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.

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T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain: Streams of Life Below

Posted in Reviews on April 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

tg-olson-foothills-before-the-mountain

The latest in a long string of solo full-lengths from founding Across Tundras guitarist/vocalist T.G. OlsonFoothills Before the Mountain nonetheless represents a landmark in the prolific South Dakota-based songwriter’s steadily-expanding catalog. Where recent outings like 2016’s La Violenza Naturale (review here), From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues single (discussed here) and The Broken End of the Deal (review here) and Quicksilver Sound (discussed here) long-players found Olson — who indeed works alone on most of these offerings, playing any and all instruments and recording and releasing DIY as he does here — dug into drone-folk meditations, working to bring together acoustic country blues authenticity and a pervasive experimentalism of form, Foothills Before the Mountain leans decidedly in a different direction.

In some cases, with a song like new-album centerpiece “Dust on the Wayside,” the change is mainly the inclusion of louder and distorted electric guitar and drums laid on top of a similar acoustic foundation, but from the opening title-track onward, Olson seems willing to shirk off minimalism in a way that feels like a significant shift, bringing in flourish of keys, flute, percussion, etc., in mindful arrangements or even just working to play the acoustic and electric guitar off each other more directly, as in “Dying on the Silver Screen,” the second track. Songs vary in structure and overall feel, some darker, some brighter, but all are marked by a production that, while raw, allows for depth enough to mostly bury the vocals in the mix, and all carry the rhythmic ramble and sway that has become perhaps the defining hallmark of Olson‘s songwriting style — or certainly wound up no less so than his Dylanesque approach to singing.

Already noted, the placement of Olson‘s vocals in the mix throughout these tracks — low, always under the guitar, usually coated in reverb; somewhat obscured by the surrounding instrumentation — comes across as entirely purposeful. So much so that as the somewhat intense guitar line of “Foothills Before the Mountain” gives way to the roll of “Dying on the Silver Screen,” which is probably as close as Olson has come in a solo context to sounding like his main outfit, and the drearier march of “No More Debts to Pay,” which is the longest cut on Foothills Before the Mountain at 5:38, one can’t help but wonder if the music itself isn’t intended as an aural representation of landscape. That is, if the fullness of sound around him isn’t the mountain and his own presence is at the foothills, lower, looking up, the way his vocals seem to be echoing to the higher altitude of the guitar laid over.

This impression holds through the moody “A Stones Throw,” and while even at their barest, Olson‘s songs always carry a sense of space with them, that space has yet to spread as wide as it does on Foothills Before the Mountain, and if the tracks are meant to tie together in this way, the theme of being made small by surrounding nature would fit not only with the starkness of the prairie that Olson calls home but also his long-running allegiance to conveying a sense of place in both his solo material and with Across Tundras, the post-Earth Americana rumble of “A Stones Throw” only providing further evidence of intent as it distant-thunder-rumbles some impending threat into “Dust on the Wayside” as the gateway to the record’s second half.

t.g. olson

The winding guitar line of the aforementioned centerpiece feels like a moment of arrival, with a steady build of guitar and handclap-easy punctuation of drums behind, but “simplicity” has proven to be a point of deception for Olson before and it is here again, as neither the elements at use nor their arrangement in the mix are at all haphazard or lacking consciousness behind them. Foothills Before the Mountain, while still sounding as organic as anything Olson has done as a solo artist in the last several years, brings forth an entirely different level of purpose in his songwriting.

I don’t think that’s overstating it, since the shift is one from doing the work of a one-man outfit to basically doing the work of a band. It’s a new mindset. The backing flute in “Leader of the New Death” might be an echo of the opening title cut, but the guitar, drums, drones, vocals and other elements at play around it seem geared toward conveying plurality, and likewise the rhythmic pickup of “What’s Mine,” which pushes the guitar even farther forward in an almost teasing verse progression, slow winding but over a straight-ahead percussive march. Olson‘s in there, a human presence in this wide-cast reach, but perhaps at his most vague, and the contrast between his obscurity and the clarity of definition in the acoustic and electric guitar, the bass and the drums is yet another example of the atmospheric crux of Foothills Before the Mountain: the evocation of landscape through soundscape and exploring where a person fits in that.

The Rocky Mountains are a humbling sight, to put it lightly, and with those foothills in mind it’s maybe not wrong to think of Olson as humbling himself before them in “What’s Mine,” ironic as that might make the title, but either way, the overarching impression of humanity as a small thing and nature as a big thing is the core of what the record presents conceptually, and it remains vigilant as side B heads toward its finale with “From Where You Came” and “Cut Losses.” The latter, the closer, is the shortest inclusion at 4:21 and it follows a tempo kick in “From Where You Came,” which boasts more stomp than just about anything before it, marked by an echoing snare, howling lead line and crisp strum. Also speedier than “What’s Mine” or “Leader of the new Death,” “Cut Losses” closes out instrumentally and comes fairly close to a genuine wash between its low and high ends, a current of drone playing out beneath energetic guitars and far-back percussion, tonal fuzz and acoustics melding together one last time against a backdrop of ghostly noise, culminating in a decisive but not necessarily cold finish.

When Olson first posted Foothills Before the Mountain — which, like all his releases, is available name-your-price from the Across Tundras and T.G. Olson combined Bandcamp page — I speculated that perhaps the fuller sound was itself the foothills and the mountain before it/them was the prospect of a new album from Across Tundras, whose last long-player, Electric Relics (review here), came out four years ago. Having dug further into Foothills Before the Mountain, I’m not sure I still feel that way. It’s certainly not impossible that’s Olson‘s intent, that this record should be a transition back into actually functioning as part of a complete-band lineup, but it seems more likely that the mountain in question here is creativity itself, and that, like all works in one way or another, these songs are telling the story of their own making even as their execution expands and in some ways redefines the scope of their creator’s aesthetic. I won’t guess at what Olson will do next, as to do so would simply be an opportunity to be wrong, but as much development as he’s shown as a singer-songwriter over the last several years, Foothills Before the Mountain feels like a crucial forward step for and from him, and whatever it leads to can only benefit from the lessons to be gleaned in its tracks.

T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain (2017)

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Across Tundras/T.G. Olson on Bandcamp

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T.G. Olson Releases New Album Foothills Before the Mountain

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

T.G. Olson of Across Tundras steps away from the acoustic drone folk of his recent solo work with his latest album, Foothills Before the Mountain, and it doesn’t take long for one to notice the change. In addition to layers of acoustic and electric guitar, flutes, organ, vocals, tambourine, and so on, the opening title-track has a rhythmic heft and — wait for it — drums! It’s much more of a full-band vibe this time out, and it may indeed be that the mountain whose foothills we’re standing in is the much-awaited next offering from Across Tundras. If that’s the case, Olson is effectively drawing the line sonically in that direction here, as cuts like “Dying on the Silver Screen” and “What’s Mine” have that inimitable combination of swing and Americana ramble that has become the hallmark of Across Tundras‘ style.

I’m going to review the Foothills Before the Mountain hopefully sometime in the next couple weeks, so I won’t say much more about it than that for now. Olson, however, was kind enough to offer some comment on its making, and as ever, the album’s been released as a name-your-price download on the Across Tundras/T.G. Olson Bandcamp, and you can stream it and get the files at the bottom of this post.

Dig it:

tg-olson-foothills-before-the-mountain

T.G. Olson – Foothills Before the Mountain

New album of heavy sounds available for free/name your price download!

Played, recorded, and mixed by T.G. Olson in the months of December 2016 through March 2017. All instrumentation played by T.G. Olson.

Tanner Olson on Foothills Before the Mountain:

After finishing La Violenza Naturale and really all the recent solo albums which leaned towards the lighter folk/country side and followed a similar formula, I just knew wanted to do something drastically different. I actually wrote these songs and recorded the basic structure on organ first… which I had never done before. I had no idea what they would turn into from the outset. As I started recording and building the tracks the sound took shape and it was somewhere in between Across Tundras and T.G. Olson along with weird ’90s and other random influences. It’s a bit different than previous albums… but what the hell, Across Tundras and my solo stuff are all over the place musically as is… so I guess it keeps up with that unpredictable and changing nature.

I also thought it would be a good little tide over until the new Across Tundras album finally sees the light of day, which will hopefully be later this year. The songs are written and demoed, just waiting for everyone involved who are currently scattered around the country to come together and start playing again!

Tracklisting:
1. Foothills Before the Mountain 04:47
2. Dying on the Silver Screen 04:53
3. No More Debts to Pay 05:37
4. A Stones Throw 05:01
5. Dust on the Wayside 05:02
6. Leader of the New Death 05:02
7. What’s Mine 04:43
8. From Where You Came 04:55
9. Cut Losses 04:21

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

T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain (2017)

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T.G. Olson, La Violenza Naturale: Over New Horizons

Posted in Reviews on December 16th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

t.g. olson la violenza naturale

A headphone listen reveals subtle layering in the vocals of the opener to T.G. Olson‘s latest album, La Violenza Naturale. Given the fact that he’s the same T.G. Olson who in 2013 put out The Complete Blood Meridian for Electric Drone Guitar, a six-disc drone soundtrack to Cormac McCarthy’s novel, it’s hardly the most experimental move he’s ever made, but in the context of his more folkish material, much of which is recorded live, it becomes a noteworthy bit of flourish to “Broken Trails,” however subtle it might otherwise be.

Olson, founder and frontman of Across Tundras, continues his prolific stream of solo releases with the 35-minute collection, following earlier 2016’s single From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues (discussed here) and full-lengths The Broken End of the Deal (review here) and Quicksilver Sound (discussed here) as well as the Across Tundras EP, Home Free (discussed here), and 2015 outings including albums The Wandering Protagonist (review here) and The Boom and Bust(discussed here), which themselves followed 2014’s The Rough Embrace (review here; vinyl review here) and  2013’s The Bad Lands to Cross (discussed here) and Hell’s Half Acre (discussed here), as well as the most recent proper Across Tundras long-player, Electric Relics (review here), which is well due for a follow-up. La Violenza Naturale — the title of which seems to have been shortened from La Violenza Naturale / The Natural Violence from when it came out in November, if the revised cover art is anything to go by — finds its release in the same sans-ceremony manner as all of the above: it wasn’t on Bandcamp, and then it was.

Physical release on limited CD and tape and the potentiality of vinyl have been floated for 2017, but for now, it follows in the string of digital offerings put out there waiting for those who would find them to do so. Albeit somewhat post-modern, there’s a kind of romanticism to the notion of making a bunch of sonic postcards and tossing them into the digital ether, and maybe the persistent Americholy that Olson fuses into his material plays to that. Hearing songs like “Lonely Bright Lights” and “Sights Set on Destruction,” not only do the layered vocals of “Broken Trails” become a theme alongside the blend of lap steel and acoustic guitar, effects, organ and synth, but even compared to some of his other solo work — that is, the output he plays, records and issues himself, even going so far as to construct the physical packaging when there is any — La Violenza Naturale carries a meditative feel.

This is the case even unto the penultimate take on the Peruvian folk song “El Condor Pasa,” perhaps best known from Simon & Garfunkel‘s 1970 album, Bridge over Troubled Water and the spacious wash of instrumental post-rock guitar that follows on the closing title-track, organ or other keyboard sounding like a pan-flute as it cuts through the breadth surrounding. These turns follow the wistful “Welcome to Anywhere U.S.A.,” which is stood out for its repetitive cycles of lyrics and the slow-motion ramble that’s an indelible mark of Olson‘s songwriting, and present here even when the guitar seems to be so minimally plucked and the organ so far off in the background as to make one unsure they’re not imagining its presence in the first place. Just as likely as not that’s the intent, but the point is that as one has come to expect from Olson‘s work, the more put into listening, the more is gained from that process.

One particular highlight here is “Imemine,” which seems to play off the George Harrison/Beatles refrain, reinventing it over a bed of slide and acoustic guitar as a centerpiece after “Sights Set on Destruction” and before “To the Simples Times…” [sic], which takes on a more drawn-out feel of essentially the same blend, adding organ to the mix as a low-end backdrop and departs from some of the catchier sentiments of “Broken Trails,” “Bearing Down” or the pointedly Dylanesque “Lonely Bright Lights” at the start of the album. There’s little reassurance to be found in these tracks, or in “Sights Set on Destruction” and “Imemine,” which is fitting or their all having been recorded in Fall 2016, but if Olson is speaking to current events however vaguely, he’s well within folk bounds in so doing, and flood of guitar effects behind him in “Sights Set on Destruction” as he begs, “Please don’t come undone,” would seem to speak to an underlying threat only beginning to come to fruition. I wouldn’t mind an album of protest songs, if it came to it, but whether or not he’ll get there I wouldn’t try to predict.

The surest bet to make when it comes to Olson‘s solo output to-date is that it will exist. Over the last three-plus years, he’s found himself as a singer-songwriter and worked relentlessly to refine and develop on that level while also keeping a strong element of experimentalism to go with the traditions with which he’s in conversation. By account of his track record over the same stretch, this would seem to be an ongoing process rather than one that has hit a point of arrival at which it will rest or otherwise stagnate. La Violenza Naturale is the latest realization of a tireless creativity, and while one invariably wonders how long Olson can keep up his multiple-albums-per-year pace, it’s worth appreciating while it lasts, especially when it results in outings as rich and immersive as this.

T.G. Olson, La Violenza Naturale (2016)

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T.G. Olson Releases New Full-Length La Violenza Naturale / The Natural Violence

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 4th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

“Is the insincerity killing you like it’s killing me?” asks Across Tundras frontman T.G. Olson in “Broken Trails,” the opening track of his latest solo release, the full-length La Violenza Naturale / The Natural Violence. Fair enough question for a Fall 2016 recording to ask, and as he encourages listeners to “Just keep pushin’ on” on the subsequent “Bearing Down,” the album’s perspective would seem to be cemented. Sonically, this latest outing follows Olson‘s by-now-well-established solo format of headphone-worthy drone-folk, less experimental than he sometimes can be — though the closing title-track spaces out plenty — but always holding to the oragnic undercurrent that’s a hallmark of all his work to-date.

As ever, it’s a name-your-price download available through the Across Tundras Bandcamp. Limited CD and tape releases are planned, with vinyl to follow as a conditional. Probably don’t need to say it, but I’ll be buying one of those CDs when they’re available, under the reasoning that: 1) such relentless creativity is worthy of direct support; 2) I know from past experience how much effort Olson puts into those packages; and 3) if enough people shell out, he’ll do a vinyl release, and I wouldn’t mind picking up one of those either. Will probably get a review going sometime in the next however long — hopefully before he puts out another record; one never knows when it will happen, only that it will — but for now, you can check out the release info and the stream of La Violenza Naturale / The Natural Violence below. Note that Ramble Hill Farm has moved from Tennessee to Nebraska.

As seen on the internet:

t-g-olson-la-violenza-naturale-the-natural-violence

Limited to 33 Cassette and Gold CDR with hand bound lyric book coming soon. All monies made from downloads go towards getting this album pressed on vinyl. Thanks for listening and your support.

Played, recorded, and mixed by T.G. Olson in the Summer and Fall of 2016 @ Ramble Hill Farm, Plattsmouth, NE. Released November 2, 2016.

El Condor Pasa written by Simon & Garfunkel. Arrangement by T.G. Olson.

T.G. Olson : Guitars, Slides, Vocals, Words, Organ, Synths, Feedback, Drones

T.G. Olson, La Violenza Naturale / The Natural Violence tracklisting:
1. Broken Trails 04:39
2. Bearing Down 04:05
3. Lonely Bright Lights 03:54
4. Sights Set on Destruction 03:48
5. Imemine 03:41
6. To the Simples Times… 03:32
7. Welcome to Anywhere USA 04:16
8. El Condor Pasa 03:50
9. La Violenza Naturale 03:22

https://www.facebook.com/AcrossTundrasBand/
https://acrosstundras.bandcamp.com/album/la-violenza-naturale-the-natural-violence

T.G. Olson, La Violenza Naturale / The Natural Violence (2016)

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T.G. Olson Releases New Single From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 5th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

It’s been what, days? since the last time we heard from Across Tundras frontman T.G. Olson with his solo album, The Broken End of the Deal? Granted, that review was hardly timed to the record’s release, but the fact of the matter is that Olson doesn’t give much by way of a heads up when he’s putting stuff out, so hopefully my being behind the times can be forgiven. Even in this case, the From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues single — recorded at Ramble Hill Farm, in I believe Tennessee, I’m not sure when — has already been out for a few days. Some people are forever playing catchup, and by some people, I mean me. Makes me feel busy.

The A-side is an original, and features Olson on all instruments and vocals for an active full-band feel that anyone itching for a new album from Across Tundras (as I am, if I haven’t made that clear) might take as a sign of things moving in that direction, at least as much as anything is ever a sign of anything, and the B-side is a Wooden Wand cover that basks in slow, bluesy sway while keeping a firm grip on a discontented atmosphere. Vibe pervades both cuts, however, and even on a quick release such as this, Olson casts a personal stamp of melancholy Americana that many try to engage and fall woefully short. You’ll hear what I mean when you listen.

As ever, the download is name-your-price, so go ahead and name one:

tg olson from the rocky peaks-700

From the Rocky Peaks b?/?w Servant to Blues by T.G. Olson

New digi single from T.G. Olson with a Wooden Wand cover on the backside. Available now for free/name your price download!

1. From the Rocky Peaks 04:22
2. Servant to Blues (Wooden Wand cover) 03:02

Recorded, played, and mixed by T.G. Olson @ Ramble Hill Farm. Released August 31, 2016.

New Sounds of the Past. Old Sounds for the Future.

*Servant to Blues written by Wooden Wand. Support one of the best modern songwriters out there: woodenwand.bandcamp.com

*TGO cross stitch by Sheila Ausland. Love you Grandma. RIP

https://www.facebook.com/AcrossTundrasBand/
http://acrosstundras.bandcamp.com/album/from-the-rocky-peaks-b-w-servant-to-blues

T.G. Olson, From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues (2016)

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T.G. Olson, The Broken End of the Deal: Distill and Ferment

Posted in Reviews on August 24th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

tg olson the broken end of the deal

The odd dichotomy that has taken hold in the output of T.G. Olson is that he’s just about completely reliable but you never quite know what you’re going to get. We’re now three years removed from Electric Relics (review here), the last full-length from Olson‘s main outfit, Across Tundras, but in that time the guitarist, vocalist, auteur and DIY packaging specialist has hardly kept still. To wit, he’s put forth no fewer than six solo offerings, including 2013’s The Bad Lands to Cross (discussed here) and Hell’s Half Acre (discussed here), 2014’s The Rough Embrace (review here; vinyl review here), 2015’s The Wandering Protagonist (review here) and The Boom and Bust (discussed here), and 2016’s Quicksilver Sound (discussed here), along with a 2016 Across Tundras EP, Home Free (discussed here).

These all arrived in much the same way as his latest outing, The Broken End of the Deal — via Bandcamp, name-your-price download with a possible follow-up physical pressing on tape, CD or vinyl, usually in a limited, dirt-cheap handcrafted package, tossed into the great digital ether almost completely sans fanfare. Perhaps the underlying truth of Olson‘s work is that he’s too busy writing new releases to promote the ones he’s already finished, but either way, the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, by way of Nashville, Tennessee, by way of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native brings out some of his richest and most complex soundscaping on The Broken End of the Deal, effectively marrying two sides of his prior solo material that have grown together over time so that cinematic drone and barebones Americana almost impossibly coexist and flow in parallel across eight tracks/28 minutes that nonetheless keep a strong current of improvisation at their core.

In addition to helming the recording, Olson played all the instruments — some I wouldn’t even guess what they are — on The Broken End of the Deal, and he’s worked in this form enough times by now that it’s clear he knows what he’s going for sound-wise, though his process is still well open enough to let happy accidents happen when they will. Organ adds a gospel inflection to the end of the drone-folk opener “Tough Break” and the following “Hope Slivers,” as well as the closing duo of “Always Turning Away” and “Walk the Lonesome Valley,” and while one doubts that bookend is coincidental, it’s hardly the full tale when it comes to the scope of the album. And at 28 minutes, it is an album. In its construction, flow and ambient depth, The Broken End of the Deal builds a fluid full-length momentum, and though some tracks are barely more than on either side of a minute long, like “Green Sahara” (more organ there as well), the string-infused “Hum” or the aforementioned “Always Turning Away,” they add to what longer pieces like “Tough Break” and eight-minute album highlight “Blisslessness” accomplish in atmosphere and overall breadth.

tg olson

Tied together by a spirit of persistent twang, Olson‘s vocals, and overriding melancholy, as well as background drones that fill spaces that otherwise might give way to minimalism, The Broken End of the Deal allows its arrangements to wander, “Hope Slivers” blending acoustic and electric guitar, organs, drones, harmonica and voice, as well presumably as two or three other things Olson had in the room at that time. It’s the fact that nothing feels out of place or like it pushes too far that makes the songwriting such a standout. “Green Sahara” gives way to open-country psychedelia, an ethereal pastoralism that one wishes were more than 1:21, but “Blisslessness” hums in on guitar noise and flute and keys, and unfolds a full experimentalist dronescape almost completely departed sonically from “Tough Break” or even “Hope Slivers,” but still of the same spirit and among the most evocative of Olson‘s individual solo pieces.

The transition into “Hum” comes with a fade out and back in, and the briefest cut on The Broken End of the Deal at just 55 seconds long digging quickly into a foreboding swirl before the more immediate guitar/drone/vocal start of “Distilled to Nothing” begins, Olson‘s verse delivered quietly and still with plenty of effects, but nonetheless forward in the mix in a way it isn’t on earlier tracks. Repetitions of the title line, “Distilled down to nothing,” seem to hint at the root message of the record, but that this dirge should come with such a complex wash of sound is a contrast that shouldn’t be overlooked. Olson‘s done barebones before — though written and recorded completely on his own, this isn’t necessarily it. At 1:12, “Always Turning Away” breaks in half and plays out first forward and then apparently again backward as though to underline the experimentalist heart in the work overall, and closer “Walk the Lonesome Valley” brings prominent guitar strums, organ, far-back voice, drone and percussion, which I think might be a first since “Tough Break.”

Like its predecessors, “Walk the Lonesome Valley” is both familiar and captivating in being so out of place in this universe, an oddity that you already seem to know, like when you’re dreaming you have a hole in your head and that’s just always the way life has been. It makes its own sense. I’m not sure I’d call it an apex in the traditional sense, but the soulful kind of falsetto comes to a head later in the track with guitar and organ backing, and the end of The Broken End of the Deal comes with a quick fade, which no doubt is the result of Olson needing to get to work on the next album. All kidding aside, these tracks mark a pivotal next step in continuing to bridge the various facets of Olson‘s songwriting modus, and in so doing prove themselves to be anything but broken. I would not venture to guess what might come next for him as a songwriter, and I don’t think he would either, but whatever it might be, he never fails to move forward with each outing. Reliable, even if you don’t know what you’re going to get.

Across Tundras on Thee Facebooks

Across Tundras/T.G. Olson on Bandcamp

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T.G. Olson Releases New Album The Broken End of the Deal

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 23rd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Some of T.G. Olson‘s work steers toward raw folk and blues, and some of it is flat-out drone experimentalism. With his new solo — and I do mean solo, since he performs everything on it, recorded and mixed — album, the Across Tundras guitarist/vocalist effectively brings the two sides together, resulting in a kind of ritualized soundscape Americana. There’s something lurking deep in the underlying hum of “Blisslessness,” but a steady acoustic strum there and in the earlier “Hope Slivers” that keeps the material grounded, leaving Olson‘s vocals free to become part of the ether, which they do, contributing either far-back lyrics or ambient melody, as on the aforementioned “Blisslessness,” the longest track on the album by far at over eight minutes.

The album just got released — like, an hour ago — so obviously there’s no word yet on whether or not Olson will put together a physical version. In the meantime, it’s available via the Across Tundras/T.G. Olson Bandcamp page in name-your-price fashion.

I know I’ve said this before, but if you don’t already keep up with that Bandcamp page, you should. Aside from being dirt cheap on the whole, Olson‘s physical releases are almost always gorgeously hand-made and come with extra tracks, individualized package designs, etc.

Still waiting on news one of these days about the next Across Tundras LP, but in the meantime, The Broken End of the Deal is Olson‘s second solo offering of the year behind January’s Quicksilver Sound (discussed here), so there’s been plenty to chew on:

tg olson the broken end of the deal

The Broken End of the Deal by T.G. Olson

Across Tundras & T.G. Olson just released The Broken End of the Deal by T.G. Olson.

1. Tough Break 05:11
2. Hope Slivers 03:34
3. Green Sahara 01:21
4. Blisslessness 08:15
5. Hum 00:54
6. Distilled to Nothing 03:14
7. Always Turning Away 01:12
8. Walk the Lonesome Valley 04:28

All instruments and soundscapes were improvised, played, distorted, recorded, and mixed by T.G. Olson in the Spring of 2016.

New Sounds of the Past. Old Sounds for the Future.

http://acrosstundras.bandcamp.com/album/the-broken-end-of-the-deal
https://www.facebook.com/ACROSS-TUNDRAS-67862323857/

T.G. Olson, The Broken End of the Deal (2016)

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