Review & Full Album Premiere: OZO, Saturn

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 4th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

ozo saturn

[Click play above to stream Saturn by OZO in its entirely. Release is Feb. 7 on Riot Season Records. Preorders here.]

It seems fitting that OZO should make their debut roughly concurrent to scientists unveiling the highest resolution to-date images of the surface of the sun. The Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, three-piece are ostensibly led by guitarist/bassist Mike Vest, known for his drone plunge in BONG and the spacey reach of Blown Out, among a slew of others. Joining Vest for the five-track debut album, Saturn (on Riot Season Records), are Ballpeen‘s Graham Thompson on drums/mixing/mastering, and alto saxophonist Karl D’Silva (a bandmate of Vest‘s in Drunk in Hell), and together, the trio burn through improvisational pieces of varied tenure but largely united purpose, as though someone flipped a switch and said, “okay, go,” and off they went. Entirely instrumental, the record wails through most of its 38-minute run, Thompson‘s drums not so much holding progressions to the ground as propelling them up from the surface into the airless ether, as heard on the shorter “Side Way,” just three-plus minutes, but a jazzy vibe that urges listeners to pick their favorite Coltrane for a comparison (Alice!) and roll with the heady, dug-in spirit. They are gone and gone and gone.

Would be almost unfair to call it self-indulgent, since that’s the idea. The exploratory go-ness of these pieces, especially as a first offering of any sort from OZO, are a clarion to free-fusion tweakers and anyone anywhere slightly out of phase with their surroundings, the just-don’t-fit feel comes through resonant through “Lifeship” at the outset and again in the resilient echoes and avant drum expressions of closer “Centuries.” Of course, an obvious focal point for the LP are its two broadest jams, “Saturn” (12:47) and “Nuclear Fuel” (11:06), which together comprise the majority of Saturn‘s runtime. While “Lifeship” and “Slide Way” burn out cosmic and “Centuries” harnesses an emergent wash of noise alongside its noteworthy rhythmic freakery, it is the drift and shove of “Saturn” and the encompassing howl of “Nuclear Fuel” that ultimately define the album, appearing in succession as they do after “Lifeship” as though OZO were aware of the challenge being issued to their audience — a sort of dare-you-to-keep-up mentality that seems as much a repellent for squares as a clarion to the lysergic converted. Come get down, come get obliterated. Fair.

The nature of extreme music is to seek not just a specialized listenership, but a that-much-deeper connection therewith on account of the rareness of the bond. One suspects that with OZO, those who can match wits with the band’s interstellar scorch will line up to do so again and again, which is fortunate since there’s already a second record in the works, titled Pluto. Walking through Saturn‘s fire unscathed is no easy feat, of course, but in addition to Vest loyalists, the jazzy appeal of these tracks should open as many minds to what OZO are doing as it might close. One way or the other, they’re doing it, and the resultant response feels like a secondary consideration at best.

the sun

That is, none of this material comes across as having been written with an audience in mind. I don’t say that as a dig against it, since I don’t think that’s what OZO wanted to do in the first place, and they stay true to their mission throughout. It just means they’re working on a different level and toward different ends. To go further, none of this material comes across as having been “written” at all. More like it was found, or perhaps pieced together out of elements floating in the air around the room where the instruments were set up. The inherent value of Saturn comes in capturing an expressive moment, the urgency of what’s being done and the traditionalism of free jazz as a forward-reaching reaction against form.

VestD’Silva and Thompson sound like people who find the conventional boring. Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t, but it’s the portrait they paint in the burning oranges and reds and yellows of Saturn, a sense of heat duly depicted on the album’s cover. However off-the-cuff it may be — I don’t know if it’s entirely improvised or if there were overdubs after the fact or what — the feeling of spontaneity in that moment is what’s most being sought, and it’s what’s most prevalent throughout the five pieces that comprise the album. The songs leave no room for compromise. The commitment to outward-directed freakery is unflinching, and for many if not most who take them on, OZO will simply prove too much. Like a machine burning overload. That, too, is a purposeful intent on the part of the band. They’re willful in abandoning normality for the swirling chaos that consumes “Nuclear Fuel” in its later reaches, and the dream-sequence distortion of “Centuries” that wraps up is high order psychedelic noir that is just as likely to melt minds as expand them.

Dangerous? To a point, maybe. I don’t know if OZO are ever at risk of really falling apart here, and if they did, it would be easy enough for it to become all part of the non-plan, but as they move through the liquefied abrasion of “Lifeship” into the title-track, the feeling of something unhinged and vital is palpable. Credit for that should and must go to Thompson, who instead of trying to harness some cohesion and structure from out of all this churning brew becomes part of the freakery, no less exploratory than D’Silva‘s channel-spanning horn echoes or Vest‘s effects-laced guitar. As noted, OZO are already working on their next full-length, which one can only imagine will continue their through-the-temple-into-the-brain plunge, and however the two works may ultimately relate, their debut burns with an intensity worthy of standing alone as it inherently does in sound and style. Saturn presents a vision of psychedelic and space rocking extremity rarely honed to such a degree, and its vibrancy borders on blinding, which is all the better for OZO to catch you off-guard with their next hairpin turn. Hu-mans beware.

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Playlist: Episode 27

Posted in Radio on January 31st, 2020 by JJ Koczan

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As I sit and type this, I just recorded (on my phone, because professionalism!) the voice tracks for this episode of The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio, and in the first of them I tried and probably failed to explain that the show’s moving. Instead of every other week on Friday at 1PM Eastern (which it is now), it’s going to be every week, Friday 5PM Eastern. New episodes will still be every other week, but it’s a dedicated spot to The Obelisk Show and that’s that. The Sunday replays will still air. Bullet points:

– Starting Feb. 14.
– Airing every week, Friday 5PM, plus Sundays at 7PM
– New episodes every other week
– Listen to The Obelisk Show at Gimmeradio.com or on the app.
– Thank you

Probably should’ve written that out before I tried explaining it off the cuff on the show itself. So it goes.

There’s a ton of killer, killer, killer new music in this episode, so, you know, business as usual. I know I’m biased. Anyone who says they’re not is playing pretend. I was glad to include new Goblinsmoker here, which I haven’t had the chance to write about yet, as well as Insect ArkThe RiverGrandpa Jack and Godthrymm. Look out for a full stream of the OZO record next Tuesday, if you like what you hear in the title-cut.

Which, of course, I hope you do.

The Obelisk Show airs 1PM Eastern today at http://gimmeradio.com

Thanks if you check it out.

Full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 01.31.20

Lowrider Red River Refractions*
Elephant Tree Sails Habits*
Brant Bjork Jungle in the Sound Brant Bjork*
Big Scenic Nowhere Glim Visions Beyond Horizon*
BREAK
Orbiter Bone to Earth The Deluge*
Sleepwulf Misty Mountain Misty Mountain*
Grandpa Jack Imitation Trash Can Boogie*
Dirt Woman Lady of the Dunes The Glass Cliff*
BREAK
Goblinsmoker Let Them Rot A Throne in Haze, a World Ablaze*
Insect Ark Philae The Vanishing*
The River Vessels Vessels into White Tides*
Deathwhite Further From Salvation Grave Image*
Godthrymm The Sea as My Grave Reflections*
BREAK
SEA Dust Impermanence*
OZO Saturn Saturn*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every Friday 5PM Eastern, with replays Sunday at 7PM Eastern. Next new episode is Feb. 14. Thanks for listening if you do.

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