Posted in Features on December 29th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
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:
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
The Sunburst EP by Valley continues to resonate, as do splits from Goya & Wounded Giant and King Buffalo & Lé Betre. plus Derelics‘ Introducing, Time 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.
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 Witches‘ A 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.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 9th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Since Stubb got going in 2007, guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson has been through two complete lineups. The London-based trio most recently said goodbye to bassist/vocalist Peter Holland at a gig in July, and he was the last remaining member from what we’ll call Stubb Mk. II, after the departure of drummer Chris West, who was subsequently replaced by Tom Fyfe. One could say Dickinson, Fyfe and newcomer bassist/vocalist Tom Hobson now comprise StubbMk. III — or Stubb Mk. Tom, depending on how clever you’re feeling — but of course with people coming and going at different times it’s not really as clear as one era into the next. Still, it’s been a kind of rotating cast, though it’s worth pointing out that the material has been of consistent quality, whether it’s their split with Mos Generator (track stream here) or their contribution to Magnetic Eye Records‘ 2015 Hendrix tribute, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix (review here).
Last I saw the new lineup was working on new material as well, so hopefully 2016 brings a third album to follow-up last year’s Cry of the Ocean (review here) for Ripple Music. We’ll see when we get there. Until then, since Holland features in Elephant Tree, I’m sure all kinds of fist-fighting dude drama is bound to go down when the two bands share the stage on Oct. 9 with The Picturebooks headlining, all thrown cabinets and whatnot, since everybody seems to be on such terrible terms. Or, you know, not.
This from the PR wire:
London power-trio STUBB announce UK live dates this October
Heavy psych rockers to play live dates with The Picturebooks & Siena Root next month
STUBB; the heavy rocking London-based power-trio are taking to the stage this October for what promises to be an impressive outing of blistering live performances.
Following the recent release of their split LP The Theory Of Light And Matter with USA rockers Mos Generator (HeviSike Records), and a blinding cover of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ for The Greatest Hits Of James Marshall Hendrix on Magnetic Eye Records, the band are rehearsing their back catalogue and prepping new material before entering into the studio early next year to record their highly anticipated, third full length album for Ripple Music.
With these lives dates the band also kick off a new and exciting chapter in Stubb’s story with the arrival of Tom Hobson, who joins forces with Jack Dickinson (Guitar, Vocals) and Tom Fyfe (Drums) as the band’s new bass player, after the recent departure of Peter Holland.
Live Dates: 9th October – Boston Music Rooms, London with The Picturebooks 15th October – The Exchange, Bristol with Siena Root 16th October – The Black Heart, London with Siena Root
Posted in Reviews on August 24th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Even before you press play on Electric Ladyland [Redux] or its companion piece, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, it’s hard not to admire the coordinating prowess of Magnetic Eye Records in making it all happen. Most people couldn’t corral three bands to put together a single show bill, and the label’s Mike Vitali has wrangled 20 acts from the US and European heavy rock underground to pay homage to Jimi Hendrix in time for what would’ve been the supra-legendary guitarist’s 75th birthday, topped it of with artwork by David Paul Seymour, whose piece for Electric Ladyland [Redux] easily stands among the best covers of 2015, and Caitlin Hackett, whose three-eyed-bird portraiture perfectly suits Hendrix‘s groundbreaking psychedelic blues. Packaged separately on 2CD and 2LP but clearly intended as complements, both tribute collections showcase staggering ambition on the part of the label putting them together, and the fact that Electric Ladyland [Redux] and The Best of James Marshall Hendrix materialized at all is an automatic, unqualified triumph. Here are the full tracklistings:
VA, Electric Ladyland [Redux]
1. Elephant Tree, “…And the Gods Made Love” 01:44
2. Open Hand, “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” 03:01
3. Superchief, “Crosstown Traffic” 03:32
4. All Them Witches, “Voodoo Chile” 14:59
5. Origami Horses, “Little Miss Strange” 03:52
6. The Heavy Eyes, “Long Hot Summer Night” 04:17
7. Earthless, “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” 05:03
8. Wo Fat, “Gypsy Eyes” 04:34
9. Mos Generator, “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” 03:34
10. Gozu, “Rainy Day, Dream Away” 08:07
11. Summoner, “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” 12:56
12. Claymation, “Moon, Turn the Tides… Gently Gently Away” 01:24
13. Mothership, “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” 06:20
14. King Buffalo, “House Burning Down” 04:44
15. Tunga Moln, “All Along the Watchtower” 03:28
16. Elder, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” 07:08
VA, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix
1. Child, “In from the Storm” 04:57
2. Elephant Tree, “Manic Depression” 04:10
3. Wo Fat, “Machine Gun” 12:49
4. Stubb, “Little Wing” 04:18
5. Rosy Finch, “Foxy Lady” 05:17
6. Geezer, “Little Miss Lover” 04:50
7. Wo Fat, “Gypsy Eyes (Extended)” 07:13
As I said, staggering. Even more so in the case of Electric Ladyland [Redux], since not only do the usual comp and tribute album concerns apply of getting everything together and turning it into a cohesive listening experience, but also because in paying homage to a full-length album specifically, it’s also pivotal that Electric Ladyland [Redux] flows front to back whilebeing comprised of 16 separate recordings taking place in 16 separate studios with 16 separate performances andtreading on some of rock and roll’s most sacred, pivotal ground. Covering Hendrix? Unless you’re Stevie Ray Vaughan — and hell, even if you are — it’s a tricky proposition for one song, let alone a full record. It’s like someone asked Magnetic Eye if they wanted to go mountain biking and the label built a rocket, went to Mars, terraformed the planet and then decided to tackle Olympus Mons, on a Huffy.
Okay, an exaggeration, but you take my meaning. And Electric Ladyand [Redux] mostly succeeds in its decidedly Herculean mission. There are one or two changes that come across choppy — an early one in the jump from the groovy vibes of Elephant Tree and Open Hand into the burlier Superchief, who give an able showing of what they do but ultimately feel out of place — but on the whole, it’s hard to argue with the results as they’re presented throughout, whether it’s King Buffalo‘s dreamy “House Burning Down” or groups making the material their own, like Wo Fat‘s “Gypsy Eyes,” Summoner‘s re-envisioned “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” and Gozu‘s adventurous “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” which leads off the second CD of the collection after Mos Generator‘s “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” finds the Washington-based act showing the roots of their own approach to landmark hooks, as do Mothership with their “Still Raining, Still Dreaming.”
Hearing Earthless with vocals is something of a surprise, and their take on “Come on (Let the Good Times Roll)” (an Earl King cover) not only is true to their Hendrix influence, but is a decided showcase of just how influential they’ve been on the West Coast underground — there are a good number of bands out there striving to sound like Earthless covering Jimi Hendrix — and having Swedish rockers Tunga Moln perform “All Along the Watchtower” in their native language puts an unexpected spin on arguably Electric Ladyland‘s most recognizable piece. All Them Witches are right in their element jamming on “Voodoo Chile,” and Elder do justice to the album’s closer in their “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” capping the tribute with one last highlight to round out the many before it.
There are several acts who reappear on The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, including Wo Fat and Elephant Tree, but as the latter only had the intro “…And the Gods Made Love” to lead off Electric Ladyland [Redux], it seems fair enough. In the case of Texas fuzz forerunners Wo Fat, I’m not at all going to fight with their extended jam on “Gypsy Eyes” as it closes out The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, and their 12:49 run through “Machine Gun” suits just as well. Leading off the companion tribute are Australian blues rockers Child, who give “In from the Storm” due soul and sway, and after Elephant Tree‘s “Manic Depression” and Wo Fat‘s “Machine Gun,” hearing Stubb take on the sweet melodies of “Little Wing” couldn’t be more perfect, especially leading into Rosy Finch‘s stomping “Foxy Lady,” which in turn gives way to Geezer‘s “Little Miss Lover,” coated in wah and right in the New York band’s wheelhouse, even as it gives way to a deconstructing long-form fadeout.
Wo Fat‘s extended “Gypsy Eyes” picks up from that silence with a bonus track-style vibe, but really, both releases feel like a bonus the whole time through. There are some variances in sound and style and some bands are more suited to the source material than others, but the effort that has been put into Electric Ladyland [Redux] and The Best of James Marshall Hendrix and the passion that bleeds from every second of each of these tracks are simply inarguable. It may be preaching to the choir to have heavy rock and psych bands covering Hendrix tracks, but the vibe throughout both of these tribute comps is much more of a genre paying homage to one of its founders who, sadly, didn’t live long enough to see the generation-spanning impact of his work realized. Equally admirable in mission and execution.
Posted in Whathaveyou on May 22nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Pressed in a total edition of 400 copies, the new split between Mos Generator and Stubb, titled The Theory of Light and Matter, is available now to preorder from HeviSike Records. The release (track stream here) will be out next month in time to coincide with Mos Generator‘s upcoming European tour dates, and will be available in either black/red marble or white vinyl, sold with an included download. Stubb have gigs coming up supporting The Midnight Ghost Train and Siena Root, while Mos Generator will spend the summer on the road with Elder after hitting the East Coast again for the Eye of the Stoned Goat fest on June 13.
Band : Mos Generator, Stubb Title : The Theory of Light and Matter Label : HeviSike Records Catalog ref. : HVSK-1207 Format : Vinyl HVSK-1208 Mos Generator // Stubb – The Theory of Light & Matter
– Limited Edition with OBI Strip –
Two of the most exciting power trios combine forces to deliver a split album on HeviSike Records. Washington, USA stoner rock titans MOS GENERATOR explore a more progressive territory akin to their 2005 album ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’. London, England three-piece STUBB who are well known for their high-energy blues-rock demonstrate their more experimental side.
MOS GENERATOR have built a dedicated following through a heavy touring schedule and releasing consistently top quality music. The band’s 2015 schedule includes tours of both West Coast and East Coast, USA before visiting Europe on a 33 date European summer tour in support of ELDER. 2014 saw the Port Orchard trio release their opus ‘Electric Mountain Majesty’ (Listenable Records).
STUBB are familiar to the European touring circuit having made numerous appearances at events such as Freak Valley and Desertfest and have shared a stage alongside heavyweight contemporaries such as Earthless, Gentlemans Pistols, Sungrazer and The Machine. The London trio recently released their second LP ‘Cry of The Ocean’ (2014, Ripple Music) to critical acclaim.
Available as a strictly limited edition vinyl LP and digital download, THE THEORY OF LIGHT & MATTER is an essential purchase for fans of heavy psychedelic rock. Mastered specifically for vinyl. Cover art by Harley & J. 150 copies Red/Black Marbled (HeviSike Exclusive), 250 White (Band and Distribution)
Pressing Details: 150 Copies – Black/Red Marbled – HeviSike Records Exclusive 250 Copies – White vinyl (For distribution, only 30 copies available here) Total press: 400 copies Artwork by Harley & J Contains OBI Strip with all information Mastered specifically for vinyl
PRE-ORDER: Friday 22nd May 2015 RELEASE DATE: Monday 22nd June 2015
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.
I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.
Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.
The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.
A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.
Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.
His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”
An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.
I initially made this list without Alunah‘s excellent third album and Napalm Records, but when it came down to it, not having the UK four-piece on here haunted me to the point where I had to come back in and swap them out with somebody else. Just couldn’t live with myself for not giving this record its due, which, to be frank, I’m still not since it should be higher on the list than it is. At least it’s here though, so the mistake is somewhat corrected.
The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.
Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.
Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.
Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.
Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.
Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.
For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.
You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.
Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.
Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.
14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower
Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.
An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.
What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.
My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which Graham, Alley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow Season, The Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.
10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.
Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew Giacumakis — Fu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”
Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.
Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.
A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.
What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.
A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angelsthat brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.
In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ Skyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.
Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.
Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.
Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend — YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.
First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.
A few other honorable mentions:
Mothership, Mothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.
Sólstafir, Ótta — They were originally on the list proper but had to be moved to make room for Alunah. I didn’t really get to know this record in 2014 anyway.
Ice Dragon, Seeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.
Truckfighters, Universe — I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.
Steak, Slab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.
Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.
Thou, Heathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.
Corrosion of Conformity, IX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.
Spidergawd, Spidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.
Slomatics, Estron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.
Electric Wizard, Time to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.
Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.
The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.
Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.
More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.
And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.
At best, this stuff is a crapshoot. Until something’s just about in your hand, you never really know when or if it’s going to come out. But they’re fun, and it’s exciting to think of good music being released, so you do it anyway. On the whole, I don’t think I did that badly between the two lists. Of course there was stuff that wasn’t anticipated — Colour Haze‘s new album, To the Highest Gods We Know, walks by and waves en route to its Dec. 15 release date — but for what we got, it worked out well.
That’s the general overview, but because I hold myself to a standard of accountability more rigorous than, say, my nation’s torture-happy secret police, here’s a full rundown of the list as it was, now (as then), presented alphabetically and with the titles listed as they were at the time:
42 of 2014’s Most Anticipated Albums — REVISITED!
1. Acid King, TBA: Word is Acid King‘s first in 10 years was mastered last month and will be out in Feb. 2015 on Svart.
2. Alcest, Shelter: Was way less post-black metal than their prior stuff, and I think it threw a lot of people off. Not a bad record (review here), but worked against lofty expectations.
3. All Them Witches, TBA: I remember including this because they said they were going back into the studio. Turned out they were recording the Effervescent EP/jam (review here). No regrets.
4. Alunah, TBA: Their new one was their Napalm Records debut, Awakening the Forest (review here). It was awesome. Score one for the list.
5. Blackwolfgoat, Drone Maintenance: Yeah, it was cheating to include this since I was there when it was recorded. Still a killer record though.
7. Conan, Blood Eagle: What does complete dominance sound like? Sounds like Conan to me.
8. Eggnogg, You’re all Invited: Was dying to hear what the Brooklyn trio came up with. No word on it yet.
9. Elder, Live at Roadburn 2013: Still don’t have a copy of this. Maybe I can pick one up when I get their forthcoming third studio album, Lore, out early next year.
10. 40 Watt Sun, TBA: More like “MIA” than TBA. Anyone heard from these guys?
11. The Golden Grass, TBA: Their self-titled debut (review here) was one of the finest first-albums I heard all year.
12. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes: Any Greenleaf is a treat. Trails and Passes (review here) was no exception.
13. Grifter, The Return of the Bearded Brethren: Solid follow-up (review here). Grifter‘s humor and lack of pretense serves them well.
14. Hull, TBA: Well, they had the Legend of the Swamp Goat single (review here) to coincide with their Euro tour. Waiting on the album.
15. Lowrider, TBA: I wouldn’t mind if this materialized right now. Or now. Or now. Or 2015. Or 2016.
16. The Machine, TBA: Might’ve jumped the gun on this. Hopefully in 2015.
17. Mars Red Sky, TBA: Easily one of the year’s best records. Stranded in Arcadia (review here) continues to get regular spins.
18. Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty: A highlight of early 2014. Darker record (review here), but inarguable songwriting.
19. Mr. Peter Hayden, Archdimension Now: Fitting end to their trilogy and hopefully not their last outing.
20. Pallbearer, TBA: Their Foundations of Burden has topped year-end lists already. It’s still on my desktop. I’ve barely listened to it.
21. Papir, IIII: Very, very good. They seem to be developing, but IIII (review here) was a satisfying chronicle.
22. Pilgrim, TBA: Can’t say II: Void Worship (review here) wasn’t a win for the band since they did a month on the road with Spirit Caravan. Maybe overshadowed by more recent stuff, but a quality record.
23. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt: Their incendiary heavy blues was in top form on Magical Dirt (review here). Glad I got to see them live once or twice (or 18 times) as well this year.
24. Sigiriya, Darkness Died Today: Also residing on my desktop. A vocalist switch caught me off guard and I feel like I still haven’t given it a fair shot.
25. Sixty Watt Shaman, TBA: Really? I had Sixty Watt on the list? That seems ambitious. No doubt they’ll have something new eventually, but that was a pretty high expectation it would be out this year.
26. Skraeckoedlan, Gigantos: If this came out, no one told me. Seems like not yet.
27. The Skull, TBA: A stunner. As much as I looked forward to it, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) exceeded the excitement.
28. Sleep, TBA: Included as wishful thinking. Their The Clarity single (review here) was something to celebrate.
29. Slough Feg, Digital Resistance: I was really looking forward to this one. Kind of fell off with Digital Resistance (review here) after a while. Hard to argue with Slough Feg though.
30. Snail, Feral: Waiting on it for 2015.
31. Steak, TBA: The London four-piece followed two strong EPs with Slab City(review here), as heartfelt a showing of desert rock loyalty as I’ve heard.
Damn, this was a long list.
32. Stubb, TBA: I had my doubts it would arrive, but Stubb‘s Ripple Music debut, Cry of the Ocean (review here), found welcome when it did.
33. SunnO))) & Ulver, Terrestrials: One of two collaborations SunnO))) would have out in 2014. Heard a lot about it at the beginning of the year. Less now.
34. Tombs, Savage Gold: Good band, doing interesting stuff. I have a hard time transitioning from appreciating it to actually being a fan.
35. Triptykon, Melana Chasmata: Sorry, but when Tom G. Warrior puts out a record, you hop to. I didn’t review it to save myself having to buy a copy, but dug it anyway.
36. Truckfighters, Universe: I feel like this one picked up steam as the year went on. I didn’t go back to it as much as its predecessor, but Universe (review here) was a logical next step for them.
37. Valley of the Sun, Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk: Nothing to complain about with the Ohio three-piece’s debut (review here) or the effort they put into supporting it throughout the year.
38. Weedeater, TBA: Nope. At least I knew it at the time.
39. Wolves in the Throne Room, TBA: Surprised a lot of people when Celestite (review here) was a companion piece for their last record instead of a new album proper, myself included.
40. The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum: 2014 was quite a year for doom, and The Wounded Kings were right there at the start. This lineup may be gone, but Consolamentum (review here) holds up.
41. Yawning Man, Gravity is Good for You: Rumor is guitarist Gary Arce has a few projects in the works for next year. Not sure if this is one of them or not.
42. YOB, TBA: We certainly know how this worked out, don’t we? If the votes in the Readers Poll are anything to go by, yes. Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here) was a landmark, and this won’t be the last year-end list around here on which YOB make a showing.
The list from July had a few winners on it as well — Apostle of Solitude, Blues Pills, Bongripper, Brant Bjork, Earth, Lo-Pan, The Well, Witch Mountain, etc. — but I think we’ve probably got enough as it is.
With the year starting to wind down, I’ll be putting together my Top 30 Albums of 2014 in the next week or so. Please keep an eye out for that, and thanks for reading.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Tomorrow here in the US it is Thanksgiving, which has some questionable origins but in practice is actually one of our less-abominable holidays, with a focus on togetherness, good food, and enjoying the company of loved ones. Today, the day before, is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year while people get to wherever they’re going. Even if you don’t manage to find it until after the holiday is over, it seemed only fitting to make a new podcast so that anyone who might want to take it along for the ride would be able to do so.
My head has started to get into year-end wrap-up mode, so don’t be surprised if one or two or three of these bands show up in subsequent “Best Of” coverage. Maybe even four, looking at the list. It’s been a crazy good year, and as it starts to wind its way down and we make our way into the next one, I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to these podcasts and hopefully discovered something you wouldn’t have heard otherwise. That’s really the whole idea.
If you’re traveling by road, rail, or air, I wish you a pleasant journey, and even if you’re staying put, the same applies.
Stubb, “Heavy Blue Sky” from Cry of the Ocean
Murcielago, “Way too Far” from Murcielago
Dune, “Of Blade and Carapace” from Aurora Majesty
The Skull, “Send Judas Down” from For Those Which are Asleep
Elephant Tree, “Attack of the Altaica” from Theia
Renate/Cordate, “Laudanum” from Growth
Mothership, “Serpents Throne” from Mothership II
Space Guerrilla, “Event Horizon” from Boundless
Monster Magnet, “End of Time (B-3)” from Milking the Stars
Memnon Sa, “Megalith” from Citadel
Soldat Hans, “Meine Liebste; Sie Zerbricht Sich” from Dress Rehearsal
Atavismo, “Meeh” from Desintegración
Øresund Space Collective, “Remnants of the Barbonaeum” from Music for Pogonologists
Posted in Reviews on November 24th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
If you heard Stubb‘s 2012 self-titled Superhot Records debut (review here), then there are two things to know about the newly-released Ripple Music follow-up Cry of the Ocean: It’s more complex in style and emotion, and it has more of a full-album feel. I will not take anything away from the first Stubb record. Songs like “Scale the Mountain” and “Road” and “Soul Mover” and so on continue to resonate, as does the subsequent 7″ single, Under a Spell (review here), it’s just that guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist/backing vocalist Peter Holland (also Trippy Wicked and Elephant Tree) and new drummer Tom Fyfe have branched out stylistically from where they started. This is a positive for the band since progress hasn’t come at the expense of songwriting. At just under 39 minutes, the Skyhammer Studios-recorded Cry of the Ocean is a little longer than its predecessor, but none of that time feels wasted, whether it’s the late guitar-led jams in the closing duo of “Snake Eyes” and “You’ll Never Know,” or the Colour Haze-esque interplay of waves and standalone guitar that begin the two-part opening title-track. Rather, while Stubb have clearly become a more patient act — a credit to the time they’ve spent on stage the last couple years — their sound has only gotten richer for it. Dickinson‘s guitar tone, which is as much a draw to Cry of the Ocean as its entrancing shoreline cover art, drives this fluidity across the eight included tracks, and a flow pervades throughout the album’s two halves that stands as further evidence of their growth. The self-titled did a lot of work in establishing Stubb as a band to be taken seriously, and Cry of the Ocean succeeds in building off of those accomplishments as its sets out in its own direction.
Stubb are indebted to classic heavy rock without being retro and they nod at heavy psych on Cry of the Ocean without wading too deep in those waters. Rather than seeming noncommittal, though, the effect is that Stubb retain the penchant for hooks that made their first outing such a joy. “Cry of the Ocean Pt. 1” makes waves of its verses — “And in my mind I break loose/And in my mind I break free…” — and opens to one of the record’s first standout choruses with the lines, “Hear the cry of the ocean, baby/As washes over me.” It is a more brooding sentiment than one might’ve expected, but Dickinson sells the emotion confidently and Stubb prove early they’re more than able to pull off the turn, “Cry of the Ocean Pt. 1” giving way to “Cry of the Ocean Pt. 2,” a two-minute soulful, handclap-laden singalong that asks, “Are you free? Are you free to believe?/Free to be who you wanted to be?” The transition between the two parts is seamless, and the songs remain individually distinct, it sets up the across-album flow that will continue for most of Cry of the Ocean, with Holland and Fyfe setting up a swinging groove behind a guitar solo that adds distinction to what’s intended as a one-riff progression. “Heavy Blue Sky,” which follows, is likewise open-toned and likewise moody, but Dickinson brings lead-work forward early and with a confident, well-balanced vocal, carries the song, less based around its hook than the title cut but still memorable both for its riff and languid, swaying groove, which is held onto for the duration in a way that demonstrates the band’s patience and serves the album for the better. There’s plenty of time to blow doors off with the more fuzzed “Sail Forever,” the nod of which is immediate and which works its way smoothly toward one of Cry of the Ocean‘s best choruses, raw and classically-styled, but heavy and efficient as well, Fyfe‘s snare cutting through Dickinson‘s solo near the halfway mark.
I’m not sure where the side A/B change is. Track-wise, it’s possible to be even on both sides, but in terms of time, one’s bound to be longer than the other. For what it’s worth, the acoustic “Heartbreaker” fits well coming out of “Sail Forever,” giving Cry of the Ocean its most contemplative moment and fitting with the bluesy interpersonal thematic at play in several of the songs. A sweet, folkish guitar line at the center furthers the overarching complexity, minimal-but-still-there drums retaining movement and adding class as Dickinson and Holland come together effectively on vocals in the chorus. Some harder snare hits in the second half tell of the pickup to come, but like “Heavy Blue Sky” never lost sight of its intent, “Heartbreaker” retains its acoustic basis even in its payoff, which is more satisfying considering how easy it would’ve been for the band to layer in a wall of fuzz. That also leaves “Devil’s Brew” tasked as the wake-up call, to which its unabashed catchiness is well suited, vocals following the winding bounce of the riff in “woo-oooh” fashion and a faster, more insistent rhythm emerging. It’s quick hook, but perfectly placed on the record between the acoustic “Heartbreaker” and subsequent “Snake Eyes,” a return to a simpler heavy rock feel between excursions elsewhere and a landmark for Cry of the Ocean‘s second half. Both “Snake Eyes” (7:01) and “You’ll Never Know” (the longest track at 7:14) are more complex, but still fit with the proceedings. Holland comes to the fore vocally in the chorus of “Snake Eyes” and there’s a Hammond organ guest spot from Mos Generator‘s Tony Reed, who also mixed and mastered the album, and Dickinson saves his most impressive soloing for the closer, but the two essentially work from the same structure, moving from early verse/chorus tradeoffs into consuming power trio jams.
It’s a fitting way to end Cry of the Ocean, the layers of high-end interweaving on “You’ll Never Know” with a considerable foundation in Fyfe‘s drums and Holland‘s bass, a final effects swirl underscoring the point of how far Stubb have come in just two years’ time. Clearly they’re a unit with a firm sense of what works for them, and the boldness with which they expand those parameters on Cry of the Ocean only makes it easier to be a fan. If you heard the first record, the progress here will impress. But even if Cry of the Ocean is your first exposure to Stubb, their level of songwriting, natural tones and heavy roll seem ready to find favor at a moment’s notice.