Posted in Whathaveyou on March 10th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Confession time: I’ve been looking forward to reviewing The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut for a while now, and seeing the artwork today with the official tracklisting and release date reveal has only made me more so. The Brooklynite feelgood trio will issue the five-track The Golden Grasson May 9 via respected purveyors Svart Records.
Of course, before that, they will have already played shows this spring alongside White Hills, It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Blackout and Aqua Nebula Oscillator, so hit up their Thee Facebooks if you want to get fully caught up on their doings. The PR wire sends over plenty to dig into as well:
THE GOLDEN GRASS set release date for SVART debut
The glory of American hard rock has returned with the debut eponymous album by THE GOLDEN GRASS, set for international release on May 9th via SVART RECORDS. This Brooklyn-based power-trio is the real deal, and their LP harkens back to the golden age when heavy rock music was upbeat, skillfully played, energetic, edgy, and bursting with goodtime sunshine vibes. They come hard with a strong backbone of deep-pocket funky flare and an earnest/uplifting southern/country/mountain rock vibe, layered with waves of psychedelic textures that explode into jaw-dropping proto-metal moves. And throughout their progressive arrangements and timeless grooves are lush and powerfully delivered vocals, stacked with gorgeous harmonies and maddeningly catchy verses and choruses singing the tales of real-life loves, losses, and the drive to keep on keepin’ on! Cover and tracklisting are as follows:
Tracklisting for THE GOLDEN GRASS’ The Golden Grass 1. Please Man 2. Stuck On A Mountain 3. One More Time 4. Wheels 5. Sugar N’ Spice
THE GOLDEN GRASS formed in early 2013, and before they had even played their first show, they were signed to Svart Records. Their debut 7” was issued in October of that, as a split release with US label Electric Assault Records. Since playing their first show in September of 2013, they’ve shared the stage with an impressive and eclectic range of rock and metal groups, including Windhand, Natur, Ramming Speed, Serpent Throne, Wolf People, and an appearance at the Cincy Psych Fest.
What truly sets THE GOLDEN GRASS apart from the pack of modern ’70s-inspired music is their relentlessly upbeat, soulful energy and feel-good vibe, which is a welcome departure from the faceless sea of proto-metal/doom bands currently drowning the underground scene. This catchy five-track album will make you dance, smile, and catch yourself singing along! This album is a sure treat for fans of classic underground hard rock such as Truth and Janey, Dust, and Josefus as well as fans of classic UK psychedelia such as The Move, The Pretty Things, and Mighty Baby. THE GOLDEN GRASS will also greatly appeal to folks into the contemporary sounds of Danava, Horisont, Graveyard, and Dead Man.
The album was recorded by Andrea Zavareei at Urban Spaceman Studio in Brookly, New York where many seminal early La Otracina albums were also tracked. The album was mixed by Jeff Berner at Galuminum Foil Studio in Brooklyn. Jeff has also recorded albums by Naam, Heliotropes, and Weird Owl, among others, at this studio, and he is also a member of Psychic TV. The album was mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege. The artwork was constructed by Niko Potocnjak of Seven That Spells. The collective experiences and talents of all involved were of utmost importance to the creation of this album.
THE GOLDEN GRASS is: Adam Kriney – drums/vocals (also of LA OTRACINA and past tour member of NEBULA/CULT OF YOUTH/CASTANETS/CLOUDLAND CANYON) Michael Rafalowich – electric guitar/vocals (also of STRANGE HAZE/WHOOPING CRANE and past tour member of TAV FALCO’S PANTHER BURNS) Joe Noval – electric bass
Posted in Reviews on March 6th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s a big world and there’s a lot to review in it, so I won’t do much to delay. This time around covers both coasts of the US as well as Europe and even Australia, proving once again that heavy knows no borders and seems to be at home wherever it goes. It’s a pretty varied batch this time as well, but should provide some fun along the way.
Billing themselves as “Seattle’s only rock duo” — which is charming if unlikely — guitarist/vocalist Ben Harwood and drummer Jeff Silva self-release their second album as Hobosexual (I see what you did there…) in the aptly-titled 12-tracker, II. It’s a record that brims with attitude from the chugging, semi-Melvinsian opening of “Switchblade Suburbia,” but there’s a depth of tone and swagger to back up the smacktalk in their songwriting. The 38-second “Ghettoblaster” is Hendrix-style feedback and soloing, playing directly into “Hostile Denim”‘s lead-obsessed Rolling Stones hook ‘n’ push. Topped off with striking artwork from Adam Burke of Fellwoods, IIproves very much of its Pacific Northwest origins — a magical land where everybody has a beard and they all listen to stoner rock — and while the tongue-in-cheek snark of “Sex Destroyer” might be over-the-top to some, Hobosexual avoid the minimalist aesthetic some duos use as a crutch for lazy songwriting, make old riffs new again and showcase some melodic depth in Harwood‘s vocal layering, positioning songs like “The Black Camaro Death” and the penultimate “BMX” highlights arguing against style over substance amid party-ready riffing and don’t-have-a-fuck-to-give panache. Their 2010 self-titled debut worked in similar stylistic parameters, but IIstrikes as more confident overall, and it’s a record that you’re either going to fall prey to its sleaze or shoot down early and go about your night. If the album’s a party, I feel at times like my invite must have gotten lost in the mail, but Hobosexual provide a decent reminder nonetheless that there are those capable of turning heavy rock into a good time and put it on the listener to ask why they should take it so seriously in the first place. FOAD: Fuck off and dance.
Strange things are afoot throughout Italian four-piece Midryasi‘s third album, Black, Blue and Violet. The multifaceted heavy outfit run a gamut from Pentagram-esque riff doom to Pink Floyd-infused progressive texturing, all the while keeping a clarity of sound that can likely be traced to the metallic roots of bassist/vocalist Convulsion, who aside from having played in DoomSword can be traced to a number of more extreme outfits. His brother, DoomSword vocalist Deathmaster, shows up on opener “The Counterflow,” but Black, Blue and Violet never goes quite so far into one subgenre or another, the keyboard work of Umberto Desanti always adding an edge of prog to whatever else might be happening, whether it’s the otherwise doomed “Diagonal” or the dramatic verses of the title-track. Released through My Graveyard Productions, Midryasi‘s third ultimately finds its atmospheric crux in an intelligent construction, but perhaps feels somewhat distant in its performance, coldly executed. That’s an inherent tradeoff for the complexity of its arrangements, maybe, and there’s something to be said in argument for the skillful calculation at work across these seven tracks that run smoothly with the underlying drum work of Sappah and fluid guitars of Paolo Paganhate and hit their high-point with the rumbling “The Nuclear Dog,” which provides the most memorable hook of the long-player and seems to revel most in the psychedelic and progressive weirdness that the whole album moves within. The six-and-a-half-minute “Hole of the Saturday Night” closes out with a heavy rock riff and vocal delivery from Convulsion that moves in some of the same (stone) circles as Venomous Maximus, though that’s likely a coincidence of common influence between the two, and with a smooth, consistent production, Midryasi wind up sounding most of all like a band working on its own level. And successfully.
Raucous Berlin six-piece Operators made an impression in 2012 with the unabashed new school stoner rock of their self-titled debut (review here) now a little older, a little wiser, a little more drunk, the band returns with Contact High, a record that wears its influences on its sleeve in much the same manner as the Satellite Beaver, Neume and Stonehenge patches grace the varsity jacket of the figure on the album’s cover. “Kiss of De Ath” resides at the end of side A of the eight-track/39-minute offering and offers some of Operators‘ most satisfying boogie as Konni‘s organ and the guitars of Jacky and Dirk align for an intricate but still-rolling groove of a midsection build while Stonehenge‘s Enni steps in as a guest singer, but it’s vocalist Eggat who makes the first impression on opener “Terra Ohm,” setting up a strong hook for the rest of Contact High to live up to. The album plays out unpretentious and riotous in kind, and while they haven’t necessarily settled down since their first outing, it’s easy enough to hear Operators as having solidified their approach somewhat. Konni‘s keys work just as well alongside the rhythm section of bassist Dän and drummer Säsh as with the guitars, and Eggat proves a formidable enough presence on cuts like “If I Burn,” “Bring on the Spice” (I don’t know whose guitar solo that is, but kudos) and the driving “Contact High” to reign the rest into cohesion. The six-and-a-half-minute “Arrows” shows a more subdued side that, somewhat surprisingly, never quite explodes into the noisy chicanery found elsewhere. Could it be that Operators are growing up right before our ears? I don’t know, but the results are fascinating and display more even potential from these Desertfest veterans.
Grand soundscaping, an underlying sense of ritual, and a pervasive experimental bent — it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Spain’s Pylar boasts some manner of allegiance to forward or at least side-to-side thinking doomers Orthodox and the avant extremists Blooming Látigo, but the unit’s Knockturne Records debut, Poderoso Se Alza en My, strikes as a decidedly more conceptual work, with one song spilling into the next, religious themes crossing through minimalist atmospheres and a periodic lurch emerging that’s as much a trip aurally as mentally. Two longer cuts, “El Pylar Se Ha Alzado” (13:49) and “Al Fin Te Contemplo Entre las Ruinas del Tiempo (Pentagrammaton)” (12:11) sandwich five not-quite-as-extended segments as the opener (the longest on the record; immediate points) and closer of the 68-minute behemoth, which one would be thoroughly mistaken to dub a “compact” disc. It is, instead, expansive and challenging, rife with droning tension, vague shouts in Spanish seeming to describe some torment either physical or spiritual amid art-jazz percussion in another dimension’s time signatures. Will not, will not, will not be for everyone, but Pylar‘s first is a fascinating and dense work that one could easily spend any number of months dissecting, only to still come up with an incomplete picture of its scope, and for those with a high tolerance for the experimental and indulgences of noise, the intense swell of “La Gran Luminaria” could easily prove essential as the culmination point for what seems to be an album-long drive toward enlightenment and the sundry terrors it might carry with it. If you think you’re bored of the mundane, Poderoso Se Alza en Myis ready to pull back the veil and toy for a while with what you used to think of as “your” consciousness.
I remain a sucker for Aussie heavy. System of Venus guitarist/vocalist/graphic designer Fatima Baši? gets into a doomly melodic range that reminds at times — as on “Dancing in Hell’s Garden” — of Alunah‘s Soph Day, but the rough edges in her guitar and Amanda‘s bass add a more distinct ’90s feel to the seven-track/36-minute proceedings on their full-length debut and first release, as the crunch in “Monster Ego” will further attest. Drummer Matt Lieber shows himself comfortable with the quick tempo changes in that song and elsewhere on the self-titled, self-released offering, and though the centerpiece “Dr. Dumb” works quickly to earn its position in the CD’s tracklist, ultimately the opener “Blackrock” and the closing duo of “Nothing” and “Beast” are the strongest statements the album has to make in showcasing the diversity nascent in System of Venus‘ approach, “Beast” rising to an apex that though satisfying feels somewhat shortlived in providing the payoff for the record as whole while “Nothing” holds to a quieter, brooding sentiment that plays off the foundational bassline of “Gannets Drive,” giving what might’ve otherwise easily turned out to be a demo an LP’s overarching flow and speaking to an early awareness of quality construction from the Melbourne trio, though “Gannets Drive” seems to cut out early, building to a hit that’s snapped mid-crash, so perhaps there remain some kinks to work out one way or another. All the same, taken as a whole, System of Venus‘ System of Venussatisfies as the debut of a band feeling out where they want to be sonically, and bodes well for where they might grow their sound somewhere between grunge, doom and heavy rock.
Posted in Reviews on March 4th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Initially a 2013 self-release by the band on CD, the self-titled debut full-length from Corpus Christi, Texas-based heavy rockers Switchblade Jesus gets another look in 2014 thanks to a vinyl issue courtesy of Bilocation Records. The 35-minute album was greeted with a flurry of hyperbole upon its first arrival, so one expects an LP edition to be a welcome advent. The eight-track offering marks the last appearance in Switchblade Jesus of vocalist Pete Quarnstrom, his duties having since been taken over by guitarist Eric Calvert, joined in the now-four-piece by guitarist Billy Guerra, bassist Jason Beers and drummer Jon Elizondo, and finds the burly rockers engaged in comfortably-paced post-Pepper Keenan-era C.O.C. Southern-style heavy riffery, straightforward structures led by the guitars being underscored solidly by the rhythm section from “Bastard Son”‘s easy sway to the highlight closer “Oblivion,” which offers a more complex take. Much of what they have to offer throughout will be familiar in a songs-about-whiskey vein, shades of Clutch showing up on “The Wolves” while a Down influence seems to march hand in hand with a markedly unfortunate tinny snare sound on “Renegade Riders.” Quarnstrom, who vacated after a mini-tour in support of the album, mostly lets the riffs be his guide and is less “hey whoa mama yeah” than some I’ve heard in the I’m-a-bluesy-white-dude pastiche, but it winds up almost too easy to stick him in that category anyway, his approach aligning neatly with a staple trope within the current sphere of American heavy rock that one has been able to find in bands from all over the country, not just Texas or the South.
If that’s a sticking point for you, then Switchblade Jesus‘ Switchblade Jesusis going to take all the more exposure to find favor despite, though I wouldn’t say it’s incapable of doing so. Following the opening introduction “Into Nothing,” “Bastard Son” sets much of the tone for what’s to follow in aesthetic and pace, songs like “The Wolves” and “Sick Mouth” changing their pants, sonically speaking, but essentially moving on the same legs. There are touches of boogie to be had in “Sick Mouth,” and the tempo is somewhat quicker, but there’s an element of a comfort zone being established across the board here in booze-fueled riff rock that’s all well and good since they make it work, but also bound to be familiar to listeners who’ve encountered this kind of dudely groove before. I’m not inclined to rag on a relatively new band — formed in 2010 — for not having developed a complex stylistic take on their first outing; it just doesn’t seem fair. If Switchblade Jesus are setting themselves up for future creative development, then fine. I get some sense of that from “Oblivion,” but songs like “Equinox” and “Copperhead” show less of a tendency to shift atmosphere or mood, and Switchblade Jesuscomes off less varied for it. The acoustics on “Into Nothing” and the sort of cinematic soundscaping that accompanies lead one to expect a certain amount of ambience that the rest of the album seems to have no ambition to fulfill, instead burrowing into a well-worn brand of heavy rock that’s endearing enough to get them through the relatively brief 35 minutes of their debut, but will want more variety moving forward. If switching Calvert to a vocalist/guitarist role helps expand Switchblade Jesus‘ songwriting methodology, then it can only be a change for the better on the part of the band.
Posted in Reviews on February 6th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
There are two ways to approach the self-titled debut from French four-piece The Socks. You can say, “Oh, it’s retro,” and immediately make your comparisons to Kadavar, to Graveyard, etc., and either write it off or dig in as you will based on your opinions on those bands and heavy ’70s devotees in general. Or you can listen to the thing. Life is short, and frankly, either is a valid-enough way to go, but I’ve found the latter to be the more satisfying route. There’s no taking away from the fact that songs like “Some Kind of Sorcery” and “The Last Dragon” have a strong earlier Graveyard influence, but “Next to the Light” goes right to the Sabbathian source to bounce vocalist Julien Méret‘s lead guitar off of “War Pigs,” and throughout the album, on that track, on “Gypsy Lady,” closer “The Last Dragon” and on “Holy Sons,” The Socks distinguish themselves through the keyboard work of rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Nicolas Baud, who adds Mellotron and organ sounds to add melodic depth to the fluid rhythms of bassist Vincent Melay and drummer Jessy Ensenat. When they boogie — and they do — there’s plenty familiar about it, and if that were all The Sockshad to offer, the album would be almost entirely redundant, but there are more than a few turns between parts, cuts in tempo or launches into speedy shuffle, that serve to showcase The Socks as a dynamic songwriting act in their own right.
Couple that with a production more modern than either of the aforementioned touchstones of the style, and the Lyon foursome seem to be headed somewhere else within the classic heavy framework. In both their speedier material — the rush of “Some Kind of Sorcery,” though met with an impressive slowdown in its middle third, is immediate and indicative of The Socks at their fastest here — and in the more languid grooves of songs like “Holy Sons,” on which Ensenat effectively propels the build with organic-sounding kick, the band is confident, well assured of where they want pieces to go. Structurally traditional, songs have their hooks, but don’t come across as being written solely to get stuck in the audience’s head. “Electric War” finds Méret and Baud working well together on vocals in what sounds like a dynamic that will continue to develop as The Socks progress, but catchy as that track’s chorus is, the more lasting impression is leaves comes from the stomp in its midsection and the ease with which the band plays one rhythm off the other. They’ve been a band for half a decade (if you’re interested in reading their bio, I wrote it), and a grip on time changes like theirs doesn’t develop without considerable stage time, but it still feels like early mastery of pitting slowdowns and speedups against each other — that is, something they brought to the table initially instead of something that evolved over the course of their two prior EPs, 2011′s Side Aand 2012′s Bedrock, and the songwriting for the self-titled. Either way, it’s there, and it’s a big part of the album’s appeal.
Posted in Radio on February 5th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Stoner riffs and doomed vibes. Blown out amps and follow-the-nod vocals. A sample from Alucarda. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think Polish five-piece Bitchcraft are doing much that’s never been done before, but sometimes in this age of microgenre you just want something that shirks off the complexity in favor of beating you over the head with the things that made you love the style in the first place. Bitchcraft‘s self-titled is little concerned with nuance, but takes post-Electric Wizard unbridled Sabbath riff worship almost too the bone over the course of its four tracks and 32 minutes. Songs roll out in doomy lurch topped with Julia Konieczna‘s vocals in straightforward verses and choruses, and they never really get above what most would probably consider a crawl throughout “Not the One,” “Mouth of a Cave,” “Acid Dream” and “Stoned One” (spoiler alert: they’re all the stoned one), but they don’t need to. The two guitars offer some lead/riff interplay, but really, the crux of Bitchcraft‘s Bitchcraft is in the thick grooves and the hazy vibes derived therefrom.
“Not the One” is probably the catchiest of the bunch, but Konieczna‘s voice offers more variety on “Mouth of a Cave,” touching on some of the same early-Acid King melodicism that Alunah has so skillfully made their own. The production surrounding the vocals is rough, but no more than it should be. The bass still has plenty of thickness distinct from that of the guitar on “Mouth of a Cave” and the subsequent “Acid Dream” — the middle pair being shorter than the bookends at 7:43 and 7:18, respectively — though the fuzz in the two guitars seems to get even hairier on the third cut, which is consistent in pace but so sonically dense that at any speed it would still sound slow. It’s the kind of tone that, if you had to pee in a cup after hearing it, you’d fail the drug test. Later on, the roll gets bigger and badder on the way to smoked-out leads that set up “Acid Dream” as the high point (ha!) of Bitchcraft, but the fivesome rounds out with the nine-minute “Stoned One,” which earns its way through channel-panning feedback that soon enough looses a riff worthy of as much of the song as it consumes. Righteously stoned.
Bitchcraft get better and more consuming the more volume is added, and as their self-titled comes on the heels of a 2012′s Evil Thing, which was of similar length — I’d call Bitchcrafta 32-minute LP, two songs on two sides — they may well still be feeling out their sound, but if it’s a wall of rumble they’re looking to create, they’ve got that more or less set. Not a bad place to start if they want to kick into creative expansion, though when it comes to what they do here, there’s nothing that seems to be crying out to be fixed.
Check out Bitchcraft‘s Bitchcraftnow as part of the 24/7 stream on The Obelisk Radio and get a taste on the Bandcamp player below:
Posted in audiObelisk on January 31st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I guess if we’re talking about side B of French retro rockers The Socks‘ self-titled debut LP, then that would make “Gypsy Lady” a deep cut. The foursome from Lyon are getting ready to release their eponymous long-player on Small Stone on March 18, and where the prior-leaked “Some Kind of Sorcery” from the record showcased a vintage-minded boogie almost singularly indebted to Graveyard — at least for the part of it that wasn’t indebted (as we all are) to Sabbath — “Gypsy Lady” shows that’s not the only tool that The Socks have at their disposal, using organ to pepper a kind of stutter groove that’s as much Alice Cooper Band as it is modern heavy psychedelia.
Vocalist/guitarist Julien Méret solos fluidly over fellow six-stringer/backing vocalist Nicolas Baud‘s keyboard work as drummer Jessy Ensenat sets the march and bassist Vincent Melay runs around and through the riffs in heavy ’70s tradition. If “Gypsy Lady” has anything in common with “Some Kind of Sorcery” — other than being the same band on the same album, duh — it’s a righteous slowdown, this one arriving after two minutes into the track’s total five, marked out by insistent wah in the guitar and a classically doomed stomp in the rhythm section, giving way to a screaming lead and tense build back up to the original shuffle.
Add to this a potent hook and I’m not sure what else one could reasonably ask of The Socks that they’re not delivering. Elsewhere, their self-titled delves further into psychedelic influences, further broadening their creative spectrum, rounding out with the six-and-a-half-minute “The Last Dragon,” which sadly is not a cover of the theme from the 1985 Berry Gordy-produced film of the same name, but for now, “Gypsy Lady” should give enough of a sense ofThe Socks’ take on analog vibes and the organic way in which they present a nascent but already widening sonic perspective.
Please find “Gypsy Lady” on the player below, and enjoy:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
The Socks‘ The Socksis due out March 18 on CD and LP through Small Stone Records. The band are also set to play the Stone Rising festival in Lyon this April and are booking other dates for the Spring. More info at the following links.
Posted in Reviews on January 28th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s unavoidable when it comes to Blackfinger, so one might as well just come out and say it: Yes, Eric Wagner used to be in Trouble, and as a member of that band he had a hand in crafting some of the best American doom ever and cementing a legacy that has spent three decades rippling outward from their Chicago hometown. All of this is true. It’s also true that Wagner isn’t in Trouble anymore, and while he’s also joined forces in The Skull with fellow Trouble alums Ron Holzner (bass) and Jeff “Oly” Olson (drums), the five-piece project Blackfinger has been looming in the background for several years now — Wagner was interviewed here about it in 2011, and the name was tossed around at least a year earlier than that in connection with Dark Star Records, who now handles the digital release of Blackfinger‘s self-titled debut, while The Church Within presses the CD and vinyl. On the album, Wagner is joined by guitarists Rico Bianchi and Doug Hakes, bassist Ben Smith (since replaced by Willie Max, also of Spillage) and drummer Larry Piatz, and those who’d approach it thinking they’ll get a port of Trouble‘s doom probably haven’t been paying attention either to Blackfinger‘s development or the last for records Trouble put out before Wagner left in 2008.
Blackfinger‘s Blackfingermay touch on some of the same ideas as material from Wagner‘s past — the short “All the Leaves are Brown,” which was also an advance single, has a classically driving head-down motor-riff, and cuts like “Why God” and “Till Death Do Us Part” offer some immediately familiar swinging rhythms — but the album overall presents a personality distinct from Trouble both in where it wants to go and how it gets there, however impossible it may be to view the one without the context of the other. Notably, the piano- and string-infused “As Long as I’m with You,” the particularly Floydian strums of “For One More Day” and the intimate acoustic-led finish of highlight “Keep Fallin’ Down” present a depth of mood and breadth of songwriting that, to compare, Trouble had little interest in displaying on their 2013 post-Wagner outing, The Distortion Field(review here). Taken in combination with rockers like “Yellowood,” with its lurching starts and stops, and guitar-fueled fare like “My Many Colored Days,” “Till Death Do Us Part” and “Here Comes the Rain,” Blackfingercomes across as more varied and a richer listening experience. Opener “I am Jon” and the fourth track, “On Tuesday Morning,” work to bridge the gap from one side to the other, so where it might otherwise come across as bipolar, the album flows well through these atmospheres.
Posted in Reviews on January 20th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
There are touches of heavy psychedelia here and there in the interplay of guitarists Piotr Wyroslaw “Wyro” Dobry and Bartek “Bando” Dobry, and pieces throughout offer flourish of varying ambiences, but in the end, I don’t think you call your band Weedpecker unless you’re existentially prepared to have someone call you stoner rock, so let’s go with that. Weedpecker play stoner rock. It’s an accurate if somewhat simplified take on what the Warsaw-based foursome proffer on their 2013 self-titled debut, self-released in a pro-pressed jewel case by the band and featuring six tracks set in a fascinating back and forth of instrumental and vocalized material. The album checks in at just under forty minutes, and whether they’re basking wholeheartedly in latter-day Electric Wizardry, as on the penultimate “Sativa Landscapes” or marching with marked complexity past the nine-minute mark on the sans-vocal “Don’t Trust Your Elephant,” the Dobrys, bassist Jeso Ansolo (ex-Antigama) and drummer Pan Falon manage to hone a distinct character in their sound that, despite the pot leaf iconography of the disc’s artwork, relies surprisingly little on its riffs to carry it.
Not to say the riffs aren’t an essential factor, just that they’re not the be-all-end-all of Weedpecker‘s songwriting process. “Don’t Trust Your Elephant” unfolds following opener “Berenjena Pipe” and “Mindbreath,” which show off a propensity for vocal harmonies from Wyro and Bando, and while I’m not sure if I could do such a thing I’d ever write a song in which I didn’t, ultimately, Weedpeckeris a stronger album for their propensity not to rely solely on this either. It plays vocal songs and instrumentals off each other as follows: Two with vocals, two without, one with, one without. In this way, “Berenjena Pipe,” “Mindbreath,” “Don’t Trust Your Elephant,” “Kraken,” “Sativa Landscapes” and “Weedfields (Ft. Cheesy Dude)” wind up leading the listener through atmospheres alternately dense and sprawling, capping with dreamy effects echoes that build to crunching riffage only after what feels like a palpably exploratory outing. ”Mindbreath” offers some winding lines that seem to nod at Elder while keeping a distinctly European flair, made all the more distinguished by the vocal harmonies, which though presented somewhat raw in the mix are nonetheless well done, seeming to build on what the opener set as the tone for the record.
What kind of sorcery is it? Well, I just don’t know, but it certainly likes to boogie. French retro-rocking four-piece The Socks will put out their self-titled album on Small Stone in March, but they’re already gearing up for the release with a new video for the song “Some Kind of Sorcery.”
If the song sounds familiar, that might be because it was posted here when the record went up for pre-order a few weeks back, and while the video doesn’t provide too many answers on which kind of sorcery it is in question — the kind that turns you into a newt, maybe, until you get better — the riff seems to be shedding some light of its own on the subject.
I’ll say it again because it bears repeating, you’re gonna hear a pretty strong Graveyard influence in the vocals and some of the shuffle, but watch for the slowdown in the middle of the song — coinciding with the driving-through-the-desert shot at 1:36 — and how fluidly they slip into and back out of the change in rhythm. Speaks volumes to the potential for the album.
The Socks, “Some Kind of Sorcery” official video
As we continue to gear up for The Socks Small Stone Records debut, we are very pleased to show off the band’s first video for the song “Some Kind Of Sorcery”, from their S/T album which will be hitting the streets on March 18th, 2014. The Socks will be touring Europe heavily in support of their new album and have just been confirmed on the Stone Rising Festival in Lyon, France in April of 2014 along side some quality acts like Radio Moscow, Blues Pills, Aqua Nebula Oscillator, Brutus and many more ! You will be hearing a whole lot from these guys for many months to come! In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the rawk.
I was fortunate to be skinny enough at the time to get into SXSW and see Witch play around the release of their 2006 self-titled debut. I still also have the promo of the CD. During that era, Tee Pee sent out full jewel case promos, with a grey back card, no cover. It was a while before I saw what the album actually looked like, but I played the shit out of that disc and still hear the riff to “Seer” that opens the record in my head on the regular. Some songs just plant themselves in your brain and never leave. A dreamy vibe thanks to KyleThomas‘(Feathers) vocal drawl and the ultra-dirty fuzz of Graham Clise, it’s a record whose influence you can see in bands coming out now, maybe more in Europe than the States, but it’s out there.
They had some indie cred in their early going thanks to Dinosaur Jr.‘s J. Mascis playing drums — his kick at those SXSW shows was pretty much living room-sized — but I cared way less about that than the vibe of Witchitself. With Dave Sweetapple on bass who’s kicked around in a couple Tee Pee bands since, including Sweet Apple, they were a foursome to be reckoned with. Their second album, 2008′s Paralyzed, didn’t resonate on nearly the same level with me, but Witch‘s potency as endured to the point of playing Roadburn in 2012 at the behest of Voivod. Because who could ever say no to Voivod? Not me. I went and they didn’t even ask.
But whatever its enduring legacy/influence/whatever might be, Witch‘s self-titled has unfuckwithable vibe, and that’s timeless as far as I’m concerned. As always, hope you enjoy.
Boy, hello Massachusetts. Come for the blistering cold, stay for the two feet of snow. I’ll admit I was more than a little excited when the top story on the BBC last night was about the East Coast weather and I got to say “I live there!” when I read about how “one town in Massachusetts” got hit with 20-plus inches. Today was all about drifts and wind and digging out. Also reviewing Truckfighters. Managed to sneak that one in there, much to my delight. It came at the expense of posting the Top 10 Albums I Didn’t Hear in 2013 — the LAST of the 2013 lists, I promise. I’m scrapping posts for “Comeback of the Year” (Monster Magnet) and my favorite live act (Kings Destroy), because enough is enough. Time to move on… to the Albums to Watch for in 2014 list. What am I, fucking Buzzfeed?
So anyway, it felt good to post something that wasn’t a numerical ordering of stuff that ruled, though that’s fun too, and next week I hope to get some more reviews up as we settle back into post-holiday reality. Right now I’m thinking Insider and Foghound and if I have time, Blackfinger, but I don’t want to let the aforementioned Albums to Watch for in 2014 linger too long or they’ll all be released. I’ll see what I can do. Time is precious and gone quickly.
Going a little stir-crazy though, as I’ve been inside all week, so I think The Patient Mrs. and I are going to head out for a bit tonight. There’s a theater in Boston playing Aliens at midnight, and I’m not about to turn something like that down. I expect much Vasquez-high-fiving and Bill Paxton quoting to ensue. Game over, man. Game over.
Hope you enjoy your weekend and if you’re somewhere that got snowed in, hope digging out isn’t too much of a pain in the ass. Have fun, be safe (in that order) and we’ll see you back here Monday for more tunes and good times.
Until then, please check out the forum and radio stream.
Not to be confused with British pop-hardcore act We are the Ocean, the Massachusetts-based instrumental four-piece We are Oceans make their debut with the lush post-rock of their self-titled cassette. Released by Staring at the Ceiling and comprised of two tracks on each side — “Roots Grow Down” and “Step” on side one, “Mmmyellow” and “Leaves Like Stained Glass” on side two — the tape more or less represents the beginnings of the band. A demo, in other words, but a well-put-together one, if that. The recording is natural and exploratory feeling, particularly on some of the quicker, jazzier stretches of “Step,” and the presentation of the artwork on the j-card, the tape itself and the extra artwork card included — a contrasting color scheme, the back reads, “Breath Like Woodsmoke” — and for a first studio adventure from a younger group, the material sounds well balanced, immersive front to back and rife with movement throughout.
We are Oceans – the foursome of guitarists Justin Richner and Derek Gilbert, bassist Nick Pagan and drummer Bryan Counter — had released We are Oceanswithin a week of putting it to tape at The Piano Mill with Jared Mann over the course of July 18 and 19, 2012, and some of the parts that come together to make up the four extended cuts show similar anxiousness. “Roots Grow Down” might be their most psychedelic and patient soundscape here, and though “Mmmyellow” is clearly going for a different vibe and particularly in Pagan‘s tone provides a listen no less satisfying, the feeling persists that as they continue to grow as a band, what sounds jagged now in the side two opener will smooth out. That’s not to say quiet down. With a 10-minute sprawl and break to silence halfway through to start the build from scratch, We are Oceans would have plenty of time for raucousness either way. The impression that “Mmmyellow” leaves is that over time, how they get from point A to point B sonically may well become more fluid.
That feeling stays consistent in “Leaves Like Stained Glass,” which hypnotizes on a steady melodic flow initially only to jump back and forth between louder and quieter parts over its 12 minutes. The closer bodes exceptionally well for future growth for its use of repetition and if We are Oceans‘ strength is to be in longer-form songwriting, then so be it. Ebbs and flows satisfy as the song marches its way toward its and the tape’s end, and they cap with slow-fading feedback that recalls some of the dreamy lushness of “Roots Grow Down,” giving a bit of symmetry before the flip back to side one. However they might evolve in terms of their creative processes, We are Oceanshas enough substance as it is to evoke a range of moods, and as their first outing, establishes a worthy pursuit.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
With a retro mindset, gorgeous Arrache-toi un Oeil artwork (you might recall the cover from Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s The Edge of an Era was similarly lush), and boogie and loosely social thematics imported from Scandinavia, Lyon rockers The Socks will make their self-titled debut on Small Stone in the New Year. The album is set for release on March 18 and available for preorder now through Small Stone‘s Bandcamp, where the track “Some Kind of Sorcery” also premiered today.
Probably the most distinct influence you’ll hear in “Some Kind of Sorcery” is Hisingen Blues-style Graveyard shuffle, but the four-piece band, who’ve put two EPs under their collective belt over the last two years since getting together in 2010, have a solid underpinning of less era-adherent heavy rock, and that comes out later into the track in a groovy slowdown and the ease with which they move from one side of their approach to another.
The band made a short, efficient statement to mark the occasion and reveal the cover art:
Ladies and gentlemen, we are happy to unveil a first track from our upcoming album, here is “Some Kind Of Sorcery” !
Posted in Features on December 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are my picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is still going on. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
It’s always strange to think of something so utterly arbitrary as also being really, really difficult, but I think 2013 posed the biggest challenge yet in terms of getting together a final list of my favorite records. As ever, I had a post-it note on my office wall (when I moved, it moved with me) and I did my best to keep track of everything that resonated throughout the year. I wound up with over 40 picks and had to start putting them in order to whittle the list down.
I wound up with a top 20 that, even though it feels somewhat incomplete, I’ve found that I can at very least live with. That’s what I’ve done for the last week: Just lived with it. Even up to this morning, I was making changes, but in general, I think this gives some scope about what hit me hard in 2013. Of course, these are just my picks, and while things like my own critical appreciation factor in because that affects how I ultimately listen to a record, sometimes it just comes down to what was stuck in my head most often or what I kept putting on over and over.
That’s a simple formula to apply, but still, 2013 didn’t make it easy. Please note as you go through that there are some real gems in the honorable mentions. I thought about expanding the list to 30 this year, but the thought made my skull start to cave in, so I reconsidered.
Anyway, it only comes around once a year, so let’s do this thing. Thanks in advance for reading:
20. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door
Traditionally, I’ve reserved #20 for a sentimental pick. An album that’s hard to place numerically because of some personal or emotional connection. This year wasn’t short on those, but when it came to it, I knew I couldn’t make this list without Lightning at the Door included, and since it was released just last month as the follow-up to the earlier-2013 Elektrohasch reissue of the Nashville, Tennessee, outfit’s 2012 debut, Our Mother Electricity (review here), I didn’t feel like I’ve had enough time with it to really put it anywhere else. It needed to be here, and so it is, and though I’ve listened to it plenty in the month since its release, I still feel like I’m getting to know Lightning at the Door, and exploring its open-spaced blues rocking grooves. All Them Witches are hands down one of the best bands I heard for the first time this year, and I’m looking forward to following their work as they continue to progress.
For a while after I first heard …Like Clockwork and around the time I reviewed it, I sweated it pretty hard. By mid-June, I had it as one of the year’s best without a doubt in my mind. Then I put it away. I don’t know if I burnt myself out on it or what, but I still haven’t really gone back to it, and while the brilliance of cuts like “Kalopsia” and “Fairweather Friends” and “I Appear Missing” still stands out and puts Josh Homme‘s songwriting as some of the most accomplished I encountered in 2013, that hasn’t been enough to make me take it off the shelf. I doubt Queens of the Stone Age will cry about it as they tour arenas and get nominated for Grammy awards, but there it is. I wouldn’t have expected …Like Clockworkto be so low on the list, certainly not when I was listening to “My God is the Sun” six times in a row just to try and get my head around the chorus.
Gorgeously produced and impeccably textured, The Winter Ward by Stockholm-based I are Droid aren’t generally the kind of thing I’d reach for, but the quality of the craft in songs like “Constrict Contract” and “Feathers and Dust” made it essential. Bits and pieces within harkened back to frontman Peder Bergstrand‘s tenure in Lowrider, but ultimately The Winter Wardemerged with a varied and rich personality all its own, and that became the basis for the appeal. As the weather has gotten colder and it’s gotten dark earlier, I’ve returned to The Winter Wardfor repeat visits, and as much as I’ve got my fingers crossed for another Lowrider album in 2014, I hope I are Droid continue to run parallel, since the progressive take on alternative influences they managed to concoct was carried across with proportionate accessibility. It was as audience friendly and satisfying a listen as it was complex and ripe for active engagement.
There was just nothing to argue about when it came to the self-titled debut from Massachusetts-based doomers Magic Circle, but what worked best about the album was that although the songs were strong on their own and seemed to have lurching hooks to spare, everything throughout fed into an overarching atmosphere that was denser than the straightforwardness of the structures might lead the listener to initially believe. It was a record worth going back to, worth getting lost in the nod of, and as the members are experienced players in a variety of New England acts from The Rival Mob to Doomriders, it should be interesting to find out what demons they may conjure in following-up Magic Circle, if they’ll continue down the path of deceptively subversive “traditionalism” or expand their sound into more progressive reaches. Either way they may choose, the material on their first outing showed an ability to craft an enigmatic, individualized sonic persona that never veered into cultish caricature.
If you’re into doom and you have a soul, I don’t know how you could not be rooting for Iron Man in 2013. Produced by Frank Marchand and the first full-length from the long-running Maryland doomers to feature vocalist Dee Calhoun and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann alongside guitarist/founder “Iron” Al Morris III (interview here) and longtime bassist Louis Strachan. The difference in South of the Earthwas palpable even in comparison to 2009′s I Have Returned(review here). With more professional production, excellent performances all around in the lineup, memorable songs like “Hail to the Haze” and “The Worst and Longest Day,” and the considerable endorsement of a release through Rise Above/Metal Blade behind them, the four-piece sounded like the statesmen they are in the Maryland scene and showed themselves every bit worthy of inclusion in the discussion of America’s finest in traditional, Sabbathian doom. May they continue to get their due.
Whether it was what the lyrics were talking about or not, the message of “The Message” was clear: Never count out a catchy chorus. Now in operation for a decade, Sasquatch practice an arcane artistry with their songwriting. Void of pretense, heavy on boogie, they are as genuine a modern extension of classic heavy rock as you’re likely to find. The Los Angeles power trio outdid themselves with IV, veering boldly into psychedelia on “Smoke Signal” and honing their craft over various moods and themes on “Sweet Lady,” “Me and You” and “Eye of the Storm.” They remain one of American heavy rock’s key and consistently underestimated components, and the three years since the release of their third album, III(review here), seemed like an eternity once the quality grooves of “Money” and “Drawing Flies” got moving, the former an insistent rush and the latter open, dreamy and atmospheric, but both executed with precision and confidence born of Sasquatch‘s familiarity with the methods and means of kicking ass.
It was hard to know what to expect from Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial, their first release with guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard at the fore with bassist Dave Gein and drummer/engineer Clay Neely, but the Massachusetts outfit flourished on tracks like “Swing the Scimitar,” incorporating a heavy jamming sensibility with marauding riffs and grooves carried over from the style of their first two albums. Adversarial took the band to Hellfest in France this past summer, where they shared a stage with Neurosis and Sleep, and whether it was the raging chorus of “Bleed Out” or the clarion guitar line of “Aphelion,” the band showed their war ensemble could not be stopped. Their future is uncertain with Neely having relocated and Gein having an impending move of his own, but if Adversarialis to stand as the final Black Pyramid outing, they will at very least have claimed enough heads in their time to line fence-posts for miles. Still, hopefully they can find some way to continue to make it work.
Even the interlude “Seasick Serenade,” just over a minute and a half long, was haunting. Electric Relicsmarked the first full-length from Nashville’s Across Tundras to be released on their own label and the first since they issued Sage through Neurot in 2011 (review here), and as rolling and exploratory as its vibe was, songs like “Solar Ark,” “Pining for the Gravel Roads” and “Den of Poison Snakes” also represented a solidification of Across Tundras‘ sound, another step in their development that refined their blend of rural landscapes and heavy tones. Issued in April, it’s been an album that throughout the course of the year I’ve returned to time and again, and the more I’ve sat with it and the more comfortable it’s become, the more its songs have come to feel like home, which it’s easy to read as being their intent all along. Guitarist/vocalist Tanner Olson (read his questionnaire answers here), bassist/vocalist Mikey Allred and drummer Casey Perry hit on something special in these tracks, and one gets the sense their influence is just beginning to be felt.
Initially a digital self-release by the Washington, D.C. riff purveyors, Oculus just this month got a tri-color, tri-label and tri-continental vinyl issue, and the fanfare with which it arrived was well earned by the five songs contained on the two sides. Borracho‘s second album behind 2011′s Splitting Sky(review here) also marked a lineup shift in the band that saw them go from a four-piece to a trio, with guitarist Steve Fisher (interview here) stepping to the fore as vocalist in the new incarnation with Tim Martin on bass and Mario Trubiano on drums. The results in songs like “Know the Score” and closer “I’ve Come for it All” were in line stylistically with the straightforward approach they showed on their first offering, but tighter overall in their presentation, and Fisher‘s voice was a natural fit with the band’s stated ethic of “repetitive heavy grooves” — a neat summary, if perhaps underselling their appeal somewhat. Oculusshowed both that the appeal of Splitting Skywas no fluke and that Borracho with four members or three was not a band to be taken lightly.
Like the bulk of Ice Dragon‘s work to date, Born a Heavy Morning was put out first digitally, for free or pay-what-you-want download. A CD version would follow soon enough on Navalorama, with intricate packaging to match the album’s understated achievements, taking the Boston genre-crossers into and through heavy psychedelic atmospheres added to and played off in longer pieces like “The Past Plus the Future is Present” and the gorgeously ethereal “Square Triangle” by thematic slice-of-life set-pieces like “In Which a Man Daydreams about a Girl from His Youth” and “In Which a Man Ends His Workweek with a Great Carouse” that only enriched the listening experience and furthered Ice Dragon‘s experimental appeal. Ever-prolific, Born a Heavy Morningwasn’t the only Ice Dragon outing this year, physical or digital, but it stood in a place of its own within their constantly-expanding catalog and showcased a stylistic fearlessness that can only be an asset in their favor as they continue to chase down whatever the hell it is they’re after in their songs and make genuine originality sound so natural.
It seemed like no matter where I turned in 2013, Devil to Pay‘s Fate is Your Musewas there. Not that it was the highest-profile release of the year or bolstered by some consciousness-invading viral campaign or anything, just that once the songs locked into my head, there was no removing them, and whether it was straightforward rockers like “This Train Won’t Stop,” “Savonarola” and “Tie One On,” the moodier “Black Black Heart” or the charm-soaked “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife” — which might also be the best song title I came across this year — it was a pretty safe bet that something from the Indianapolis four-piece was going to make a showing on the mental jukebox if not in the actual player (it showed up plenty there as well). Devil to Pay‘s first album since 2009, first for Ripple and fourth overall, Fate is Your Musewas a grower listen whose appeal only deepened over the months after its release, the layered vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (interview here) adaptable to the varying vibes of “Wearin’ You Down” and “Already Dead” and soulful in classic fashion. They’ve been underrated as a live act for some time, and Fate is Your Musetranslated well their light-on-frills, heavy-on-riffs appeal to a studio setting.
9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below
Such devastation. Even now, every time I put on Beast in the Field‘s The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below, it makes me want to hang my head and wonder at the horror of it all like Marlon Brando hiding out in a cave. If anything at all, there wasn’t much I heard in 2013 that hit harder than the Michigan duo’s fifth long-player, released on CD in March through Saw Her Ghost with vinyl reportedly on the way now. Toward the middle of the year, it got to the point where I wanted to go door to door and say to people, “Uh excuse me, but this is absurdly heavy and you should check it out.” I settled for streaming the album in full and it still feels like a compromise. I tried to interview the band, to no avail — sometimes instrumental acts just don’t want to talk about it — but what guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr were able to accomplish tonally, atmospherically and bombastically in expansive and overwhelmingly heavy cuts like the 22-minute “Oncoming Avalanche” or the noise-soaked riffing of “Hollow Horn” put The Sacred Above, the Sacred Belowinto a weight class that it had pretty much to itself this year. It’s a good thing they had no trouble filling that space. I still feel like I haven’t recommended the album enough and that more people need to be made aware of its existence.
When I finally listened to Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled debut, I was really, really glad I had seen the three-piece — its members based in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania — play some of the material live. I don’t know if otherwise I’d have been able to distinguish between the progress elements of effects and looping and the live creation of layers and organ sounds through the guitar of Dana Ortt (interview here) and the simple humdrum of studio layering one finds all the time. I almost think for their next record they should track it live, just the three of them, and heavily advertise that fact to help get the point across that it’s actually just three players — Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (also of PaleDivine) — creating the richness of sound on “All the Feeling Returns” and the eerie, gleefully weird progressive stomp on “Lonely Creatures.” The album became a morning go-to for me, and I don’t know how many times I’ve been through it at this point, but “Reborn” and “Hypnotize” and “Lotus Jam” continue to echo in my head even when it’s been a few days. That said, it’s rarely been a few days, because while I appreciate what the trio accomplish on their first record on an analytical level, the reason it is where it is on this list is because I can’t stop listening to the damn thing. Another one that more people should hear than have heard.
7. Samsara Blues Experiment, Waiting for the Flood
One of the aspects of Samsara Blues Experiment‘s third offering that I most enjoyed was that it wasn’t the album I expected German four-piece to make. After their 2011 sophomore album, Revelation and Mystery (review here), shifted its focus away from the jam-minded heavy psychedelia of their 2009 debut, Long Distance Trip (review here), my thinking was that they would continue down that path and coalesce into a more straightforward brand of heavy rock. Instead, when the four extended tracks of Waiting for the Floodshowed up with no shortage of swirl or sitar or open-ended expansion in their midst, it was a legitimate surprise. Repeat visits to “Shringara” and “Don’t Belong” show that actually it’s not so much that Samsara Blues Experiment turned around and were hell-bent on jamming out all the time, but that rather for their third, they took elements of what worked on their first two LPs and built lush movements on top of those ideas. As a happy bonus, this having grown more and more into their sound has helped push the band — guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, guitarist Hans Eiselt, bassist Richard Behrens and drummer Thomas Vedder — into their own niche within the wider European heavy psych scene, and they’ve begun to emerge as one of its most enjoyable and consistent acts.
Kind of inevitable that there would be a lot of comparisons made between Mind Controland the preceding Uncle Acid album, Blood Lust. Certainly the newer outing — their third and first for Rise Above/Metal Blade – is more psychedelic, more tripped out and less obscure feeling than its predecessor. It didn’t have the same kind of crunch to the guitar tone, or the same kind of horror-film atmosphere or psychosexual foreboding, but the thing was, it wasn’t supposed to. The UK outfit continue to prod cult mentality even as their own cult grows, and as I see it, Mind Control made a lot of sense coming off Blood Lustin terms of the band not wanting to repeat the same ideas over again, but grow from them and expand their sound. Of course, with the strut at the end of opener “Mt. Abraxas,” they’ve set a high standard on their albums for leadoff tracks, but where Mind Controlreally made its impression was in the hypnosis of cuts like the Beatlesian “Follow the Leader,” the lysergic “Valley of the Dolls” or the maddening “Devil’s Work.” The deeper you went into side B, the more the band had you in their grasp. It was a different kind of accomplishment than the preceding effort — though “Mind Crawler” kept a lot of that vibe alive — and it showed Uncle Acid had more in their arsenal than VHS ambience and garage doom malevolence while keeping the infectiousness that helped Blood Lustmake such an impression.
Of the ones reviewed, Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcomewas the most recent inclusion on this list. Having worked with Lumbar multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Aaron Edge (interview here) in the past with his band Roareth releasing what would be their only album on The Maple Forum, this was a project to which I felt an immediate connection given the circumstances of its creation: Being written almost in its entirety and recorded in everything but vocals during a bedridden period following Edge‘s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The contributions of YOB/Vhöl frontman Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle of TAD and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth were what got a lot of people’s attention for Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome, but with the situation are the core of the seven tracks named “Day One” through “Day Seven,” what stood out to me even more than those performances was the utter lack of distance and the level of rawness in the album’s presentation. It puts you there. What you get with Lumbar is the direct translation of a range of emotions from hopeful to hopeless, angry, sad, beaten down and wanting answers, wanting more. There’s no shield from it, and as much in concept as in its execution, there’s no other word for it than “heavy.” The intensity Edge packed into just 24 minutes — and not all of it loud or over the top doomed or anything more than atmospherics — was unmatched by anything else I heard this year.
From just about any angle you want to view it, the situation that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was unfortunate. However — and I know I’ve said this before — I really do believe that becoming Vista Chino, that furthering the distance from the Kyuss moniker, brand, legacy, and so on, was for the better of the band creatively. And not because the songs don’t stand up. I doubt it helped their draw much, but for vocalist John Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork (interview here), working as Vista Chino for the creation of Peace, and especially or Bjork working with guitarist Bruno Fevery for the first time in the writing process, it allowed them to step outside of what would’ve been insurmountable expectations for a “fifth Kyuss album” and create something honest, new, and ultimately, more true to the spirit of that now-legendary band. Let’s face it, you hear John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri are working on a project together, you’re immediately comparing it to Kyuss anyway. At least with Vista Chino, they’ve given themselves the potential for growth beyond a preconceived idea of what Kyuss should sound like. Well what does Vista Chino sound like? It sounds like whatever the hell they want. On Peace, though many of the lyrics dealt with their legal battles over the Kyuss name, the vibe stayed true to a desert rock ethic of laid back heavy, and the round-out jam in “Acidize/The Gambling Moose” left Peacewith the feeling that maybe that’s where they’ve ended up after all. Fingers crossed Mike Dean (of C.O.C. and the latest live incarnation of Vista Chino) winds up playing bass on the record, but other than that, wherever they want to go with it, as a fan, I’m happy to follow along.
The second outing from Gozu on Small Stone, The Fury of a Patient Man tapped into so much of what made the Boston band’s 2010 Locust Season label debut (review here) work so right on and just did it better. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig on “Meat Charger,” but with tracks like “Snake Plissken,” “Bald Bull,” “Signed, Epstein’s Mom” (note: it was “signed, Epstein’s mother” on Welcome Back Kotter) and the thrashing “Charles Bronson Pinchot,” Gozu put forth a collection of some of 2013′s finest heavy rock and did so with not only their own soulful spin on the tropes of the genre, but a mature and varied approach that was no less comfortable giving High on Fire a run for their money than reveling in the grandiose chorus of “Ghost Wipe,” which was also one of the best hooks of the year, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (interview here) delivering lines in crisp, confident layers, perfectly mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios and cutting through the fray of his own and Doug Sherman‘s guitars, the bass of Paul Dallaire (who split duties with J. Canava; Joe Grotto has since taken over the position) and Barry Spillberg‘s drumming. What the future might hold for Gozu with the recent shift in lineup that replaced Spillberg with drummer Mike Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) and added third guitarist Jeff Fultz (Mellow Bravo) remains to be seen, but with European touring on the horizon for 2014 and appearances slated for Roadburn and Desertfest, the band seem to be looking only to expand their reach, and with the material from The Fury of a Patient Man as a foundation, they’ve got some major considerations acting in their favor. Another album from which I simply could not escape this year, and from which I didn’t want to.
Billed largely and at least in-part accurately as a return to the group’s psychedelic roots, Last Patrol was Monster Magnet‘s ninth full-length, their first in three years and their second for Napalm. The New Jersey outfit led by guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, founder and, in this case, co-producer Dave Wyndorf (interview here) did indeed delve into the space rock side of their sound more than they have in over a decade, and the effect that doing so had was like a great shaking-off of dust, as though the Bullgod in the John Sumrow cover art just woke up after a long slumber. Perhaps even more than tripping on the Donovan cover “Three Kingfishers” or on the more extended freakouts “Last Patrol” and “End of Time,” what really made Last Patrolsuch a complete experience was the depth of emotion. Wyndorf wasn’t just standing above an overproduced wall of distortion talking about how he’s the best lay in the galaxy or whatever — fun though that kind of stuff is and has been in the past — but songs like “I Live behind the Clouds,” “The Duke (of Supernature),” “Paradise” and “Stay Tuned” offered a humbler take, a spirit of melancholy that rested well alongside the unmitigated stomp of “Hallelujah” or the driving heavy rock of “Mindless Ones.” Even in its most riotous stretches, Last Patrolwas a humbler affair, with a more honest vibe than their last four, maybe five albums. A Monster Magnet release would’ve been noteworthy no matter what it actually sounded like, because that’s the level of impact they’ve had on heavy psych and underground rock over the last two decades-plus. The difference with Last Patrolwas that it was a refreshing change from what had started to sound like a formula going stale, and it was just so damn good to have them be weird again.
Finally, an album that asked the question, “What it was I’m going to do I haven’t done?” I knew at the year’s halfway point that Clutch‘s Earth Rockerwas going to be the one to beat, and that it wasn’t going to be easy for anyone else to top the Maryland kings of groove, who sounded so reinvigorated on songs like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle and Go,” “Unto the Breach,” and “Cyborg Bette,” and on funkfied pushers like “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” and “The Face.” They’d hardly been in hibernation since 2009′s Strange Cousins from the West, but four years was the longest they’d ever gone between albums, and it was past time for a new one. To have it arrive as such a boot to the ass just made it that much better, the band shifting away from some of the blues/jam influences that emerged over the course of 2005′s Robot Hive/Exodusand 2007′s From Beale Street to Oblivion — though those certainly showed up as well in the subdued “Gone Cold” and elsewhere — but thanks in no small part to the production of Machine, with whom the band last worked for 2004′s Blast Tyrant, Earth Rockerwas huge where it wanted to be and that gave Clutch‘s faster, more active material all the more urgency, where although the songwriting was quality as always, Strange Cousins from the West languished a bit at a more relaxed pace. The difference made all the difference. Whether it was the hellhounds on your trail (what a pity!) in “D.C. Sound Attack!” or the Jazzmasters erupting from the bottom of the sea to take flight, Clutch‘s 10th album was brimming with live, vibrant, heavy on action and heavy on groove, and on a sheer song-by-song level, a classic in the making from a band who’ve already had a few. At very least, it’s a landmark in their discography, and though vocalist Neil Fallon (interview here), guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster always change from record, but it’s the unmistakable stamp they put on all their outings that have earned them such a loyal following, and that stamp is all over Earth Rocker. Front to back, it is a pure Clutch record, and while I’ll happily acknowledge that it’s an obvious pick for album of the year, I don’t see how I possibly could’ve chosen anything else. Like the best of the best, Earth Rockerwill deliver for years to come.
The Next 10 and Honorable Mentions
I said at the outset I had 40 picks. The reality was more than that, but here’s the next 10 anyway:
21. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
22. The Freeks, Full On
23. Luder, Adelphophagia
24. The Flying Eyes, Lowlands
25. Black Skies, Circadian Meditations
26. At Devil Dirt, Plan B: Sin Revolucion No Hay Evolucion
27. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar
28. Naam, Vow
29. Mühr, Messiah
30. Uzala, Tales of Blood and Fire
Further honorable mention has to go to Pelican, Endless Boogie, Earthless, Phantom Glue, Goatess, Windhand, Gonga, TonerLow, Jesuand Sandrider.
Two More Special Records
I’d be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t note the release in 2013 of two albums that wound up being incredibly special to me personally: I vs. the Glacierby Clamfight and A Time of Hunting by Kings Destroy. Since it came out on this site’s in-house label, I didn’t consider the Clamfight eligible for list consideration and while I didn’t help put it out, the Kings Destroy I also felt very, very close to — probably as close as I’ve felt to a record I didn’t actually perform on — so it didn’t seem fair on a critical level, but I consider both of these to be records that in a large part helped define my year, as well as being exceptional in and of themselves, and they needed very much to be singled out as such. These are people whom I feel whatever-the-godless-heathen-equivalent-of-blessed-is to know.
Before I end this post, I want to say thank you for reading, this, anything else you may have caught this year, whatever it might be. To say it means a lot to me personally is understating it, but it’s true all the same. I’m not quite done wrapping up the year — I’ll have a list of the best album covers, another for EPs and singles and demos, and of course the albums I didn’t hear — so please stay tuned over the next couple weeks, but it seemed only fair to show my appreciation now as well. Thank you.
I know the retro thing is getting kind of played out at this point with a lot of bands trying their best to sound like the heavy ’70s, and that even Witchcraft themselves moved on from the sound with last year’s Nuclear Blast debut, Legend (review here), but man, when their self-titled debut came out in 2004, it was a fucking revelation. It’s funny to think of a record that was trying to sound like classic albums becoming one, but I think you can point to the first Witchcraft as a major contributor to kickstarting the retro rock scene in Europe in the middle of the last decade. The 2005 follow-up, Firewood, would smooth out the aesthetic somewhat, but even that has to be a factor, and although so much has come along since one way or another working in a similar vein, these songs still have a swing to them that very few others have been able to capture. They were both behind the times and ahead of them.
Thanks to everyone so far who’s added a list to the Top 20 of 2013 Readers Poll! We’re over 120 contributions already and it’s hugely appreciated. I can’t wait to see which record comes out on top. Seriously. I’m such a nerd for this it’s ridiculous.
As George Carlin once asked, “What the hell am I doing in New Jersey?” It’s a fair question. I came down from Massachusetts on Wednesday night to see a couple shows and handle some work stuff that couldn’t be done remotely. Last night was Mountain God and Eggnogg in Brooklyn, tonight’s The Golden Grass and Weird Owl, also in Brooklyn. I wanted to close out the week before I headed into the city, and I might try to grab some dinner before I cross the river, which I don’t doubt will make the whole evening a more pleasant experience. Gotta get all my Jersey eats in while I can, even if it means more driving.
Tomorrow morning I’ll split out as early as I can stand it (and stand up) and head back north. I was thinking about trying to make the drive tonight, but it seems like that might be a false economy. Getting home so I can crash out until sometime tomorrow afternoon certainly has its appeal, but I’m pretty sure I’d be tired through the next week if I did that, then once you get into the holidays everything’s only more of a mess — one that, indeed, will include a trip south on I-95 — so maybe conserving energy as much as I can is the better course. Turns out I’m not 20 years old anymore. Funny how that works.
Next week I’ll be seeing both Monster Magnet and Queens of the Stone Age, so I should have reviews up accordingly. I’ll also have one for tonight’s The Golden Grass show, which I’ve been much anticipating, an overdue look at some Tia Carrera vinyl from Small Stone, I’m sure a bunch more fest news, and whatever else rears its head. This trip’s been such constant movement. It’ll be good to get back home.
I hope you have a great and safe weekend, whatever you might be up to. Thank you again. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.
Posted in On Wax on December 5th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Like its 2010 predecessor — the aggressively titled What Does Not Evolve Must Burn(review here) — the self-titled second EP from DIY Greek four-piece Bad Trip is a melee of instrumental twists and turns. Based loosely around noise rock the way bodies are based around feet, the newest offering splits neatly into two vinyl sides, one with two cuts, the second with one, and tops 31 minutes of forceful push. Two-guitar crunch drives the proceedings forward, and while elements like sampled spoken word on the 16-minute B-side “Dead Dream Nation” — you’ll note the Sonic Youth reference as well to 1988′s Daydream Nation; not an accident — are familiar from last time, there are some standout factors that make Bad Tripa distinctive release of its own, particularly in its vinyl incarnation.
The pressing underscores Bad Trip‘s self-releasing ethic. It feels like a handmade private press, because basically it is. The cover’s intricately detailed art comes screenprinted on thick paper stock and speaks to the social thematic that bled through What Does Not Evolve Must Burnand returns in the B side here, but there’s also a sonic expansion at work in “Into Overdrive” and “Absence of Meaning.” Bad Trip’s approach is solidifying. That’s evident in the distinct verses and instrumental chorus of “Into Overdrive,” which still manages to elicit an open feel thanks to an ambient break in the midsection that rebuilds to some less-spastic but gleefully destructive crashing. Parts repeat in a linear build and all of a sudden it’s clear that Bad Trip – the present lineup of guitarist George and Alek, bassist Pan and drummer Skinman – are writing actual songs and not just stringing parts together.
That remains true on the subsequent “Absence of Meaning” and on “Dead Dream Nation” as well, and in the absence of vocals, which would provide easier cues to the listener, it’s up to the instruments to make the distinctions. On “Into Overdrive,” there are starts and stops that accomplish this, while the Yawning Man-style post-rock at the start of “Absence of Meaning” gives an entirely different context to that song’s build and to the chugging mosh part and soloing to which it ultimately leads. “Dead Dream Nation” cheats this a bit, with the sampled speeches from playwright Arthur Miller and Epameinondas Remoundakis, who helped modernize the leper colony on the island of Spinalonga off Crete in the 1940s, but still arrives at a lead guitar crescendo worthy of peak-era Opeth circa 12 minutes in before dropping out only to return with the real apex that concludes the song.
Sometimes, with a full-length album, having it split into vinyl sides pulls you out of an overarching flow. With Bad Trip, what it really does is keep you from getting lost in the progressions of the three songs — it keeps you paying attention. Maybe by the end of “Absence of Meaning” you’re lost in the song’s build, well then it’s time to get up and flip the record. That snap back to consciousness makes a big difference in the listening experience, and where on CD, Bad Trip‘s Bad Tripis enjoyable for how immersive a listen it is, on vinyl, it’s the break that makes the material hold up all the more.