see when we get there. Hell, the kid could not come for another week and a half. Who knows?

It’s going to be fun finding out.

Of course I’ll keep you posted when I have news, but in the interim, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please do something fun, enjoy yourself and your time and your loved ones if you can, and please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Operator Generator, Polar Fleet

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 23rd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Operator Generator, Polar Fleet (2001)

There is an essential truth in Operator Generator‘s 2001 debut, Polar Fleet, and if you’ll indulge me for a minute or two, I’d like to explore it. The San Jose, California, four-piece of vocalist Mitchell French, guitarist Tom Choi, bassist Joe Tucci and drummer Michael Parkinson released the eight-track outing in 2001 during the latter days of Man’s Ruin Records — it’s catalog number MR-2008, which means it came after the label’s ill-fated 1999 distribution alignment with Artemis Records, so that makes sense — and even beyond the basic fact of its quality riffing, or of its groove, to me it represents a clear marker in the march of generations of heavy rock. I’ve talked about this a lot, in Friday Full-Length posts, in reviews, and so on, but while it’s by no means the only example — Man’s Ruin alone remains a treasure trove of now-obscure pre-social-media heavy, from SuplecsBottomBegotten and Drunk Horse to the rawer Mass and Greenmachine, let alone anything anyone else put out on a label or independently — Operator Generator remains a perfect example of a record that, now, it’s almost too easy to view as being ahead of its time.

Granted, they had a direct line to Sleep via Choi, who previously played guitar in Asbestosdeath as part of a lineup that also included Matt PikeAl Cisneros and Chris Hakius, but to listen to the post-Sleep’s Holy Mountain chug of “Infinite Loop” and any number of acts who send me the Bandcamp links to their “debut EP” — a demo by any other name — on a weekly basis, you would in many ways think the last 15 years never happened. I’m not saying these bands aren’t allowed to take influence from the past. Far from it. One could and probably should quite easily argue that representing aesthetic traditionalism is half the point of working within any genre — the other half, hopefully, being originality — but as listeners, I feel like we have a responsibility to dedicate ourselves to understanding where those traditions come from, and so that’s why I tend to go on at such lengths about the days before Facebook and Instagram brought a new wave of bands particularly from the US, Europe and Australia. That might sound like I’m advocating a dry, academic approach to listening to music, and I’m not — at least not to the extent that cold analysis would trump actual enjoyment — but part of moving a style forward, or moving anything forward, is exploring the history that birthed it. Enjoying the output of new bands is one of the greatest joys the planet has to offer, and it’s one I feel can only be enriched by a fuller framework.

What’s the fucking point? The fucking point is riffs weren’t invented in 2006. Or 2001. Or 1995. Or 1969. Or 1955. Or 1928. The impulse to create something of meaning and presence goes back to cave drawings and probably long before that. Listening to Polar Fleet, whether it’s the forward push the title-track or the on-theme vibes of the later “Arctic Quest,” I’m reminded of just how crucial it is that as creative people — and both hearing and making records can be creative acts, make no mistake — attempts are made to engage with history. Not at the sacrifice of the present, but toward its future. Operator Generator had two releases out in their time in this long-player and a prior self-titled EP on 12th Records, and if either showed up in my inbox today, I might note the dated sound of the drums on “Museum’s Flight,” but I’d be just as likely to offer high praise to the psychedelic expansion of closer “Soil of Lavamore,” and if I didn’t know the album’s origin, I’m sure I could be convinced it was brand new. I invite you to put it next to any number of current releases and see if you don’t get where I’m coming from. The more time passes, the more records like this one become important, and the more important it becomes to realize the effect they’ve had on the development of heavy music worldwide. Context matters.

Polar Fleet has an impending reissue by Twin Earth Records — which, if you want the context, is headed by Ric Bennett, of high-grade Sabbath worshipers Starchild and Stars that Move. More on that as I hear it.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

I appreciate your indulging the preach, but as we come down to the wire on 2016 and lists start to come out and stuff like that, I can’t help but feel like there are an awful lot of not-that-new ideas being celebrated as revolutionary. That’s the nature of things, I suppose, and end-of-year critical hyperbole is a fact of life — I’ve certainly been guilty of it as well — but I don’t know. Maybe I’m just getting old. I remember being 22 and starting to seriously dig into heavy rock — hardly ground floor; this is circa 2002-2003 — and it all sounded so fresh, when even bands like Operator Generator were feeding off what came before them. Dudes who saw Kyuss in 1992, or for that matter Mountain in 1971, were probably shaking their heads and wondering what the big deal was. Like I said, nature of things.

This weekend is the Xmas holiday. If it’s one you celebrate for either religious or secular reasons, I hope it’s a good one for you. Family, gift-giving, food, the whole bit. The Patient Mrs. and I will head south, first to her family in Connecticut and then to mine in New Jersey — not that her family isn’t my family and my family isn’t hers, I’m just categorizing by blood relation; love abounds from all sides and I feel remarkably fortunate for that — but should return to Massachusetts on Monday following the revelry. Not certain on the exact timing yet, but it’s hardly our first time at this rodeo, so we’ll figure it out, and as I’ve discovered time and again, I can run a decent enough hotspot from my phone on the I-95 corridor to get posts up from my laptop while on the road.

That’s good, because Monday starts the Quarterly Review, which will take us into the New Year as it’s six days this time instead of the traditional five. I’m thinking of it as kind of a wrap-up for 2016, so there’s a lot to cover. It could’ve been two full weeks, but I’d lose my mind. I’ll be plenty busy as it is. Here’s a tentative look at the week-plus:

Mon.: Quarterly Review day one; comment from Geezer on touring Europe.
Tue.: Quarterly Review day two; track premiere from Michael Wohl.
Wed.: Quarterly Review day three.
Thu.: Quarterly Review day four.
Fri.: Quarterly Review day five.
Sun.: Year-End Poll results out.
Mon.: Quarterly Review day six.

Yup, look for those results on New Year’s Day, and the last batch of Quarterly Review writeups — 10 records per day, as usual — that Monday. Starting on the first, I’ve also got a new sponsorship deal for the site being tried out that I’m excited for, and of course there’s plenty of news and videos and other stuff peppered throughout the week that still needs to be sorted. It will be busy and require much coffee, and that’s apparently how I like it.

But as I sign off even momentarily — because really I’m just about to get back to work on the aforementioned Quarterly Review; not actually going anywhere — let me please wish you once again a happy holiday. Be safe, have a great time, and listen to awesome music. If you missed it, there’s a four-hour podcast that went up yesterday that might help in that endeavor. Just saying.

All the best and back Monday. Thanks for reading, and please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Begotten Stream Two Lost Tracks Recorded in 2001

Posted in audiObelisk on October 19th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

begotten

Just how far ahead of their time were New York riffers Begotten? Take a listen for yourself to these two lost cuts from 15 years ago and find out. I’ve gone on at some length over the last couple years about the effect that a changing social media landscape and generational shift has had on a period of heavy rock in the late-’90s and early-’00s, so I’ll spare (most of) that, but like NYC compatriots in Atomic Number 76, Kreisor, Puny Human, M-Squad and a host of others — The Brought Low might be considered survivors — the trio Begotten were a prime example of a band about to have their time who found it cut short. Tracked in 2000 and released in 2001, their self-titled debut was the final CD to come from the groundbreaking Man’s Ruin Records, and like many of that imprint’s acts — Suplecs, MassCavity, etc. — they were left wondering what to do next when label honcho and design artist Frank Kozik pulled the plug. The record, a quality offering of post-Sleep tonal weight with flashes of New Yorker edge and more psychedelic impulses, never got the push it deserved, and they never did another. End of story.

Yes and no. The MySpace era and many of the acts who thrived in the day may have dissipated, but in the case of Begotten, before they went their separate ways, they took part in what seems to be numerous studio and taped rehearsal sessions after the album came out, and it’s from those that “Apache” and “Nomad” come. The two songs — other versions of which you can actually still find archived on their MySpace page, linked below — are presented here in somewhat raw fashion, but give credence to what I’m talking about as regards those years in general, which is to say that if it showed up in my inbox today, the work of guitarist/vocalist Matthew Anselmo, bassist/vocalist Amanda Topaz and drummer Rob Sefcik — the latter of whom would resurface years later in Brooklyn’s Kings Destroy — would fit right in.

Insert your favorite cliche about the old being the new here, but listen to Begotten lumber their way through “Apache” in the context of what bands like Monolord are doing now and I think you’ll hear the adage is easily applied. In tone and the emergent jammed-out feel of “Apache,” as well as in the more intense initial chug that follows in “Nomad” (Sefcik‘s drum intro reminding a bit of Kings Destroy‘s “Stormbreak” from their second album) before that song nears the halfway mark and gloriously spaces itself out, ne’er to return, Begotten‘s emphasis on swing and laid back heft seems prescient in hindsight.

My understanding is that Begotten might start jamming together again at some point, but whether or not that comes to fruition, the three-piece left behind a quality curio in their self-titled, the value of which extends way beyond its tertiary trivia, and “Apache” and “Nomad” show there was clearly a progression underway in their sound that, to-date, remains unrealized. Seems to me that in another 10-15 years — maybe sooner; things move quickly these days — when this era of heavy rock gets mined for reissues the way releases from 1968-1975 have been, Begotten will be more than ready for a second look, whatever else their future as a group may hold.

Sefcik offers some comment on the tracks under the player below.

Please enjoy:

Rob Sefcik on “Apache” and “Nomad”:

So if I remember correctly we went in to record these because we felt we were really hitting our stride. I’m not sure if we had any intention of releasing them at the time but they were definitely a reflection f what we were going for — music that had weight but also an earthy spirit and a sense of freedom. Keeping things super heavy but maintaining a certain loose, jammy vibe is always easier said than done, but we felt like we were getting there with these tunes.

The consensus is that they were recorded late spring/early summer 2001, about a year or so after the record was out. There was a pretty good amount of other material, at least an album or two’s worth. They were recorded in Manhattan but in true stoner rock fashion no one can remember the name…

We definitely have some other recorded material that we have not been able to locate, but I’m sure it will rear its head. For Amanda, these songs for her personally were, ‘an expression of the sublime beauty of the gut-wrenching agony of her existence at the time.’ I was just tying to have a good time, ALL the time, ha.

Begotten on Thee Facebooks

Begotten on MySpace (yup)

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Friday Full-Length: Suplecs, Sad Songs… Better Days

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 7th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Suplecs, Sad Songs… Better Days (2001)

If you ever wanted a crash course in everything right about the Man’s Ruin era of heavy rock and roll, look no further than Suplecs‘ second album, Sad Songs… Better Days. Released in 2001 as the follow-up to the prior year’s Wrestlin’ with My Lady Friend, its nine tracks still provide 15 years after the fact an abject lesson in how to offer kickass riffs with zero pretense, how to develop a natural-feeling dynamic not through production wizardry but through actually having one, and how to craft material that’s diverse in structure but flows front to back while asking so little of the listener that you and the record might as well be cracking a beer on the back porch together on a lazy Saturday afternoon, which, as it happens, isn’t a bad way to to enjoy Sad Songs… Better Days if cracking a beer is your thing. From the rolling and catchy groove of opener “White Devil” onward through the subsequent hook of “Rock Bottom” and down through the bass-led groove of the languid “Blue Runner,” the prescient shuffle of “Unstable,” which morphs into a secret cover of The Beatles‘ “I Want You (She’s so Heavy)” and “Lightning Lady” and the weirdnes that lies beyond in “Out of Town” and closer “Unexpected Trauma,” which also has a secret track attached — seems Suplecs wanted one per side; this time it’s a little countrified twanger instrumental — it wound up being the kind of album you listened to and could only nod your head in agreement: Yes. This is what it’s all about.

The story of Suplecs is complicated on some levels and easy on others. When I note them as essential to the “Man’s Ruin era,” I mean the period of between roughly 1995 to 2002 when Frank Kozik‘s Man’s Ruin Records provided a guiding hand to the post-Kyuss world of heavy rock. By the time 2000 brought Wrestlin’ with My Lady Friend, the imprint had already issued pivotal outings from High on Fire, Goatsnake, Brant Bjork, Alabama Thunderpussy, Acid King, Natas, Queens of the Stone Age, etc., and with names like that — bands who went on to define a generation of heavy rock, and that’s by no means an exhaustive list — it’s easy to see how Suplecs get lost in the discussion. Their beginning dating back to 1996 when bassist/vocalist Danny Nick, fresh out of Eyehategod joined up with guitarist Durel Yates and drummer Andrew Preen, they put their first EP out in 1998, but the two Man’s Ruin outings would largely define them, even after the label folded in 2002 on the eve of what would’ve been Suplecs‘ first tour of Europe. Timing is everything.

I recall being ultra-stoked to get a demo of new material from them in 2003 or 2004 at a Small Stone Records showcase at SXSW — still have it — and sure enough, in 2005 they’d release Powtin’ on the Outside Pawty on the Inside, a rawer third album that went largely unpromoted thanks in no small part to the effect Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans, including on the band. It would be some six years before Suplecs managed to get a record out, and 2011’s Mad Oak Redoux (review here) found them aligned to Small Stone officially for the first time and pulling together the various sides of their sound with a crisp production from the studio mentioned in the title. In no small part, it was just nice to have Suplecs back. That was five years ago. Since then, they’ve continued to play sporadic shows — they have one on Oct. 15 in Nola with High on Fire, for example, and they marked their 20th anniversary in August alongside Dixie Witch —  and Nick has opened a bar called Portside Lounge, so it’s not like they’re actually finished, but clearly priorities have shifted.

Still, I wouldn’t ever count Suplecs out. Hurricanes, folded labels, and the march of time itself — they seem impervious to all of it — so don’t be surprised when or if they show up with a new record. Until then, Sad Songs… Better Days, which was reissued on CD in 2002 on This Dark Reign and on vinyl last year through Emetic Records, is about as timeless as heavy rock gets.

I hope you enjoy.

Holy shit, this week. I stayed home sick from work yesterday and Wednesday and have spent the majority of the time since Tuesday afternoon wanting to grip myself from the collarbone and tear my body open to let my guts spill out. Absolutely demolished, particularly in the mornings, which if you read these posts is when I write reviews. In that way, it was actually kind of fortunate this week was the Quarterly Review — thanks for checking it out if you did — since the majority of it was done beforehand, but wow, it has been a slog. I think yesterday was actually worse than Wednesday, and I can’t really account for consciousness today either. I’m just trying to get through it to finish out the week at work and be caught up from not being in the office the last two days. Brutal.

I don’t think you’d know that from the amount of stuff that’s gone up the last couple days though. It’s been a busy week as well as crushing, and I expect no less next week either. Look out for streams and reviews from VaregoMelmak, maybe Captain Crimson and Lamp of the Universe, as well as a review of the Lo Sound Desert documentary that’s long overdue, as well as a Långfinger video premiere, a new clip from Dot Legacy that’s been making the rounds and news about Freak Valley 2017. Amazing to think that festivals next summer have started to announce their lineups.

That said, I’ve been experimenting with advance planning myself. I have reviews slated through Oct. 26 currently, and while that’s obviously a flexible schedule pending the stream offers that come in and stuff like that, it’s kind of reassuring to have a calendar and to be able to say, “Okay, I’m finally gonna tackle the Truckfighters record on this day, the Worshipper record on that day.” An extension of the impulse driving the Quarterly Review, maybe, since that’s worked out over a period of months before it actually goes live, but either way, thus far it’s made life less stressful rather than more and at this point I’ll take what I can get in that regard. See ripping myself open above.

It’s a three-day weekend for me, no work on Monday, but I’ll be posting anyhow. I hope to continue recovery from whatever the fuck it is that has besieged me this last half-week, and be back up to speed by the time Tuesday hits. Fingers crossed.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Dozer, In the Tail of a Comet

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 27th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Dozer, In the Tail of a Comet (2000)

One might look at In the Tail of a Comet, the pivotal first LP from Sweden’s Dozer, as the closing chapter in a larger movement within heavy rock. Released by Frank Kozik‘s Man’s Ruin Records in 2000 following the band’s initial series of splits with Demon Cleaner and Unida, the album followed landmark debuts like Acid King‘s Busse Woods and NatasDelmar, both issued by the same label in 1999, as well as the first Queens of the Stone Age and Alabama Thunderpussy (both 1998). Granted debuts from Orange Goblin (1997), Colour Haze (1995) and Electric Wizard (1995) also preceded, but in the post-Kyuss surge of heavy rock, by the time 2001 came around, this league of bands would be past first records and onto the work of developing what became a golden age of riffs. Dozer were a huge part of that process in Europe, and In the Tail of a Comet was the beginning point of a stylistic progression that got more charged over the years that followed.

The roots of that are audible in a song like “Cupola” and elsewhere, but the overarching vibe of In the Tail of a Comet is pure desert-style fuzz, very much in the vein of later Kyuss and the style that Man’s Ruin helped foster through releasing works from Suplecs, the Desert Sessions and some of the aforementioned. What really distinguished Dozer from the outset — and what would continue to distinguish them as guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Nordin, guitarist Tommi Holappa (also principal songwriter in Greenleaf), bassist Johan Rockner and then-drummer Erik Bäckwall moved forward — was the songwriting. From opener “Supersoul” through “Lightyears Ahead,” “Speeder,” “Riding the Machine,” “Captain Spaceheart” and so on, Dozer‘s debut stood them out whether they were galloping through “Cupola” or swinging through the crashes of “Grand Dragon,” and where many at this point seemed to be getting their bearings, Dozer burst out of the gate with a collection of songs that helped shape European heavy rock and still ripples out its influence today.

I’ve had arguments back and forth about the merits of In the Tail of a Comet vs. Dozer‘s second album, 2001’s Madre de Dios or their 2003 third LP, Call it Conspiracy (discussed here), but the truth as I see it is they never stopped pushing forward in any of their releases, whether it was those or 2005’s Through the Eyes of Heathens and 2008’s Beyond Colossal (both on Small Stone), the latter of which stands as their most recent outing. Picking favorites is fun, but as their sound became more complex, Dozer never lost the core of craftsmanship that one can hear writ large over In the Tail of a Comet, and that would seem to make the entire body of work all the more admirable.

They’ve played shows sporadically for the last few years and hit the 20-year mark this year, and I keep my fingers crossed they’ll get a new LP out at some point. With Holappa concentrating on Greenleaf as a full-time band — they recently secured a US booking agent — that seems less likely in the near-term, but one can hope at some point they follow-up Beyond Colossal, because as anyone who heard that album can tell you, they still sounded like a band with more to say.

I did an interview this morning with Tom Geddes in the UK for The Desertfest Podcast that will be posted sooner or later from them. It was a Skype kind of deal, just Tom and I doing a lot of back and forth on how we got into music, some bits about writing, the book, the All-Dayer and so on. Mostly I think we talked about bands, but I love talking about bands, and especially with someone as knowledgeable as Tom, that’s all the more a pleasure. I’ll let you know when the podcast with the interview goes live. Not that you need to hear me run my mouth, but you know.

Also some interesting job news that I’ll talk more about next week, but that’s eaten up a lot of my consciousness for the last day or so. We’ll see how things shake out over this coming holiday weekend. Sorry to be vague, there are just some ducks to get in a row.

Thanks again to everybody who has ordered a copy of the book so far. The post office lost an entire box of signed copies — there were like 60 in it, minimum — so I’ll have more going out this weekend and will be following up on the lost ones to either find them or have more printed with the insurance money from the shipping. I was pissed either way. Still am, for all the good it does me.

Next week: I’ll be posting on Monday, even though it’s a holiday in the US. Plenty of international stuff to write about. Look for a review of Hijo de la Tormenta, followed by one Tuesday for the Earthless/Harsh Toke split, which is out now. Valley of the Sun and Stars that Move are the next two reviews on the list after that, but the plan for this week completely changed as we got into Wednesday and Thursday, so who the hell knows what might actually happen. Not gonna worry about it today. Point is, there will be rock and roll.

Speaking of, The Obelisk Radio broke a new record for listeners-at-one-time today. Thank you if you were a part of that or if you’ve ever checked it out. The Dozer record is done so I’m listening right now and it just went from Beast in the Field to Witch. Seriously some of the best money I’ve ever spent, putting this together. Tell your friends.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. If you’re celebrating Memorial Day, I hope that celebration doesn’t involve unthinking jingoism — that is, not just remembering why we send our children to die in war, but to whose benefit — and I hope at very least after thinking about that, you’re still able to enjoy the day off. Me? I’m splitting out of the office early and headed to the beach, because you’re god damned right I am.

Please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Natas, Ciudad de Brahman

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 27th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Natas, Ciudad de Brahman (1999)

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 SeaKindBedroom 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.

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