Posted in Features on December 1st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Believe it or not, it’s that time again. Welcome to The Obelisk’s Top 20 of 2014 Readers Poll. Like last year, we’ll be using a point system to tabulate the results, wherein a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one, as well as tabulating the raw votes — so rest assured that come New Year’s Day, we’re going to know what was the best album of 2014. Frankly, I can’t wait to find out.
With the Top 20 of 2013 Readers Poll there was never any mystery to it. The number one pick was number one from the first day and never looked back. This time, I feel like there are any number of potential top contenders that could vie for Album of the Year, and in a range of styles. I know I’ve been back and forth on what it should be for my own list — which will be along sometime later in the month — and I’ve got a nerd’s eagerness to find out how some of my own picks stack up to yours.
Thank you in advance to everyone who chooses to participate in this year’s Readers Poll. It’s always kind of nerve-wracking to ask people to type out their top choices, but it’s something that’s gotten bigger every time we’ve done it, and I hope 2014 follows that pattern as well. Any sharing of the link or reposting or anything of the kind is appreciated more than I can say.
Poll stays open until Jan. 1, 2015.
Let’s have some fun:
As always, the Readers Poll wouldn’t be possible without the diligent efforts of Slevin, whose coding talent is so far beyond my realm of understanding that I can only consider it magic. Please also know that your email address will not be used or kept, it’s simply a matter of verifying one-vote-per-address. All data is wiped clean after the poll is over. Thank you again for being a part of this.
Posted in The Numbers on January 31st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I don’t think when this site was launched five years ago today I had any idea of what was going to happen with it. The Obelisk started basically because I was newly out of work and didn’t know what to do with myself in the wake of that. I wanted to write. Since the start, I’ve never really known what’s next, and that has continued to be the case over the last half-decade. As milestones have come up, things like adding the forum, adding the radio stream, etc., it’s really only been after the fact that I’ve been able to sort of step back and realize that any sort of shift has taken place. This is one of those times.
You know what’s coming, and though I say it with some regularity, I never quite feel like it’s enough. The internet is built on anonymity. If I’m lucky enough that your eyes are seeing this somewhere around the world, whether it’s Jersey or New Zealand, there’s a decent chance we’ll never meet. If we do, that’s awesome — please say hi and I’m sorry in advance for being an awkward weirdo — but I know how it is to read a site like this one and have the author be an abstract, shapeless beyond the text presented, not really a consideration. I’m not saying everyone who looks at this page needs to know who I am or anything like that, just that I hope that if you’ve ever read this site before or if this is your first time here, you know that there’s a human being on the other end who is incredibly grateful to you for doing so.
The Obelisk has become a huge part of my life and a huge part of my every day, and five years on, it’s not only an outlet for writing, but a big piece of how I think about my own identity. I never anticipated that, but I’m not sorry it’s happened. I’m proud of this site, what it has managed to accomplish in its time, and I’m thrilled to be able to continue to develop it. I’m amazed at the passionate community that’s developed on the forum, and I think for the five bucks a month I spend to host it, the radio stream is worth the cash for my enjoyment alone, never mind anyone else’s. Thank you. Thank you so much. For checking in every now and again, for reading however often you might, for posting on the forum, listening to the radio, correcting my spelling on somebody’s name or offering suggestions for bands to check out, or to check out your band. For clicking Like or retweeting. All of it. Huge thanks to The Patient Mrs. for her years of rolled-eye indulgence, and to Slevin for his near-constant help in every technical aspect of running the site, from installing WordPress to designing the forum to finding the host for the radio to helping me size the header properly. There are days where The Obelisk is the reason I roll out of bed — over the last five years, more than a few — and I know that would not be the case without the kind of support I have received on every level. Once again, thank you.
I look forward to continuing to say thanks for as long as this lasts, however long it might be, wherever it might go from here, and wherever we might be headed. I’ll probably never be able to convey just how much your support and your involvement is appreciated, but please, please know that it is.
Posted in Features on December 2nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. The Top 20 of 2013 Readers Poll is now open! Submit your list of your favorite records from this year using the form below, and at the end of the month, the results will be counted up and a final, overall Top 20 will be had!
There are no restrictions on bands, genres, types of albums, vinyl-only, tape-only, whatever. Anything you want to put on your list, whatever you feel deserves your vote, is welcome. We’re doing things a little different this year in that all the lists will be published along with the results of the Top 20, so that everyone’s picks, however obscure or whatever they might be, can be seen and enjoyed by everybody when the time comes.
The polling is also different in that where an album is placed on your list counts too, not just the raw votes. It requires more math, but it’s for a good cause and should hopefully make the final tally even more accurate.
Fill our your picks below, click Submit, and you’re good to go. Happy voting:
[THIS POLL IS NOW CLOSED. THANKS TO ALL WHO ENTERED.]
As is more or less the case with this whole site, the 2013 Readers Poll wouldn’t be possible without the dedication and coding brilliance of Slevin. It’s his database and his design for the polling itself, and without it, I’d be using an abacus to tabulate results. If you see him at the bar, please buy him a beer and give him a hearty “Thank you sir.”
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 28th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
If you’re in the States, today is Thanksgiving. Like a lot of American holidays, it’s based around some truly strange and generally unlikely myths, but the ensuing consumerist rampages aside, it’s not nearly as exclusionary as Xmas or as war-culture-celebratey as the Fourth of July, so yeah. It’s also just about the only thing in the fabric of American society that encourages gratitude, and I guess that’s not bad either.
The point I want to make is that if you’re reading this, whether you’re in the U.S. or not, then you have my thanks for supporting this site and being a part of what it’s turned into over nearly the last half-decade. I appreciate it, and in the spirit of the day, I’m thankful for it. I feel both like I say it all the time and like I don’t say it enough, but I continue to be amazed at the level of encouragement, whether it’s someone liking or sharing a post on Thee Facebooks or Twitter, leaving a comment, sending an email, whatever it might be. It’s astounding and it means a lot to me personally. Thank you.
Likely I’ll have one or two posts up tomorrow — at least one to close out the week — but whatever weird semi-historical narrative they have at their base, the next couple days are basically to enjoy family and friends, so I’m going to do that. If you’re celebrating or not, I wish you all the best.
Posted in Reviews on September 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
As bluesy, soulful and classically rocking as ever, Sasquatch return with their aptly-titled fourth album, IV, on Small Stone. Three years doesn’t seem like an especially long time for a band to take between outings — it’s roughly consistent for the Los Angeles trio with their 2004 self-titled debut, 2006’s IIand 2010’s III(review here) — but still, IVfeels like it’s been a while in arriving. Recorded earlier this year at Mad Oak (guitar and vocals) in Boston and Rustbelt in Detroit (drums and bass), one might expect the three-piece to sound fractured or cobbled together somehow, but though the nine-tracks of IVare professionally crisp, there’s nothing lacking in natural feel throughout, and Sasquatch‘s latest finds itself basking in the fullest fuzz since the first record. Taking the larger production sensibility that showed up their last time out after II‘s more stripped-down classic power trio feel and meshing it with gorgeous tonality from guitarist/vocalist Keith Gibbs, IVcalls to mind some of the best aspects of heavy rock — timelessness achieved by means of modernizing classic methods and structures, and updating heavy swing and swagger to sound not like a put-on, but like the inheritor of an expressive mode that’s dug underground to hide like mammals while the dinosaurs get taken out by an asteroid of bullshit — and proves over its vinyl-ready 43-plus minutes that Sasquatch deserve mention among the foremost of modern American practitioners of the form. Whether it’s the ultra-catchy opener “The Message” or more sonically spacious “Smoke Signal” or closer “Drawing Flies,” Gibbs, bassist Jason Casanova and drummer Rick Ferrante proffer exceptional songwriting, hitting all the marks along the way for gotta-groove fuzz rock supremacy while maintaining a stamp and personality of their own, characterized by Gibbs‘s belt-it-out vocals on “Sweet Lady” or the bevvy of solos he seems to just exude as Casanova and Ferrante maintain progressions behind, keeping the songs tight, purposeful and never overly indulgent. It’s beering music that makes little effort toward class but winds up there anyway, and while IIIoffered a host of memorable cuts, each piece on IVboth provides a standout and feeds into the larger, overarching flow.
There are moments particularly on side B where IVborders on too perfect — thinking of songs like “Wolves at My Door” and the shorter “Corner” — but, 12 minutes shorter than its predecessor, there’s no filler on Sasquatch‘s fourth, and even where their songwriting modus is most laid bare with a, “Let’s make this into a verse and chorus,” mentality, the quality of the material stands up to the familiarity of the intent. In addition, Gibbs has dialed back some of the Chris Cornell-style vocals that came out on IIIcuts like “Pull Me Under,” so that even in slower, more-open tempo stretches like that early into “Smoke Signal,” he sounds more like his own singer, giving IVall the more a sense of accomplishment. That song, “Smoke Signal,” is one of two included that top seven minutes long — the other is “Drawing Flies” — and both are used to close out their respective sides, underlining the classic album structure of IVoverall as a collection of high-quality individual pieces set to the best working order to bring out a dynamic feeling of movement between them. The earlier “Eye of the Storm” (5:12) reaches for some of the same ground, but ultimately finds itself distinguished more for the strength of its hook in following ultra-catchy opener “The Message” — simply one of the finest choruses the band has ever written — despite also slowing the tempo from that track. Built around motor riffing and straight-ahead uptempo groove, “The Message” arrives at its chorus to find Gibbs‘ double-tracked and singalong-ready with a cadence and lyrics that are simple enough to leave an immediate first impression that lasts through the rest of the album and of course the first of many stellar solos layered in atop rhythm tracks in a way that’s professional but not overdone, a long feedback outro adding to the edge en route to the guitar opening of “Eye of the Storm,” which has a more melodic riff and makes itself felt with a wash of crash from Ferrante and glorious bed of low end from Casanova. Vocal harmonies distinguish the chorus further, leading to second-half stomp that recalls some of the last album’s more weighted stretches, an Ozzy reference tossed in (“…the white horse it’s symbolic of course”) tossed in for good measure in a deceptively intense ending. Seems surprising they don’t go back to the original chorus at the end, but that’s likely the point.
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 26th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
A month after the announcement of their having signed to Napalm Records, word has come down that London-based heavy rockers Steak will issue/reissue their two to-date EPs, 2012’s Disastronaught (review here) and 2013’s Corned Beef Colossus (review here), in a variety of limited vinyl editions that are now available to pre-order at the links below. The red-meat riffers will also take part in the 2013 Blizzard Mountain’s multi-city fest alongside Samsara Blues Experiment and others at the end of November.
More info on that at the Steak Thee Facebooks, and you can check out the sundry vinyls for the EPs with the news below:
Check it, both of our Ep’s are being released on limited edition vinyl! Available for pre order now. Nice!
London based Stoner Rock newcomers Steak will release their much celebrated EPs “Disastronaught” and “Corned Beef Colossus” for the for the first time on vinyl on Sept 27th.
Expect a highly limited gatefold edition which includes the beautiful comic album artwork and will be made available exclusively through the Napalm Records Webstore!
Posted in Reviews on August 22nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
It hasn’t been as long as it can seem since last we heard from instrumental San Diego trio Earthless, whose last studio full-length was 2007’s Rhythms from a Cosmic Sky. The next year, they released Live at Roadburn (arguably their high-water mark to date), and since then, between a rerelease of 2005’s Sonic Prayer Jam, a 10th anniversary jam EP in 2012 and splits with Witch in 2008, Premonition 13/Radio Moscow in 2012 and While Hills in 2013, they haven’t been completely absent leading up to the issue of their third LP, From the Ages(Tee Pee Records), but there can be little doubt that the greater accomplishments of the band’s members during that stretch have taken place outside of Earthless itself. Notably, drummer Mario Rubalcaba joined forces with former Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris and members of Burning Brides and Redd Kross in OFF!, and also played in punk outfit Spider Fever, while guitarist Isaiah Mitchell made a stunning debut in 2012 with the self-titled Golden Void (review here), also taking on a vocal role that was new to those who knew him solely from his work in Earthless. All this led to speculation that Earthless were finished, but in terms of From the Ages, that just seems to mean that it arrives with all the more fanfare surrounding it; even as the first announcements were being made, the excitement was palpable that Mitchell and Rubalcaba had once again joined forces with bassist Mike Eginton for a studio offering. Comprised of four tracks totaling a solid hour of ripping classic rock jams, From the Agessays in a big way that in fact not only are Earthless not done, but that the vibrant spirit that rested at the heart of the original 2005 Sonic Prayerand the terrifying chemistry that showed itself on Live at Roadburnand put Earthless on the fast track to stoner-rock-legends status are well intact and still very much at the core of what the trio does. They remain instrumental for the duration (in case anyone was wondering if Mitchell might throw in some vocals post-Golden Void), and tap into a rare prowess and classic rock versatility throughout the four mostly-extended cuts, culminating in the 31-minute epic title-track.
I’m rarely one for double LPs, though Earthless have been consistent all along in their flair for the sonically and structurally grandiose, so it’s not at all unexpected that From the Ageswould arrive in that form, and to be fair, there isn’t really a way the album could work without all four of its pieces and still accomplish the same immersive feel. A double it is, then. Helping their case is the fact that each song leading up to the concluding “From the Ages” presents a personality of its own, whether it’s the solo-laden swirl of opener “Violence of the Red Sea” (14:46), the more restrained heavy psych of “Uluru Rock” (14:08), the exploratory vibing of shorter “Equus October” (5:43) or of course “From the Ages” (30:56) itself, which both ties the others together and expands the soundscape in much the way an earthquake might turn plains into mountains. Mitchell‘s guitar leads for most of the album’s duration — seeming especially forward as he rock-shreds solos on “Violence of the Red Sea” and “From the Ages” — but the story of From the Agesisn’t about any one of the three players nearly as much as it is about the exciting music they make in combination. As “Violence of the Red Sea” gets started, Earthless seem to be shaking off the dust of the years since Rhythms from a Cosmic Sky, almost winding themselves up, but they quickly lock in a groove brilliantly underscored by classy fills from Eginton and by the time they’re past the minute mark, so is the hook. The tones of Mitchell and Eginton, as captured by producer Phil Manley, are organic but not at the expense of clarity, and Rubalcaba‘s drums come through with a suitable wash of cymbal and pop in the snare, giving Fromthe Agesa fresh, still-punkish jam room feel. Effects are layered in, but the course is set, and the album carries on from the Red Sea to the other side of the world with “Uluru Rock,” named for the sandstone mass also known as Ayers Rock in Australia’s Northern Territory. As “Equus October” refers to a Roman ritual sacrifice to Mars, the God of War, and “From the Ages” is as grand in scale and scope as the jump from the Mideast to Australia is geographically, it should be clear that Earthless are thinking big in multiple dimensions — time and space, specifically. The music mirrors that. Eight minutes in, “Violence of the Red Sea” turns somewhat chaotic, but the course resumes with upbeat fervor, wah and riff colliding as the rhythm section holds firm to the ground its has established, keeping the whole thing from going off the rails of whatever means of interstellar conveyance it might be using for its journey. As the listener would have to expect, they finish in monumental style.
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 25th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Big congratulations to London-based riff purveyors Steak on the announcement of their newly-inked deal with Napalm Records/Spinning Goblin Productions. Among others, the foursome now get to refer to the noble likes of Vista Chino, Monster Magnet and My Sleeping Karma as “labelmates.” Steak‘s second and latest EP, the most righteously titled Corned Beef Colossus (review here), was released earlier this year to well-earned acclaim.
One more time, well done, gentlemen. Here’s the official word for your perusal:
Spinning Goblin / Napalm Records is proud to announce the worldwide signing of UK’s Stoner/Fuzz Rocker Steak!
STEAK have achieved a considerable status playing fuzz dripping Stoner Rock at this years Desertfest London and various Snowboard events throughout Europe.
The band’s first two comic book artwork gatefold Vinyl EP´s will be released later this and will be simply mind-blowing! Welcome to the family!
“We are totally blown away to be part of Napalm Records, and sharing a label with bands such as Vista Chino, Monster Magnet and The Sword is an amazing honour. With our debut album due for the start of 2014 followed by a European tour, we are busy working on new material in the studio. We hold up an ice cold one and say thanks for opportunity Napalm, you obviously know a good thing when they hear and we respect that!!” – Reece
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I assume the drummer position in Weedeater will once again be filled by Travis Owen (Whores), who took on the role for the trio’s short tour around Maryland Deathfest a couple weeks ago replacing founding member Keith “Keko” Kirkum, as well of course as for the fest itself, though I guess you never know. Maybe they found a permanent replacement. Maybe it’s him. One way to find out would be to show up at the gig, I suppose.
So it goes. As volatile as their on-stage persona can be, Weedeater had a better run with their original lineup than most. Joining them throughout the summer dates below are ASG, whose new record Blood Drive has apparently been met with a welcome reception, and Lo-Pan, who are currently on the road with Torche.
Here’s the latest from the PR wire:
WEEDEATER AND ASG ANNOUNCE U.S. TOUR
ASG’S BLOOD DRIVE MARKS N.C. BAND’S HIGHEST DEBUT
Weedeater and ASG have announced a four-week tour across the United States, kicking off on June 27 in Savannah, Ga. at The Jinx.
The tour comes as ASG celebrate their highest charting and most critically acclaimed album to date, the breakthrough release Blood Drive. The twelve-song collection landed at #15 on Billboard’s Heat Seeker chart and also had impressive debuts on the trade magazine’s Hard Music (#32) and Indie (#67) charts. The album is streaming via Bandcamp at asgnation.bandcamp.com.
Weedeater & ASG presented by Brooklyn Vegan and Invisible Oranges June 27 Savannah, GA The Jinx June 28 Atlanta, GA The Earl June 30 New Orleans, LA One Eyed Jacks July 1 Houston, TX Fitzgeralds July 2 San Antonio, TX Korova July 3 Austin, TX Red 7 July 4 Denton, TX Rubber Gloves (Free Show) July 5 Norman, OK The Opolis July 7 Tempe, AZ Pub Rock July 9 San Diego, CA Soda Bar July 10 Los Angeles, CA The Whiskey July 11 Santa Cruz, CA Catalyst July 12 Oakland, CA Oakland Opera House July 13 Portland, OR Ash St. Saloon July 14 Seattle, WA The Highline
ASG only July 16 Denver, CO Larimer Lounge July 17 Lawrence, KS The Replay Lounge July 18 Oklahoma City, OK The Conservatory July 19 Nashville, TN Springwater July 20 Asheville, NC Broadway
Weedeater July 16 Vancouver, BC Electric Owl July 18 Calgary, AB The Palamino July 20 Edmonton, AB The Pawn Shop July 23 Winnipeg, MB Windsor Hotel July 24 Fargo, NC The Aquarium July 25 Great Falls, MT Machinery Row July 27 Missoula, MT Farmageddon Festival July 30 Denver, CO Marquis Theater
Weedeater & Lo Pan August 1 Chicago, IL Ultra Lounge August 3 Nashville, TN Exit/In August 4 Johnson City, TN Hideaway August 6 Asheville, NC Broadways August 7 Charlotte, NC Chop Shop August 8 Richmond, VA Strange Matter August 9 Raleigh, NC The Maywood August 10 Wilmington, NC Soapbox
Posted in Whathaveyou on April 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
It just wouldn’t be hypocrisy if I hadn’t said it’d never happen. Many things change in four years’ time, and I’ve signed up for a Twitter account for The Obelisk. What does this mean to you? Well, if you don’t use Twitter, probably not a whole lot. If you do, it means you can keep up with The Obelisk-y doings via that most brevity-inducing of social media platforms by using the image on the right or the link below:
I’ve never been an early adopter of this kind of technology, so if I’m late to the party here, you won’t find me claiming otherwise. Nonetheless, if you’re on Thee Twitters, I hope you’ll take a second to follow along with my many fumbles as I figure out how to use a hashtag — it’ll always be a pound sign to me — and all the rest of it.
Posted in Reviews on March 22nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
There are few lines drawn in heavy underground rock that Madison, Wisconsin, three-piece Romero don’t cross on their debut full-length, Take the Potion. Fluidly touching on heavy rock, crashing into doom and caustic sludge while keeping an eye toward the pop melodies of Torche, the post-hardcore threat of later Akimbo and leaving room for a Sleep-derived riff-out at the end, the seven-track collection is perhaps most surprising in how well it’s all held together. Worth noting in that regard that for a band putting out their first album, Romero aren’t lacking for experience. Guitarist/vocalist Jeffrey Mundt drummed for Naked Aggression in the ‘90s, among others, and Take the Potion (released by Grindcore Karaoke) follows two preliminary singles, Couch Lock and Solitaire +1 (more on them here), so it’s not unexpected that Romero would come into their full-length debut with a decent sense of how they wanted to sound. Indeed, both sides of Couch Lock – those being “Couch Lock” and “In the Heather” – show up on Take the Potion as well, the latter as the closer. What surprises is the level of cohesiveness the three-piece harness throughout the songs, working in a variety of structures and with a swath of influences beyond those noted above, so that the oncoming rush of opener “Compliments and Cocktails” gives way to a catchy stoner verse and chorus before opening to a midsection of tom-heavy beefy hardcore shouts, like all of a sudden Pro-Pain showed up at the studio as Romero were 2:57 seconds into the 6:22 track and decided to take over. Maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s to the band’s credit – the rhythm section of bassist Steve Stanczyk and drummer/vocalist Benjamin Brooks alongside Mundt – that they’re able to transition so smoothly back into the more melodic verse and chorus. “Compliments and Cocktails” is a solid beginning in that it sets up the listener to never quite know what turn Romero might make within a song – after conveying monotony in the opener’s chorus without actually becoming monotonous, they even throw in a little organ near the end – and the rest of Take the Potion doesn’t fail to catch off guard, whether it’s the creeping initial build of second track “Couch Lock” or the stomp that shows up later in the yelling stretch of “Wheeling Deervish” on side B. Throughout, Romero, who recorded and mixed over the course of last year in cooperation with Mark Whitcomb (Phillip Cope of Kylesa mastered), distinguish their methods and showcase a powerful approach that sounds natural even as it melds genre elements often thought of as being at odds.
Primarily, this shit is heavy, and heaviness seems to be its main concern. That is, I don’t imagine Romero sat around in smoking jackets and plotted out second by second how they were going to tie different pieces of heavy rock together to create their own sound from them. More likely they just focused on writing good songs, which however impressive the other achievement might be is at the root of what makes it so. “Couch Lock,” re-recorded and cleaner-sounding than it was on the single, starts slow and arrives at a massive lumber signaled by Brooks’ drums, the plod soon topped with layers of shouting from the drummer and Mundt. Just when it seems they’ve exhausted the part, about two minutes later, they pick up the pace and shift into a faster, driving groove no less heavy but rife with energy and inviting swagger, riding the part out until the final hits recall the stomp from whence they emerged. Two tracks in, and already Romero’s Take the Potion has convinced me to do just that – I’m on board to follow them wherever they might go – and the psychedelic opening of “One Means Four,” some chime added for percussive ethereality, proves easy enough to follow. Stanczyk’s bassline holds the intro together, so that when the track kicks into the shouting verse and cleaner chorus, it makes an eerie kind of sense, gang shouts coming on near the midpoint to foreshadow a surprising rush in what turns out to be a deceptively linear build, breaking here, swarming there, never quite fully playing its hand until the last minute, when it brings back those shouts for another go. By the time you’ve caught up to it, Romero have moved onto the shorter (4:00, the shortest on the album) title-track, a centerpiece that casts off the long-intro ethic of “Couch Lock” and “One Means Four” in favor of immediate pummel with its verse riff. Brooks works a groove out on his ride while the trio crafts momentum out of what’s otherwise a familiar stoner progression, mounting effective stops in the chorus, Mundt’s guitar leading one riff cycle into the next. A solo after the chorus leads to a quieter break, still in motion and bouncing in Stanczyk’s bass, but topped with quick spoken word that leads to crashes that to my ears are enough to justify the Akimbo comparison above. That burst of energy transitions smoothly into the early shuffle of “Distraction Tree,” marking the movement into a second half of Take the Potion no less seamless than the first.
Posted in Reviews on March 14th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Mars Red Sky showed with last year’s split/collaboration EP with French countrymen Year of No Light that although their prior self-titled debut was typified by sweet melodies, memorable progressions, and a dense low end presented with a warm, laid back feel, that was by no means the extent of the trio’s breadth. That album (review here) was among 2011’s most pleasant surprises, and even though the aforementioned Green Rune White Totem split (more on it here) inevitably expanded the band’s reach, that expansion never seemed to come at the sacrifice of the elements that gave the full-length its lasting appeal. Admittedly, it’s a record I still put on, so when it comes to Mars Red Sky’s proper follow-up, the new Be My Guide EP, I’m glad to find the case is much the same as with the split – there’s growth evident, but neither have they abandoned what worked so well about their first outing. The EP, released vinyl-only as the first catalog number for the band’s own Mars Red Sound imprint, is four tracks of gorgeous, fuzzed-out heavy psychedelia that clock in just under 27 minutes.
The LP is presented with due symmetry, each of the two sides featuring two tracks, the first a new cut with the lineup of Julien Pras (guitar/vocals), Jimmy Kinast (bass) and Matgaz (drums) and the second a departure from the form and process. On side A, that comes in the shape of the seven-minute “Seen a Ghost,” which was recorded with previous drummer Benoît Busser in a separate session from the other three cuts on Be My Guide, and closing out side B, it’s “Stranger” a cover of 17 Hippies‘ “Ton Étrangère” with lyrics translated into English. Both “Seen a Ghost” — which it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume was put to tape earlier than the other three, since it was obviously done before Busser was no longer in the band — and “Stranger” mark a musical shift, not so much away from the bliss-through-simplicity fuzzy bounce of “Be My Guide” or the wah swirl that takes hold in side B opener “Clean White Hands,” but definitely moving with those pieces to someplace they haven’t gone before.
That’s not to say “Be My Guide” and “Clean White Hands” don’t also show growth in Mars Red Sky‘s songwriting methods or the general atmosphere those methods create. Far from it. In “Be My Guide,” a quick drum fill opens to immediate mid-paced fuzz engagement, thickening and moving smoothly into a verse the cadence of which proves no less a hook than the fluid chorus. Thick, wah’ed out and topped by Pras‘ ambience-ready vocals, the simple lines, “Amber, anger, be my guide,” leave a lasting impression even as the tone behind them comes forward thicker and slower leading to a resuming of pace in an instrumental break with a wah solo from Pras backed by the rolling groove fostered by Kinast and Matgaz. The latter, as the newest member of the band, seems to have had no trouble fitting in, if “Be My Guide” is anything to judge by, and similar to their carry-you-with-it flow between “Strong Reflection” and “Curse” leading off the self-titled, the opening title-track of Be My Guidemakes an inviting impression that’s hard to ignore and all but impossible to refuse.
It’s worth noting though that Be My Guideisn’t a full-length, despite its everybody-come-along tendencies, and that the goals it’s working toward are different. You could probably listen to “Be My Guide,” the song, right into “Seen a Ghost” without thinking twice about it, but once the full stomp of the second track takes hold after the circular groove of the introduction, it’s apparent that the band aren’t just nestling themselves into a formula. Pras echoes deep in the mix behind his guitar and Kinast‘s bass, but after about a minute and a half, they jump into a sudden start-stop cadence that meets with overlaying psychedelic layers of vocals, the stark rhythmic chug of the verse standing in striking contrast to the fullness of “Be My Guide” before it and “Clean White Hands” to follow on the EP’s second side. What the songs have in common — and why it still works — is tone and groove, so that when “Seen a Ghost” moves into its dreamy midsection, although more than just the drummer has changed, the track never stops making sense.
Once again the verse picks up, and Mars Red Sky seem to enjoy toying with the stomp and meeting that with a likewise shift in lyrical approach, filling the space that the music occupies elsewhere with words. Where a verse to the opener looked like “See her/In a field of plaster/Early morning ride,” in “Seen a Ghost,” one hears, “Attack my brain, release my mind/Enhance the screaming of bleeding heart/For everyone to hear wherever they are.” Longer and more compact lines, still sweetly-delivered, mean more prominent vocals. The instruments still find room to breathe, however, in the post-verse break. With no chorus to speak of — those starts and stops are plenty catchy — it’s that instrumental psych part offering the answer back to the rhythmic march, and it’s longer the second time around, leading to a final reprise of the verse in the last minute that satisfies all the more for how Kinast reintroduces the progression and Pras’ layered singing.
Starting side B, “Clean White Hands” comes on with a bluesier riff and more open progression in its riff, backing off some of the insistence of “Seen a Ghost” and building a wash of gorgeous lead guitar tone over an initial bassline not wholly dissimilar from “Way to Rome” from the self-titled. Not arguing with it. Matgaz meets the languid groove head on, and punctuates a quieter verse with hard-hit snare while Pras‘ vocals echo behind, keeping a consistent beat as Pras and Kinast click on a fuller sound for the chorus. Here, Mars Red Sky seem wholly in their element, and “Clean White Hands,” which is longer than “Be My Guide” by nearly two full minutes, has room for jammier instrumental exploration that the trio puts to good use, Pras‘ guitar ringing out ethereal lines as Kinast and Matgaz hold down the beat before quieting even further for return to the verse in the second half that makes the chorus seem all the louder by comparison. Its appeal isn’t as immediate as “Be My Guide,” but “Clean White Hands” proves to be no dip in quality and it’s a prime example of the band developing their songwriting style for its balance of familiar structures and weighted grooves with a feeling of purposeful meandering.
“Ton Étrangère” opened the Berlin collective 17 Hippies‘ 2011 album, Phantom Songs, though with considerably fewer hippies on board, Mars Red Sky give it a considerable rearrangement. Not only more viscous, thicker and slower, than the original, “Stranger” as it appears on Be My Guidealso translates the lyrics to English from French and takes the prior folkish sensibilities, banjo, zither, etc., to someplace far more vague. The rumble below Pras‘ vocals and the lullaby guitar line that marks the verse’s sway are darker in their mood and the chorus “Let me be your stranger/From the heart to the page” has a kind of unsettling feel at the ultra-sleepy pace. A wah solo leads to a quieter verse with less low end similar to post-break “Clean White Hands,” but the context is different, even if the methods are similar. They end big, but still solemn — a wash of wah metered out with bass and drum culmination — Kinast keeping the line consistent while Matgaz signals the final movement and Pras seems to bask in the glow his guitar has created.
If “Seen a Ghost” and “Stranger” are testing the waters for an expansion of Mars Red Sky‘s sound, then I’d call them successful, each for its own reasons. Where “Be My Guide” and “Clean White Hands” affirm the modus the trio established on their debut and assure that a creative evolution of that is underway as well, “Seen a Ghost” and “Stranger” speak to a bolder will on the part of the band to foray to unknown grounds. Even if “Seen a Ghost” is older, it’s where and how the track is presented that allows it to demonstrate these properties, and with “Stranger,” Mars Red Sky show that on an atmospheric level they’re not limited to open desert vibing. Because they manage to strike this balance in under half an hour and because they maintain the sun-baked warmth of tone, Be My Guideis a fitting response to the establishing facets of Mars Red Sky‘s previous full-length (have I mentioned it yet?) and I find after repeat listening that I’m all the more hopeful for how these experiments and developments might play out over the course of their next LP.
I was just about to put up a post (partially) concerning France’s foremost fuzzers Mars Red Sky, when lo, the trio unveiled a new video trailer for their forthcoming Be My GuideEP. Timing is everything. The three-piece will issueBe My Guide on April 8, 2013, through their own Mars Red Sounds imprint in a vinyl edition of 100 numbered and signed colored vinyls, and the release will feature four tracks, as listed below:
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ve been a drinker for over a decade. Maybe not every day, but let’s say three days a week on average, at least three drinks, wine or beer. I did some time with whiskey years back, but decided I’d rather keep my pants on. It’s not the healthiest lifestyle, but neither is it something A&E wants to do a show about.
The week of Dec. 7 had been particularly drunk, and since I’d gotten into a pattern of late of saving my boozing and my hangovers for the weekend, I thought I’d change it up. A sober weekend. Well, two days has turned into two months now. It’s without a doubt the longest stretch I’ve had since I could drink legally, and probably since before that as well.
I had thought maybe of writing about it after one month, but it just didn’t seem like enough time, and since I don’t know how long I want to keep this up — it’s not something I entered into with a plan like, “I’m never gonna drink again” or even “I’m taking six months off” — I thought I’d share a few of my observations about sobriety. Can’t do anything these days without keyboarding about it later.
So here are five reflections on two months. Hope you dig:
1. It sucks
It’s true. Being sober is way harder than being drunk. I won’t lie, I’ve done a decent amount of problematic boozing in my day. You have a shitty late night at work, come home, five beers, bed. You have family drama, seven beers, bed. Maybe on a Monday night you come home from work, have 10 beers over the course of seven hours and make a night of it because you’re miserable and you’re having one of those, “every decision I’ve ever made in my life has been wrong” kinds of days.
Drinking to alleviate some inner turmoil or self-directed dissatisfaction — or at very least escape from it — isn’t healthy, but it sure is easy. Being sober and actually having to face the chasm head on, on the other hand, is hard. You begin to see your patterns for coping, but the kicker is that seeing them doesn’t do anything but make you feel worse. And you know how you don’t get to deal with feeling worse when you’re sober? By drinking. It’s been an interesting cycle of force-fed miseries.
2. I’m still awkward
Some of the best drinking in my life I’ve done to cope with a social situation. I’m a weirdo by nature, the kid in the corner my whole life, and to this day, I’m a piss-poor conversationalist, well-suited to spending my days in front of a laptop screen. Drinking never made me Mr. Cool or gave me abs like Budweiser’s marketing specialists would have me believe, but at least with three beers in me, I can fool myself into thinking I’m doing alright.
Sober? Well, there ain’t a moment of facepalm-worthy awkwardness that gets by Sober Me. Sober Me catches it all, internalizes it, and although a given conversation may still be progressing, I’ve already marked it as a failure. And so it ends. Weirdly.
3. Booze is expensive
If there’s an upside — and I’m not yet convinced there is — it’s that hooch costs money and not spending money on hooch allows you to spend money on other things. Like records. Or camera lenses. Or more records. And where The Patient Mrs. stood ready to remind my ass of just how broke we actually were at a moment’s notice when I was blowing $200 a week on fancypants beer and wine, now there’s a novel laissez-faire attitude when it comes to things like swinging through a record shop when I should be on my way to work. From my end, it’s just good to know I’m irresponsible no matter what.
Should I accidentally manage to save some money as well, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but primarily, it’s just nice to have a little more cash to work with on the day to day and not have to feel like I’m breaking the bank stopping for iced tea in the morning.
4. I still feel like crap all the time
This one might be the biggest bummer of all. I’ve got friends who take time off drinking or who have stopped altogether on a permanent basis and what you always hear is, “Oh, I feel so much better!” all in that breathy weight-has-been-lifted tone of voice. Screw that. I still wake up three days a week with a headache. I’m still sore. I don’t feel like I’ve been through some cleansing process and come out on the other end a better person. I feel like crap. And I can’t even drink about it!
Granted, the fact that I get an amount of exercise close enough to zero to be statistically insignificant might have something to do with it (see “laptop screen,” above), but still. I’m not thinking I’m going to stop drinking and two months later be as active as, say, the elderly couples in AARP commercials. But give me something! You would think that if you spent a decade poisoning yourself and then you cut it out there would be some discernible difference. Somebody get me a bowl of ice cream.
5. I’m in no way an alcoholic
I’m glad to know. Alcoholism is a real disease that effects scores of people the world over, and I’m not one of them. After however long developing a drinking habit, it’s been way too easy to be like, “Yeah no thanks” and just drop the whole thing. I don’t think someone with a genuine dependency gets to do that.
Hell, I had four separate Xmas celebrations this year (five if you count the office party). If I can make it through that without a drop, I can do anything. In the last two months I’ve been rejected for mortgages, had to put a dog down, been to shows, had more than a decent share of shit-tastic days — all occasions that would seem to warrant a few beers if not a full sixer — and still, nope. That’s not me bragging. I’m still as much of a wreck and as incapable of dealing with my existence as ever. I just apparently don’t have the illness that makes me drink to cope with it. Thanks, science.
There you have it. I don’t know how AA would feel about this list, but that just what I’ve noticed. And if you take something away from it, take away the fact that even realizing all this crap, I’m still not having a beer. On some level, I think it must be worth it. That, or I really like having the cash. Ha.
Posted in The Numbers on January 31st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I just wanted to take a minute out today to note the fourth anniversary of launching The Obelisk. The time has gone fast. I started this site because I had just gotten semi-laid-off — I’d be fully laid off within days of it going live — and when I put up the first post, I had no idea what it would become or how much of my everyday it would consume. I was like, “Oh, I’ll just put one thing up a day or every other day. Whatever. No big deal.” The fool.
And as I’m noting The Obelisk’s birthday, it seems only fair to single out Slevin and thank him for the last four years of diligent, mostly thankless, certainly without compensation work that he’s put into the site. From helping me that first weekend with registering the domain name and installing WordPress, to designing, putting up and managing the forum, to securing the box that houses the hard drive for The Obelisk Radio and dealing with the flurry of technical issues that have cropped up in the wake of that, Slevin has been dedicated to this site from day negative-one, and I feel lucky to be able to rely on him with issues that otherwise would’ve sunk me before I even started. I wouldn’t be typing this right now without him. Thanks dude.
On a level far less related to CSS customization but still ultimately vital, thanks to The Patient Mrs. for putting up with me talking for the last four years about “having work to do” and then going to post some band’s new video at 10 at night, or being anxious because some review I wanted to write I didn’t get time to write, or having to transcribe an interview, always wanting to listen to someone’s new album at midnight and so forth. I’m not an easy person to be with, and for the life of me I don’t know why she’d bother, but she does and I appreciate it.
Before I started, I said to myself to keep this short, so I’ll end off by thanking you, as always, for reading. I say it a lot, but I’m constantly astounded and humbled by the fact that I can type something up, put it online and someone — even if it’s only one person — gives a crap for what I’m talking about. If you’ve been along for the whole ride (as I know a few of you have), or if you’ve only come aboard recently, I hope you feel welcome here, because you are, and I hope that you continue to find this site useful or entertaining, that you continue to point it out when I screw up, and that you continue to share this passion for music.
I’ve never known what’s coming next with The Obelisk, and I still don’t, but four years later I’m still excited to find out. Thank you for that.