The Top 10 of the First Half of 2013

Posted in Features on June 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

This is always fun, and because the year’s only (just about) half over, you always know there’s more to come. The last six months have brought a host of really stellar releases, and the whole time, it’s felt like just when you’ve dug your heels into something and really feel content to rest with it for a while, there’s something else to grab your ears. So it’s been for the last six months, bouncing from one record to the next.

Even now, I’ve got a list of albums, singles, EPs, tapes, demos, whatever, waiting for attention — some of which I’m viciously behind on — but it’s time to stop and take a look back at some of what the best of the first half of 2013 has been. Please note, I’m only counting full-lengths here. While I’ve heard a few killer EPs this year — looking at you, Mars Red Sky — it doesn’t seem fair to rate everything all together like that. Maybe a separate list.

If you’ve got a list of your own or some quibbling on the numbers, please leave a comment and be heard. From where I sit, that’s always the best part of this kind of thing.

Here we go:

10. Endless Boogie, Long Island


Released by No Quarter Records. Reviewed Feb. 19.

The third Endless Boogie album on No Quarter was basically the soundtrack to the end of my winter, with smooth grooving cuts like “The Artemus Ward” and the classic rock shake of “On Cryology” providing a soundtrack as cool as the air in my lungs. It was my first experience with the longform-jamming improv-heavy foursome, and a CD I’m still stoked to put on and get lost in, having found that it works just as well in summer’s humidity as winter’s freeze, the off-the-cuff narrations of Paul Major (interview here) carrying a vibe unmistakably belonging to the rock history of the band’s native New York City. Was a sleeper, but not one to miss for its organic and exploratory feel.

9. Magic Circle, Magic Circle

Released by Armageddon Shop. Reviewed Feb. 18.

Proffering righteous traditional doom and misery-drenched atmospherics, the debut full-length from Massachusetts-based Magic Circle hit hard and showed there’s life yet to the old ways. It never quite veered into the cultish posturing that comprises so much of the trad doom aesthetic these days, and from the grandiose riffing of guitarists Dan Ducas and Chris Corry and the blown-out vocals of frontman Brendan Radigan, it found the band carving a memorable identity for themselves with clear sonic ideas of what they wanted to accomplish. Out of all the bands on this list, I’m most interested to hear what Magic Circle do next to build on their debut.

8. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed April 9.

Berlin trio Kadavar had a tough task ahead of them in releasing a sophomore answer to their self-titled, which I thought was the best first album of 2012, but when Abra Kadavar surfaced as their debut on Nuclear Blast, it was quickly apparent that the retro heavy rockers had put together a worthy follow-up. Cuts like “Come Back Life” and “Doomsday Machine” underscored the straightforward triumphs of the prior outing, while late-album arrivals “Liquid Dream,” “Rhythm for Endless Minds” and “Abra Kadabra” gave a sense that Kadavar were beginning a journey into psychedelia the results of which could be just as rewarding as even the most potent of their choruses. Their potential remains one of their biggest appeals.

7. Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed March 19.

It wasn’t without its rough edges, but at the core of Indianapolis heavy rockers Devil to Pay‘s fourth record was an unflinching songwriting quality that quickly established it among my go-to regulars, whether it was the quirky doom hook of “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife,” the darkly progressive riffing of “Black Black Heart” or the suitably propulsive rush of “This Train Won’t Stop.” The double-guitar four-piece didn’t have much time for frills in terms of arrangement or structure, but by building on the developments over the course of their three prior releases, Devil to Pay delivered a slab of deceptively intricate standouts that made hard turns sound easy and demanded the attention it deserved.

6. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below


Released by Saw Her Ghost Records. Streamed in full June 5.

Unfuckwithable tone set to destructive purpose. Immediately upon hearing the unsung Michigan drum/guitar duo’s fourth album, the impact of The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below — overwhelming though it is at times throughout the album; hello, “Oncoming Avalanche” — refused to be denied. Beast in the Field haven’t gotten anything remotely close to the attention they should for this devastating collection, but it’s one I absolutely can’t put down, cohesive in theme and full of skull-caving riffs as dynamic as they are brutally delivered by the instrumental twosome. If it’s one you missed on CD when Saw Her Ghost put it out in March (as I did), keep your eyes open for a vinyl release coming on Emetic in the next couple months. Really. Do it.

5. Black Pyramid, Adversarial

Released by Hydro-Phonic Records. Reviewed April 12.

Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid quickly dispatched any doubts of their ability to continue on after the departure of their previous guitarist/vocalist, bassist Dave Gein and drummer Clay Neely joined forces with Darryl Shepard (Hackman, Blackwolfgoat, Roadsaw, etc.) to reinvigorate their battle-ready doom, and whether it was the extended jamming on “Swing the Scimitar” or the surprisingly smooth riffing on “Aphelion,” the results did not disappoint. Regardless of personnel, I’ve yet to hear a Black Pyramid album I didn’t want to hear again, and though I’ll freely admit they’re a sentimental favorite for me at this point, Adversarial is a suitable dawn for their next era. Long may they reign.

4. Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man


Released by Small Stone. Reviewed Jan. 24.

True, I will argue tooth and nail that Boston four-piece Gozu should get rid of their goofball, sitcom-referential song titles, but that’s only because I believe the band’s lack of pretense speaks for itself through the music and their tracks are too good to give listeners a chance not to take them seriously. When it comes to The Fury of a Patient Man — their second full-length behind the impressive 2010 debut, Locust Season (review here) — I knew the first time I heard it toward the end of last year that it was going to be one of 2013’s best, and while I’ve heard quibbles in favor of the debut, nothing has dissuaded me from thinking the sophomore installment outclasses it on almost every level. Expect a return appearance when the year-end list hits in December.

3. Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork


Released by Matador Records. Reviewed June 4.

There’s a big part of me that feels like a sucker for digging …Like Clockwork, the first Queens of the Stone Age full-length since 2007’s relatively lackluster Era Vulgaris, but when it comes right down to it, I hit the point in listening to the album that I came around to its sheen, its up-and-down moodiness and its unabashed self-importance. I hit the point where I was able to separate …Like Clockwork from its “viral marketing” and just enjoy Josh Homme‘s all-growed-up songwriting for what it is. Would I have loved a second self-titled album? Probably, but it wasn’t realistic to think that’s what …Like Clockwork would be, and as much as I’ve tried out other spots for it, I’d be lying if I put this record anywhere else on this list but here. So there you go. I understand the arguments against it, but reason doesn’t always apply when it comes to what gets repeat spins.

2. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Mind Control

Released by Rise Above/Metal Blade. Reviewed April 8.

I was late to the party on the second Uncle Acid offering, 2011’s Blood Lust, as I often am on records where the hype gets to din levels, but by the time the subsequent Mind Control was announced, I knew it was going to be one to watch out for. Aligned to Rise Above/Metal Blade, the UK outfit began to unravel till-then mystery of itself, playing live and developing the brazen psychedelic pop influences hinted at in the horrors of Blood Lust so that the swing of “Mt. Abraxas” and the acid-coated psych of “Valley of the Dolls” could exist within the same cohesive sphere. Between the death-boogie of “Mind Crawler” and mid-period Beatlesian exploration of “Follow the Leader,” Mind Control continues to be an album I hear as much on the mental jukebox rotation as one I actually put on to listen to again. Either way, there’s no getting away from it — the eerie melodies of guitarist/vocalists Kevin “Uncle Acid” Starrs and Yotam Rubinger are hauntingly ever-present.

1. Clutch, Earth Rocker

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Feb. 28.

Obvious? Probably, but that doesn’t make it any less genuine. To set the scene, here’s me on the Masspike a couple weeks ago in the Volvo of Doom™ with the little dog Dio, 90 miles an hour shouting along to “Crucial Velocity” at the top of my never-on-key lungs. I couldn’t and wouldn’t endeavor to tell you how many times I’ve listened to Earth Rocker since I first got a taste, but from the title-track on through the surging groove at the end of “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…,” front to back, the 10th Clutch album still does not fail to roil the blood with not a dud in the bunch. The Maryland road dogs of course shine best on a stage, and Earth Rocker‘s polished, layered production is a studio affair in the truest sense, but all that does is make me hopeful they’ll complement it with a live record soon. Clutch could easily have phoned in a follow-up to 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West and their fanbase probably would’ve still salivated over it, myself included, but by boldly pushing themselves to write faster, more concise material, they’ve reenergized one of heavy rock’s best sounds. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a brand new listener, Earth Rocker is utterly essential.

Two more records I have to mention: Kings Destroy‘s A Time of Hunting and Clamfight‘s I vs. the Glacier. I wasn’t involved in releasing the Kings Destroy, but felt close to it nonetheless, and since the Clamfight came out on The Maple Forum, it wouldn’t be appropriate to include it in the list proper, but hands down, these are my two favorite records of the year so far and made by some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure to know over the course of my years nerding out to heavy music.

Some other honorable mentions go to Toner Low, Cathedral, Church of Misery, Serpent Throne, Naam, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic and All Them Witches. Like I said, it’s been a hell of a year so far.

You may note some glaring absences in the list above — Black Sabbath, ASG, Orchid, Ghost, Kvelertak and Voivod come to mind immediately. Some of that is a result of my disdain for digital promos, and some of that is just a matter of what I listened to most. Please understand that although release profile is not something discounted, at the heart of what’s included here is one individual’s personal preferences and listening habits.

Thanks for reading. Here’s to your own lists and to the next six months to come!

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Endless Boogie Interview with Paul Major: The Unconscious Road to Authenticity

Posted in Features on March 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

There was only one real hiccup in my recent conversation with Endless Boogie guitarist/vocalist Paul “Top Dollar” Major, and it came when I asked him about whether he was able to draw on his extensive knowledge of classic psychedelic rock — Major is a noted record dealer and collector in NYC, where the band is also based — as fuel for the group’s extended, mostly-improvised jams. Chalk it up to the limits of human interpersonal communication — more particularly those that involve me stammering on a phone — but where what I meant to do was introduce a discussion of influences and use that to segue into a chat about artists in and around New York he considered to be carrying that torch now, he seemed to think I was asking if he ever just ripped off obscure psych records for guitar parts. Not at all my intent, and frankly, if I thought that had been the case, I wouldn’t have wanted to interview Major to start with, and their latest album, Long Island, probably would’ve sat in the pile instead of receiving the lengthy, laudatory review it did.

Even so, it led Major to a fascinating point about the idea of authenticity and some of his feelings and preconceptions of how an artist might best attain it or at very least drive most toward his or her own idea of it. As he succinctly puts it, one can push toward this notion of creative authenticity simply if you, “don’t think about it.” It’s a kind of anti-academic mentality that’s about as New York as pre-froyo Bleecker, born of post-Warhol neo-beat and an automatic shield against one — a critic, let’s say — who might call art a movement. I don’t know that I’d agree consciousness automatically saps art of its ability to capture an idea or make a statement, but he’s certainly got a point in being wary of overthinking one’s given approach, especially in the case of an outfit like Endless Boogie, whose improv jamming seems to arise out of a sort of trance-state and become a song like the moody and subdued “The Artemus Ward” or 13-minute Long Island opener “The Savagist” through after-the-fact editing — a very conscious process, but separate still from the actual creation.

As someone whose creative project (i.e. this site) directly involves a conscious critique of media, and as someone not at all immune to occasional bouts of overthought, I was intensely fascinated to hear Major discuss that balance. Coming as that turn did after talking about some of Endless Boogie‘s processes and how a record like Long Island comes together in terms of being recorded live, vocals recorded later, sometimes parts cut out from longer jams to hone in on a specific idea or feel, it was a different level of insight into what makes Endless Boogie so much of their place — Long Island‘s second cut, “Taking out the Trash,” is somehow even more urbane in its classic ballsy groove than “The Artemus Ward,” which shouts out 14th St. — and yet so distinct within those surroundings, their jamming ethic more common among European acts like Germany’s Electric Moon, with whom Endless Boogie will share the stage at this year’s Roadburn festival next month in the Netherlands.

Two more things about talking to Major, should you ever have the chance to do so. First, his laugh is infectious and it draws you in, makes you want to laugh with him (I was cracking up while he was talking about Phil Spector‘s hair), and he laughs a lot. Second, he jams. You can hear (and hopefully read) in the cadence of his words and the way he moves from one idea to the next that he’s someone used to improvising and thinking on his feet, so that he seems to be half a step ahead in his thoughts from what his mouth is saying, subtly getting ready for his next move even while his mouth is still grooving on whatever it is he’s currently talking about. There were a couple places where he got deep into that jam, but much like Long Island itself, in conversation, Major never failed to emerge with a cohesive idea.

In Endless Boogie, whose origin point seems to hover on average somewhere around the late ’90s or early ’00s, Major is joined by guitarist Jesper “The Governor” Eklow, bassist Mark “Memories from Reno” Ohe and drummer Harry Druzd. Long Island is available now as the band’s third release on No Quarter Records.

Please find the complete, 3,700-word Q&A with Paul Major after the jump, and enjoy:

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Endless Boogie, Long Island: Farther than the End

Posted in Reviews on February 19th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Pushing the very limits of the CD format, NYC-based four-piece Endless Boogie jam out hyperbole-ready classic heavy psych that’s as hypnotic as it is ranging. Songs are songs on their third album for No Quarter Records, dubbed Long Island – depending on whom you ask, it’s their third or fifth or seventh overall; I like to imagine a string of prime numbers, something like, “Legends say Endless Boogie have 53 albums and if you weren’t cool enough to get them at the time, they’re gone forever” – but songs are also showcases for jams, which are formidable in length and potency. This ethic plays out across the eight tracks of Long Island, wandering past 79 minutes with largely improvisational compositions turned into songs after the fact. Or, you know, not. It’s the kind of heavy-edged musing one expects more out of Europe these days, in acts like Insider or Electric Moon, but Endless Boogie seem to owe musical allegiance not so much to a modern scene foreign or domestic, but instead to the psychedelic meanderings of ‘70s yore. Really, it’s the context of their being from New York that makes this a novelty at all (there seems to be a lot of attention paid to the band members’ ages as well, but frankly I don’t give a shit how old they are), since in a city with over eight million people there are maybe 13 who’d be interested enough in music like this to participate in making it, maybe six of whom who could actually play. But guitarists Jesper “The Governor” Eklow and Paul “Top Dollar” Major (the latter also vocals), bassist Marc Razo and drummer Harry Druzd have aligned like so many celestial bodies and following behind 2008’s Focus Level and 2010’s Full House Head, Long Island strikes a tone of individuality right from the beginning strains of the 13:32 opener “The Savagist,” and contrary to my usual position on the matter, I find I’m only more engrossed in listening to Long Island for its maximalist runtime. Such is the strength of Endless Boogie’s jams – solid enough in their purpose to live up to the band’s moniker, though who knows which came first – which seem to defy their own hypnotic aspect and remain memorable if not entirely, then at very least in parts, the mellow-you-the-fuck-out grooves not at all running contradictory to the brash heavy riffing of “Taking out the Trash,” a song about, what else?, drinking after you should’ve stopped drinking.

A big part of what allows Endless Boogie to strike that balance between sonic nonchalance and heaviness is the production of Long Island, itself an anomaly for sounding vintage without sounding retro. The album was put to tape at Dunham Studios by Wayne Gordon with further recording handled by Chris Ribando and Davey Kewell, and Eklow and Matt Sweeney are also credited with producing, but even with so many hands in the pot at one point or another – Chris Ribando also mixed – Long Island not only sounds cohesive, but almost entirely unpostured. Whether it’s Major’s throaty lines on “The Savagist” or more traditional motoring riff-work on “Taking out the Trash,” or any of the mostly-instrumental explorations that follow across “The Artemus Ward,” “Imprecations” and “Occult Banker” (all three tracks clocking in at 9:18), Endless Boogie are neither too classic nor too modern, too loud or soft, too solidified or overly fluid. By the time they’re at the softer, low-end raininess of “The Artemus Ward” – presumably side B of the first record in the 2LP – the vibe is cool enough to warrant whatever gritty cityscape narrative you could want to put to Major’s echoing spoken delivery. Whatever blues they’re referencing, they’re at home in it, and though I’m reminded of some of Brant Bjork’s farthest-out jams, Endless Boogie are never of anywhere musically that isn’t their place. That seems to be enough. It’s easy to imagine Major coming back later to add his lines over the bed of the instrumental jam, and if they were working with traditional structures, it might not work, but by the time “The Artemus Ward” gets around to wrapping up/coming apart, the expectation is way off from pop songwriting. It doesn’t matter. Give me more of that jam. “Imprecations” starts immediately more active with some slight twang in the interplay of Eklow and Major, but it’s Razo and Druzd in the rhythm section who ultimately hold the piece together. There are words for a while, far back behind a wah rhythm line and lead noodling, though the consistent element is more the warm bass than the trippy guitars, which, to their credit, seem to appreciate the opportunity to branch out as they will in preparation for dropping the pretense even further with the instrumental “Occult Banker,” rife with buzzsaw leads and some of Long Island’s most lysergic grooves.

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Endless Boogie Stream “Taking out the Trash” from Long Island

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on January 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

New York might have all the bands and all the shows, but there’s one thing Jersey will forever (hopefully) be able to hold over its head: WFMU. The long-running freeform station is so iconic they should put it on the welcome sign when you cross the border: “Welcome to NJ. We’ve got good pasta and WFMU.” So far, no one at the governor’s office has answered my emails on that one.

NYC-based rockers Endless Boogie will release their new album, Long Island, through No Quarter Records on Feb. 19, and to celebrate, they’re taking to the airwaves on Brian Turner‘s show on FMU and doing a solid three hours, which is pretty friggin’ excellent. That’ll be on this week, and you can find the details below.

In addition to that, the four-piece will play Roadburn in Tilburg, the Netherlands, on April 20 and have made the new song “Taking out the Trash” available for public-type hearing via the No Quarter Soundcloud page, so go ahead and dig into this while you get informed:

ENDLESS BOOGIE announce “LONG ISLAND”

also, a 3 hour session on WFMU !!

CD/2xLP OUT FEBRUARY 19th
WFMU session: January 15th, 36pm
(east coast time)
Record Release show 2/15 @ Cameo Gallery
Brooklyn, NY w/ Arbouretum & Hans Chew

New York’s Endless Boogie are pleased to announce that their third studio album Long Island will be in stores February 19th. The foursome – comprised of Paul “Top Dollar” Major, Jesper Eklow, Harry Druzd and Marc Razo – have made a monstrous, epic of an LP spanning 8 tracks and running 79 minutes and 48 seconds. More often than not, Matt Sweeney joins them on these songs, a recent staple of the live band (at least at New York–area shows) and an able partner for Major to work off. Sweeney and Eklow are credited with producing.

Paul Major says of Long Island: “There’s a lotta strange characters on this album, I don’t know who most of them are. They span time. They seem to know me. They insist there are no messages in the music beyond blasting off and staying there… We brought the beast back alive this time, be careful when you tear off the shrink wrap… “

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