The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

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

the obelisk top-20-2017-so-far

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

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

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

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

Okay, here goes:

The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

elder reflections of a floating world

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mention

Let’s do another 10 releases, shall we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to Come

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

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

Thanks for Reading

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

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

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

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Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma: Tonal Paradox (Plus Track Premiere)

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on February 10th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

spaceslug-time-travel-dilemma

[Click play above to stream the premiere of the title-track of Spaceslug’s Time Travel Dilemma, featuring Sander Haagmans. Album is out Feb. 17.]

When Wroclaw trio Spaceslug made their debut last year, they immediately distinguished themselves via a sense of space created through big riffs presented with even bigger tones, vocal laze and a heavy psychedelic undertone of jamming that made the whole affair more fluid. That album was Lemanis (review here), and it sold completely through its cassette (on Southcave Records), CD (on BSFD Records) and vinyl (on Oak Island Records) pressings. Not surprisingly, as the Polish group follow-up such a successful first outing, their new album, Time Travel Dilemma, does not attempt to fix what wasn’t broken in their sound. Those who caught onto the depth and vibe of Lemanis will find the six tracks of Time Travel Dilemma work from a similarly potent brew — the key differences are of affirmation and progression.

Yes, both records meld drifting melodies and massive tones together to affect a thickened sonic liquefaction, but Time Travel Dilemma, frankly, learns from its predecessor and moves the band — guitarist/vocalist Bartosz Janik, bassist/vocalist Jan Rutka and drummer/vocalist Kamil Ziólkowski — forward in a style that’s quickly becoming their own. In other words: Progression. The affirmation comes in letting their audience know that their first offering was no fluke, but rather the beginning steps on a path that the languid heft of “Parahorizon” on Time Travel Dilemma finds them walking further along. The vocals are more confident. The songs are more distinct, and the flow between them over the total 44 minutes more resonant. It is simply a more realized interpretation of Spaceslug‘s sound.

As it should be. From opener “Osiris” to the closing title-track’s guest spot from Sander Haagmans, formerly bassist/vocalist of Sungrazer and currently of the grungier The Whims of the Great MagnetTime Travel Dilemma brings forth immersion via its spaciousness as much as its nod. The Haagmans appearance at the end as “Time Travel Dilemma” moves easily into its second-half jam couldn’t be more appropriate, since Sungrazer seem to be a chief influence for Spaceslug here and were last time as well. Those roots can be heard in the swinging rocker “The Great Pylon Collider” as much as “Parahorizon” or the finale as the album shifts back and forth between consecutively shorter tracks and longer ones, cleverly creating momentum as it goes. Perhaps it’s easier just to view it by the numbers:

1. Osiris (6:56)
2. Living the Eternal Now (8:40)
3. The Great Pylon Collider (5:42)
4. Parahorizon (10:48)
5. What Falls is Fallen (1:57)
6. Time Travel Dilemma (10:07)

Although the closer isn’t actually the longest inclusion, the openness of the ground it covers gives a sense of expansion anyhow, and with “Osiris” at the outset, “The Great Pylon Collider” and — perhaps most crucially — the penultimate interlude “What Falls is Fallen” creating a bridge between “Parahorizon” and its sprawl, “Time Travel Dilemma” serves as the end-point to which all the gorgeous, grooving motion seems to be heading all along. That’s not to take anything away from the impression left by earlier cuts. “Osiris” is pivotal in setting the stage for what follows and a standout on its own — Rutka‘s bass work there and across the entirety of Time Travel Dilemma should be a blueprint for other groups to learn from — and the apparent ease with which Spaceslug move from subtler hypnosis to more driving crescendos on “Living the Eternal Now” — which in its second half also samples Alan Watts, whose voice appeared as well on YOB‘s Clearing the Path to Ascend — not only makes that track a highlight, but along with the vocal melodies it underscores the growth the band has willfully undertaken in such a short time.

And while that growth, which can also be heard in the push of “The Great Pylon Collider” and in crossing the 23-minute span of “Parahorizon,” the ambient “What Falls is Fallen” and “Time Travel Dilemma” itself, is a key element, anyone among the converted who might be catching onto Spaceslug for the first time shouldn’t have any trouble getting on board with where they’re coming from, the warm and natural vibe of their sound (recorded and mixed at Satanic Audio) or the lack of pretense in their presentation. The latter especially is enough to make one wonder just what exactly the “dilemma” is that Spaceslug are having in their fourth-dimensional excursion — everything seems to be rolling along so smoothly — but if there’s a narrative at work in the tracks, it would seem to be resolved by the time the finale disintegrates, leaving behind only a sense of balance in the cosmos; satisfying in the reality it’s already created and seeming to align toward future expansion.

While Time Travel Dilemma comes as a quick turnaround from Lemanis, released almost exactly one year later, the development it shows reinforces the potential Spaceslug seemed to have on their debut while also moving forward within it. As they hopefully continue to grow their sound, one wouldn’t be surprised to find them following varied inclinations — here more patience in their jamming, there more structured songcraft — but part of what makes Time Travel Dilemma so effective is its apparent unwillingness to be settled in a single direction or the other. One hopes that adventurous impulse persists as well, since it will only further the richness of approach Spaceslug unfurl here. There are aspects of Time Travel Dilemma that most certainly play to genre, but even these do so with a palpable intention toward leaving an individualized mark rather than simply repeating what’s come before. To call that admirable would be an understatement.

Spaceslug on Thee Facebooks

Spaceslug on Bandcamp

Oak Island Records on Thee Facebooks

Oak Island Records at Kozmik Artifactz

BSFD Records on Thee Facebooks

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