Friday Full-Length: Sungrazer, Mirador

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 16th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Sungrazer, Mirador (2011)

About a decade ago, The Atomic Bitchwax wrote a song called “The Passenger” which featured the lines, “I always thought you’d come around/Realize where your home really was…” and went on to talk about filling the space with fuzz. When it comes to certain bands calling it quits, “Realize where your home really was” continues to ring in my head. I guess that, since they broke up in 2013, I figured that the three members of Netherlands-based heavy psych rockers Sungrazer would spend the next however many years working their way back to each other. Different projects would come and go, whatever personality or creative conflicts that might have been insurmountable at the time would fall by the wayside, seen at last for how minute they actually were in comparison to the special collaboration between the three of them. Eventually, one way or another, Sungrazer would get back together.

I’ll allow this was a fan’s denial. Between 2010’s Sungrazer (review here) and 2011’s Mirador (review here), I had them pegged as the forerunners of the next generation of European fuzz. The band who could take the lessons of Colour Haze and maybe push even further into something new, turning influence into something truly individual and thus becoming an influence in their own right. When they disbanded after 2013’s split with The Machine (review here), it was hard not to feel like there was potential going to waste. Here was a band who, already so clearly with something special to offer, could have done so much more just blatantly refusing to do it.

It was heartbreaking to learn earlier this week about the passing of former Sungrazer guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets. Genuinely, and not just because I dug the band he used to play in or the band he went on to play in afterward (that being Cigale). I don’t know what Smeets‘ circumstances were, but it’s almost too easy to read into, which is an impulse I’ve been trying all week, mostly unsuccessfully, to fight against.

And so, we close out the week with Mirador, the second and final full-length from Sungrazer. There was really no other choice, and to be honest, I haven’t put on much else since Tuesday. I remember getting a review copy of Mirador and listening to it in the morning a lot, even after I wrote it up, and though I wasn’t even really done yet with the self-titled — still not, as it happens — I recall thinking what a huge step forward it was for Smeets, bassist/vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders. How they had managed to develop so much chemistry between them in just a year’s time, how natural they sounded, and how fluid the whole experience of hearing it was, from the ultra-catchy “Sea” into the progressive harmonies of “Behind,” the molten explorations of “Mirador” itself and the playful spirit of “34 and More.” Between these and the early patience established on opener “Wild Goose,” the fade-in of which seems to pick up right from where the debut left off, the instrumental “Octo,” and “Goldstrike,” which is like the gateway to the expanses to come, Mirador remains four years later an album that stands out as a high point in the style. In light of Smeets‘ passing, it seems even more precious, and we should be all the more grateful to have it.

The loss is bigger than we can know. I’ve already expressed my condolences to family, friends and bandmates, but again: Heel veel sterkte. Gecondoleerd.

I think we’ll leave it there for the week. Thanks for reading. Forum and radio.

Tags: , , , ,

R.I.P. Rutger Smeets of Sungrazer and Cigale

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 13th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

rutger smeets (photo by JJ Koczan)

Rutger Smeets, 1977-2015

It is with shock and sadness that confirmation comes of the death of Rutger Smeets, former guitarist and vocalist of heavy psych trio Sungrazer.

As the frontman of the Netherlands-based Sungrazer, Smeets was at the fore of one of Europe’s brightest hopes for next-generation heavy psych. Together with bassist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders, he released two full-length albums through Stefan Koglek of Colour Haze’s Elektrohasch imprint — Sungrazer (2010) and Mirador (2011) — that showcased progression and seemingly limitless potential through natural vibes, his warm guitar tone and laid back but richly melodic vocals. At festivals like Roadburn 2011, Desertfest London and Berlin in 2012, Sungrazer amassed a considerable fanbase that set them up to pay off all their potential with a significant impact on the genre. They were a special band, and all one had to do was listen to their records to hear it.

Following a 2013 split with countrymen The Machine, Sungrazer unexpectedly called it quits, with Smeets announcing his departure from the band in a short, almost terse post on social media. Earlier this year, he made his debut alongside Mulders in the new outfit Cigale, which despite a folkier and even-more pastoral approach found him contributing many of the same elements that made Sungrazer so special to begin with. Cigale’s 2015 self-titled is one of the best first-albums of the year. No word has been announced on the band’s future plans, but they played Desertfest Berlin this past spring, and if it was slow-going, their arrival meant that both fans of Sungrazer and others would have a new and engaging way to experience Smeets’ work.

On behalf of myself, someone who interviewed Smeets, admired his output and respected the distinctive feel he brought to what’s so often simple imitation — and on behalf of this site — condolences to the family, friends and bandmates current or former. Once more this community is brought together by a devastating loss and reminded of how important we are to each other.

I’ve heard no word of a fundraiser or anything like that being set up for Smeets’ family, but when/if I do, obviously this post will be updated with that information.


Tags: , , , ,

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 EPs, Demos and Singles of 2013

Posted in Features on January 2nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’ve been trying to get this one on the page for a couple weeks now — really since last year if you want to go back that far — and I finally just decided to do it. Granted, it’s already 2014, but I’m pretty used to being behind the times, so I hope you’ll indulge me on this one.

The thing is, of course we already did the Top 20 Albums of 2013, but that leaves an awful lot out in terms of quality shorter releases. Demos, singles, EPs, splits — whatever it might be — there’s a lot more to the story of a year in music than who’s putting out what full-length. That might be true now more than ever, with digital releases and artists having the ability to more or less give a song-by-song feed of new material should they so choose. Since this is the first time I’ve done this list, I’ve kept the presentation pretty basic, but there’s a lot to dig into here anyway in terms of the quality of the music and what people were able to accomplish in, in some cases, just one or two tracks.

My basis for judgment here is basically the same as with the full-albums list, and by that I mean how much I listened to something played a huge role, and it’s not just how important I think an EP or a split or a demo was that got it included on this list — though of course that stuff matters as well. Like spelling, repeat listens count. And it goes without saying these are my picks and have nothing to do with the Readers Poll, the results of which are here.

Okay, let’s do this:

The Top 20 Short Releases of 2013

1. The Machine/Sungrazer, Split
2. Dozer, Vultures
3. Mars Red Sky, Be My Guide
4. Black Thai, Seasons of Might
5. Wo Fat/Egypt, Cyclopean Riffs Split 12″
6. Young Hunter, Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain
7. Shroud Eater, Dead Ends
8. Steak, Corned Beef Colossus
9. Geezer, Gage
10. The Golden Grass, One More Time b/w Tornado 7″
11. Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, Underground
12. King Buffalo, Demo
13. Groan, Ride the Snake
14. Crypt Sermon, Demo MMXIII
15. Stubb, Under a Spell b/w Bullets Rain 7″
16. Salem’s Pot, Watch Me Kill You Tape
17. Undersmile/Coma Wall, Wood and Wire Split
18. Second Grave, Antithesis
19. Sinister Haze, Demo
20. Olde Growth, Owl

Honorable mention has to go to the Fatso Jetson/Yawning Man split, C.O.C.‘s Megalodon EP, which was right on but which I didn’t really hear enough to include. The Gates of Slumber‘s Stormcrow as well.

Just a couple notes: In the case of Olde Growth, putting them last was actually more about not being sure when the official release date of Owl was than anything else. I actually listened to that quite a bit, and “Tears of Blood” remains my favorite work of the duo’s to date. In terms of demos, it was a good year for doom debuts, with Crypt Sermon and Sinister Haze both showing some malevolent classicism, and King Buffalo‘s demo grew on me almost immediately upon hearing it and right away made me look forward to whatever might come next from them.

I was a little hesitant to put a split in the number one spot, but The Machine‘s riff for “Awe” alone made it necessary. I’ve kept this disc on my person for almost the entire year and continue to have no regrets in doing so. For Dozer, yeah, it was a collection of older material, but I still enjoyed the crap out of it. Both Mars Red Sky and Black Thai signaled considerable creative growth in four-song EPs, and the Wo Fat and Egypt split more than lived up to its mission. The riff lives in bands like that, and as we get further into stylistic nuance and subgenre development, it’s those groups who are holding on to the Heavy.

Young Hunter are one of the most promising bands I’ve heard in the last three years. Flat out. Killer release. Ditto that in a much different context for Shroud Eater, whose take on heavy only got more sinister and more effective with Dead Ends. Steak emerge as tops among the five British bands — a quarter of the list! — here. Their Corned Beef Colossus also had the best title I heard all year, and though Trippy Wicked, Groan, Stubb, and Undersmile/Coma Wall (the latter earning bonus points for putting out a split with themselves) all thrilled, Steak‘s potential got them that spot. Time for a full-length, guys.

Not to leave out New York — though the geographical alignment is a coincidence — Geezer‘s Gage tapped into a jammier feel that I thought suited the band remarkably well, and The Golden Grass‘ debut single offered one of the most charming irony-free good times I’ve heard in a long while. The Salem’s Pot cassette was one of my most-listened-to tapes this year, last mentioned but not at all least, Second Grave‘s Antithesis probably would’ve clocked in higher if I’d had more time with it, but was definitely one I wanted to put in here anyway.

As I said, a lot of really astounding shorter outings, and worthy of attention in their own right. If I missed anything, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You’ll be Missed: Sungrazer

Posted in Features on December 30th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

For a while there, it was looking like Sungrazer were the future of fuzz. No shit. After I heard their Mirador album in 2011 (review here), I was all set and in fact did on several occasions count them as one of the brightest hopes in the European heavy psych scene, all the more so as they were brought forth with the endorsement of Elektrohasch Schallplatten, the imprint founded by Stefan Koglak of Colour Haze. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets, bassist/vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders released a split earlier in 2013 with like-minded Dutch trio The Machine (review here) to mark their “Strikes and Gutters” tour together, and then Sungrazer were supposed to play Duna Jam, and Smeets quit. That’s how it went. Here’s his post from Thee Facebooks on June 4:

Dear all,
After having played many years with Sungrazer with great joy I have come to the conclusion that there’s no more future in this band for me. That’s why I quit Sungrazer and so, unfortunately, I can’t come to DunaJam. I’m sorry about this and I want to thank you for the great moments we shared.

In the months that have followed, there hasn’t been much more said about it than that. Nothing, actually. It’s hard enough to replace any member of a trio without creating an entirely new group dynamic, so I guess Haagmans and Mulders decided without Smeets that was it. It was one of 2013’s biggest bummer breakups, and more so since after their future-classic 2010 self-titled debut (review here), Mirador had expanded their sound into even jammier, more naturalistic vibing, so that cuts like “Mirador” and “Sea” and “Behind” seemed to emerge from a glorious overarching wash of tonal warmth. The self-titled had that as well, and “Zero Zero,” “Common Believer,” “If,” “Somo” and “Mountain Dusk” were even more distinct on their own, so that as much as the record worked as a whole, individual songs flourished as well.

I was fortunate enough to see them twice, first at Roadburn 2011 and then again at London Desertfest 2012, and they’d only gotten better as a unit. It’s always strange to write about a band who’ve decided to hang it up, first because you never know if they’ll get back together, and second because no band breakup has ever proven to be the end of the world, but Sungrazer had a special sound that was increasingly their own, their songs had a character that was their own, and of all the heavy psych to come out of the European heavy underground over the last half-decade or so, theirs showed a quick mastery of creating a peaceful feel with heavy tones. Particularly after the split with The Machine, which brought forth three new tracks in “Dopo,” “Yo La Tengo” and the wonderfully atmospheric “Flow through a Good Story,” my hopes had been high for their third album. Everything seemed to be on track.

That was the real kicker of it — the surprise factor. Some breakups stick, some don’t. I’d hope Sungrazer‘s falls into the latter category, but it’s not something I’ll attempt to predict either way. Late in 2012, Haagmans released an EP under the moniker The Whims of the Great Magnet, and a full lineup of the band with him on guitar and vocals made its live debut on Dec. 19, 2013, in Maastricht. Smeets seems to be playing with the new outfit Cigale (though they haven’t posted an official lineup or band pics as of now), who just released their first audio teaser, and I’m not sure if Mulders has a new project going or has joined another band or what, but it’s hard to imagine a psychedelic drummer of his caliber won’t resurface somewhere down the line if he hasn’t.

And since the best case scenario for any disbanding is output from players’ new projects, at least there’s that to take comfort in, though Sungrazer left a considerable void when their wall of fuzz fell.

Sungrazer, “If” official video

Sungrazer on Thee Facebooks

The Whims of the Great Magnet on Thee Facebooks

Cigale on Thee Facebooks

Tags: , , , , ,

Various Artists, Kept in a Cave Vol. 1: The European Union of Fuzz

Posted in Reviews on May 10th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I don’t know how many times I’ve said so – probably at least once for each time I’ve actually brought myself to do it – but I hate reviewing compilations. For most of them, there’s no flow between the tracks, being that it’s different artists, different recordings and sometimes different genres, and even when you get a gem, a non-album track or something like that, there’s no real context for being able to enjoy it, because once it’s over, you’re swept abruptly off to the next thing. Most of the enjoyment I get out of them is in hindsight, years later, when that non-album track is legitimately rare and hard to track down, or the alternate version has never appeared anywhere, or when the comp itself has built up some mystique as a landmark moment – those are even fewer and farther between, but it happens sometimes – either for an artist or the genre. Even if they’re alright to listen to, reviewing them is terrible. You’re either promoting the release outright – “hey, these people are doing good work and you should spend your money on it” – or doing little more than listing the bands involved – “this comp is cool because it has so-and-so involved and they do this song, whereas this band does another song,” and so on. I’ve never been able to find a middle ground in comp reviews and while I do genuinely think there are people out there putting in significant effort to promote artists they believe in, the pain in my ass that reviewing a compilation becomes is enough that I generally try to avoid it as much as possible.

So this is the part where, post-disclaimer, I tell you the case is wholly different with Kept in a Cave, Vol. 1, the 13-track mining operation of Europe’s heavy underground undertaken by, right? Sort of. Kept in a Cave certainly gets a flow going, thanks in part to the similarities in fuzz and jam-minded process of the bands that make up its midsection – Sungrazer into The:Egocentrics into Been Obscene into Electric Moon works rather well and with a healthy dose of Elektrohasch and Elektrohasch-style heavy, there’s not much room for stuff to be out of place – but I still find myself in the position of wanting either to run through the tracklist or just promote it because I respect the effort on their behalf in making the release and its four-panel digipak with giant-mantis artwork happen. To counteract the first, here’s the rundown of artists and songs in its entirety, taken directly off the back of the package:

1. Grandloom, “Larry Fairy” (7:07)
2. Under Brooklyn Palms, “Restlessness” (6:20)
3. Mars Red Sky, “Sadaba” (5:07)
4. Kosmic Elephant, “Bloot Pilot” (6:38)
5. Sungrazer, “Wild Goose” (5:19)
6. The:Egocentrics, “Lost and Found” (4:54)
7. Been Obscene, “Endless Scheme” (6:55)
8. Electric Moon, “Triptriptrip” (8:45)
9. Samsara Blues Experiment, “Hangin’ on the Wire” (5:30)
10. Stonehenge, “Concrete Krieger” (7:36)
11. The Machine, “5 & 4” (6:14)
12. DxBxSx, “Problemkind” (2:16)
13. Sahara Surfers, “Gas” (6:00)

All this adds up to a 79-minute front-to-back listen, about as much as a single-CD will hold. Of the included artists, Sungrazer, Been Obscene, The Machine and DxBxSx are signed to Elektrohasch, and certainly familiar acts like Mars Red Sky, Samsara Blues Experiment and Electric Moon fit aesthetically with that fuzzy, jammy sound as well, so though it’s long, Kept in a Cave makes for a decent listen if you’re going to take it on as a whole, put it on for a party – I’m told music at parties is something human beings do – or whathaveyou, and even the likes of Grandloom, Under Brooklyn Palms (who, yes, are German), Kosmic Elephant, Stonehenge and Sahara Surfers fit on a sonic level. Nothing here is really out of place and obvious consideration has been given to how one song is met by the next – for emphasis, I’ll cite putting the punkier DxBxSx as the second-to-last cut, giving a short burst of energy after the fuzzfests preceding – so the project becomes even more admirable.

Read more »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Machine & Sungrazer, Split CD: Flowing through Slipface

Posted in Reviews on April 30th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

The Machine and Sungrazer have a lot in common. Both are three-piece bands. Both hail from the Netherlands. Both are signed to Elekrohasch, and both specialize in a densely-fuzzed kind of heavy psych, born out of a healthy affection for Fu Manchu-via-Colour Haze tube-bursting idolatry. They share parts but not the whole of an aesthetic in this, and both represent a jam-minded outgrowth of the European underground, even as they continue to craft memorable songs in balance with an open feel. For The Machine, who come from Rotterdam, their 2012 full-length, Calmer than You Are (review here), unveiled a distinct progression in their sound, taking the vibes of their three prior offerings and solidifying them into something more completely the band’s own, moving past some of the Colour Haze-ing and into a guitar-led groovefest, varying in its drive but never without movement. Released a few months earlier, Sungrazer‘s 2011 sophomore outing, Mirador (review here), was as brilliant as it was dreamy. A follow-up to their also-stellar self-titled debut, it build on the ultra-warm tonality of the first album and pushed further into a sunny, jammed laconic semi-consciousness, keeping a sense of exploration in songs that even through that remained catchy and engaging, not at all indulgent sounding where they shouldn’t have been. It’s not necessarily surprising that the two acts would team up for a tour, which they did earlier this year, calling it “Strikes and Gutters” in keeping with The Machine‘s fetish for The Big Lebowski, but that the up-and-comers would unite for a split release to mark the occasion was something of a bonus. Issued by Elektrohasch, The Machine and Sungrazer‘s The Machine & Sungrazer split arrives both as vinyl and CD with three tracks from each act that showcase both what they share in terms of approach and some of the key differences between, totaling a comfortable 47-minute long-player rife with some of the best next-gen heavy psych Europe has to offer.

Guitarist/vocalist David Eering of The Machine recorded both bands at his Studio De Zolder, so there’s a consistency of sound between the two that most splits don’t have, allowing for a complete flow across the tracks even as the CD changes between The Machine and Sungrazer at the halfway point. Both bands open big, with The Machine taking the kind of riff that High on Fire seemed to use to construct the entirety of The Art of Self Defense and riding it for more than 10 minutes of chugging splendor. Following a sample of the moon landing (“The Eagle has landed”), Eering begins the track on guitar to announce said riff and is soon joined by a booming bass glissando from Hans van Heemst and drum crash from Davy Boogaard – the course is immediately set. Some riffs are enough to carry a song, and presented as hugely as this one is, it pretty much does, Eering topping with some echoing vocals and a numerical chorus line “10-56-69” reminiscent of “5 & 4” from Calmer than You Are without being redundant of it. An extended fuzzy solo break provides some change as Boogaard’s steady snare holds the piece together, and when they return to the central riff, it sounds even bigger than before, devolving into noise and feedback to close out the last minute-plus. This leads to the surprising rush of the 2:31 “Not Only,” which showcases a punkish side that does most of the work in distinguishing The Machine from their psychedelic peers. A strong hook pokes through on the quick as the song races past in two verses and choruses, a solo and a heads-down pummeling outro, and the trio find some contextual middle ground between the two atmospheres on the ensuing “Slipface,” dialing back on the pace but keeping the extended form of the opener and the chorus-minded vibe of the second cut. A solid stoner rocker, it reinforces the analog-type warmth in Eering’s recording and opens to a jammier feel as feedback is underscored by van Heemst’s bass and Boogaard’s drums, setting up a wah-heavy solo that moves into an instrumental jam that persists for the duration of the song, abandoning the structure in favor of psychedelic exploration, but hinting at it enough instrumentally to give a sense that The Machine haven’t lost sight of their departure point. They end quietly with a sweet drone and some effects noise, making way for the big drum crash that opens Sungrazer’s “Dopo.”

Read more »

Tags: , , , ,

audiObelisk: The Machine & Sungrazer Premiere Tracks from New Split LP

Posted in audiObelisk on January 30th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Been waiting for this one. Back in September, Dutch fuzzers The Machine and Sungrazer announced they were teaming up for a split LP and a tour that, in keeping with the former act’s apparent Lebowski fetish, they decided to call “Strikes and Gutters.” As The Machine seemed to come the most into their own yet on their 2012 album, Calmer than You Are (also a Lebowski reference; review here) and as I’d heard Sungrazer play some new material earlier in the year at Desertfest London, I knew good things were in store, and indeed, the split does not disappoint.

Comprised of six tracks (three each) totaling over 47 minutes, The Machine and Sungrazer‘s joint effort was recorded by The Machine guitarist/vocalist David Eering, who makes a good argument here for becoming the in-house engineer at Elektrohasch. Each band gets three tracks, and both use their time to craft a huge wall of fuzz, jamming out open, glorious heavy psychedelia, organic and rich. The Machine begin with “Awe,” a massive riff put to good use as the base from which the band wanders and then fluidly returns, Eering‘s guitar sounding an alert while drummer Davy Boogaard and bassist Hans van Heemst lock in a firm groove beneath. Watch out for the slowdown.

On the other side, Sungrazer affect desert rocking warmth on “Yo la Tengo” that comes across like Yawning Man doing a take on The Beatles‘ “Sun King.” Dreamy, psychedelic and honing a wide expanse, the cut departs from some of the thickness of its compatriots “Dopo” and “Flow through a Good Story” to underscore Sander Haagmans‘ soothing multi-layer vocal with a slowly unfolding surf tone, the bassist incorporating fills that wind up leading the song as much as Rutger Smeets‘ airy guitar even as they ground it, drummer Hans Mulders moving from lighthearted rim clicks to driving crash rhythms — and back — with ease.

With permission from the bands, it’s my extreme pleasure today to be able to premiere “Awe” and “Yo La Tengo” for streaming. The split LP between The Machine and Sungrazer is due out on Feb. 14, the same day their Strikes and Gutters tour begins at the 013 in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Please find the songs on the player below, and enjoy:

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Sungrazer and The Machine are set to begin the Strikes and Gutters tour Feb. 14 and will release their split that day as well. More info at their Thee Facebookses:

The Machine on Thee Facebooks

Sungrazer on Thee Facebooks

Tags: , , , ,

Visual Evidence: The Machine & Sungrazer Unveil Cover for Split Release

Posted in Visual Evidence on January 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Dutch heavy psych outfits The Machine and Sungrazer just a couple minutes ago unveiled the cover art for their upcoming split release to coincide with their “Strikes and Gutters” tour. Of course, it’s a little late to include it in the Albums to Watch for in 2013 list, but I’m still really looking forward to this one. Art is by Maarten Donders and it’s pretty manic. Check it out:

For more on the “Strikes and Gutters” tour, check out The Machine on Thee Facebooks or Sungrazer on Thee Facebooks.

Tags: , , , ,