Review & Track Premiere: Brant Bjork, Europe ’16

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on July 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

brant-bjork-europe-16

[Click play above to hear ‘Controllers Destroyed’ from Brant Bjork’s live album Europe ’16, out Sept. 22 via Napalm Records.]

One severely doubts it’s a coincidence that a Brant Bjork set would start with “Buddha Time (Everything Fine).” That laid back, instrumental, rolling desert groove speaks to an aspect of Europe ’16 that’s apparent before the needle even hits the wax of the Napalm Records release, and that’s the manner in which Bjork — whose career pedigree in as drummer/songwriter in Kyuss and Vista Chino, drummer in Fu Manchu, guitarist/vocalist in Ché and multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and songwriter in the various incarnations of his solo work from Brant Bjork to Brant Bjork and the OperatorsBrant Bjork and the Bros. and Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band has made him the undisputed godfather of desert rock — directly acknowledges the stoner side of who he is and what he does.

It’s right there on the cover of Europe ’16, which is the first official live album of Bjork‘s nearly-20-year solo career which began with 1999’s Jalamanta (discussed here; also here) on Man’s Ruin, a full-length that continues to resonate and inform his soulful, funk-infused delivery to-date, and while so many others of Bjork‘s ilk, geographical cohort and generation have tried to distance themselves from a “stoner” tag, he’s made it a part of his aesthetic. Some might say an essential part, and it’s become a defining piece of the ultra-laid back, groove-ready persona he showcases throughout Europe ’16, which captures 12 tracks and 85 minutes of Brant Bjork on the road last year with The Low Desert Punk Band supporting his two studio albums for Napalm: 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here) — both of which, it’s worth noting, were of a similar leafy theme in terms of their artwork.

Is it fair, then, to think of Europe ’16 as the third in a trilogy of offerings for NapalmBjork has said openly that Tao of the Devil was the final studio outing on his contract for the Austrian imprint, and if one presumes a three-album deal, then it’s quite possible Europe ’16 is the farewell piece. If so, it marks a righteous summary of what Bjork has accomplished as a songwriter and performer over the last few years, returning to solo output after a successful run with Vista Chino following much tumult around touring as Kyuss Lives! and the also-Napalm-backed issue of 2013’s Peace (review here) offering with that band.

Highlighting cuts from Black Power Flower like “Controllers Destroyed,” the aforementioned mindset-setting opener “Buddha Time (Everything Fine)” and the later “Stokely up Now,” and even more from Tao of the Devil in “Humble Pie,” “Stackt,” “The Gree Heen,” as well as the later and more extended jams “Dave’s War/Dave’s Peace” (based on “Dave’s War” from the record) and “Biker No. 2,” Europe ’16 finds Bjork, guitarist Bubba DuPree (formerly of Void), bassist Dave Dinsmore (Ché) and drummer Ryan Güt at the proverbial top of their game in terms of chemistry, and of all the times Bjork could have issued a live album over the last decade-plus, it’s easy to hear why now would be an obvious choice.

brant bjork photo kip dawkins

Joined by guest vocalist Sean Wheeler in the second half of the set, this incarnation of Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band saunter through pieces from Bjork‘s substantial catalog like “Low Desert Punk” and “Lazy Bones/Automatic Fantastic” from Jalamanta, “Freaks of Nature” from 2007’s Somera Sól and “Let the Truth be Known” from 2005’s Saved by Magic, and while live albums rarely exist that don’t make the performing act come out on the positive side — that is, nobody wants to put out a shitty-sounding show — neither does Europe ’16 shy away from the rawer side of the band’s presentation, especially as regards Wheeler‘s vocals in “Biker No. 2” and “Freaks of Nature” and the natural movement and flow of the group’s jams, which unfold beginnings and endings organically here, sounding unretouched and all the more engaging for that. Whether or not it’s the last in a series of three, Europe ’16 is a document of an era in Bjork‘s career that has not only seen a rise in his profile, but resulted in some of the most memorable material he’s ever written.

To wit, songs like “Stackt” and “Humble Pie” not only stand up to the landmark riff of “Automatic Fantastic,” but they underscore the progression that’s played out over time and a span of 11 LPs in Bjork‘s approach, and by embracing a jammier vibe later in the set in “Dave’s War/Dave’s Peace,” “Biker No. 2,” “Freaks of Nature,” “Low Desert Punk” and “Let the Truth be Known,” which includes a finale take on the Rolling Stones‘ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Europe ’16 sets an immersive trajectory that feels true to the live experience. Of course, there’s a big difference between watching a band onstage and soaking in an 85-minute live record, and the latter process is no minor undertaking, but even if one thinks of Europe ’16 as a fan piece, it more than earns its place in Bjork‘s catalog, and the poise with which the band handles its turns and the commanding presence of Bjork at the forefront speak to not only the well-earned maturity of his craft but a showmanship that a studio outing simply wouldn’t be able to bring into focus.

Not saying much in terms of stage banter throughout, the man himself gets on mic before the get-your-ass-stoned advising of “Let the Truth be Known” to thank Berlin specifically after several “dankeschön”s earlier on, and that brings to mind the relationship between desert rock and the EU heavy underground. There’s a bit of irony there, since the Palm Desert scene, as it was in the ’80s and early/mid ’90s and as its legacy has grown in the years since, is so much based on the Californian landscape and American suburban culture, but no question Bjork has become the key ambassador for that movement and for the unique creativity and sound those sands helped to foster.

He’ll head back abroad this fall (dates posted here) to mark the release of Europe ’16 and perhaps take a victory lap with The Low Desert Punk Band before moving on to other projects and ideas (or at least another outlet), but that stint, like this live album built from the last one, should only serve to reaffirm what Black Power Flower and Tao of the Devil continued to establish: that when it comes to desert rock, there’s only one Brant Bjork. Nobody else brings the same level of soul to their sound, the classic feel and the steadiness of vibe that he does, and on Europe ’16, some 17 years after first embarking on a solo career, he continues to show that in new and exciting ways.

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Six Dumb Questions with The Midnight Ghost Train

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on July 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the midnight ghost train

There’s always been a certain restlessness in The Midnight Ghost Train. Definitely anyone who’s ever seen them play live would concur, but even beyond their gripping, kinetic performances, whether it was early lineup changes, moving from Buffalo, New York, to Topeka, Kansas, or touring as incessantly as they have for the better part of the last decade — they’ve been a band on “go” for about as long as they’ve been a band.

At the same time, their material has followed a steady trajectory up to this point. From their 2008 The Johnny Boy EP (review here) through the subsequent ’09 self-titled long-play debut (review here), 2012’s Buffalo (review here) and their first outing for Napalm Records in 2015’s Cold was the Ground (review here), the power trio led by founding guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss have developed along a path blending supercharged heavy rock and roll with classic blues vibes and rhythms. With his distinct, gruff vocals as a hallmark of their approach, the propulsive, classy drum work of Brandon Burghart as a core to build from and the final piece added in bassist Mike BoyneThe Midnight Ghost Train became one of the most immediately identifiable bands in the US heavy underground. When you were listening to The Midnight Ghost Train, you knew who was on. Every time.

That’s still the case, but the scope of what that means has changed, and the restlessness that’s always been at play elsewhere seems to have extended itself to their creative process more now than ever before. To wit, their fourth full-length and second for Napalm is Cypress Ave. (review here), and while it largely holds firm to the underlying energy of the band and never feels staid, it also marks a special moment in that Moss and company seem more willing to take chances in the songwriting, to pull back on the aforementioned “go” in favor of a more diverse sonic take. Whether that’s showing itself in the drifting “Lemon Trees,” the funk-fortified “The Boogie Down” (with guest rapper Sonny Cheeba) or the acoustic “Break My Love,” it’s representative of a level of maturity previously unknown from The Midnight Ghost Train, and it makes Cypress Ave. their most fully realized and their boldest offering to-date.

It’s the kind of record that, if you thought you knew the band — as I did — can make you rethink your expectations. In the interview that follows, Moss talks about how some of the twists in the plot came about, how touring has shaped the group over the longer term of their time together, where Cypress Ave. actually is, and more. As I happen to know him to be a longtime Yankees fan, I couldn’t resist throwing in a question about baseball as well, and I thank him for the indulgence.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

the-midnight-ghost-train-cypress-ave

Six Dumb Questions with The Midnight Ghost Train

Talk to me about writing Cypress Ave. At what point coming off of Cold was the Ground did you know you wanted to do something different with The Midnight Ghost Train, and how did that come to fruition in the songwriting? Was it something conscious or something that you noticed later in the material? What was behind the shift in direction?

We have wanted to get out of doing the crazy fast heavy stuff way before Cold was the Ground. None of us actually enjoy listening to heavy music. It’s fun to play, but that’s really our only connection with music as heavy as we used to play. We could have very easily written another Cold was the Ground without even thinking twice. That’s why we have defaulted to such heavy music for our previous albums, it was really easy to write, and fun to play live, plus we had already built a following of people in the heavy music genre, so it just made sense to keep riding that wave and keep the fans we had. For this album we wanted to challenge ourselves artistically, and challenge our audience. We wanted to do something that felt right to us, and not necessarily what the following we have built wanted or expected. There was no reason for us to make the same album over and over again, especially since it didn’t feel right to us. So it was time to say goodbye and move on to something more challenging, and unexpected for our fans. Plus, we wanted to branch out to a wider fanbase than just the “stoner rock” fans. We never really felt like we fit in that group anyways so it just made sense to do something that was more us. Plus, the songs on this album are just a hell of a lot better than our previous stuff.

Tell me about Cypress Avenue itself. Where is it? What is it like? Set the scene for those of us who’ve never been there. What was behind the choice to name the album after it?

Cypress Ave. is a stop on the 6 train in the Bronx, it’s a small local neighborhood, no attractions or anything like that, just an area for the locals. My family is from Parkchester which is a few stops more uptown, so we would pass Cypress Ave. on our way up to Parkchester. Since this album is so different musically we decided to go a different route with the album photos, and the title than usual. All of our albums have had that Midwestern, Kansas, country, feel to them, which actually only one of us (our drummer) is from Kansas. So instead we decided to go more personal to mine and my family’s upbringing in the Bronx. Give people a look at where I’m actually from. So we wanted to keep with the Bronx theme throughout the album. Since Parkchester is kind of a lame album title, we basically just went through all the names of the subway stops in the Bronx, and Cypress Ave. was just the best sounding one. Plus, it reminded me of the Van Morrison song off of one of my favorite albums, Astral Weeks, (although it’s spelled differently).

The Midnight Ghost Train turns 10 next year and you’ve put in so much time on the road over the last decade. How do you think touring has shaped the band? How do you feel it has worked to develop the chemistry between you, Mike and Brandon?

Aigh god, that seems like a lot longer than it feels. Feels like we’re still just getting started. Touring has definitely been the most rewarding part to this band. Despite all the bullshit and hard times we have gone through, when we step on stage it makes it all worthwhile. We have always believed that the live show is the most important expression of who a band is, and we have worked tirelessly on always making our show better. What better way to learn about the stage that we love so much than touring as much as possible? Touring has definitely made us realize who we are as a band and what we feel is most important to the existence of TMGT. Getting on stage is the only piece that no matter what always feels like the right choice to make. Bands that don’t play a lot of shows can’t ever find their true musical selves. Plus, if you never do it how could you possibly be that good at it?

How did “The Boogie Down” come about?

Very simply, I love hip-hop, and our bass player and drummer love to play funk. So we decided to mix the two together. The riff that the bass player and drummer play in that song is what they have always done on stage when my amp or pedalboard breaks and I have to fix shit. They would just break out into a funk jam, then when I got back up and running I would chime in. It was always fun to do live, so we decided to record it. Sonny Cheeba (the artist on that track) is also a Bronx native. I grew up listening to his group Camp Lo. So it was awesome to get to work with him in the studio. We recorded the album in Athens, GA, and he happened to be living in Atlanta at the time we recorded, so it just worked out nicely. We let him do his thing, while we did ours, it was fun to mix the two styles, and challenging for us. Something new and fun to do. Why not?

What was your time in the studio like making the album? It seems like you specifically varied the guitar tone more throughout the songs this time around. How important was it for you for Cypress Ave. to show multiple sides of the band?

Oh yes, different sounds on all the instruments as well as vocally, was very important for this album. The tones and vocals we used for Cold was the Ground or Buffalo would not work for these songs. I used probably 30 different amps throughout this album, plus I added a Gibson 335 to my arsenal, which was my main guitar on this album, instead of the Les Pauls I [have] normally used. Our previous albums just had one tone through the entire album: HEAVY. This album is just so dynamic throughout the record, with so many different style songs. Not one song sounds the same, so we wanted to make sure that neither did the instruments.

You’ve got the US tour coming up in August and September. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

Oh yes, we will also be touring the USA in October as well. We’re in the works of putting together a European tour which will be from the end of January through March. So keep an eye out for tour dates, ‘cause we’re going everywhere. Might even be paying a visit to South America, if things pan out. Our album is available for preorder right now at our website www.themidnightghosttrain.com. Enjoy the new album, I know we do.

Bonus question (asked before the Major League Baseball All-Star break): Do you think the Yankees actually have a shot at the division? Boston’s been coming on strong. Is the NYY collapse of the last couple weeks the true face of the team or just a temporary injury setback? What do you think of Judge and Sanchez in the Home Run Derby?

Absolutely they still have a chance, they have been plagued with injuries lately which is inevitable but still costly when you lose guys like Castro, Bird, Holliday, Hicks, Warren, and Sabbathia (who was on a fantastic roll). Boston is making a big push, they have great starting pitching, but hopefully at the trade deadline we get rid of Chris Carter and get someone like Eric Hosmer at first base, and pick up one more locked starter, because we can’t rely on Tanaka’s inconsistency to bring us the entire way. I’m stoked to see what Judge and Sanchez do, I think they will be fine, and they are good enough hitters that the myth of screwing up their swing won’t affect them. Judge is going to be the Rookie of the year, AL MVP, and triple crown winner. He’s taking it all. I haven’t seen the city buzz on anyone since Derek Jeter breaking in. Loving it.

The Midnight Ghost Train, “The Watchers Nest” lyric video

The Midnight Ghost Train on Thee Facebooks

The Midnight Ghost Train website

The Midnight Ghost Train on Twitter

The Midnight Ghost Train on Instagram

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Brant Bjork Announces Europe ’16 Live Album & European Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

brant bjork

A Brant Bjork live record feels like a fairly obvious no-brainer. Am I wrong? Dude has been killing it the last few years (or decades, if you really want to put it in context) since putting together the Low Desert Punk Band and offering up the Black Power Flower (review here) and Tao of the Devil (review here) in 2014 and 2016, respectively, and anyone who’s seen him can tell you he absolutely owns every stage he steps on, so yeah, there’s just about no way a live album isn’t gonna work in this instance. It’s called Europe ’16, captures a set from Berlin, Germany, last year, and is out Sept. 22 via Napalm Records. Fair enough. Sold. Easy peasy.

To mark its arrival, Bjork and company — including steady guest vocalist Sean Wheeler — will head out on another European run this Fall. We kind of knew this was coming after he’d been confirmed for fests like Lake on Fire 2017 — which he’ll play next month as part of a shorter run of mostly-festival dates — Up in Smoke 2017 and Keep it Low 2017, but as always, confirmation is welcome, particularly alongside the news of the live release. He couldn’t stop piling up “fucking a” fodder if he tried.

From the social medias and the PR wire:

Brant Bjork – Europe ’16 & The Gree Heen Fall Tour

Welcome back the sweet scent of freedom. Breath in the greeheen! BRANT BJORK has come to revive your spirit: The Kyuss- and Fu Manchu legend has just announced his first live record ever!

From the opening guitar riff of “Europe ’16”, recorded in Berlin, one can sense the buzz of classic rock electricity that transcends into new spheres. This is controlled madness between trippy and doomy, groovy and sludgy!

Set for release September 22nd on Napalm Records, BRANT BJORK has now revealed the cover artwork and track list of his first and highly anticipated live record.

The track list reads as follows and will surely make every low desert punk heart beat faster:

1. Buddha Time
2. Controllers Destroyed
3. Humble Pie
4. Stakt
5. The Gree Heen
6. Lazy Bones-Automatic Fantastic
7. Stokely Up Now
8. Dave’s War-Dave’s Peace
9. Biker No. 2
10. Freaks Of Nature
11. Low Desert Punk
12. Let The Truth Be Known-Jumpin’ Jack Flash

“This record is live. Live records are ugly and they should be. When a band plays live, they let their hair down. Live is all that really matters. There are those moments in life when everything is ok and these are the moments when you are doing exactly what your here on the planet to do. You’re right where you are supposed to be with no shame, no fear, no regret, no envy, no hatred and no apology. I always say this band brings a feeling. The feeling is always primary and the sound, secondary. At least to me. In the book of Tao, there is a passage…”naming is the origin of all particular things”. I use here the term ugly to refer to my naming of my particular relationship with my soundscape. my my my. Why the term ugly? Because its the opposite of pretty. As the popular saying goes, “It is what it is”. As for my music, my band and this live record, I prefer to say, “it is what it isn’t”.” – Brant Bjork on Europe ’16.

Brant Bjork Aug. tour:
Aug 04 Los Almiros Festival, Almyros, Greece
Aug 05 Lake on Fire Waldhausen, Austria
Aug 06 A38 Budapest, Hungary
Aug 08 Sommer in Altona Hamburg, Germany
Aug 09 Universum Stuttgart, Germany
Aug 10 Bad Bonn Düdingen, Switzerland
Aug 12 FESTIVAL AREA DE LANGE MUNTE Kortrijk, Belgium
Aug 14 Palp Festival Rocklette Martigny, Switzerland

Brant Bjork, The Gree Heen Fall 2017 tour:
26.09.17 Stockholm | Debaser Strand
27.09.17 Stavanger | Folken
28.09.17 Oslo | John Dee
29.09.17 Gothenbourg | Sticky Fingers
30.09.17 Copenhagen | KB 18
01.10.17 Hamburg | Logo
02.10.17 Leipzig | UT Connewitz
03.10.17 Bielefeld | Forum
04.10.17 Amsterdam | Melkweg
05.10.17 Eindhoven | Effenaar
06.10.17 Pratteln | Up In Smoke
07.10.17 Aschaffenburg | Colossal
08.10.17 Brussels | Botanique
09.10.17 Rennes | Ubu
11.10.17 Bilbao | Kafe Antzokia
12.10.17 Porto | Cave 45
13.10.17 Lisbon | RCA Club
14.10.17 Madrid | Caracol
15.10.17 Barcelona | Bikini
16.10.17 Marseille | Jas Rod
17.10.17 Torino | Blah Blah
18.10.17 Ravenna | Bronson
19.10.17 Zagreb | Vintage Industrial Bar
20.10.17 Wien | Arena ( with Stoned Jesus + Beastmaker )
21.10.17 Munich | Keep It Low

Poster by: Pol Abran

https://www.facebook.com/BrantBjorkOfficial/
www.brantbjork.com
http://label.napalmrecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/Sound-of-Liberation-UG-183095098426785/

Brant Bjork, “The Gree Heen” official lyric video

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Review & Video Premiere: The Midnight Ghost Train, Cypress Ave.

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Reviews on July 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the-midnight-ghost-train-cypress-ave

[Watch the premiere of the lyric video for The Midnight Ghost Train’s ‘The Watchers Nest’ by clicking play above. Cypress Ave. is out July 28 via Napalm Records. Impending tour dates here.]

As the first preliminary details began to surface about Cypress Ave., Topeka, Kansas, heavy blues rockers The Midnight Ghost Train put word out to their listeners to expect something different on this, their fourth album and second for Napalm Records. Their tone was almost a warning more even than a general ‘heads up,’ and for a band who’ve spent the last decade stomping their way across the US and subsequently Europe and whose reputation has always been for a brash, gruff, and full-charged vision of heavy, it struck me as a decidedly human, near-insecure move; for the first time, The Midnight Ghost Train let themselves show some concern for how their work might be received by the audience they worked so hard to build. Clearly it was a warning to take seriously, and it’s one to which Cypress Ave. lives up.

The Midnight Ghost Train debuted on Napalm with 2015’s Cold was the Ground (review here), a mature celebration of what’s made them who they are throughout their career going back through offerings like 2012’s Buffalo (review here), their formative 2009 self-titled debut (review here) and 2008’s The Johnny Boy EP (review here), sounding very much like the payoff moment for a stylistic growth shaped by time on the road as much as an expanded writing palette from band spearhead/guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss. That payoff moment might actually be on Cypress Ave., which outdoes its predecessor in scope, presentation, and its overall level of daring, foreshadowing stylistic turns in opener “Tonight” that range from the melancholia of “The Watchers Nest” and “Black Wave” to the acoustic-centered, unabashed Tom Waits-ery of album centerpiece “Break My Love,” through the jangly spaciousness of “Lemon Trees” and a collaboration with rapper Sonny Cheeba on “The Boogie Down.”

The latter, though admirably funky and an honest acknowledgement of the influence of the various strains of traditionally African American music that have played out in The Midnight Ghost Train‘s sound in their nine years together, from roots-blues to modern hip-hop, is nonetheless the widest “departure” from the rest of the material here, pulling away from the fuzz that serves to unite varied-in-mood cuts like “Red Eyed Junkie Queen” (video premiere here), “The Echo” and “Glenn’s Promise.” And no doubt it’ll be a sticking point for some listeners — because even the threat of rap-rock crossover proved enough to do that even before internet racism was a thing — but on the most basic level, it’s an attempt by Moss, bassist Mike Boyne and drummer Brandon Burghart to shake things up and offer something genuinely unexpected. That doesn’t mean it’s not a head-turning change from the pastoral strum of “Lemon Trees” before it or the tense but quiet “Black Wave” after, but it does mean that that’s very likely the whole point of its being in the first place.

the midnight ghost train

And those of the band’s followers looking for a studio-born manifestation of the riotousness they’ve long been noted as bringing to the stage will find the bursts of energy throughout “Tonight” and “The Watchers Nest,” “The Echo,” “Red Eyed Junkie Queen” and “Bury Me Deep” residing in comfortable-enough terrain, though even these bring forth a style from The Midnight Ghost Train more given to holding its tension than exploding forth from it, showing the band ultimately as more dynamic even within what one might think of as their core sound than they’ve ever been before. To wit, the opening salvo of “Tonight,” “Red Eyed Junkie Queen,” “Glenn’s Promise” and “Bury Me Deep,” which, while basking in some of the most satisfying guitar tone this side of circa-1995 Kyuss — sounds like hyperbole; isn’t — spends as much time gritting its teeth and seething as it does outwardly raging. There’s plenty of rock to be had on Cypress Ave. — plenty — but it’s in the nuance and the sonic caveats that The Midnight Ghost Train define the work they’re doing.

It’s fair to think of that as new ground for them almost as much as “The Boogie Down,” but the point is that even as the band bounces through different styles en route through side B of the 52-minute/11-track outing toward six-minute closer “I Can’t Let You Go,” on which Boyne‘s tone shines nearly as much as that of Moss amid memorable repetitions of the title-line, and a not-in-anymore-of-a-rush-than-it-needs-to-be rhythm given due swing by Burghart, the shifts in aesthetic and the expansion of who they are as a band throughout Cypress Ave. has grown naturally out of what they’ve done prior. Are they consciously making the decision to try new things? Most definitely, but even that is a manifestation of the impulses under which they’ve always functioned. They are, as they warned, delivering something different. In this context and in the sheer front-to-back listening experience, they’re a richer group. They benefit from the chemistry they’ve hard won on tour and succeed in crafting a narrative for who they are that goes beyond the bull-in-a-china-shop raucousness of their earlier outings.

Cypress Ave., like Buffalo before it, touches on a definitive sense of place — its cover art helps in this — but it finds The Midnight Ghost Train pushing a more exploratory sensibility that nonetheless draws strength from its tones, the underlying songcraft and structures with which the songs are executed, and the performances throughout of MossBoyne and Burghart, who’ve never sounded more complete and realized as a group than they do here. That’s not to take anything away from their prior work at all or the steps Moss as the band’s founder has taken along the way, including on Cold was the Ground, but as the band approach the decade mark in 2018, one has to acknowledge the bravery in such decided, willful progression. It turns out taking chances suits The Midnight Ghost Train, and one hopes they continue to do so as they move inexorably forward from Cypress Ave. to whatever their next destination may be.

The Midnight Ghost Train, “Red Eyed Junkie Queen” official video

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The Midnight Ghost Train website

The Midnight Ghost Train on Twitter

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Monster Magnet to Release New Album; Spine of God & Tab Reissues Due in Sept. 1

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

New Jersey legends Monster Magnet will issue a new album before the end of 2017 on Napalm Records. Their next full-length will follow two redux releases that reworked prior material — 2015’s Cobras and Fire (review here), which took on 2010’s Mastermind (review here) and 2014’s Milking the Stars (review here), which expanded on the impulses behind 2013’s triumphant return to weirdness, Last Patrol (review here) — and will be the band’s fifth and reportedly final offering through Napalm.

A release date, title, art, tracks, etc., for the new outing have all yet to be revealed, but hopefully that will be coming soon, and in the interim, Napalm has announced it will also put its stamp on the remasters of Spine of God and Tab that were originally put out during the band’s time on SPV. I recall when those came out they weren’t particularly well received, but I never had any complaints either way. Frankly, any opportunity to go out and buy another copy of Spine of God and I’m a happy man. I can think of few better uses for money than that.

The PR wire brings confirmation of the new record and info on the reissues, which are available to preorder now, vinyl and CD:

 

Monster Magnet release re-issues of “Tab” and “Spine Of God”

1989 marks the year of birth of New Jersey’s spacerock legends MONSTER MAGNET. Three years after their first EP on Glitterhouse, the band released their official debut album “Spine Of God” on Caroline Records, which became a full on genre classic literally in an instant. The original debut album “Tab” was recorded a year earlier then “Spine of God”, but only saw the light of day because of the overwhelming success of its actual successor. The drug hazed heavy sound of both releases helped in cementing MONSTER MAGNET’s reputation of being the only legit descendants of the likes of psychedelic and stoner rock Godfathers Hawkwind, Black Sabbath, and their electrifying punk siblings in MC5. Following those groundbreaking records, the band centered around charismatic master mind Dave Wyndorf went on to issue their first major label release “Superjudge”, followed by critically acclaimed albums “Dopes To Infinity” and “Powertrip”. That’s how MONSTER MAGNET transformed themselves into the Olympus of modern power rock and became legends themselves. The rest is history…

Napalm Records now proudly presents the re-issues of those legendary musical beginnings of this incredible band that no doubt can be considered the founding fathers of Stoner Rock. Both classic albums “Tab” and “Spine Of God” will be released on September 1 worldwide and can be pre-ordered HERE! The albums will be available on vinyl and CD!

MONSTER MAGNET will also release a brand new studio album later this year, so stay tuned for more info!

“Tab” track listing:
1 Tab
2 25
3 Longhair
4 Lord 13

“Spine Of God” track listing:
1 Pill Shovel
2 Medicine
3 Nod Scene
4 Black Mastermind
5 Zodiac Lung
6 Spine Of God
7 Snake Dance
8 Sin’s A Good Man’s Brother
9 Ozium
10 Ozium (Demo Version)

http://www.zodiaclung.com
https://www.facebook.com/monstermagnet
http://www.napalmrecordsamerica.com/store/monstermagnet
https://www.instagram.com/monstermagnetofficial/

Monster Magnet, Spine of God (1991)

Monster Magnet, Tab (1991)

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Conan & Monolord Announce Co-Headlining European Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 14th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Goodness gracious this is going to be heavy. If you live somewhere in Europe they’re not hitting or in the US and you’re jealous that Conan and Monolord won’t be co-headlining their way across your particular country this time around, don’t worry. I’m pretty sure wherever you’re at you’ll be able to hear them anyway. Just put your ear to the ground — not in a dirty or wet spot; nothing gross — and listen for the rumble. That’s them. Can’t miss it.

I don’t know who had the idea to pair up the UK riff destroyers with the Swedish masters of nod, but yeah, good work. You get a gold sticker. Conan, of course, are still out supporting early-2016’s Revengeance (review here), and this will mark their second European run of 2017 and follow a recent Obelisk-presented US stint that included a stop at Maryland Deathfest. For Monolord, they go heralding the arrival of their third album, newly completed and awaiting the publication of its release details. Presumably by the time October comes around, we’ll know when and how the record will be out even if we don’t yet.

You’ll note the included slots here at Desertfest Belgium 2017 in Antwerp and Keep it Low 2017 in Munich. I wouldn’t be surprised if another fest or two got added, time permitting. Poster and currently announced dates follow, as hoisted from the social medias:

conan monolord tour

Conan and Monolord – Co-Headline Fall 2017 European Tour

CONAN & MONOLORD live dates:
07.10.17 NL – Nijmegen / Soulcrusher II – Doornroosje
08.10.17 FR – Paris / GLAZART
09.10.17 FR – Nantes / La Scène Michelet
10.10.17 FR – Bordeaux / VOID // BDX
11.10.17 ES – Barcelona / Razzmatazz 3
12.10.17 ES – San Sebastian / Dabadaba
13.10.17 FR – Lyon / Jack Jack
14.10.17 FR – Audincourt / Le Molodo
15.10.17 BE – Antwerp / Desertfest Antwerp 2017
16.10.17 DK – Aarhus / Atlas
17.10.17 DE – Hamburg / Bambi galore
18.10.17 DE – Berlin / Musik & Frieden
20.10.17 DE – Bischofswerda / Morbvs Maximvs
21.10.17 DE – Munich / Keep It Low Festival 2017
22.10.17 CZ – Prague/Brno / Kabinet MÚZ
23.10.17 AT – Vienna / DasBACH
24.10.17 CH – Olten / Coq d’Or
25.10.17 IT – Bologna / Freakout Club
26.10.17 IT – Milan / Bloom
27.10.17 CH – Winterthur / Gaswerk
28.10.17 DE – Siegen / The VORTEX

Poster by Error! Design

https://www.facebook.com/conancavemanbattledoom/
http://www.hailconan.com
napalmrecords.com
https://www.facebook.com/napalmrecords/

https://www.facebook.com/monolordsweden/
twitter.com/MonolordSweden
https://monolord.bandcamp.com/
http://www.ridingeasyrecs.com/

Conan, “Throne of Fire” live at Maryland Deathfest 2017

Monolord, Vænir (2015)

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

Posted in Features on June 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-2017-so-far

The time has come to take a look at some of the best albums of 2017 so far. I hardly know where to start. In some ways, this list is harder to put together than the end-of-year one that comes out in December, because by then not only do you have the full year to draw on, but it’s easier to sort of put a narrative to the course of events of 12 months, whereas in this case, obviously, the story is half told. So I guess if the list feels incomplete, that might be part of why.

Even with just six months to work from, the list has become fairly immense. I’ve been keeping track of 2017 releases since about September of last year, and the amount of stuff that’s come through has been staggering. Every year brings good music, and the basic fact of the matter is that if you don’t think so it’s because you’re either unwilling to find it or unwilling to let yourself hear it, but 2017 has been a multi-tiered assault of sounds from all over the world, and it seems like whatever you might be into, the universe stands ready to accommodate.

There’s a lot to say about that — is the market flooded? — but it’s a topic for a different post. I’ll keep it short here and just say that as always, it’s an honor to be covering the stuff that I cover and that I deeply appreciate you taking the time to read. I hope if there’s a release you feel deeply passionate about that you don’t see on my list below that you’ll please let me know about it in the comments.

Also, please note that in order to qualify for this list, a record had to come out on or before June 9. That’s the cutoff.

Okay, here goes:

The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

elder reflections of a floating world

1. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World
2. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War
3. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe
4. Colour Haze, In Her Garden
5. Atavismo, Inerte
6. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us
7. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust
8. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn
9. The Obsessed, Sacred
10. Mothership, High Strangeness
11. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma
12. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals
13. Alunah, Solennial
14. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical
13. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
14. Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
15. PH, Eternal Hayden
16. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
17. T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
18. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
19. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
20. Lord, Blacklisted

Notes

If you keep up with this site at all, there probably aren’t a lot of surprises in there. These are all records that have been discussed at great length over the last six months, reviewed, streamed, analyzed, whathaveyou’d all the way. If you don’t believe me, search any of the names. Still, as far as my personal picks go and who I think has crafted something special over the last six months, this feels pretty representative to me. I managed to live for a full week with the list as you see it above, without making changes. That’s usually my standard.

And as always, it’s a combination of what I’ve listened to most and what I feel has had the greatest impact thus far into the year. Between the two, there was little doubt Elder would take the top spot. I’ve probably listened to the All Them Witches record more than anything else this year, including Elder’s Reflections of a Floating World, but the truth is the Massachusetts trio are working at a level of their own making in terms of their sonic progression, and that they’ve emerged as one of if not the most pivotal American underground heavy rock bands going. The situation was much the same when they put out Lore in 2015 and claimed that year’s top-album spot, but even since then their sound has expanded and they continue to demand ultimate respect.

As for the All Them Witches album — absolute stunner. The increased depth of their arrangements on Sleeping Through the War came at no expense of songwriting, resulting in ultra-memorable material that could either wash over you with melody or shove you out of your seat with the force of its rhythm, and that band continues to be a treasure. No other way to put it.

From there, we move into what I think are the four best heavy psych offerings of 2017 so far, with Samsara Blues Experiment, Colour Haze, Atavismo and Sun Blood Stories, in that order. Samsara Blues Experiment’s return has been a joy to witness and their first album in four years lived up to the occasion. Colour Haze expanded the palette from their last album with In Her Garden and proved as immersive as always. I’m still getting to know that record. Atavismo’s second full-length upped the progressive influences without losing fluidity or cohesion in songwriting, and Sun Blood Stories’ hypnotic shoegaze offered expansive thrills and a sense of varied, beautifully crafted exploration.

A pair of exciting young bands thereafter in Colorado’s Cloud Catcher, whose boogie is right-on-right-on and whose development continues to hold much potential, and Vokonis, whose crushing riffs on The Sunken Djinn were met with an increased focus on structure and tightening of approach that maximized overall impact. The Obsessed’s unexpected return could only be called a triumphant one, and Mothership’s third long-player found them working in a richer sense of mood than previous outings, adding yet more character to what was still a blast of good-time rock and roll. They round out the top 10 in full command of who they are as players.

Granted, the next 10 releases are kind of all over the place, but I think that just shows the overarching quality of work being done across the board. From Spaceslug’s melodic stoner-psych to Electric Moon’s studio return — so, so, so good — to Alunah’s continued growth in nature-worshiping heavy and Arc of Ascent’s comebacker of rolling heavy riffs and metaphysical themes, there’s been so much to take in. I especially like the pairing of Rozamov and Siena Root as a sense of scope for 2017 so far; the former being so dark and crushing and the latter who lived up to calling their record A Dream of Lasting Peace. You want to know both ends of the spectrum? There they are.

PH’s Eternal Hayden gets a nod for its effective reset of the context of that band following the completion of their trilogy of albums, and Geezer’s Psychoriffadelia might have been something of a tossoff in the making, but the level at which the New York trio jams nonetheless assures it a spot here. Plus, a Nazareth cover. So duh.

I couldn’t help but include T.G. Olson’s Foothills Before the Mountain on the list as the Across Tundras frontman creeps closer to a full-band sound for his solo work, adding to his acoustic singer-songwriter foundations, and the crush of Telekinetic Yeti’s post-Sleep riffing evoked so many nods I thought they deserved one here as well. Placing The Devil and the Almighty Blues was difficult, but especially after seeing them live, I felt like I had a better idea of where they were coming from on II, so knew they belonged somewhere, even if it was tucked in at the end. And of course, Lord. Always killer, always experimenting, always chaotic. Never have grind and sludge sounded more cohesive together. They’re the band I wish Soilent Green had become, and yes, I mean that.

Honorable Mention

Let’s do another 10 releases, shall we?

21. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
22. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
23. Brume, Rooster
24. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
25. Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown
26. Demon Head, Thunder on the Fields
27. Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
28. Steak, No God to Save
29. Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
30. Dool, Here Now There Then

And just to make the point, here are even more worthy of note in this space:

Elbrus, Elbrus
Cortez, The Depths Below
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Child, Blueside (a December 2016 release, maybe, but I think the vinyl was this year, so whatever)
Pallbearer, Heartless
Spidergawd, IV
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Loss, Horizonless

There are of course other names as well that come to mind. Like I said at the outset, it’s a crowded field: Hymn, Arbouretum, Green Meteor, REZN, Demon Head, Galley Beggar, Devil’s Witches, Orango, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, Mt. Mountain, Vokonis, Solstafir, High Plains, on and on.

Also worth highlighting several really, really quality live records that have surfaced so far this year. I didn’t really know where to place them among the other studio offerings, but they deserve note for sure:

Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
Death Alley, Live at Roadburn
My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
Enslaved, Roadburn Live

More to Come

Of course, we’re still just barely halfway through the year, so keep on the lookout for more to follow. If you didn’t see my massive 200+ albums to watch for list in January, it has many that have come out and many more still to surface, but here are a few highlight names as well that you’re going to want to keep an eye on in the months ahead:

Queens of the Stone Age
Radio Moscow
The Atomic Bitchwax
Kadavar
Ufomammut
The Midnight Ghost Train
Moon Rats
Clamfight
Egypt
the Melvins
Bison Machine
Seedy Jeezus
High on Fire
Monster Magnet

Thanks for Reading

Before I check out, I’d like to give special mention to Lo-Pan’s In Tensions EP as the best short release of the year thus far. Along with EPs from Godhunter, Kings Destroy, Solace and Shroud Eater, it has assured those seeking a quick fix are handed their ass in return for asking.

Well, that’s about where I’m at with it. As per usual, I’m sure there are things I forgot and/or left off here, because I’m human and whatnot, so please if you have something to add, feel free to do so in the comments so long as you can keep it cordial. No name calling. I’m sensitive and you’ll ruin my whole day. I mean that.

Thanks again for being a part of this and here’s to an excellent rest of 2017.

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The Midnight Ghost Train Premiere “Red Eyed Junkie Queen” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 2nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the midnight ghost train

I’m not even going to pretend like I haven’t heard it — wait until you get a load of the fucking tones The Midnight Ghost Train bring on Cypress Ave. Pure, dug-in weighted fuzz of the highest order. Guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss and bassist Mike Boyne bring a thickness and drummer Brandon Burghart makes it move, and together, the power trio offer not only a swap between moody, airy heavy blues and driving thrust like one can hear on “Red Eyed Junkie Queen” — premiering today in the new video below — but a more expansive aesthetic palette than ever, taking the go-go-go of 2015’s hands-up righteous Cold was the Ground (review here) and offering a multidirectional expansion of style, whether that’s in the grungy build of “The Watchers Nest,” the jangly meander of “Lemon Trees” or “The Boogie Down,” on which the band acts as a live funk backup for rapper Sonny Cheeba.

Yeah, shit gets pretty wild — and that’s not even to mention the brooding back end of Cypress Ave. with “Black Wave,” “The Echo” and “I Can’t Let You Go” — but that’s the idea as The Midnight Ghost Train willfully endeavor to take their sound places it’s never been before. “Red Eyed Junkie Queen” is the second song on the album behind opener the midnight ghost train cypress ave.“Tonight,” and is more in line with what their audience might expect of them, but even in its tense verses and in Moss‘ post-Tom Waits lyrical storytelling — see also “Break My Love” later on — they give a sense of the wider sonic berth the record will cast as it continues to unfold. Bolstered by a speedy tempo and a catchy hook that sets its place and its character both down and dirty, the track rushes through its four-minute runtime and helps continue the momentum set by the opener with a richness of groove that continues through the rest of the opening salvo in “Glenn’s Promise” and “Bury Me Deep.”

Bottom line, I suppose, is that “Red Eyed Junkie Queen” doesn’t necessarily speak for the whole of Cypress Ave., but neither is it intended to do so. The video takes us inside the studio with The Midnight Ghost Train as they record the album, tracking live and playing through the process by which these songs came together. One can only wonder if as they filmed it just how much the results of their efforts would stand apart from everything they’ve done before.

The Midnight Ghost Train release Cypress Ave. this July 28 via Napalm Records, and as they will, the band hit the road in August for a lengthy US tour. More info from the PR wire and live dates follow the clip below.

Please enjoy:

The Midnight Ghost Train, “Red Eyed Junkie Queen” official video

Pre-order “Cypress Ave.” now: http://smarturl.it/CypressAve-NPR

Out July 28!

THE MIDNIGHT GHOST TRAIN keeps rollin’ along, spewing exhaust along sandy desert roads, and filling lungs with dust: now with their fourth opus ‘Cypress Ave.’ this impulsive trifecta torch dark’n’dirty Southern Rock with a hefty portion of Sludge and Funk. Seared by the Sunflower State of Kansas, their organic and authentic sound lives in the musics throaty vocals, deep lyrics, melancholic melodies and forceful, shaky riffs. Roaring amps plow through eardrums as if they were earth, dry as a bone. Highlight: the fruity-fresh “The Boogie Down [feat. Sonny Cheeba]”. Honest, straight-forward and peppered with woefulness. An absolute must for blues-fans!

The Midnight Ghost Train live:
Aug 24 2017 The Grotto Ft Worth, TX
Aug 25 2017 Swan Dive Austin, TX
Aug 26 2017 Boom Boom Room Lafayette, LA
Aug 27 2017 Siberia New Orleans, LA
Aug 28 2017 TBA Jackson, MS
Aug 29 2017 TBA Hattiesburg, MS
Aug 30 2017 TBA Muscle Shoals, AL
Aug 31 2017 Handlebar Pensacola, FL
Sep 1 2017 Snug Harbor Charlotte, NC
Sep 2 2017 Masquerade w/ Camp Lo Atlanta, GA
Sep 3 2017 Banditos Richmond, VA
Sep 6 2017 TBA Baltimore, MD
Sep 7 2017 Atlas Brew Works Washington, D.C.
Sep 8 2017 Kung Fu Necktie Philadelphia, PA
Sep 9 2017 Gold Sounds Brooklyn, NY
Sep 10 2017 TBA Connecticut
Sep 11 2017 Firehouse 13 Providence, RI
Sep 12 2017 O’Brien’s Pub Boston, MA
Sep 13 2017 TBA Rochester, NY
Sep 14 2017 TBA Cleveland, OH
Sep 15 2017 Radio Radio Indianapolis, IN
Sep 16 2017 The Rockery Detroit, MI
Sep 17 2017 TBA Kalamazoo, MI
Sep 18 2017 Frequency Madison, WI
Sep 19 2017 Gasoline Green Bay, WI
Sep 20 2017 The Lift Dubuque, IA
Sep 21 2017 Reggie’s Music Joint Chicago, IL
Sep 22 2017 Green Lantern Lexington, KY
Sep 23 2017 Southgate House Revival Newport, KY
Sep 24 2017 TBA Nashville, TN
Sep 25 2017 TBA Charleston, SC
Sep 26 2017 TBA Raleigh, NC
Sep 27 2017 The Empty Bottle Charleston, WV
Sep 28 2017 The Buzzbin Shop Canton, OH
Sep 29 2017 Blind Bob’s Dayton, OH
Sep 30 2017 Descendants of Crom Fest Pittsburgh, PA

The Midnight Ghost Train on Thee Facebooks

The Midnight Ghost Train website

The Midnight Ghost Train on Twitter

The Midnight Ghost Train on Instagram

Napalm Records website

Napalm Records on Thee Facebooks

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