The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Singles, EPs, Splits and Demos of 2015

Posted in Features on December 29th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

top 20 short releases of 2015

Please note: This list is not culled in any way from the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2015 to that, please do.

What’s a short release? Anything that’s not a full-length. I’ve done this list in the past and given a small list — The Top 20 EPs, Splits, Demos and Singles, or whatever — but “Short Releases” seemed more concise, and believe it or not, that’s something I shoot for.

Essentially, what we’re taking a look at here is everything else a band might put out in a given year. No question that albums are where the greatest impact is made over the longer term, but from landmark 7″s to EPs that provide crucial experiments or serve notice of bands solidifying their sound or marking pivotal first impressions, the shorter offerings have tremendous value, and it’s worth considering them on their own merit, rather than in comparison to LPs directly.

I know for a fact that there are releases I’ve missed here. Particularly among the Bandcamp-only demos, there’s just so much out there that for any one person to keep up with all of it is even more impossible than it’s ever been before. Before you berate me immediately with, “Hey you forgot X Band!” and start throwing tomatoes at your computer or mobile device screen, please keep in mind The Obelisk is run by a single individual and there are only so many hours in the day. As always, I do the best I can.

Here we go:

foehammer foehammer

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2015

1. Foehammer, Foehammer EP
2. Mos Generator & Stubb, The Theory of Light and Matter Split
3. Sun Voyager, Lazy Daze EP
4. All Them Witches, A Sweet Release
5. Geezer & Borracho, The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter 1 Split
6. Fatso Jetson & Farflung, Split
7. Eggnogg & Borracho, Sludgy Erna Bastard Split 7″
8. Shroud Eater, Face the Master EP
9. Bedroom Rehab Corporation, Fortunate Some EP
10. Stars that Move, Demo Songs
11. Wight, Helicopter Mama 7″
12. Thera Roya, Unraveling EP
13. Shatner, EP
14. Cities of Mars, Cyclopean Ritual EP
15. Pyramidal & Domo, Jams from the Sun Split
16. Sandrider & Kinski, Split
17. Mount Hush, Low and Behold! EP
18. Godhunter & Amigo the Devil, The Outer Dark Split
19. Groan, Highrospliffics EP
20. Rozamov & Deathkings, Split

Honorable Mention

The  Sunburst EP by Valley continues to resonate, as do splits from Goya & Wounded Giant and King Buffalo & Lé Betre. plus Derelics‘ IntroducingTime Rift‘s demo, the Carpet 7″, Watchtower‘s EP, Eternal Black‘s debut demo, Dorre‘s half-hour single One Collapsed at the Altar, and Mount Desert‘s two-songer all deserve serious consideration, as well I’m sure as many others.

Notes

It’s something of a break in routine for me to put any kind of debut in a top spot (other, of course, than on the list of debuts), but Foehammer simply would not be denied. The Virginia trio’s three-song EP release on Grimoire Records (LP on Australopithecus Records), it was a self-titled that seemed to be telling you the name of the band twice as if in a warning against forgetting it. And that warning was one to heed. Foehammer‘s first outing brought the Doom Capitol region to new heights of extremity, and while at over half-an-hour long it could’ve just as easily have been called a full-length, part of the overarching threat is what the band will bring to bear when they actually get around to their first LP.

A good number of splits included here, with Mos Generator and Stubb‘s The Theory of Light and Matter (HeviSike Records), Geezer and Borracho‘s The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter 1 (launching a series for Ripple Music), Fatso Jetson and Farflung‘s joint release (on Heavy Psych Sounds) and Eggnogg and Borracho‘s Sludgy Erna Bastard (on Palaver Records) all cracking the top 10. No coincidence that Washington D.C. heavy riffers Borracho show up twice in that mix. As Pyramidal and Domo‘s blissful Jams from the Sun, Sandrider and Kinski‘s one-two, Godhunter and Amigo the Devil‘s Battleground Records collaboration and Rozamov and Deathkings‘ joint single feature between #11-20, a total of eight out of the full included 20 releases here are splits. Last year it was only five.

Whether that means the form is growing in an attempt to capture fickle social-media-age attention spans while cutting individual vinyl pressing costs, I couldn’t say — likely a combination of the two and more besides — but it’s noteworthy that a split is more than just a toss-off, between-albums castaway at this point, something for songs to later be included on rare-tracks comps. One could easily say the same of EPs as a whole. To that end, Sun Voyager‘s Lazy Daze was a brutal tease for the NY psychgaze outfit’s first album, hopefully out in 2016. And while All Them WitchesA Sweet Release was over 50 minutes long — longer, actually, than their Dying Surfer Meets His Maker LP, which was also issued this year — they considered it an EP/live collection, and that indeed proved how it worked best, immersive though its stretch remained.

Shroud Eater and Bedroom Rehab Corporation both turned in impressive outings that showed marked progression from their last time out, while Shatner‘s first batch of tracks tipped off a songwriting process well-honed and Stars that Move, Cities of Mars, Thera Roya and Mount Hush — I’d put Mount Desert in this category as well — had compelling outings that, like Foehammer at the top, showed much potential at work in formative sounds. Not to be forgotten, Wight‘s Helicopter Mama 7″ gave listeners a heads up on the funkified stylistic turn their upcoming full-length, Love is Not Only What You Know, will take even further, and UK stoner miscreants Groan proved once and for all that, along with logic and reason, a constantly changing lineup can’t hold back their good times.

Like I said — like I always say — if I left something out, let me know about it in the comments. Really let me have it. Call me a jerk. It’s cool. I can take it.

Please note: I can, in no way, take it.

Still, if I left something/someone out, I hope you’ll let me know. And please don’t forget that if you haven’t yet, you can still contribute your list of 2015 favorites to the year-end poll until Dec. 31. EPs, LPs, whatever, however many, it doesn’t matter. All entries are welcome there.

Thanks for reading.

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The Obelisk Radio Adds: Stars that Move, Wren & Irk, Sunset in the 12th House, Sonic Mass, Sativa Root

Posted in Radio on April 17th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk radio

Been a couple weeks, right? Yeah, it has. Between the Quarterly Review — you’ll notice some of those records joining the playlist here as well — and traveling, I haven’t really had the chance to do a proper round of radio adds, which is why if you hit up the Obelisk Radio Playlist and Updates Page you might notice a full 25 records went up today. I’ve been thinking about going in and thinning some stuff out, there’s some sludge in there I feel like could probably go, but on the other hand — and I’m sad to say this is actually how I feel about it — it’s an archive with a good bit of musical history to it, developed over the last decade to be something really special. I’m not sure I have the right to do anything more to than just continue to let it build and evolve. If you take the time to look at the playlists, they’ve hit a point where they’re unbelievably good. It’s frankly better than I ever could have imagined, so maybe I’d just be fixing what isn’t broken. There. I talked myself out of it. On with the show.

The Obelisk Radio adds for April 17, 2015:

Stars that Move, Demo Songs

stars that move demo songs

A debut release of coherent aesthetic that brims with promise, melodic sweetness and classic fuzz boogie filtered through hazy garage modernism, Stars that Move‘s Demo Songs brings together drummer Frank Sikes and guitarist Richard Bennett of Starchild with vocalist Elisa Maria, and the presence and swing they capture on these songs is not to be discounted because it’s a demo. Opener “I Hold a Gaze” seems to ooze out with slower Uncle Acid buzz, but Maria‘s vocals change the vibe entirely, and through the irrefutably heavy nod of “The Blue Prince” and the ethereal shuffle of “She that Rules the King,” she maintains a hold on the material that is transfixing. Anyone who heard Starchild could easily tell you about that Georgian outfit’s worn-on-sleeve penchant for Sabbath, and Stars that Move isn’t without its own aspect of worship, but it comes out most of all in the “Laguna Sunrise”-style acoustic “No Evil Star,” which introduces the closer “Burning in Flames” (also the longest song at 3:48), which has an open-spaced acoustic roll of its own, topped by a soulful croon from Maria met by foreboding electric guitar ringing out to set up the central line after the verse: “We are the world, burning in flames.” It is beautiful despite or maybe even in part because of its melancholy, and it brings Demo Songs to a finish more Zeppelin than Sabbath, but still definitely in that league. I doubt there will be many demos to come in 2015 to stand up to it, and as an announcement of Stars that Move‘s arrival, it’s definitely one worthy of notice. They set themselves up with a core of quality songwriting here that could easily be expanded in experimental arrangements of psychedelic guitar layering, effects, synth, percussion, to create a lush tableau for Maria‘s voice to work with, and I hope they do just that. Either way, their core is set. Stars that Move on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.

Wren and Irk, Irk | Wren Split

wren and irk irk wren split

I’m not sure who actually comes first on this split between London post-sludgers Wren, whose 2014 self-titled debut EP (review here) impressed considerably, and Leeds trio Irk. In the title, Irk | Wren, it’s Irk, and both bands have it that way on their respective Bandcamp as well. The tracklisting in the files I was given puts Wren first. Either way, each act offers a different take on noise-laced punishment. For Irk, bass leads the way on three blistering, punkish cuts of noise interspersed with a sample-laden interlude called “Life Pervert” that shifts them into the wails, rumbles and jabs of “Cibo per Gattini.” Their opener, “You Sound Like My Ex-Wife,” is their longest inclusion at 5:33, and runs a razorblade gamut across punk, sludge and noise, but the quicker “A Dead Elephant,” which follows, brings forward more of the rawness at heart in the sans-guitar trio’s sound. Wren‘s three inclusions find the four-down-from-five-piece working with vocalist Alex Wealands of Throats, whose voice is more in line with a post-metal sound than the blackened stylings of the prior EP. That has an effect on the atmosphere, but Wren remain coherent, the three-minute “Arise” building a wall of airy-guitar-topped distortion and leading directly into “Before the Great Silence,” the chug of which reminds of what life was like before Isis stopped being angry, rolling out a satisfying emotional catharsis as it drives toward a second-half slowdown and hits into “An Approach,” which starts out raging and dips in its midsection to set up a final crescendo of furious guitar undulations and call and response shouts. It is very, very heavy, and should please anyone who caught wind of Wren‘s last outing or is looking to be introduced. Wren on Thee Facebooks, Wren on Bandcamp, Irk on Thee Facebooks, Irk on Bandcamp.

Sunset in the 12th House, Mozaic

sunset in the 12th house mozaic

Somewhere between an alter-ego and a side-project and somewhere between post-rock and progressive metal, Sunset in the 12th House make their debut with Mozaic on Prophecy Productions. Three out of the four of the Romanian outfit’s members — guitarist/vocalist Edmond “Hupogrammos” Karban, guitarist Cristian “Sol Faur” Popescu, and drummer Sergio Ponti — double in folk-ish black metallers Dordeduh, and are former members of Negur? Bunget as well. Here, with bassist Mihai Moldoveanu, they explore six tracks of varied, mostly instrumental styles, beginning with the 14-minute “Arctic Cascades,” an immersive, well-textured summary of their sound that moves fluidly between prog-metal chug, synth grandiosity and percussive impact. Airier guitars pervade movements of “Desert’s Eschaton” and “Rejuvenation,” but with its songs arranged longest to shortest (immediate points) and with the pervasive sense of focus Sunset in the 12th House display throughout, saving vocals for the last two cuts only, Mozaic is too clear-headed to really call psychedelic. While it has an element of swirl, “Paraphernalia of Sublimation” is unmistakably progressive with its Eastern flair and forward motion, but to quibble about genre is missing the point. Whether it’s the heavier push of the midsection to “Ethereal Consonance” or the tightly-executed weaving of guitar on “Seven Insignia,” soon met by growling vocals, Sunset in the 12th House hit on a sound that’s decidedly their own and markedly well balanced between what in less capable hands would seem like opposing stylistic elements. Sunset in the 12th House on Thee Facebooks, Prophecy Productions.

Sativa Root, Dark Days

sativa root dark days

After debuting last year with a self-titled/untitled EP, Austrian trio Sativa Root update with Dark Days, a two-songer seemingly intended to give those who heard the first release a look at what the Salzburg unit have been up to since. So what have they been up to? Riffing. Sounded primed and ready for a 7″ release, five-minute cuts “Dark Days” and “La Bestia” both unfold tonally weighted rollout, the former seeming to nod vaguely at Electric Wizard‘s wisping lead-over-nodding-rhythm methodology and the latter taking some of High on Fire‘s gallop and thickening the atmosphere. Guitarist Stonerhead, drummer Isaak and bassist Fant know what they’re doing with each of these influences, but the reason Dark Days ultimately satisfies is that not the entire sonic crux of the tracks can be accounted for in this way. Between that element of individuality brought to the table and the changeup in atmosphere from one song to the second, Sativa Root‘s update is well met. It hasn’t been so long since their first EP came out — just past the one-year mark, actually — but they’ve obviously been spending their time wisely since.

Sativa Root on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.

Sonic Mass, All Creatures Strange: Live at the Black Heart

sonic mass all creatures strange live at the black heart

Recorded live at Camden Town’s famed The Black Heart in April 2014, All Creatures Strange: Live at the Black Heart is a soundboard capture of the release party for London four-piece Sonic Mass‘ late-2013 debut EP, All Creatures Strange. As one will, they played the whole thing front-to-back at the show, and it’s a performance rife with heavy rock soul, two guitars having it out in effective balance over the cymbal wash of “The Order” or the later psychedelic shifts of “Pentagon Chameleon – To the Devil, a Daughter.” The smoothness of their approach might be best showcased in “Rise of the Royal Reptile,” but longer cuts like “Widow Stone” have more room to breathe and feel stronger for it. Ending off with the ritualized chants and percussion of “All Creatures Strange (Played Once),” which is listed as “(Dead)” where all the other tracks are “(Live),” it’s a subtly adventurous release that might take a couple listens to really absorb for anyone who didn’t hear the original All Creatures Strange — which is also still available — but that proves worth the effort in the end. No doubt it was something to hear them tear into “Science of Sleep” that night. Sonic Mass on Thee Facebooks, on Bandcamp.

Not enough for you? Head over to The Obelisk Radio Playlist and Updates page and check out the other 20 records that were added this afternoon. There’s bound to be something for everybody.

Thanks for reading and listening.
 

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