Quarterly Review: Lucifer, Heilung, Amarok, T.G. Olson, Sun Dial, Lucid Grave, Domadora, Klandestin, Poor Little Things, Motorowl

Posted in Reviews on July 19th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review-CALIFORNIA-LANDSCAPE-Julian-Rix-1851-1903

You know what’s disheartening? When someone goes ‘thanks dudes.’ You know, I share a review or something, the band reposts and goes ‘thanks to the crew at The Obelisk blah blah.’ What fucking crew? If I had a crew, I’d put up 10 reviews every single day of the year. “Crew.” Shit. I am the crew. In the description of this site, the very first thing it says is “One-man operation.” It’s a fucking solo-project. That’s the whole point of it. It’s like me looking at your bass and going, “Sweet guitar, thanks for the solos brah.” I’m happy people want to share links and this and that, but really? It’s been nine years. Give me a break.

Oh yeah, that’s right. Nobody gives a shit. Now I remember. Thanks for reading.

And while we’re here, please remember the numbers for these posts don’t mean anything. This isn’t a countdown. Or a countup. It’s just me keeping track of how much shit I’m reviewing. The answer is “a lot.”

Grump grump grump.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Lucifer, Lucifer II

lucifer lucifer ii

Recorded as the trio of vocalist Johanna Sardonis (ex-The Oath), guitarist Robin Tidebrink (Saturn) and guitarist/drummer Nicke Andersson (Death Breath, ex-Entombed, ex-The Hellacopters), Lucifer’s second album, Lucifer II (on Rise Above), follows three years after its numerical predecessor, Lucifer I (review here), and marks its personnel changes with a remarkable consistency of mission. Like Mercyful Fate gone disco, the formerly-Berlin/London-now-Stockholm group bring stage-ready atmospheres to songs like “Phoenix” and the riff-led “Before the Sun,” while unleashing a largesse of hooks in “Dreamer” and the boogie-pushing “Eyes in the Sky.” “Dancing with Mr. D” brings nod to a Rolling Stones cover, and “Before the Sun” reaffirms a heavy ‘70s root in their sound. I can’t help but wonder if the doomier “Faux Pharaoh” is a sequel to “Purple Pyramid,” but either way, its thicker, darker tonality is welcome ahead of the bonus track Scorpions cover “Evening Wind,” which again demonstrates the ease with which Lucifer make established sounds their own. That’s pretty much the message of the whole album. Lucifer are a big band. Lucifer II makes the case for their being a household name.

Lucifer on Thee Facebooks

Rise Above Records webstore

 

Heilung, Lifa

heilung lifa

Lifa is the audio taken from the live video that brought Denmark’s Heilung to prominence. Captured at Castlefest in The Netherlands in last year, the impression the expansive Viking folk group made was all the more powerful with elaborate costuming, bone percussive instruments, antlers, animal-skin drums, and so on. Their debut studio album, Ofnir, came out in 2015 and like LIFA has been issued by Season of Mist, but the attention to detail and A/V experience only adds to the hypnotic tension and experimentalist edge in the material. Does it work with just the audio? Yes. The 12-minute “In Maijan” and somehow-black-metal “Krigsgaldr” maintain their trance-out-of-history aspect, and the 75-minute set blends multi-tiered melodies and goblin-voiced declarations for an impression unlike even that which Wardruna bring to bear. Whether it’s the drones of “Fylgija Futhorck” or the chants and thuds of “Hakkerskaldyr,” LIFA is striking from front to back and a cohesive, visionary work that should be heard as well as seen. But definitely seen.

Heilung on Thee Facebooks

Season of Mist website

 

Amarok, Devoured

amarok devoured

Eight years after their founding, an EP and several splits, Chico, California, atmosludge extremists Amarok make their full-length debut with Devoured on Translation Loss. If it’s been a while in the making, it’s easy enough to understand why. The album is rife with brutalist and grueling sensibilities. Comprised of just four tracks, it runs upwards of 70 minutes and brings a visceral churn to each cut, not forgetting the importance of atmosphere along the way, but definitely focused on the aural bludgeoning they’re dealing out. Tempos, duh, are excruciating, and between the screams and growls of bassist Brandon Squyres (also Cold Blue Mountain) and guitarist Kenny Ruggles – the band completed by guitarist Nathan Collins and drummer Colby ByrneAmarok make their bid for Buried at Sea levels of heft and rumble their way across a desolate landscape of their own making. Eight years to conjure this kind of punishment? Yeah, that seems about right. See you in 2026.

Amarok on Thee Facebooks

Translation Loss Records webstore

 

T.G. Olson, Ode to Lieutenant Henry

tg olson ode to lieutenant henry

Here’s a curious case: T.G. Olson, founding guitarist and vocalist of Across Tundras, is a prolific experimental singer-songwriter. His material ranges from psychedelic country to fuller-toned weirdo Americana and well beyond. He’s wildly prolific, and everything goes up on Bandcamp for a name-your-price download, mostly unannounced. It’s not there, then it is. Olson’s latest singe, Ode to Lieutenant Henry, was there, and now it’s gone. With the march of its title-track and a complementary cover of Townes van Zandt’s “Silver Ships of Andilar,” I can’t help but be curious as to where the tracks went and if they’ll be back, perhaps in some other form or as part of a different release. Both are plugged-in and coated in fuzzy tones, with Olson’s echoing vocals providing a human presence in the wide soundscape of his own making. The original is shorter than the cover, but both songs boast a signature sense of ramble that, frankly, is worth being out there. Hopefully they’re reposted at some point, either on their own as they initially were or otherwise.

Across Tundras on Thee Facebooks

T.G. Olson/Across Tundras on Bandcamp

 

Sun Dial, Science Fiction

sun dial sci fi

If space is the place, Sun Dial feel right at home in it. The long-running UK psychedelic adventurers collect two decades’ worth of soundtrack material on Science Fiction, their new release for Sulatron Records. Made with interwoven keyboard lines and a propensity to periodically boogie on “Mind Machine,” “Airlock,” “Infra Red,” etc., the experimentalist aspect of Science Fiction is all the more remarkable considering the album is compiled from different sources. One supposes the overarching cosmos is probably what brings it together, but with the samples and synth of “Saturn Return” and the lower end space-bass of pre-bonus-track closer “Starwatchers” – that bonus track, by the way, is a 15-minute version of opener “Hangar 13” – and though the vast majority of the Science Fiction relies on synth and keys to make its impression, it’s still only fair to call the proceedings natural, as the root of each one seems to be exploration. It’s okay to experiment. Nobody’s getting hurt.

Sun Dial on Thee Facebooks

Sun Dial at Sulatron Records webstore

 

Lucid Grave, Demo 2018

lucid grave demo 2018

There are three songs on Lucid Grave’s first outing, the aptly-titled Demo 2018, and the first of them is also the longest (immediate points), “Star.” It presents a curious and hard to place interpretation of psychedelic sludge rock. It is raw as a demo worthy of its name should be, and finds vocalist Malene Pedersen (also Lewd Flesh) echoing out to near-indecipherable reaches atop the feedback-addled riffing. Quite an introduction, to say the least. The subsequent “Desert Boys” is more subdued at the start but gets furious at the end, vocals spanning channels in an apparent call and response atop increasingly intense instrumental thrust. And as for “Ride the Hyena?” If I didn’t know better – and rest assured, I don’t – I’d call it doom. I’m not sure what the hell the København five-piece are shooting for in terms of style, but I damn sure want to hear what they come up with next so I can find out. Consider me enticed. And accordingly, one can’t really accuse Demo 2018 of anything other than doing precisely what it’s supposed to do.

Lucid Grave on Thee Facebooks

Lucid Grace on Bandcamp

 

Domadora, Lacuna

domadora lacuna

Comprised of four-tracks of heavy psychedelic vibes led by the scorch-prone guitar of Belwil, Domadora’s third album, Lacuna, follows behind 2016’s The Violent Mystical Sukuma (discussed here) and taps quickly into a post-Earthless league of instrumentalism on opener “Lacuna Jam.” That should be taken as a compliment, especially as regards the bass and drums of Gui Omm and Karim Bouazza, respectively, who hold down uptempo grooves there and roll along with the more structured 14-minute cut “Genghis Khan” that follows. Each of the album’s two sides is comprised of a shorter track and a longer one, and there’s plenty of reach throughout, but more than expanse, even side B’s “Vacuum Density” and “Tierra Last Homage” are more about the chemistry between the band members – Angel Hidalgo Paterna rounds out on organ – than about crafting a landscape. Fortunately for anyone who’d take it on, the Parisian unit have plenty to offer when it comes to that chemistry.

Domadora on Thee Facebooks

Domadora on Bandcamp

 

Klandestin, Green Acid of Last Century

klandestin green acid of last century

That’s a big “fuck yes, thank you very much” for the debut album from Indonesian stoner metallers Klandestin. Green Acid of the Last Century arrives courtesy of Hellas Records and is THC-heavy enough that if they wanted to, they could probably add “Bong” to the band’s name and it would be well earned. Eight tracks, prime riffs, watery vocals, dense fuzz, stomp, plod, lumber, shuffle – it’s all right there in homegrown dosage, and for the converted, Green Acid of the Last Century is nothing short of a worship ceremony, for the band itself as well as for anyone taking it on. With the march of “Doomsday,” the unmitigated rollout of “Black Smoke,” and the swirling green aurora of “The Green Aurora,” Klandestin wear their holding-back-a-cough riffage as a badge of honor, and couldn’t be any less pretentious about it if they tried. From the hooded weedian on the cover art to the Sleepy nod of closer “Last Century,” Green Acid of Last Century telegraphs its intent front-to-back, and is all the more right on for it.

Klandestin on Thee Facebooks

Hellas Records on Bandcamp

 

Poor Little Things, Poor Little Things

poor little things poor little things

You get what you pay for with “Rock’n’Roller,” which leads off the self-titled debut EP from Bern, Switzerland-based Poor Little Things. Around the core duo of vocalist Tina Jackson and multi-instrumentalist Dave “Talon” Jackson (also of Australia’s Rollerball) on guitar, bass, synth and percussion is Talon’s The Marlboro Men bandmate Fernando Marlboro on drums, and together the band presents five tracks of remember-when-rock-rocked-style groove. Fueled by ‘70s accessibility and a mentality that seems to be saying it’s okay to play big rooms, like arenas, cuts like “Drive” seem prime for audience participation, and “Break Another Heart” gives a highlight performance from Tina while “About Love” showcases a more laid back take. They close with the 6:37 “Street Cheetah,” which struts appropriately, and end with a percussive finish on a fadeout repeating the title line. As a showcase of their style and songwriting chops, Poor Little Things shows significant promise, sure, but it’s also pretty much already got everything it needs for a full-length album.

Poor Little Things on Thee Facebooks

Poor Little Things on Bandcamp

 

Motorowl, Atlas

motorowl atlas

Every now and then you put on a record and it’s way better than you expect. Hello, Motorowl’s Atlas. The German troupe’s second for Century Media, it takes the classic stylizations of their 2016 debut, Om Generator, and pushes them outward into a vast sea of organ-laced progressive heavy, soaring in vocal melodies and still modern despite drawing from an array of decades past. The chug in “The Man Who Rules the World” would be metal for most bands, but on Atlas, it becomes part of a broader milieu, and sits easily next to the expansive title-track, as given to post-rocking airiness in the guitar as to synth-laden prog. That mixture of influences and aesthetics would be enough to give the five-piece an identity of their own, but Atlas is further characterized by Motorowl’s ambitious songwriting and benefits greatly from the melodic arrangements and the clear intention toward creative development at work here. Those who take on its seven-track/45-minute journey will find it dynamic, spacious and heavy in kind.

Motorowl on Thee Facebooks

Motorowl at Century Media website

 

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

Review: T.G. Olson, A Stone that Forever Rolls & Owned and Operated by Twang Trust LLC

Posted in Reviews on March 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

tg olson a stone that forever rolls

The first thing you need to know about this review? Its temporal mechanics are all wrong. Chronologically speaking, Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC was released before A Stone that Forever Rolls. The difference, mind you, is less than a month. Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC came out on Feb. 28, and A Stone that Forever Rolls on March 14. A couple weeks between them doesn’t seem like such an egregious flip to make — though if he keeps to his about-two-weeks pace, Olson should have another full-length out by the time this review goes live.

Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC and A Stone that Forever Rolls represent the latest outings in a prolific stretch that, at this point, goes back years for Across Tundras frontman and solo experimentalist/singer/songwriter T.G. Olson. They arrive concurrent to outings from other projects like Inget Namn, Funeral Electrical and even an Across Tundras collection, and represent his first solo works of 2018.

Last year found Olson releasing Searching for the Ur-Plant (review here) and Foothills Before the Mountain (review here), and if one goes further back, 2016 brought about La Violenza Naturale (review here), the From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues single (discussed here) and the albums The Broken End of the Deal (review here) and Quicksilver Sound (discussed here), and so on back to about 2012 and probably before that. Point is, Olson gets his work in. He is of a rare breed of the relentlessly creative, and though I said it as a joke earlier, I really couldn’t be surprised if he posted another long-player to the T.G. Olson/Across Tundras Bandcamp sometime soon. Or maybe he’ll go a year. One never knows.

But when it comes to A Stone that Forever Rolls and Owned and Operated by Twang Trust LLC, there is one definitive aspect tying them together to the point where I feel comfortable giving them a conjoined review: resonance. And in a thrilling and important-to-consider showcase of Olson‘s range as an artist, it’s two very different types of resonance that we’re talking about. A song like “Bless yr Heart My Friend,” which would seem to be about Olson‘s dog Odin, who recently passed away (and condolences there), brims with sincerity and emotionalism. It is raw in its approach and upfront in its acoustic-led post-Dylan/Guthrie folkism. And it’s the kind of song that makes you tear up when you hear it.

tg olson owned operated twang trust

This stands in direct contrast to just about all of Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC, which delights in the Earth-gone-weirder drones and explorations of airy pieces like “When the Bee Balm is in Bloom,” which seems to be backed by ghostly howls, or the earlier “Where Were You When,” the droning of which takes on an almost religious quality, as though among Olson‘s many manipulated sounds was a hymn or a chant to something of the sort bent beyond recognition. Considered alongside the easy sway of the opening title-cut from A Stone that Forever Rolls or the doubled-vocal layers of the subsequent “The Storm’s a Comin’,” ad they would almost seem to be the work of different artists, but that’s simply Olson following one impulse over another as a theme around which to work.

He’s more than capable of steering a record in either context, of course, and has plenty of experience in doing so, and if the sweet melody of “In the Valley of the Tomb of the Kings” and the flute-laden melancholy of “Still They Haunt Us” is coming from someplace completely different from the Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC opener and longest track (immediate points) “Running Fight” with its open-air guitar minimalism or the haunting swirl and swell of “Carpenter Blues” — which may or may not feature manipulated vocals; it’s hard to tell. In this way, the one release enhances the listening experience of the other and paints a broader picture of Olson‘s creative reach in general, not that that was much in question for anybody who’s followed his work over these last several years and managed to actually keep up.

Frankly, neither approach would count as new ground for Olson, who has established a comfortable niche for himself as a folk singer while still seeming to push himself forward in terms of crafting material, a song like “Around a Slow Dying Fire” conveying a sense of urgency despite its calm exterior. Nonetheless, if familiar to those who’ve kept tabs on his work, both Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC and A Stone that Forever Rolls reaffirm the breadth of Olson‘s output and, whether taken together or separately, bring together folk and experimentalism in a way few artists can or would dare to try. Remember near the outset when I said Olson was relentlessly creative? Well, the emotionality and exploratory drive behind these records, along with the rest of his ever-growing and increasingly complex discography, are just further examples of what makes him stand alone in that unrelenting.

T.G. Olson, Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC (2018)

T.G. Olson, A Stone that Forever Rolls (2018)

Across Tundras on Thee Facebooks

Across Tundras/T.G. Olson on Bandcamp

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

T.G. Olson Releases New Album A Stone that Forever Rolls

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

So maybe you’re saying to yourself right now, ‘Hey, didn’t this loser blogger dope post about a new T.G. Olson record like two weeks ago?” Indeed, he — I mean I — did. That album was the more experimentalist Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust, LLC (info here). This one is the more structured, more crisply produced A Stone that Forever Rolls, which begins with the psychedelic folk of its opening track and unfolds gracefully through eight tracks and 30 minutes of gorgeous arrangement balance and a clearly different intent than the last time out.

I think next chance I get to do so — so, next month maybe? — I’ll probably review the two releases together, just to give the side-by-side and really emphasize how different they are. Two things though that worry me about A Stone that Forever Rolls. First, Olson dedicates it to Odin, who he then names “DOGGOD,” which tells me that his dog died. And that sucks in a way that few things sucks. Condolences to Olson for the loss.

Also in not-as-tragic-but-hardly-fortunate news, it would seem Olson‘s Roland VS-1680 — the “VS” standing for “virtual studio,” as in,his recording apparatus — has bit the dust. These things are replaceable but hardly cheap, and while I doubt it’ll hold Olson up for all that long, it’s still a pain to deal with.

At least the album is beautiful. It was released in the usual manner: posted at the Across Tundras Bandcamp page with little fanfare beyond a post on Thee Facebooks. You can stream and download it at the bottom of this post. Other info follows:

tg olson a stone that forever rolls

T.G. OLSON – A Stone that Forever Rolls

The end of an era…

Adios Odin and the VS-1680 aka “The Machine”

1. A Stone That Forever Rolls 03:56
2. The Storms a Comin’ 03:43
3. Down in the Draw 03:20
4. Still They Haunt Us 04:16
5. Around a Slow Dying Fire 03:54
6. In the Valley of the Tomb of the Kings 03:16
7. Slow Tick 04:29
8. Bless yr Heart My Friend 03:46

Recorded ~ Mixed ~ Mastered : January – March 2018 by T.G. Olson

For Odin ~ DOGGOD

https://www.facebook.com/AcrossTundrasBand/
https://acrosstundras.bandcamp.com/

T.G. Olson, A Stone that Forever Rolls

Tags: , , , , ,

T.G. Olson Releases New Solo Album Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust LLC

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

I don’t even know what a front-to-back discography from Across Tundras frontman T.G. Olson would look like at this point, but it would be well populated. The last month has seen a flurry of activity on the prolific singer-songwriter/experimentalist’s Bandcamp page, with offerings from not only his own solo-project in the form of the cynically-titled Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust LLC, but also his outfits Funeral Electrical and Inget Namn, a split with Caleb R.K. Williams, and two releases from Across Tundras — a collection of demos and lost tracks, and a new EP with Shannon Allie-Murphy sharing vocal duties as on 2015’s Home Free EP (discussed here). Frankly, it’s a lot. Probably too much to keep up with. But hey, there’s time.

As regards Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust LLC, it’s more experimental than some of Olson‘s straightforward or folkish fare, but deeply cinematic, and even as the drones and guitar howl on “Carpenter Blues,” there’s something in the landscape created to remind one of mid-aughts Earth, Neil Young‘s Dead Man soundtrack, etc., and given Olson‘s prairie-stretch interpretation, that’s by no means a complaint. Like always, all this stuff is available as a name-your-price download at the Across Tundras Bandcamp, so it’s there for the taking, but even if you sign up for updates as I have five or six times now, don’t expect to be able to keep up with everything that comes out. Just make sure you check back once in a while to see if you can get a handle on what Olson‘s up to. And good luck with that.

Still, hardly an impartial observer, but I dig this one. Weird drones, open spaces, lush and languid and swaying. Yeah, I’m pretty much sold.

Dig it:

TG Olson Owned and Operated By Twang Trust LLC

T.G. OLSON – Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust LLC

These tracks are fully owned by Twang Trust LLC and will be mined and exploited until exhausted. Thanks for listening.

T.G. Olson – Guitars, Drones, Field Recordings, Sound Manipulations

Tracklisting
1. Running Fight 05:51
2. Laid West 05:26
3. Lies Hidden 04:50
4. Where Were You When 05:39
5. Carpenter Blues 04:48
6. Somewhere Unseen 04:25
7. Shade Tree 04:19
8. When the Bee Balm is in Bloom 04:15
9. Guitar Respite 04:42
10. Hitching Post Part II 04:19

https://www.facebook.com/AcrossTundrasBand/
https://acrosstundras.bandcamp.com/

Tags: , , , , ,

The Obelisk Presents: THE TOP 30 ALBUMS OF 2017

Posted in Features on December 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

top-30-of-2017

Please note: This post is not culled in any way from the Year-End Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t yet contributed your favorites of 2017 to that, please do.

We’re almost at the finish line for 2017, and if I’m honest, it’s not a minute too soon. I think if one more record comes out this year my head is going to explode.

A perpetual onslaught of cool music is, of course, nothing to complain about. It just seemed like every time I thought I had a handle on where the year was going, some other announcement came through and knocked me on my ass. What’s that? The Obsessed are putting out their first album in more than two decades? Oh and Monolord have a new one coming? Radio Moscow just signed to Century Media? Arc of Ascent are back? Samsara Blues Experiment are back? Causa Sui are putting out a live album and a studio album? Sasquatch are going to Europe and sneaking a record along with them? All of a sudden I’m out of breath feeling like I just ran a lap.

It’s been madness this year. Between an emergent neo-psych movement in the wake of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and others, and the ongoing and constant reshaping of doom and heavy rock from practitioners new and old, I don’t know how anyone could ever claim to keep up with any of it.

You know I do the best I can, so when you look through this list, please keep in mind that these are my picks and the result of applying my own standard, which if you’ve ever seen a list on this site before you probably already know is a combination of things like what I view as being important on a critical level and things like what kept me coming back as a listener. What were the year’s biggest releases and what couldn’t I get enough of? Sometimes those two things come together around one record and it’s beautiful. That’s usually your album of the year, or close to, anyhow.

No sense in delaying further. I hope if you haven’t heard some of this stuff you’ll give it a shot, and if you have something you felt strongly about it, you’ll let me know in the comments. Thanks in advance for keeping it civil, and of course for reading.

Here goes:

30. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
geezer psychoriffadelia

Released by Kozmik Artifactz and STB Records. Reviewed May 16.

Coming off of what was their strongest album to-date in their 2016 self-titled (review here), New York heavy psych blues trio Geezer decided it was time to take the groove for a walk. And so they did. Psychoriffadelia is the result — a looser collection of jams and willfully unrefined heavy blues, reveling in the politically incorrect on “Dirty Penny” only after basking in the post-Monster Magnet hypnosis of “Red Hook” and the earlier roll of the more straightforward “Hair of the Dog” and “Stressknots.” Everything Geezer has done to this point has pushed their sound to new places. Psychoriffadelia is no exception.

29. Orango, The Mules of Nana

orango the mules of nana

Released by Stickman Records. Reviewed March 27.

More than a touch of twang on opener “Heartland” sets a tone of Americana-infusion for Orango‘s sixth LP, The Mules of Nana, but the 10-tracker is ultimately much more about harmony-laced classic heavy smoothness than playing to prairie-minded sensibilities, though roots spread wide through a natural, dirty blues just the same. However they get there, “Hazy Chain of Mountains,” the softshoe-ready funk of “Head on Down” and the peacefully progressive finish of “Ghost Rider” bring ’70s-style thrills in songwriting and their precise, gorgeous execution. Underrated record from an underappreciated band.

28. Radio Moscow, New Beginnings

radio moscow new beginnings

Released by Century Media. Reviewed Oct. 6.

Cali boogie kingpins and all-around marvelous frenetic bastards Radio Moscow were in top form on their Century Media debut, and if it was a new beginning they were searching for, they met it head on with a sound as classic and organic as ever. Arguably the most powerful power trio in their game, they tore through cuts like “No One Knows Where They’ve Been” and “Deceiver” while offering flourish in the trip-out “Woodrose Morning” and subdued blues-psych on the penultimate “Pick up the Pieces.” Very much to form, but cast of a form that still manages to outclass all challengers.

27. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma

spaceslug time travel dilemma

Released by Southcave Records, BSFD Records and Oak Island Records. Reviewed Feb. 10.

And so here we have the first of what will no doubt be several records about which I’m going to say they should be higher on the list. Poland’s Spaceslug have emerged from the moist ground created by their own tonality and on their sophomore full-length, they proffered warm depth of fuzz and a corresponding melodic and psychedelic reach that was resonant even before they brought in ex-Sungrazer bassist Sander Haagmans for a guest spot on the title-track. It’s been out for 10 months and still delivers every time I put it on, which is often.

26. Mothership, High Strangeness

mothership high strangeness
Released by Ripple Music and Heavy Psych Sounds. Reviewed March 7.

Three albums into a tenure marked by hard-driving riffs, scorching solos and relentless road work, there’s little Texas trio Mothership need to do at this point to prove themselves to their audience. At the same time, High Strangeness brought considerable expansion to their range overall, whether it was the exploratory “Eternal Trip” or the semi-metallic insistence behind “Midnight Express,” while staying tied together with lyrical and instrumental hooks. High Strangeness set a new standard for Mothership, plain and simple, and easily surpassed the considerable accomplishments of their 2012 self-titled debut (review here) and 2014’s Mothership II (review here).

25. Eternal Black, Bleed the Days

eternal black bleed the days

Released by Obsidian Sky Records. Reviewed Aug. 1.

There was a lot about Eternal Black‘s Bleed the Days that chugged its way into the post-Wino oeuvre of US-style trad doom, but the gruff, lumbering and impeccably riffed outing was nonetheless one of 2017’s best debut full-lengths, and it was the songwriting that got it there. Already sounding sure in the vibe captured, cuts like the plodding brooder “Sea of Graves” and “Stained Eyes on a Setting Sun” showed potential in mood and atmosphere as much as sheer sonic heft — though of course there was plenty of that to go around as well. Doomers missed it at their peril.

24. Kadavar, Rough Times

kadavar rough times

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Sept. 6.

It kind of feels like a slight to have Berlin trio Kadavar appear anywhere outside of at least a top 10 on any kind of list whatsoever, ever, but that’s not my intention at all. Rather, their fourth album and third for Nuclear Blast found them at an important stage in their progression — past the novelty of the vintage feel in their early work, after having proven their songwriting could translate to a modern context, and embarking on a process of expanding their sound. Rough Times, which was as current as current could be, met that goal and beat it easily with a barrage of memorable choruses and a dark streak one could only consider suitable for our age.

23. Shroud Eater, Strike the Sun

shroud eater strike the sun

Released by STB Records. Reviewed June 28.

The biggest surprise about Shroud Eater‘s long-awaited sophomore long-player was also its most encouraging aspect — namely how it found the Miami trio bringing together various impulses shown on a number of shorter releases over the course of the six years since their debut, ThunderNoise (review here), came out in 2011, and still managed to utterly crush when it so chose. With a swath from sludge to drone and back again, this was no minor feat, and that the songs they brought to bear were so memorable at their heart as well makes me hope all the more it’s not 2023 before their third album arrives.

22. Enslaved, E

enslaved e

Released by Nuclear Blast. Reviewed Oct. 4.

What’s left to say about Norwegian progressive black metal innovators Enslaved 14 records into their career? Plenty as it turns out. The introduction of new keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje in place of Herbrand Larsen brought a new twist on a signature element of Enslaved‘s approach. Vinje utterly owned his role, and his performance alongside guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and drummer Cato Bekkevold resulted in a fresh urgency that made the band’s sound even more potent and set their ongoing creative evolution on a new branch of its self-directed path.

21. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical

arc-of-ascent-realms-of-the-metaphysical

Released by Astral Projection and Clostridium Records. Reviewed April 6.

Some five years on from 2012’s The Higher Key (review here) and seven out from their debut, Circle of the Sun (review here), and with bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson firmly entrenched in his always excellent Lamp of the Universe psych-drone-folk solo-project, I wasn’t sure there would be another offering from New Zealand heavy psych-rock trio Arc of Ascent, but Realms of the Metaphysical took shape from an ether of riffs and echoes atop resilient underlying structures and revitalized the group with new drummer Mark McGeady in the lineup with Williamson and guitarist Matt Cole-Baker. Remains to be seen if this marks a priority shift for Williamson or it’s a one-off, but its arrival was welcome either way.

20. Causa Sui, Vibraciones Doradas

causa sui vibraciones doradas

Released by El Paraiso Records. Reviewed Oct. 20.

With the various glories already offered in 2017 on the Live in Copenhagen (review here) 3LP, one didn’t necessarily expect a new studio outing from Danish instrumental psych masters Causa Sui, but Vibraciones Doradas found them as vibrant as ever, bringing forth a surprising amount of tonal weight on songs like “El Fuego,” warm fuzz for the basking on opener “The Drop” and spaciousness on the closing title-track. Somewhat more straight-ahead in its rocking groove than 2016’s Return to Sky (review here), the five-track/38-minute long-player showed yet again why Causa Sui are always welcome and that any news of a new release from them, live, studio, whatever, is good news. This was the kind of record that could make your day if you let it.

19. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable

telekinetic yeti abominable

Released by Sump Pump Records. Reviewed April 10.

The Iowa-based duo of guitarist/vocalist Alex Baumann and drummer Anthony Dreyer, operating as Telekinetic Yeti, released what I considered to be the debut of the year, both for the fullness of its tonality and the accomplishment in songcraft it already showed. Powered by cuts like its lumbering title-track and the gloriously fuzzed runner “Stoned and Feathered,” it could’ve been another band’s second or third record for the level of cohesion on display and the obvious awareness on the part of the band of what they wanted to do with their sound and the just-as-obvious result of their bringing it to life.

18. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust

cloud catcher trails of kozmic dust

Released by Totem Cat Records. Reviewed Dec. 9, 2016.

While I admit I’m still not 100 percent certain on whether to spell “kozmic” in the title with a ‘k’ or with a ‘c’ on the end, that question did nothing ultimately to diminish enjoyment of Denver emergents Cloud Catcher‘s sophomore outing. Topped off by one of the best album covers of the year, the follow-up to their 2015 debut, Enlightened Beyond Existence (discussed here), took the progressive casting of that record to a place entirely more raw and rock-driven, willfully roughing up the edges even as it showed marked creative growth on a relatively quick turnaround. The must-hear bass tone of “Beyond the Electric Sun” and “Super Acid Magick” was icing on a cake of choice riffing and Hendrixian lead swirl, and the shuffle they elicited was enough to make even the most stubborn of asses (i.e. mine) think about moving.

17. Ruby the Hatchet, Planetary Space Child

ruby the hatchet planetary space child

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Aug. 29.

After the neo-garage manifestations of their 2015 sophomore outing, Valley of the Snake (review here), it was clear Philly psych rockers Ruby the Hatchet were a force when it came to songwriting. What was less obvious was what they’d do with that going forward. On Planetary Space Child, at least, the answer is they’ll take it to Freaktown. The melody-happy, organ-laced swirlmasters conjured presence kosmiche enough to justify the album’s title, and around the cast-in-moon-rock structures of the swinging “Pagan Ritual” and the playfully doomed “Symphony of the Night,” Ruby the Hatchet built a multifaceted weirdoist triumph the likes of which simply doesn’t come along every year, establishing themselves as more reliable and less predictable than ever: an absolute win.

16. Alunah, Solennial

alunah solennial

Released by Svart Records. Reviewed March 1.

It’s been the case more or less all along with UK forest rockers Alunah that their nature-minded material and heavy rolling grooves have had their haunting aspects, but with the production of Conan‘s Chris Fielding behind it, Solennial — their fourth LP and first on Svart — brought this to new levels entirely. The songs, memorable like footprints in the woods, are somewhat bittersweet in context now, since founding guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day announced in September she was leaving the band, but as the group will move forward led by guitarist Dave Day and recently acquired new singer Siân Greenaway, intrigue remains high at what the future might bring and the impact of Solennial is undiminished.

15. Mindkult, Lucifer’s Dream

mindkult-lucifers-dream

Released by Transcending Obscurity Records and Caligari Records.

Virginia-based doomgazing garage cult solo-project Mindkult has thus far managed to keep some of the mystique around its sole inhabitant, Fowst, which is admirable in a way. As the multi-instrmentalist, vocalist and producer this year answered the promise of last year’s Witch’s Oath (review here) debut, he did so around a swath of purposeful miseries, loose devil worship and other dark thematics, casting an atmospheric darkness matched head-on by the tonal murk of his riffs. Through this, however, the songwriting was no less memorable than on the first offering, and as the project moves forward, one can only hope that Fowst will continue to use that as the core aspect buried six feet under his other, formidable stylistic achievements. That certainly was how it worked out on Lucifer’s Dream.

14. Argus, From Fields of Fire

argus from fields of fire
Released by Cruz del Sur Music. Reviewed Sept. 1.

Behold ye perhaps the most underrated band in heavy metal. Regardless of subgenre, style, strata, whatever, it’s hard to listen to From Fields of Fire and think of Pittsburgh’s Argus as anything else. The five-piece’s fourth album continued to owe part of its sound to doom, but was much more encompassing than simply that, touching on aspects of classic metal with a command that left one wondering how they hadn’t yet been tapped to open for Judas Priest on that band’s next tour. Victory abounds on a per-song basis throughout the nine-tracker, and whether it was the emotional crux of “Hour of Longing” or the catchy fistpump righteousness of “Devils of Your Time” or the 11-minute progressive reach of “Infinite Lives/Infinite Doors,” Argus once again crafted a work nigh-unmatched in poise and class.

13. Uffe Lorenzen, Galmandsværk

Uffe-Lorenzen-Galmandsvaerk

Released by Bad Afro Records. Reviewed Nov. 6.

For the first outing ever to be issued under his real name, Denmark’s Uffe Lorenzen — aka Lorenzo Woodrose of garage-psych pioneers Baby Woodrose — danced between acid folk singer-songwriterisms like “Flippertøs” and more expansive jamming on “På Kanten Af Verden,” all the while retaining his distinct structural and arrangement sensibilities and creating a flowing vibe that was nothing less than a pure joy of classic-form psychedelia. The most serene and pastoral freakout one was likely to witness in 2017, easily, Galmandsværk resounded in the Mellotron-laced “Høj Som Et Højhus” and was no less at home in the acoustic spaciousness of the earlier “Remits Tyranni,” able to wander where it pleased and find steady ground in molten surroundings.

12. The Flying Eyes, Burning of the Season

the flying eyes burning of the season

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed Oct. 11.

A welcome return from a viciously underappreciated band, The Flying EyesBurning of the Season marked the Baltimore four-piece’s first offering for Ripple Music and first since 2013’s Lowlands (review here), a four-year stretch during which the band kept busy touring Europe and South America, the latter also being where they recorded these songs with Gabriel Zander at Estudio Superfuzz in Brazil. The tonal depth resulting from that process was enough to make the collection a highlight, but it was the songs themselves that most stood out, benefiting from the band’s expanded reach and legitimate, hard-won maturity. Especially for a group who’ve done so much work on the road over their years — to be fair, the US has been pretty low priority in that regard — they remain a secret kept too well.

11. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper

bell witch mirror reaper

Released by Profound Lore. Reviewed Dec. 27.

Doomed extremity simply unmatched in its scope. The song of the year for 2017. An accomplishment the likes of which is prone to happen maybe once or twice in a generation. None of this seems to really speak to the entirety of the achievement that is Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper — the single-song, 83-minute full-length issued by the Seattle duo like a challenge in the face of mortality itself. Beautiful, devastating and weighted like the grave, its sprawl utterly consumed the listener, and I firmly believe it will be years before its depths are fully processed. Some offerings are bigger than the year in which they’re released. Mirror Reaper would seem to function on a scale of its own, and though it could easily be read as a litmus test for audience punishment, the truth of the listening experience is both more emotionally complex and more fulfilling than simple hyperbole can capture.

10. Monolord, Rust

monolord rust

Released by RidingEasy Records. Reviewed Oct. 26.

The story all along with Gothenburg’s Monolord has been tone. Tone tone tone. Crush crush crush. Riffs riffs riffs. Nothing wrong with any of that, but their third album, Rust, proves once and for all that there’s more to the trio than “cool riffs bro” and post-Electric Wizard nod. Catchy cuts like “Dear Lucifer” and rolling opener “Where Death Meets the Sea” brought a sense of space leading to the later sprawl of “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae,” and the band settled into an individualized, lumbering psychedelia that moved forward from 2015’s Vænir (review here), not leaving behind the heft that earned them their reputation, but not at all being limited by it either in scope or overall approach. Three records in, Rust brought forth Monolord‘s greatest sonic expansion yet and gave rise to the feeling that their true potential was just starting to come to fruition. Also, crush crush crush. Cool riffs, bro.

9. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn

vokonis-the-sunken-djinn

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed June 5.

The Sunken Djinn is Vokonis‘ second full-length in as many years, and in addition to serving as their Ripple debut where 2016’s Olde One Ascending (review here) landed via Ozium Records, it was a feast for hungry riff hounds. In defiance of its quick turnaround, it showed a firm evolution taking place within the upstart Swedish trio of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson, whose range overall was greater in tracks like “Rapturous” and the torrential “Blood Vortex” while nonetheless controlled in its delivery. Their Sleep-y origins still a factor sound-wise, Vokonis were able just the same to push themselves ahead into new sonic ground in fittingly lumbering fashion, and the character they brought to “The Sunken Djinn,” “Calling from the Core” and the noise-caked “Maelstroem” seemed to speak to a burgeoning sense of atmospheric focus taking hold as well. Still so much potential here.

8. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals

electric moon stardust rituals

Released by Sulatron Records. Reviewed April 7.

Do I even need to remotely justify having Electric Moon‘s first studio album in six years on this list? Was it not just like a love-letter issued by the cosmos itself? What more explanation could possibly be necessary? Not that the German trio haven’t dropped copious, glorious live outings all the while, but to have Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt, “Komet Lulu” Neudeck and Marcus Schnitzler follow-up 2011’s The Doomsday Machine (review here) with four cuts culminating in the 22-minute sprawl of “(You Will) Live Forever Now” was high on the list of the year’s most satisfying psychedelic journeys. Constantly exploring, their methods always seem geared toward finding the molten essence of space rock itself, and though the songs on Stardust Rituals were a little more crafted than some of their straight-up improv jams, they nonetheless showed there are many avenues one might take to get to the heart of the sun.

7. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us

sun-blood-stories-it-runs-around-the-room-with-us

Self-released. Reviewed May 1.

This one is personal, and by that I mean I love this fucking band. Similar to my experience with their 2015 sophomore outing, Twilight Midnight Morning (review here), the third record by Boise-based trio of Ben Kirby (vocals, guitar, synth, percussion), Amber Pollard (vocals, guitar, theremin, percussion) and Jon Fust (drums, keys, percussion, noise) was one that I simply could not put down. Even now, seeing the name of the record is all I need to have songs like “The Great Destroyer” and the immersive midsection in “Come Like Rain” and “Time Like Smoke” stuck in my head, let alone the ultra-brazen, searingly-pissed “Burn” noise assault that finished the album and in the span of 90 seconds turned all the psychedelic warmth and serenity on its face with a visceral anger completely unforeseen and jarring, turning it from a depth-laden execution of adventurous neo-psych and indie into a project of conceptual artistry with all the efficiency of the chemical reaction it sought to portray. If you missed it, your loss.

6. The Atomic Bitchwax, Force Field

the-atomic-bitchwax-force-field

Released by Tee Pee Records. Reviewed Dec. 7.

Songs like “Alaskan Thunder Fuck,” “Humble Brag” and “Earth Shaker (Which Doobie U Be?)” assured that the defining character of Force Field, the sixth album from New Jersey’s The Atomic Bitchwax, was pure scorch. That made the 12-cut outing a more than worthy follow-up for 2015’s  Gravitron (review here), which introduced this more speed-rock-minded, aggressive delivery from the tight-as-nails trio, and while they proved they could still lock in a slower groove on the organ-topped finisher “Liv a Little,” head-spinners like the instrumental “Fried, Dyed and Layin’ to the Side” and “Houndstooth” came across like the fruit of the band pushing themselves to the limits of their physical ability in terms of tempo, and their ride along the edge of that line brought thrills at every turn. And make no mistake, there were a lot of turns. Fortunately, bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella seemingly had a corresponding hook in their pocket for each one of them. This band is a national treasure.

5. Atavismo, Inerte

atavismo inerte

Released by Temple of Torturous. Reviewed Feb. 21.

Warm, fuzzy tones, rhythmic shifts right out of classic progressive rock, melodic intricacy and periodic excursions into glorious psychedelic drift: I’m not sure what wasn’t to like about Inerte, Atavismo‘s second full-length behind 2014’s Desintegración (review here). Comprising five tracks of unmistakable flow and jam-laden fluidity, it was immersive with landmarks along the way to keep the listener from getting too lost, and whether or not one spoke Spanish, the three-piece of Jose “Poti” Moreno (ex-Viaje a 800Mind!), bassist/vocalist Mateo and drummer/vocalist Sandri Pow (also ex-Mind!) made it easy to follow along their purposefully meandering path, offering guidance no less skillful on the 11-minute fuzz-freaker “El Sueño” than the dream-toned linear build of “Belleza Cuatro.” There were very, very few albums I listened to more this year than this one, which is precisely why it is where it is on this list.

4. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe

samsara-blues-experiment-one-with-the-universe

Released by Electric Magic Records and Abraxas Records. Reviewed May 4.

Four years between records isn’t at all an unheard of stretch. It’s not the longest on this list by any means. But with Berlin heavy psych rockers Samsara Blues Experiment, it really seemed like the band was done, so to have them come back with such force on One with the Universe was, as I know I said at several points throughout the last 12 months, one of the year’s total highlights. Tracked by former bassist Richard Behrens, the group’s fourth album answered the extended-track spread of 2013’s Waiting for the Flood (review here) with a deeper sense of sonic variety, and while the 15-minute title-cut and opener “Vispassana” still had plenty of room for jamming out and even six-minute centerpiece “Glorious Daze” found room for some flourish of organ and sitar, guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, drummer Thomas Vedder and bassist Hans Eiselt rightly featured the chemistry they’ve built as a trio live and brought to the songs a renewed sense of vigor, sounding — and hopefully being — truly inspired. Waiting for the Flood capped a period of marked productivity across several years. Fingers crossed One with the Universe begins that cycle anew.

3. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World

Elder-Reflections-of-a-Floating-World

Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman Records. Reviewed May 23.

You just can’t consider Elder‘s Reflections of a Floating World outside the context of the progressive achievement that was their prior outing, 2015’s Lore (review here). Where the trio — based now between Massachusetts and Berlin, Germany — took their first two outings, 2008’s self-titled debut (discussed here) and 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring (review here), to find their sound, which they began to showcase on the 2012 Spires Burn/Release EP (review here), it was Lore that brought to fruition the potential that had always been waiting to be unleashed by the trio of guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto, and Reflections of a Floating World had the daunting task of being the next further step from that landmark moment. To say the band rose to the occasion is perhaps to undersell the cohesion at work in consuming-but-cohesive pieces like opener “Sanctuary” or “Blind” or “Staving off the Truth,” which brought together clear-headed psychedelia around a wash that seemed to stem as much from rhythm as melody. As they’ve matured stylistically and become a major touring presence, Elder have made themselves perhaps the most pivotal American heavy rock act going, and Reflections of a Floating World brings them to the discovery of yet another apex while at the same time giving zero indication it will be the last one they find.

2. Colour Haze, In Her Garden

colour haze in her garden

Released by Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Reviewed March 9.

Of course, the bonus of writing about Colour Haze in just about any context is that you get to put Colour Haze on while you’re doing it, and in the case of the 12th LP from these Munich heavy psych forebears, that’s an even more appealing prospect. After stripping down some of the arrangement flourish with 2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), the 13-track/73-minute 2LP In Her Garden brought a revitalized sonic expansion, but as ever, it wasn’t just the horns or the strings or the blend of keys and acoustics that made In Her Garden the unbridled joy that it was and continues to be — it was the underlying performance from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald that gave the album the stem on which its garden grew. That’s not to say Jan Faszbender‘s work on modular synth, Rhodes, and Hammond or the arrangements of strings, tuba, bass-clarinet and trombone throughout hurt anything, just that as Colour Haze have grown into incorporating these elements into their groundbreaking aesthetic, they haven’t left behind the organic chemistry and necessary live feel that has helped them influence a generation of followers over their more than 20-year career. One came through as much as the other on In Her Garden, and that balance gave the overarching warmth of their self-recorded tonality yet another level on which to engage their audience. I’ll be a sucker for Colour Haze for as long as I live, and I have absolutely no problem admitting to and owning that.

1. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War

all them witches sleeping through the war

Released by New West Records. Reviewed Jan. 27.

It was clear early on that Nashville four-piece All Them Witches were contending hard for Album of the Year with Sleeping Through the War, their fourth long-player and second for New West following the mellow vibes of 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (review here). What finally sealed it? The songs. Working with producer Dave Cobb, the each-member-essential lineup of bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, key-specialist Allan van Cleave (Rhodes, Mellotron, piano, organ, etc.) and drummer/graphic artist Robby Staebler solidified their approach in exciting new ways on early cuts like the grunge-crunching “Don’t Bring Me Coffee” and the shuffling “Bruce Lee,” which hit in succession following the fluid lead-in of opener “Bulls,” an introduction of the organic psychedelia and heavy blues that the loose-swinging of “3-5-7″‘s nigh-on-gospel chorus and subsequent, almost maddeningly catchy “Am I Going Up?” would continue to push outward, thereby setting a linear course into a consciousness-capturing side B with “Alabaster” and the jammier “Cowboy Kirk” and “Internet” playing between melodic nuance and mindful, go-with-it drift. The unflinching strength of the material was matched perhaps only by the understatement of its delivery, which was the more staggering considering how easily the arrangements of background vocals on “Am I Going Up?” or  “3-5-7” could have come through as overblown or self-indulgent, and by the time they got down to the light weirdo-bluesy stomp of “Internet” — the key lyric and hook being, “Guess I’ll go live on the internet” — there was no doubting the genuine nature of the realization Sleeping Through the War represented for All Them Witches. Coupling that feeling of achievement with the sheer repeatability of the listening experience itself left no doubt that 2017 belonged to these tracks and the marvelous way the band wove between them, and that whatever other sounds All Them Witches may go on to explore and whatever else they may accomplish as a result, Sleeping Through the War was a truly special moment in their evolution that, as with the best of offerings in any year, will continue to resonate long after the calendar page has turned.

The Next 20

You know, I used to feel like once you got past a top 20, the numbers were arbitrary. Then I felt that way about the top 30. This year, I think I agonized more about what to include in numbers 31-50 than I did between 30 and the album of the year. Put that in your “go figure” file while you chew on these picks:

31. Cities of Mars, Temporal Rifts
32. The Midnight Ghost Train, Cypress Ave.
33. Snowy Dunes, Atlantis
34. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
35. PH, Eternal Hayden
36. Sasquatch, Maneuvers
37. Young Hunter, Dayhiker
38. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
39. Ufomammut, 8
40. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
41. Paradise Lost, Medusa
42. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
43. Arduini / Balich, Dawn of Ages
44. Primitive Man, Caustic
45. Motorpsycho, The Tower
46. Arbouretum, Song of the Rose
47. Hymn, Perish
48. Youngblood Supercult, The Great American Death Rattle
49. Pallbearer, Heartless
50. Dool, Here Now There Then

There’s so, so much good stuff here. So much. The Cities of Mars debut was a treasure and the only reason it wasn’t on my top debuts list was because I haven’t had the chance to go back in and put it on. The Young Hunter record? Some of their best work yet. Hell, that Arduini / Balich album alone! Then you’ve got huge releases by Pallbearer, Ufomammut, Paradise Lost, Primitive Man, on and on. Like I said at the outset, one more album and my head was gonna explode this year. Way too much to ever hope to keep up with. One thing though I felt like I really wanted to emphasize including was Dool. They’re in the last spot, but make no mistake, in atmosphere and songwriting that album was something really special and loaded with potential. It’s not there because it came in last. It’s there to highlight the point of how much it should be on this list.

What’s that? More records? Okay…

Honorable Mentions

In case you also weren’t completely overwhelmed this year, maybe another batch of records will do the trick. Here’s some presented alphabetically:

Anathema, The Optimist
Blackfinger, When Colors Fade Away
Child, Blueside
Cortez, The Depths Below
Demon Eye, Prophecies and Lies
Elbrus, Elbrus
Electric Wizard, Wizard Bloody Wizard
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Five Horse Johnson, Jake Leg Boogie
Mirror Queen, Verdigris
The Obsessed, Sacred
T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
Outsideinside, Sniff a Hot Rock
Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
Steak, No God to Save
Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
Valborg, Endstrand
With the Dead, Love from With the Dead

Plus: Abronia, Lewis and the Strange Magics, Iron Monkey, Band of Spice, Puta Volcano, Galley Beggar, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, REZN, Green Meteor, Demon Head, Lord, Grigax, The Raynbow, Carpet, Norska, Les Lekin, Slow, Ixion, and I’m sure more that I’ll add as the names continue to pop into my head.

I did this back in June as well, but I also want to draw attention to a swath of quality live albums that came out this year. The top pick should be no surprise if you’ve been hanging around the site of late:

Live Albums:
1. SubRosa, Subdued Live at Roadburn
2. Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
3. Slomatics, Futurians Live at Roadburn
4. My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
5. Wight, Fusion Rock Invasion
5. Death Alley, Live at Roadburn

Thank You

It’s been a hell of a year, obviously. Musically and otherwise. As always, I cannot possibly come close to thanking you enough for your incredible and ongoing support of The Obelisk, of what this site is, what it’s become over its nearly nine-year run, what it will continue to become going forward from here. It is astounding to me and deeply humbling that you would possibly take time out of your busy day and your busy life to check out what’s going on here, and words fail me continually when it comes to feeling like I can properly convey my appreciation for that. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Thank you for reading. Tattoo it on my forehead.

Thank you to The Patient Mrs. for understanding how much I need to be doing this, to Slevin for keeping the site running on the technical end, to Behrang Alavi for taking over hosting earlier this year, to my family for their ongoing support, to The Pecan for sleeping late some mornings and giving me time to write, and to everyone who ever shared a link on social media or made a comment on a post or anything like that. To long-time readers and to newcomers alike — thank you so much. This year has seen a fair share of ups and downs, but the support this site gets sustains me in ways I never expected it could, and that would be impossible without you. Please know how crucial that is to me.

Well, that should do it. I know there are probably disagreements about where things landed on the list, what was included, what was left out, etc., as there always are. All comments are of course welcome — only thing I’d ask is you please keep it civil and respectful of the opinions of others. Otherwise, have at it. Please.

And one more time, thank you for reading.

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

audiObelisk Transmission 063

Posted in Podcasts on November 23rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk podcast 63

Click Here to Download

 

I don’t do podcasts that often at this point. I figure between the radio stream — which runs 24/7 — and the sundry track streams and other media, video premieres, and so on, there’s not much need. But every now and then I feel completely overwhelmed by the onslaught of music and the chance to put together a compilation of tracks is just too good to pass up. Most of the time, nobody complains. It being the internet, I generally take that as a good sign. If it sucked or was a crappy idea, for sure someone would be telling me to screw off.

So is there a running theme for this latest podcast transmission? Nope, not really. If you’re looking for something to tie it all together, it’s just stuff that I’ve been listening to lately. Some of it has already been covered — Low Orbit, T.G. Olson, 3rd Ear Experience — and some of it has coverage pending — Bong Wish, The Discussion, Arcadian Child, Zong, etc. — but basically this is all what that might be coming out of my speakers over the last however long. Couldn’t be any simpler than that, but for what it’s worth, I think it came together really well, whether it’s Telescope moving into Bong Wish or the transition into the second hour, which is ultra-tripped out, as usual.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Track details follow:

First Hour:

0:00:00 Son of the Morning, “Left Hand Path” from Son of the Morning EP
0:05:08 All Souls, “Silence” from All Souls
0:09:15 Telescope, “With Your Truth” from Telescope EP
0:13:06 Bong Wish, “My Luv” from Bong Wish EP
0:15:29 Torso, “Mirror of My Mind” from Limbs
0:20:17 The Discussion, “Surf Jesus” from European Tour EP 2017
0:24:14 Arcadian Child, “Electric Red” from Afterglow
0:27:01 Comacozer, “Nystagmus” from Kalos Eidos Scopio
0:39:23 Deadly Vipers, “Dead Summer” from Fueltronaut
0:45:20 Low Orbit, “Dead Moon” from Spacecake
0:51:31 T.G. Olson, “On a High Like a Mountain” from Searching for the Ur-Plant
0:55:28 Jesus the Snake, “Karma” from Jesus the Snake

Second Hour:

1:03:31 Zong, “Cosmic Embryo” from Zong
1:16:18 Les Lekin, “Morph” from Died with Fear
1:29:50 3rd Ear Experience, “Infinite Unmanifest (Warm-up Jam Day One)” from Stoned Gold
1:46:34 Sleeping Pandora, “Sunrizer” from Quiet Pass

Total running time: 2:02:04

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 063

 

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

T.G. Olson, Searching for the Ur-Plant: Solitary Brigade

Posted in Reviews on November 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

tg olson searching for the ur-plant

T.G. Olson is rarely far off from his next release. At this point, the Across Tundras frontman has settled into a steady rhythm where every few months, new songs will be recorded and presented for those who’ll have them as name-your-price downloads on Bandcamp. Sometimes — as in the case of his latest, Searching for the Ur-Plant — these DIY digital offerings will be complemented by limited, usually gorgeous and suitably organic-looking handmade CDRs pressed through the auspices of Olson‘s Electric Relics Records imprint. Sometimes not. Either way, the next thing always seems to be on the horizon. This has led to a remarkably productive few years and an increasingly complex narrative as to just what Olson‘s solo work encompasses in terms of style and craft.

Searching for the Ur-Plant was preceded this Spring by the full-length Foothills Before the Mountain (review here), which in turn followed a busy 2016 that produced La Violenza Naturale (review here), the From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues single (discussed here) and the albums The Broken End of the Deal (review here) and Quicksilver Sound (discussed here), and the newer work follows a path distinct from its most immediate predecessor in a way that makes it more difficult to guess what Olson‘s next move might be. Other, of course, than (presumably) putting out another record. Because that’s kind of how he does. The question is how that record will be defined, and the reason that’s harder to determine as a result of the eight-song Searching for the Ur-Plant is because how much it strips down the approach taken on Foothills Before the Mountain.

On sheer sonic terms, the drone-folk arrangements of cuts like opener “On a High Like a Mountain” or the later “New Resistance Blues” aren’t necessarily new ground for Olson, but they represent a turn from what seemed to be more full-band-style fare his last time out toward a more distinctly “solo” feel. The story goes that the material was “handmade from scratch during one rainy week in October 2017. All songs were written new on the spot and recorded one by one until 33:32 minutes had been laid to bare to tape,” and having been completed on Oct. 11, Searching for the Ur-Plant found issue three days later: written, performed, recorded, produced, mixed, mastered and pressed by Olson himself.

At its most minimal, as on “Time Flies By and By,” the album carries that insular feel, but there’s also a good bit of reaching out done in these tracks, which from the early Paul Simon-style bounce of “The Old Brigade” to the later handclaps of the penultimate “Back on the Cross” seem to be in conversation with the human interaction at the root of Americana and folk traditionalism — the idea that songs were meant to be shared, sung by groups together, and so on.

t.g. olson

A big difference is in percussion and the general lack thereof, and where Foothills Before the Mountain was less shy about including drums, those handclaps in “Back on the Cross” are about it as far as outward timekeeping goes. Elsewhere, the key seems to be in call and response vocals — a theme “On a High Like a Mountain” sets early and which continues through the repetition-minded, harmonica-laced “A Constant Companion,” “Time Flies By and By,” “The Old Brigade,” “Trying to Take it All In,” “New Resistance Blues,” and closer “The Ur-Plant” itself — Olson answering his vocal lines in delayed time over acoustic and electric guitar that free-flows between drift and ramble, wistful and playful.

Given the timeline in which Searching for the Ur-Plant was put together — written and tracked in the span of a week — that such consistencies would develop makes sense. Sometimes an idea just gets stuck in your head and needs to be exorcised, and despite that steady element, the songs remain varied in their intent, whether it’s the classic melancholy of “A Constant Companion” with its echoes of airy slide guitar or the soft and swaying guitar and harmonica execution of “The Ur-Plant,” which rounds out in less chorus-focused fashion than cuts like “On a High Like a Mountain” or “The Old Brigade,” but with an absolute center based in the realization of its pastoralia, humble even as it brims with creativity and understated nuance. This too is familiar ground from Olson, but brought to bear with a fascinating patience that would seem to fly in the face of the urgency with which Searching for the Ur-Plant was written and constructed.

It would’ve been easy, in other words, for Olson to come across as rushed on a record that took a week to make. But he doesn’t. Instead, he harvests an eight-song/33-minute collection that sidesteps expectation while remaining quintessentially his in terms of atmosphere and overarching style, which is a balance that, so well struck as it is, defines Searching for the Ur-Plant and serves as the basis for its ultimate success. In intent and manifestation, Olson‘s work would struggle to be any less pretentious than it is, but it remains propelled by a fierce and apparently unyielding creativity, and though this particular outing makes it harder to imagine where Olson might go next — whereas after Foothills Before the Mountain he seemed so primed to continue working toward one-man-band-style arrangements — that unpredictability, met head-on by such depth of songwriting, only becomes yet another asset working in Olson‘s favor.

The discography he’s built at this point is something truly special, and whether one meanders through it as through tall, pathless grasses, or follows step by step as each installment arrives, journey and destination alike seem to satisfy with a warmth all their own. Searching for the Ur-Plant winds up in a lonelier place than some of Olson‘s other offerings, but its sense of longing is resonant, beautiful, and honest. Clearly the search continues.

T.G. Olson, Searching for the Ur-Plant (2017)

Across Tundras on Thee Facebooks

Across Tundras/T.G. Olson on Bandcamp

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

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

the obelisk top-20-2017-so-far

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

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

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

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

Okay, here goes:

The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

elder reflections of a floating world

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mention

Let’s do another 10 releases, shall we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to Come

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

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

Thanks for Reading

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

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

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

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