Quarterly Review: Khemmis, Morag Tong, Holy Mushroom, Naisian, Haunted, Pabst, L.M.I., Fuzz Forward, Onségen Ensemble, The Heavy Eyes

Posted in Reviews on July 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-CALIFORNIA-LANDSCAPE-Julian-Rix-1851-1903

I always say the same thing on the Wednesday of the Quarterly Review. Day 3. The halfway point. I say it every time. The fact is, doing these things kind of takes it out of me. All of it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy listening to all these records — well, I don’t enjoy all of them, but I’m talking more about the process — just that it’s a lot to take in and by the time I’m done each day, let alone at the end of the week, I’m fairly exhausted. So every time we hit the halfway point of a Quarterly Review, I feel somewhat compelled to note it. Cresting the hill, as it were. It’s satisfying to get to this point without my head falling off.

Quarterly Review #21-30:

Khemmis, Desolation

khemmis desolation

Continuing their proclivity for one-word titles, Denver doom forerunners Khemmis take a decisive turn toward the metallic with their third album for 20 Buck Spin, the six-track/41-minute Desolation. Songs like opener “Bloodletting” and its side B counterpart “The Seer” are still tinged with doom, but the NWOBHM gallop in “Isolation” and “Maw of Time” – as well as the sheer force of the latter – is an unexpected twist. Khemmis showed classic metal elements on 2016’s was-a-very-big-deal Hunted (review here) and 2015’s debut, Absolution (review here), but it’s a question of balance, and as they’ve once again worked with producer Dave Otero, one can only read the shift as a conscious decision. The harder edge suits them – certainly suits the screams in “Maw of Time” and side A finale/album highlight “Flesh to Nothing” – and as Khemmis further refine their sound, they craft its most individualized manifestation to-date. There’s no hearing Desolation and mistaking Khemmis for another band. They’ve come into their own.

Khemmis on Thee Facebooks

20 Buck Spin website

 

Morag Tong, Last Knell of Om

morag tong last knell of om

A rumbling entry into London’s Heavy Generation, the four-piece Morag Tong unfold voluminous ritual on their debut full-length, Last Knell of Om. Largely slow and largely toned, the work of guitarists Alex Clarke and Lewis Crane brings the low end to the forefront along with the bass of James Atha while drummer Adam Asquith pushes the lurch forward on cuts like “New Growth” and “To Soil,” the band seemingly most comfortable when engaged in crawling tempos and weighted pummel. Asquith also adds semi-shouted vocals to the mire, which, surrounded by distortion as they are, only make the proceedings sound even more massive. There’s an ambience to “We Answer” and near-13-minute closer “Ephemera: Stare Through the Deep,” which gives the record a suitably noisy finish, but much of what Morag Tong are going for in sound depends on the effectiveness of their tonality, and they’ve got that part down on their debut. Coupled with the meditative feel in some of this material, that shows marked potential on the band’s part for future growth.

Morag Tong on Thee Facebooks

Morag Tong on Bandcamp

 

Holy Mushroom, Blood and Soul

holy mushroom blood and soul

Working quickly to follow-up their earlier-2018 sophomore long-player, Moon (review here), Spain’s Holy Mushroom present Blood and Soul, an EP comprised of two songs recorded live in the studio. I’m not entirely sure why it’s split up at all, as the two-minute “Introito” – sure enough, a little introduction – feeds so smoothly into the 19-minute “Blood and Soul” itself, but fair enough either way as the trio shift between different instrumentation, incorporating sax, piano and organ among the guitar, bass, drums and vocals, and unfold a longform heavy psychedelic trip that not only builds on what they were doing with Moon but is every bit worthy of being released on its own. I don’t know if it was recorded at the same time as the record or later – both were done at Asturcon Studios – but it’s easy to see why the band would want to highlight “Blood and Moon.” Between the deep-running mix, the easy rhythmic flow into and out from drifting spaciousness, and the turn in the middle third toward more expansive arrangement elements, it’s an engaging motion that makes subtly difficult shifts seem utterly natural along the way. And even if you didn’t hear the latest full-length, Blood and Soul makes for a fitting introduction to who Holy Mushroom are as a band and what they can do.

Holy Mushroom on Thee Facebooks

Clostridium Records website

 

Naisian, Rejoinder

naisian rejoinder

Sludge-infused noise rock serves as the backdrop for lyrical shenanigans on the three-song Rejoinder EP from Sheffield, UK, trio Naisian. Running just 12 minutes, it’s a quick and thickened pummel enacted by the band, who work in shades of post-metal for “90 ft. Stone,” “Mantis Rising” and “Lefole,” most especially in the middle cut, but even there, the focus in on harsh vocals and lumbering sonic heft. It’s now been seven years since the band sort-of issued their debut album, Mammalian, and six since they followed with the Monocle EP, and the time seems to have stripped down their sound to a degree. “Lefole” is the longest track on Rejoinder at 5:18 and it’s still shorter than every other song Naisian have put out to-date. Their crunch lacks nothing for impact, however, and to go with the swing of “Lefole,” everybody seems to contribute to a vocal assault that only adds to the punishing but thoughtful vibe.

Naisian on Thee Facebooks

Naisian on Bandcamp

 

Haunted, Dayburner

haunted dayburner

The effects-laden vocal swirl at the outset of Haunted’s “Mourning Sun” and moments in the Italian act’s longer-form material, “Waterdawn” or “Orphic,” for example, will invariably lead some listeners to point to a Windhand influence, but the character of the band’s second album, Dayburner (on Twin Earth, DHU and Graven Earth all), follows their 2016 self-titled (review here) by holding steady to a developing identity of its own. To be sure, vocalist Christina Chimirri, guitarists Francesco Bauso and Francesco Orlando, bassist Frank Tudisco and drummer Dario Casabona make their way into a deep, murky swamp of modern doom in “Dayburner” (video posted here), but in the crush of their tones amid all that trance-inducing riffing, they cast themselves as an outfit seeking to express individuality within the set parameters of style. Their execution, then, is what it comes down to, and with “Orphic” (12:46) and “Vespertine” (13:19) back to back, there’s plenty of doom on the 66-minute 2LP to roll that out. And they do so in patient and successful form, with marked tonal vibrancy and a sense of controlling the storm they’re creating as they go.

Haunted on Thee Facebooks

Twin Earth Records website

DHU Records webstore

Graven Earth Records webstore

 

Pabst, Chlorine

pabst chlorine

So, the aesthetic is different. Pabst play a blend of noise, post-punk, heavy rock and grunge, but with the ready pop influence — to wit, the outright danceability of “Shits,” reminiscent in its bounce of later Queens of the Stone Age – and persistent melodicism, there’s just a twinge of what Mars Red Sky did for heavy rolling riffs happening on Chlorine, their Crazysane Records debut. It’s in that blend of dense low-end fuzz and brighter vocal melodies, but again, Pabst, hailing from Berlin, are on their own trip. Weird but almost more enjoyable than it seems to want to be, the 12-track/35-minute outing indulges little and offers singalong-ready vibes in “Catching Feelings” and “Waterslide” while “Waiting Loop” chills out before the push of “Accelerate” and the angularity of “Cheapskate” take hold. Chrlorine careens and (blue) ribbons its way to the drive-fast-windows-open stylization of “Summer Never Came” and the finale “Under Water,” a vocal effect on the latter doing nothing to take away from its ultra-catchy hook. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a record someone with just the right kind of open mind can come to love.

Pabst on Thee Facebooks

Crazysane Records webstore

 

L.M.I., IV

lmi iv

If you’ve got a dank basement full of skinny college kids, chances are Lansdale, Pennsylvania’s L.M.I. are ready to tear their faces off. The sludge-thickened riff punkers run abut 11 minutes with their five-song release, L.M.I. IV, and that’s well enough time to get their message across. Actually, by the end of “Neck of Tension” and “Weaning Youth,” roughly four and half minutes in, the statement of intent is pretty clear. L.M.I. present furious but grooving hardcore punk more given to scathe than pummel, and their inclusions on L.M.I. IV bring that to life with due sense of controlled chaos. Centerpiece “Lurking Breath” gives way to “First to Dark” – the longest cut at a sprawling 2:55 – and they save a bit of grunge guitar scorch and lower-register growling for closer “June was a Test,” there isn’t really time in general for any redundancy to take hold. That suits the feeling of assault well, as L.M.I. get in and get out on the quick and once they’re gone, all that’s left to do is clean the blood off the walls.

L.M.I. on Thee Facebooks

L.M.I. on Bandcamp

 

Fuzz Forward, Out of Nowhere

fuzz forward out of nowhere

Released one way or another through Discos Macarras, Odio Sonoro, Spinda Records and Red Sun Records, the eight-song/43-minute debut album from Barcelona’s Fuzz Forward, Out of Nowhere, has earned acclaim from multiple corners for its interpretation of grunge-era melodies through a varied heavy rock filter. Indeed, the vocals of Juan Gil – joined in the band by guitarist Edko Fuzz, bassist Jordi Vaquero and drummer Marc Rockenberg – pull the mind directly to a young Layne Staley, and forces one to realize it’s been a while since that low-in-the-mouth approach was so ubiquitous. It works well for Gil in the laid back “Summertime Somersaults” as well as the swinging, cowbell-infused later cut “Drained,” and as the band seems to foreshadow richer atmospheric exploration on “Thorns in Tongue” and “Torches,” they nonetheless maintain a focus on songwriting that grounds the proceedings and will hopefully continue to serve as their foundation as they move forward. No argument with the plaudits they’ve thus far received. Seems doubtful they’ll be the last.

Fuzz Forward on Thee Facebooks

Fuzz Forward on Bandcamp

 

Onségen Ensemble, Duel

Onsegen ensemble duel

The kind of record you’re doing yourself a favor by hearing – a visionary cast of progressive psychedelia that teems with creative energy and is an inspiration even in the listening. Frankly, the only thing I’m not sure about when it comes to Oulu, Finland, outfit Onségen Enseble’s second album, Duel, is why it isn’t being released through Svart Records. It seems like such a natural fit, with the adventurous woodwinds on opener “Think Neither Good Nor Evil,” the meditative sprawl of the title-track (video posted here), the jazz-jam in the middle of “Dogma MMXVII,” the tribalist percussion anchoring the 12-minute “Three Calls of the Emperor’s Teacher,” which surely would otherwise float away under its own antigravity power, and the free-psych build of closer “Zodiacal Lights of Onségen,” which shimmers in otherworldly fashion and improvised-sounding spark. On Svart or not, Duel is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, and one the creativity of which puts it in a class of its own, even in the vast reaches of psychedelic rock. Whether it means to or not, it tells a story with sound, and that story should be heard.

Onségen Ensemble on Thee Facebooks

Onsegen Ensemble on Bandcamp

 

The Heavy Eyes, Live in Memphis

the heavy eyes live in memphis

Since so much of The Heavy Eyes’ studio presentation has consistently been about crispness of sound and structured songwriting, it’s kind of a relief to hear them knock into some feedback at the start of “Mannish Boy” at the outset of Live in Memphis (on Kozmik Artifactz). The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Tripp Shumake, bassist Wally Anderson and drummer Eric Garcia are still tight as hell, of course, and their material – drawn here from the band’s LPs, 2015’s He Dreams of Lions (review here), 2012’s Maera, 2011’s self-titled, as well as sundry shorter offerings – is likewise. They’ve never been an overly dangerous band, nor have they wanted to be, but the stage performance does add a bit of edge to “Iron Giants” from the debut, which is followed by singing “Happy Birthday” to a friend in the crowd. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Live in Memphis is hearing The Heavy Eyes loosen up a bit on stage, and hearing them sound like they’re having as good a time playing as the crowd is watching and hearing them do so. That sense of fun suits them well.

The Heavy Eyes on Thee Facebooks

The Heavy Eyes at Kozmik Artifactz

 

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Live Review: Elephant Tree, Morag Tong and Wychhound in London, UK, 05.16.18

Posted in Reviews on May 17th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Elephant Tree (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The kind of evening to vibrate the plugs in your ears. I’m loath to do this, but there’s a lot of context to this one that needs quick covering, so here are a few bullet points so we’re all on the same page:

  • I’m in London with my wife who is a college professor leading a study abroad trip for students. The baby and I got to tag along. Good deal.
  • While in Canterbury, the house where we were staying was burgled overnight. Among the stolen: My laptop, my camera, my glorious cosmic backpack. Sucked. Years of writing and music, gone. No backups (I know, I know…). Patient Mrs., Pecan and self fine though, so could’ve been worse.
  • One of my wife’s students very generously let me borrow her camera and take it to The Black Heart in Camden Town to shoot Morag Tong‘s release show with Elephant Tree and Wychhound on the bill.
  • I took my first Uber to get there. You don’t actually need to know that, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

I met guitarist/vocalist Jack Townley and drummer Sam Hart from Elephant Tree outside The Black Heart before I even got through the door and was warmly greeted. All the more appreciated after a long day. A week after Desertfest London, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of crowd — people could be fired up just as easily as burnt out — but it was for sure the former inside; already packed and the show, which would happen upstairs in the venue itself as opposed to the downstairs bar, hadn’t even started.

It had been half a decade since the last time I was fortunate enough to be in The Black Heart. The upstairs bar had moved from the back to the side of the venue, but beyond that, not much had changed. Downstairs was much the same as I remembered, with the big bar in the center and tables and enclaves off to the sides, a place one could both get rowdy or have a quiet conversation. Outside, people smoked like fiends. Inside, I found Elephant Tree bassist/vocalist Peter Holland, also formerly of Stubb and Trippy Wicked, old friend Chris West of an ever-increasing number of bands, among them the newly formed Glanville, whose EPK was on my stolen laptop, and met a woman Jack introduced as Sister Rainbow, who had the hair to match and for whom this would mark her 36th Elephant Tree show. Being my first, I told her she had me beat by a wide margin.

Soon enough after, things got started upstairs with Wychhound on first. The Londoners have been around a few years, and have a new EP out called Earth Orbiter following up their 2015 self-titled, which they tracked as a five-piece with vocals. Instrumental now, they made good use of the dynamic between Roberto Pini and Miles McDonald on guitar in setting the foundation for their sound, which was someplace between Kyuss-style desert worship and the heavier explorations of Pelican with shades of Russian Circles-esque post-heavy in some of its more daring moments. Bassist Neil Neighbour and drummer Sid Naghdi provided a foundation of weighted groove and allowed the guitars space to wander when they were so inclined, and some of the most effective moments came in combining forward drive with that emergent sense of space.

Even in this age of immediate access, sometimes it’s nice to go in blind — plus I, admittedly, had a pretty busy day — so I hadn’t gotten to check Wychhound out before, but their atmospherics on a piece like “Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL-9)” were readily apparent and still left room for rawer, head-down riffing in the material surrounding. It was enough to make me visit their Bandcamp and snag a download, which I guess was the idea in the first place. Some growing to do, perhaps, as they continue to come into their own sound, but they were a right on way to start the night and full enough in tone that, yes, I had to keep adjusting my right earplug because the low end was making it vibrate.

Speaking of tone, fucking Elephant Tree. Their self-titled debut (review here) on Magnetic Eye was easily one of the best records of 2016, and especially after missing them last year at Psycho Las Vegas, as soon as I found out they were playing while I’d be in town, I knew I had to see them. The three-piece did not disappoint, and that wasn’t a surprise. That is, I knew they’d be good. I’d seen videos and was of course familiar with the album and all that. I knew they’d be good. What I didn’t expect was that they’d be so much fun.

Peter Holland is at very least two things, and I say them both with utter affection and zero sarcasm. He is among the most charming drunks I’ve ever encountered, and he is insanely talented. At this point I’ve seen him play in three different bands and he’s never failed to make a mark in each of them in terms of sound. His voice is immediately recognizable, his smile infectious and his style of play was as perfect a match for Townley‘s guitar on stage as it had been on the record. Also, he broke a string before they went on. They still started more or less on time, laughing and making fun of each other in the process. Then, in the first song, Hart‘s drum stool busted. Hardly missed a beat, kept playing, and fixed it before they started the next cut. Later on, one of Townley‘s pedals got stuck on and he couldn’t turn it off, making a kind of wash of low end psychedelic waves out of a verse riff in the process. No fucking complaints there.

The point is there was no stopping Elephant Tree from rolling out their massive nod. And when I say massive, I don’t just mean it sounded big, but it sounded like it had a physical presence. Tone you could chew like gum. Between the laid back groove and the laid back vibe and the lady in the crowd making seal noises — no, it wasn’t Sister Rainbow; she was down the front rocking out as only someone on their 36th show with a band could hope to do — it was impossible not to have a good time, so I put my borrowed camera down and did exactly that for a little bit. Just let it go and enjoyed myself, and whether it was the evening’s highlight “Aphotic Blues” or the album closer “Surma” or “Dawn” — which was precisely as built for a sing-along as it seems, with Townley and Holland sharing vocals — I had no regrets. Townley brought a frontman presence to the guitar/vocal spot and though there were times when the bass threatened to swallow everything in its path, his solos cut through and gave the whole thing an entirely new sense of space. What a blast.

By way of plainly stating the obvious, they were my highlight, but Morag Tong were still to go, playing cuts from their Last Knell of Om debut full-length, which is officially out tomorrow, May 18. I’d been lucky enough to hear the album prior to seeing them — it, too, was on the desktop of my stolen laptop, and I believe slated for the next Quarterly Review, though of course I can’t be sure of that because my notes… well, you get the idea — and knew a bit of what was coming. They started out with guitarists Alex Clarke and Lewis Crane both on e-bow guitar (dueling e-bows!) and would go on to play the complete album, swapping the order to finish with “To Soil” and letting drummer Adam Asquith initially bide his time before unleashing his growling vocal between “Transmission” and “New Growth.” Equal parts psychedelic and doom, they were clearly proud of the work they’d done — and rightly so — and hypnotic in their presentation enough even on stage to give a sense of the underlying element of drone on the record.

Back into the (new) notes they go for the next Quarterly Review. Swapping out the saturated red light for a cooler-toned blue, they were a fitting end to a day that had started as a huge bummer some 17 hours earlier and had a massive turnaround in spirit and mood — more on that later. As they lurched out their meditative immersion, I made my way back downstairs to say a few quick goodnights and Uber myself back to Maida Vale, having had a night so satisfying that I almost forgot about the events of the morning prior. A night of volume and heart in kind, and the kind of night that I was so glad to be a part of that I’m still wearing The Black Heart‘s paper wristband on my right arm. And I hate those damn things.

Thanks for reading.

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Morag Tong to Release Last Knell of Om May 18; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 13th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

morag tong photo isha shah

Through mostly longer-form pieces, London psychedoomic four-piece Morag Tong make their full-length debut with Last Knell of Om on May 18. Though they’re almost certainly aware of them, the title doesn’t seem to actually be a reference to the band Om, whose last knell has hopefully not been heard, and perhaps refers more to the end of a meditative state, something springing to action, say, as a band might on their first album.

But that’s me, and I almost always assume titles are self-referential on the part of the band in question, when they almost never are. So it goes. More importantly, Morag Tong have a new song streaming from Last Knell of Om called “We Answer” and it’s eight minutes of riffy murk that’s a lot of fun to get all turned around within. You can have at it at the bottom of this post.

And hey, while you’re there, why not check out some info from the PR wire, eh? Here it is:

morag tong the last knell of om

Psychedelic doom newcomers MORAG TONG announce debut LP ‘Last Knell of Om’ (May 18)

Psychedelic doom has a new voice in newcomers MORAG TONG, who are proud to announce their debut LP Last Knell of Om, to be released May 18.

To coincide with the news, the band have streamed lead track ‘We Answer’.

Unquestionably odd and instantly lovable, Last Knell of Om is ostensibly a stoner doom album but at heart an anti-doom record, the sounds of the genre taken to the nth degree. Slow, expansive, spacious sonorities meet a shared passion for musical experimentalism driven by a vocalist-drummer and a wall-of-sound approach.

Recorded in a studio at the top of a hill just south of London, Om contains the very minute traces of pick-up from the chart-topping Capital FM station. Similarly, opening track ‘Transmission’ begins and ends with recordings of birdsong – a link to lead track ‘We Answer’.

Although not strictly a concept album, there is an impressive level of cohesion to Morag Tong’s Last Knell of Om. Heavily DIY, Morag Tong embarked on March tours with Tuskar and Sail, and put on their own mini-festival called The Local Fuzz. The band have played alongside Slabdragger, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Earthmass, Monolithian, and more.

Watch the band live:
27th Apr – Plymouth, Underground
28th Apr – Tiverton, White Horse Inn
16th May – London, Black Heart [Album Launch w/ Elephant Tree, Wychhound]

moragtong.bandcamp.com
facebook.com/moragtongband
instagram.com/morag.tong
twitter.com/moragtongband

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