Here’s Why I Decided to Do Merch Again

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 18th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Yeah, I said it would never happen. First of all, this is rock and roll, and anyone who’s ever seen a reunion show — which I think at this point is everybody — should know how long ‘never’ lasts. It doesn’t matter what I said. Doesn’t matter what I say now either, I guess. Okay, post over. Thanks for reading.

I know money’s tight. Money’s tight for me too. I’m as broke as I’ve ever been. I’m not doing merch for money. I’m doing merch because this site is coming up on a special occasion and it’s one of the little ways to celebrate it.

And it is a celebration. Last time I did tshirts and hoodies, it was very much a first-timer experience. I was so dumb about it. Took preorders for a week and sold 110 shirts, then had to have them all made and sent out to the US and Europe and Japan and Australia. It was a HUGE expense on my part and a significant pain in the ass, and in the end I lost money on the endeavor.

Well, along come Dave from Made in Brooklyn Silkscreeners — who did the stuff last time, so I know it’s quality work — and Matt Bacon from Dropout Merch, and they’ve got a fulfillment model. Nothing’s made that isn’t sold, and they handle all the shipping and it’s all built into the cost. I get $10 per shirt sold, which is more than I made doing it myself, and none of the extra work that, worst of all, cut into my writing time. I trust them to not screw it up or screw anyone over. That’s what matters.

There are four designs and here they are (click to enlarge):

The top two are by CAVUMscriptorum and Harley and J, and the bottom two are Alexander von Wieding. The CAVUM one (top left) and the von Wieding without the rays (bottom left) are new this time. It makes me sad to think that I’d feel too much like dude-in-his-own-band’s-shirt to wear one, but that space boogie design is fucking rad. I think they’re all cool and I hope you agree.

If you buy a shirt, thanks. You’re directly helping to support my ability to do this site as well as, I don’t know, buy groceries? If you don’t buy a shirt and you think I’m a scumbag trying to make a buck, well, okay, but if that was my aim, I’d probably have folded this fucking endeavor a long time ago and gotten an actual job for which I probably wouldn’t work half as hard or care half as much.

Alright, that’s it. Thanks for reading, and thanks to MIBK Dave and Matt Bacon for coddling my hyper-protective ass through the process of getting this going,

Merch is here if you’re interested. Appreciate the support either way: https://www.dropoutmerch.com/the-obelisk

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What are the Best Releases of 2018 So Far?

Posted in The Debate Rages on July 3rd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

best releases of 2018

In internet parlance, I’m asking for a friend. Except the friend is me, which I think is the whole gag with that anyway. Whatever, you get the point.

Among my several — always charming — compulsions, I keep ongoing notes for this site. I log upcoming reviews, stuff for the Quarterly Review, ideas for things that never manifest — I swear someday I’ll put up that list of the best desert rock songs written nowhere near a desert, so help me — and most importantly, the best releases for the year. Best albums, best EPs, best songs, best cover art. Everything that goes into the year-end lists that come up in December is the product of the whole year’s worth of keeping track.

My notes for 2018 were on my old laptop, Big Red, which was stolen from me while I was in the UK early in May. Some you win, some you lose. I’ve got The Silver Fox these days, but I haven’t been able to replenish my notes to their fullest as of yet.

It’s been tradition around here to do a six-month check-in on the best albums of the year. I could go back through all the reviews and find what I’ve covered and add it to the 20 or so records off the top of my head, but, frankly, that’s no fun. I’d rather see what everyone else thinks.

So instead of telling, I’m taking the opportunity to ask: What are the Best Releases of 2018 So Far?

I don’t care about genre, album, EP, single, demo, live record, whatever. Anything at all you want to name is welcome here. Really. All I’m interested in is knowing what you’re passionate about, and if I get reminded of something I had in my old notes along the way, bonus. I’m still going to go back and dig through the 2018 reviews, but I’m hoping this will be a good time for all.

Again, any picks welcome, and in any number. Top five, top 10, top 50. Please just leave a comment on this post with your favorites and let’s have some fun talking about kickass records.

Oh, and if you want to mention something you’re looking forward to that’s not out yet, that’s welcome too.

Thanks in advance.

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This is the 10,000th Post on The Obelisk

Posted in The Numbers on March 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk 10000th post

Well, here we are. It took some nine-plus years, but The Obelisk has finally hit its 10,000th post. This, as it happens, is it.

I told The Patient Mrs. the other day it was coming up and she very reasonably asked me what I was doing to celebrate. My answer: I’ll probably put up a post with a big number 10,000 at the top of it, maybe throw in a “thanks for reading” and then go about my business. That’s pretty much what I plan to do. Today’s a pretty busy day.

But before I dig into the rest of it, I just need to take a quick second and of course say thank you to everyone who has made this possible over this succession of years. The Patient Mrs. first and foremost. My family. To Slevin. My friends and the people in bands and readers who’ve become my friends. The label and PR folks. I’m crass and impatient and opinionated to a fault, and accordingly not the easiest person to get along with. To anyone who’s ever reached out to send me a record to review or even just to hear — “Hey man, I don’t even need a review, I just want you to listen if you have time” — thank you.

the obelisk art by maarten dondersAnd it’s kind of become a tagline at this point, but really, thank you for reading. I’m going to try to be merciful and keep this short, but it means so, so, so much to me to think that when I put something like this out there into the vast ether of the internet, it catches eyes. Maybe you don’t read every day. Maybe you think I suck at this and I’m a punk. Maybe you don’t even think about the fact that there’s a person behind this stuff, or you think there’s a staff of writers (nope: no staff), but please know how grateful I am for every comment, every share, every like, every retweet, every screenshot that shows up on Instagram. All of it. It’s everything to me at this point. As outlets go, it’s all I’ve got.

But rest assured, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This past week, The Obelisk page on Thee Facebooks also passed 7,000 likes and my personal account, in addition to the 5,000 friends that’s the max they allow, also passed 2,000 followers. I’m over 3,000 on Instagram and coming up on that on Twitter too. Thank you for all of that as well.

Will there be another 10,000 posts? I don’t know. In nine years, I’ll be 45 years old. Not to say it couldn’t or wouldn’t happen, but I’ve said all along that I don’t know what the future will bring, and I still feel that way. This is still an ongoing project, and I guess it will be until it isn’t anymore. Whenever that is, I assume I’ll know.

Oh, and my only regret about the last 9,999 posts before this one? That more of them weren’t about how much Acid King kicks ass. Because, man oh man, Acid King kicks some ass.

Thanks so much for reading. We go onward. Head down, keep working.

All my best,
JJ Koczan

 

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The Obelisk is Nine Years Old Today

Posted in Features on January 30th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

9

In the immortal words of David Spade in Tommy Boy: ‘Did I catch a niner in there?’ Indeed you did. The Obelisk is nine years old today.

Kind of difficult to believe we’re at the end of January 2018 already — or, you know, at 2018 in general, which still sounds like and definitely is the scary future to my increasingly dated ass — but the calendar hasn’t started lying to me yet that I know of, and the last weekend of the first month is traditionally when I mark the occasion that Slevin registered the domain, installed the WordPress back end and let me loose upon my own self-indulgence to begin this project that, now entering its 10th year, has consumed a major, major portion of my life and identity.

I had no idea what I was getting into. I’ve always been a compulsive person. Always been prone to setting up routines, forming habits, rituals, etc., but I think if you look back on the last nine years of my life and see defining moments in everything from professional shifts to life changes, moving from my beloved Garden State of New Jersey to my significantly-less-beloved-even-though-there-are-a-lot-of-good-people-here Bay State of Massachusetts, the birth of my son just over three months ago and the shift I’m undergoing now in addressing long-seeded issues of mental illness while also working to become the best stay-at-home dad I can be for The Pecan — it’s been The Patient Mrs. and The Obelisk (very much in that order) as the two constants in my life. Whatever else I have going on in a given day, I’d have a hard time not feeling lucky in considering that.

It’s not always easy. It’s a lot of work, and I get overwhelmed, especially just being one person behind the site on the writing end, but I am lucky to spend every minute of the day that I can writing. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, and I know plenty of people who dream of doing one thing and lose all their days doing something else. I fail to see it far too often, but I am deeply, deeply fortunate.

It is worth acknowledging this every chance I get.

I owe my life, my time and my heart to The Patient Mrs. She is the cornerstone and the foundation of everything I am, and while she may or may not ultimately want to include that line among the many accomplishments of her CV, it’s true just the same. Deep and heartfelt thanks as well to Patrick Slevin, whom I miss desperately and don’t see nearly enough (I’ll be in Jersey in March; lunch? dinner?) and remains instrumental in keeping this place up and running. And to Behrang Alavi, who since taking over hosting duties has absolutely killed it in that regard and this weekend even oversaw the awaited implementation of a mobile-optimized version of the site. That’s right. If you’re reading this on your phone, you might notice it doesn’t look like crap.

There are so many others. My family, whose support is endless. Walter and Becky from Roadburn. Everyone who reads and shares links. The bands who get in touch. The labels and PR firms who support this project. The promoters and groups who bring me on board to present shows and tours.

I say I didn’t know what The Obelisk would turn into nine years ago, and that’s very much true, but I also had no idea what The Obelisk would be now a year ago, and likewise, I have no idea now what it will be in another year. That’s what makes this exciting.

Believe it or not, I’ll be hitting 10,000 posts on this site pretty soon, so I’ll save more thanks and whatnot for that, but really, I can’t tell you how much your ongoing support means to this site and to me personally. Thank you for being part of this. Let’s keep it going.

All the best,
JJ Koczan

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The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2017

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top 20 short releases

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.

This is the hardest list to put together, no question. Don’t get me wrong, I put way too much thought into all of them, but this one is damn near impossible to keep up with. Every digital single, every demo, every EP, every 7″, 10″ one-sided 12″, whatever it is. There’s just too much. I’m not going to claim to have heard everything. Hell, that’s what the comments are for. Let me know what I missed. Invariably, something.

So while the headers might look similar, assuming I can ever remember which fonts I use from one to the next, this list has a much different personality than, say, the one that went up earlier this week with the top 20 debuts of 2017. Not that I heard everyone’s first record either, but we’re talking relative ratios here. The bottom line is please just understand I’ve done my best to hear as much as possible. I’m only one person, and there are only so many hours in the day. Eventually your brain turns into riffy mush.

With that caveat out of the way, I’m happy to present the following roundup of some of what I thought were 2017’s best short releases. That’s EPs, singles, demos, splits — pretty much anything that wasn’t a full-length album, and maybe one or two things that were right on the border of being one. As between genres, the lines are blurry these days. That’s part of what makes it fun.

Okay, enough dawdling. Here we go:

lo-pan-in-tensions

The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 Short Releases of 2017

1. Lo-Pan, In Tensions
2. Godhunter, Codex Narco
3. Year of the Cobra, Burn Your Dead
4. Shroud Eater, Three Curses
5. Stubb, Burning Moon
6. Canyon, Canyon
7. Solace, Bird of Ill Omen
8. Kings Destroy, None More
9. Tarpit Boogie, Couldn’t Handle… The Heavy Jam
10. Supersonic Blues, Supersonic Blues Theme
11. Come to Grief, The Worst of Times EP
12. Rope Trick, Red Tape
13. Eternal Black, Live at WFMU
14. IAH, IAH
15. Bong Wish, Bong Wish EP
16. Rattlesnake, Outlaw Boogie Demo
17. Hollow Leg, Murder
18. Mars Red Sky, Myramyd
19. Avon, Six Wheeled Action Man Tank 7″
20. Wretch, Bastards Born

Honorable Mention

Across Tundras, Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain
The Discussion, Tour EP
Fungus Hill, Creatures
Switchblade Jesus & Fuzz Evil, The Second Coming of Heavy – Chapter Seven
The Grand Astoria, The Fuzz of Destiny
Test Meat, Demo
Blood Mist, Blood Mist
Sweat Lodge, Tokens for Hell
Dautha, Den Foerste
Scuzzy Yeti, Scuzzy Yeti
Howling Giant, Black Hole Space Wizard Part 2
Decasia, The Lord is Gone
Bible of the Devil/Leeches of Lore, Split 7″

I can’t imagine I won’t add a name or two or five to this section over the next few days as I think of other things and people remind me of stuff and so on, so keep an eye out, but the point is there’s way more than just what made the top 20. That Across Tundras single would probably be on the list proper just on principle, but I heard it like a week ago and it doesn’t seem fair. Speaking of unfair, The Discussion, Howling Giant, The Grand Astoria and the Bible of the Devil/Leeches of Lore split all deserve numbered placement easily. I might have to make this a top 30 in 2018, just to assuage my own guilt at not being able to include everything I want to include. For now though, yeah, this is just the tip of the doomberg.

Notes

To be totally honest with you, that Lo-Pan EP came out Jan. 13 and pretty much had the year wrapped up in my head from that point on. It was going to be hard for anything to top In Tensions, and the Godhunter swansong EP came close for the sense of stylistic adventurousness it wrought alone, and ditto that for Year of the Cobra’s bold aesthetic expansions on Burn Your Dead and Shroud Eater’s droning Three Cvrses, but every time I heard Jeff Martin singing “Pathfinder,” I knew it was Lo-Pan’s year and all doubt left my mind. Of course, for the Ohio four-piece, In Tensions is something of a one-off with the departure already of guitarist Adrian Zambrano, but I still have high hopes for their next record. It would be hard not to.

The top five is rounded out by Stubb’s extended jam/single “Burning Moon,” which was a spacey delight and new ground for them to cover. The self-titled debut EP from Philly psych rockers Canyon, which they’ve already followed up, is next. I haven’t had the chance to hear the new one yet, but Canyon hit a sweet spot of psychedelia and heavy garage that made me look forward to how they might develop, so I’ll get there sooner or later. Solace’s return was nothing to balk at with their cassingle “Bird of Ill Omen” and the Sabbath cover with which they paired it, and though Kings Destroy weirded out suitably on the 14-minute single-song EP None More, I hear even greater departures are in store with their impending fourth LP, currently in progress.

A couple former bandmates of mine feature in Tarpit Boogie in guitarist George Pierro and bassist John Eager, and both are top dudes to be sure, but even if we didn’t have that history, it would be hard to ignore the tonal statement they made on their Couldn’t Handle… The Heavy Jam EP. If you didn’t hear it, go chase it down on Bandcamp. Speaking of statements, Supersonic Blues’ Supersonic Blues Theme 7″ was a hell of an opening salvo of classic boogie that I considered to be one of the most potential-laden offerings of the year. Really. Such warmth to their sound, but still brimming with energy in the most encouraging of ways. Another one that has to be heard to be believed.

The dudes are hardly newcomers, but Grief offshoot Come to Grief sounded pretty fresh — and raw — on their The Worst of Times EP, and the Massachusetts extremists check in right ahead of fellow New Englangers Rope Trick, who are an offshoot themselves of drone experimentalists Queen Elephantine. Red Tape was a demo in the demo tradition, and pretty formative sounding, but seemed to give them plenty of ground on which to develop their aesthetic going forward, and I wouldn’t ask more of it than that.

Eternal Black gave a much-appreciated preview of their Bleed the Days debut long-player with Live at WFMU and earned bonus points for recording it at my favorite radio station, while Argentine trio IAH probably went under a lot of people’s radar with their self-titled EP but sent a fervent reminder that that country’s heavy scene is as vibrant as ever. Boston-based psych/indie folk outfit Bong Wish were just the right combination of strange, melodic and acid-washed to keep me coming back to their self-titled EP on Beyond Beyond is Beyond, and as Adam Kriney of The Golden Grass debuted his new project Rattlesnake with the Outlaw Boogie demo, the consistency of his songcraft continued to deliver a classic feel. Another one to watch out for going into the New Year.

I wasn’t sure if it was fair to include Hollow Leg’s Murder or not since it wound up getting paired with a special release of their latest album, but figured screw it, dudes do good work and no one’s likely to yell about their inclusion here. If you want to quibble, shoot me a comment and quibble away. Mars Red Sky only released Myramyd on vinyl — no CD, no digital — and I never got one, but heard a private stream at one point and dug that enough to include them here anyway. They remain perennial favorites.

Avon, who have a new record out early in 2018 on Heavy Psych Sounds, delivered one of the year’s catchiest tracks with the “Six Wheeled Action Man Tank” single. I feel like I’ve had that song stuck in my head for the last two months, mostly because I have. And Wretch may or may not be defunct at this point — I saw word that drummer Chris Gordon was leaving the band but post that seems to have disappeared now, so the situation may be in flux — but their three-songer Bastards Born EP was a welcome arrival either way. They round out the top 20 because, well, doom. Would be awesome to get another LP out of them, but we’ll see I guess.

One hopes that nothing too egregious was left off, but one again, if there’s something you feel like should be here that isn’t, please consider the invitation to leave a comment open and let me know about it. Hell, you know what? Give me your favorites either way, whether you agree with this list or not. It’s list season, do it up. I know there’s the Year-End Poll going, and you should definitely contribute to that if you haven’t, but what was your favorite EP of the year? The top five? Top 10? I’m genuinely curious. Let’s talk about it.

Whether you have a pick or not (and I hope you do), thanks as always for reading. May the assault of short releases continue unabated in 2018 and beyond.

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The Top 20 of 2017 Year-End Poll is Now Open!

Posted in Features on December 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

top-20-of-2017-year-end-poll the obelisk

The Obelisk’s Top 20 of 2017 Year-End Poll is open! Cast your votes now for up to 20 of your favorite releases from the year and find out which ones make the final list on Jan. 1, 2018!

I say this every year — I know I do — but I feel like I’m especially curious to see what comes out on top when it comes to everybody’s picks this year. There was just so much, and all of it so varied. It was like an onslaught happening all the time from every angle. It never stopped — it’s December and it’s still going on! — and it seemed like no matter what kind of sound you were into, each week brought some highlight offering that could rightly be considered among the year’s best.

Nonetheless, it’s challenge time. Get your list together, dig out those favorite picks, and make sure you’ve got them in the right order because the Year-End Poll only comes around once a year. As ever, we’ll be using a system wherein a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. Raw votes are of course also counted, and the results from both counts will be posted on New Year’s Day, along with all the lists contributed.

I’ll be getting my list together and adding it as well, but whatever hit a nerve with you, whether it was an album, EP, split, single — anything — toss it in and see where it ends up. At very least it’ll be represented when your list is published on Jan. 1!

Maximum participation and sharing is encouraged and deeply appreciated.

Let’s have some fun:

[This poll is now closed. Thanks to all who entered.]

As ever, I can’t thank Slevin enough for helping to put this all together, and thanks to you for reading and taking part in this ongoing experiment. I can’t wait to see how this one will turn out.

Look for the results and lists on Jan. 1, 2018!

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This is the 9,000th Post on The Obelisk

Posted in The Numbers on June 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

9000th post

I’ve been trying to keep an eye over the last couple weeks so I didn’t miss this one. 9,000 posts. Let me spell that out: Nine. Thousand. Posts.

It is not a small amount of posts.

It’s taken me about eight and a half years to get to this point. Over that period, the pace of productivity has only increased — I feel bad about myself if I put up fewer than five posts in a day — and between reviews, interviews, news, videos, audio premieres, streams, the Radio, Quarterly Review roundups, the constant onslaught of bands with new releases, etc., etc., on and on, I’m still a long way from what I’d call “keeping up.” Still, I do the best I can, and as the site hits its 9,000th post, I just want to stop for a minute and thank you for being a part of this process.

Because it is a process. An ongoing one. In tone, content, execution and my own mindset, The Obelisk has become something completely different from what it set out to be. It’s something different than it was three years ago. I suspect, if I’m fortunate enough to keep it going for another three years, it’ll be something completely different then as well. But the consistent factor has been the level of support I’ve received for doing this. If you want to call it the heavy underground, or a community, or a scene, or whatever it is, it’s been very good to me and I deeply appreciate the level of interaction here and via social media — that’s not just me begging for comments, though they’re always welcome — and the conversation that has developed.

One time when I did an anniversary-type post like this I calculated how many posts per day was the average over the years. It may have been last year? I don’t know. I have neither the time nor the inclination nor the mathematical capacity to do so again either way, and more important than the quantity of the work to me is the fact that I stand by everything on this site. Opinions, facts, hell, even the choices of images and videos and audio to go with posts. All of it. I believe deeply in this — more deeply than I ever thought I would — and your participation in it has only made me treasure all the more what The Obelisk has become and is still becoming.

So as always, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

On to the next thing,
JJ Koczan

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The Obelisk is Eight Years Old Today

Posted in The Numbers on January 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk 8 years

The last weekend in January has become a very special occasion for me. It was the same weekend eight years ago in 2009 that The Obelisk first came together and went live. The first post was on a Saturday. I was in the process of losing my job and kind of in a panic about what to do next, needing an outlet for reviews. On a professional level, print was all I’d ever known.

This would be something completely different. By the time the first review went up a couple days later, I began to see the appeal of the open forum I had and the ability to make my own direction.

I’ve said numerous times over the years that I’m surprised at how much The Obelisk has come to take over my life and my waking consideration. I think about this site a lot. People say nice things about it to me and part of the reason I can never take the compliment is because I know that there’s no way anyone feels as strongly about it as I do. Over the last eight years, it’s become an extension of who I am as well as my lone creative outlet. If it’s just news and reviews to you, that’s cool, and if you’ve found good bands through it, that’s awesome too, but to me it’s become about something much more than that.

I look back on things I wrote years ago now and remember where I was that day. That time I reviewed the first Mars Red Sky record to get my head right after a hurricane tore through my area. Writing with my face down on a dining table on a Stena ferry ship in 2010 as I tried to make my way to Roadburn after the now-infamous Icelandic volcano eruption disrupted travel worldwide. This site is an essential part of those life experiences for me.

All the shows. My move from New Jersey to Massachusetts. Changing careers. I feel lucky to have been able to share these things around an ongoing discussion of music. Thank you so much for being a part of it. I don’t know where I’d be otherwise.

By nature, I’m a compulsive person, and that feeds a lot of what I do here. I want to review something every day in one way or another. I want to keep up with news of fests, album releases, tours, etc. I want to keep a respectful tone to my writing because I believe strongly that there is aesthetic value in critique as much as any other creative work.

My thinking on what The Obelisk is and does has changed over the last eight years — adding the forum, adding the radio stream, doing a label for a while, presenting shows, putting together the All-Dayer last year in Brooklyn, bringing in All That is Heavy as a sponsor, and so on — but I’ve tried very hard to bring a consistent level of quality to each aspect of it as much as possible. Because I care about this project. Very much.

Thank you foremost to Patrick Slevin, without whom The Obelisk would not exist. Slevin registered the domain, installed WordPress, and for the last eight years has been able and willing to take on — mostly uncomplaining, no less; or at very least complaining in a charming way — every technical glitch and weird customization request I’ve asked of him. We’ll get a mobile version going one of these days, I promise, but the dude is the reason you’re able to read this right now, an amazing, generous friend, and someone I’m deeply fortunate to have in my life.

Thank you to my wife, The Patient Mrs., for her understanding and support. I write for The Obelisk every single day. It takes hours out of my life — every single day — and hours out of our life as well and thus hours out of hers. Every single day. Even weekends at this point. There are times where she rolls her eyes and plenty of them when she’s absolutely correct to do so, but her unwavering love is the defining aspect of my life. It is what keeps me upright, and the foundation on which who I’ve become for the last two decades has been built. I cannot tell you how much I love her because it is a value that continues to increase exponentially with each passing day, week, year.

There are so many others. My mother, who likes all my Facebook posts, and my sister whose camera I’m still using since mine broke. Walter Roadburn. The list goes on and I don’t want to be Johnny Namedrop, but the support I’ve gotten for The Obelisk is worldwide and it is immensely humbling to even think about.

Again, thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting, liking posts, sharing, retweeting, posting screenshots on Instagram, sending me your band’s debut EP, whatever it is. Thank you. I’ve said all along that nothing lasts forever, but I’m going to keep doing this site for as long as I can, and I hope as it continues to evolve and change over time you’ll still be a part of it with me.

Here’s to year eight and onward.

All the best,
JJ Koczan

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