Mostly around here I concentrate on albums. Best albums of the year. Best albums of the decade. Still, kind of on a whim this morning I was thinking about the shape of heavy of the last half-decade — or rather, the shapes of it.
Different scenes moving in various directions, the emergence of the Pacific Northwest as a hotbed, the growth of West Coast psych and how in-conversation that seems to be both with California’s skater past and the current European market, itself branched out between heavy psych and ’70s traditionalism, which has also begun to take root throughout the US while, at the same time, a new generation has come up to embrace full-on stoner riffing and/or desert rock ideals.
While I have my album lists going back six years to refer to, this time around, I was wondering specifically about individual songs from the same era. What are the best songs from the last five years?
It’s not always the best album that has the best single piece of work on it, so it seemed worth asking the question separately.
Me, I go in for epics: YOB‘s “Marrow” (2014), Ancestors‘ “First Light” (2012), Colour Haze‘s “Grace” (2012), Hypnos 69‘s “The Great Work” (2011), Witch Mountain‘s “Can’t Settle” (2014), Elder‘s “Lore” (2015) definitely is worth having in the conversation, Solace‘s “From Below” (2010), Grayceon‘s “We Can” (2011), and so on.
But then you have Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ “I’ll Cut You Down,” which has had a massive influence since it came out in 2011. And what about a cut like Clutch‘s “D.C. Sound Attack,” or Goatsnake‘s “Grandpa Jones,” or Graveyard‘s “Ain’t Fit to Live Here,” or Mars Red Sky‘s “Strong Reflection?” Does a track have to be long to make an impact? What if there’s a perfectly-executed two-minute verse/chorus trade? Shouldn’t that also be considered?
I guess that’s the question.
We haven’t done one of these in a while, so I’m hoping you’ll take the time to add your answers and picks for the best songs of the last five years 2010-2015 in the comments to this post. I know we’re not through 2015 yet, but we’re just trying to have some fun anyway.
Thanks to all who take the time to leave a note in the comments below.
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 15th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
New Uncle Acid kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Some breaking-ish news in that the UK four-piece, who’ve only gotten huger since the release of their 2013 sophomore outing, Mind Control (review here), are set to make a direct assault on US shores this fall. They’ll still be releasing The Night Creeper on Rise Above, but I think it’s especially telling in terms of the band’s priorities that they’ll launch the new album just a few days later with a full run of North American major markets.
Not a thing to complain about, at least if you happen to live in one of those markets. Last time I caught Uncle Acid — last Sept., in NYC — they held the stage in full command under mostly-dim lights, backed by tube-television static and a single pair of light-up cat’s eyes. What grainy and lysergic horrors will unfold with The Night Creeper? We’ll know come the fall.
From the PR wire:
Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats Announce New Album The Night Creeper
Out September 4 via Rise Above Records
Touring the US This Fall
The United Kingdom’s greatest cult band Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats are to return with their fourth full-length studio album The Night Creeper on September 4 via Rise Above Records. In support of the release they will also be embarking on their largest and longest tour to date, with a variety of US shows which can be viewed below.
Recorded at Toe Rag Studios in early 2015 with engineer Liam Watson (White Stripes, Tame Impala, Electric Wizard), The Night Creeper oozes louche evil. Hear flesh-melting riffs that creep like hot magma bubbling up through the earth’s crust combine with an ear for melody born out of the bands love for girl groups like The Ronettes and The Shangri-La’s. This is Sabbath-meets-Spector and it’s a heady combination.
The Night Creeper has a distinct concept as a starting point. “The idea is that this album could have started life as an old cheap, grime-covered 25 cent pulp paperback like the type sold at news-stands outside train stations,” says enigmatic band leader Kevin Starrs. “But then perhaps it is adapted into a film noir, which itself is then re-made twenty years later as an ultraviolent, slasher Italian Giallo film. The album follows this aesthetic lineage as it descends from trash to noir to something discernibly darker…”
Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats have been called many things: a subversive, dark-hearted, pop band who sing about death and murder; a psyche-frazzling heavy psychedelic band; the greatest cult quartet in the British rock scene by a country mile; the heirs apparent to the dark satanic majesty of both The Beatles and Black Sabbath. They exist in their own self-created world; hoovering up trash/pop culture and spitting it back out in hot chunks of finely hewn riffola and righteous rock ‘n roll noise.
Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats’ breakthrough album Blood Lust (2011) was an homage to British Hammer and folk horror films of the 1970s, a candle-lit head-trip of withered hands, ritual knives and gallows ropes. Mind Control (2013) looked further afield, to the post-Charles Manson US for inspiration: Jim Jones dosing the Kool-Aid, Blue Cheer, Blue Oyster Cult, B-movie biker movies, war, Watergate, serial killers, and suicidal TV evangelists. Now comes The Night Creeper, their darkest journey yet.
The Night Creeper will be released on September 4 via Rise Above Records. Check out the band’s North American tour dates below.
9/9 at Center Stage in Atlanta, GA 9/11 at Baltimore Sound Stage in Baltimore, MD 9/12 at Webster Hall in New York, NY 9/13 at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, PA 9/14 at Royale in Boston, MA 9/16 at Corona Theater in Montreal, QC 9/17 at Phoenix Theater in Toronto, ON 9/18 at Mr. Smalls in Pittsburgh, PA 9/19 at Metro in Chicago, IL 9/20 at Mill city Nights in Minneapolis, MN 9/22 at Summit Theater in Denver, CO 9/23 at Urban Lounge in Salt Lake City, UT 9/25 at Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, BC 9/26 at El Corazon in Seattle, WA 9/27 at Wonder Ballroom in Portland, OR 9/29 at Slims in San Francisco, CA 9/30 at Slims in San Francisco, CA 10/1 at The Fonda Theater in Los Angeles, CA 10/2 at The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA
Posted in Reviews on September 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
The tour had started two nights prior at Underground Arts in Philadelphia. The night before, they were in Boston, and it would’ve been a much shorter drive to hit that show, but it was my 10th wedding anniversary. A drive down to New York to pop into Manhattan and catch Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats with Danava at Bowery Ballroom didn’t seem unreasonable. Traffic on the way down, on the other hand, was. I still managed to get to the venue before they opened the doors to the upstairs room where the show was actually happening — I’d never seen a line inside the downstairs bar before — so though I felt like I was going to be late the whole time, I still managed to get a spot up in front of the stage. Doomly serendipity.
Portland, Oregon’s Danava, who are veterans of Kemado Records, were the lone openers. A double-guitar foursome, they weren’t unknown to me, having made a somewhat less than favorable impression at Roadburn in 2012. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing them, to be quite honest. I don’t even remember what it was about their Roadburn slot that had me so irked — maybe just the simple fact that they were on before Conan and the room was so crowded– but by the time their set was three songs in, it was clear I was the one with the problem and not the band, who boogied down on winding ’70s-style riffage like they were born to do it, bangs-sporting guitarist/vocalist Gregory Meleny trading riffs with Pete Hughes, also of Sons of Huns, in a flurry of shuffle and push met head-on by the bass and drums, not quite retro but definitely skipping a couple decades in its influence.
It was a sold-out show, and people came early, so Bowery Ballroom was plenty packed for Danava‘s set. “Shoot Straight from a Crooked Gun” and “White Nights of Murder” from their most recent album, 2011’s Hemisphere of Shadows, were both aired, but the primary impression I had of them was mostly of my own jackassery after our paths last crossed. Again, not sure what my deal was or where the distaste came from, but they were more than solid and held the fickle attention of a Friday night Manhattan crowd. For that alone they deserve some measure of credit. I guess one of these days I’ll have to go back and dig into their records, but at least I know for the next time they come through that it’s worth showing up. Lesson learned.
Old tube televisions, one or two with built-in VCRs — there was a time when these things were a premium — were spread throughout Uncle Acid‘s amp backline, and they’d flicker on and off with static as part of the UK outfit’s lightshow, otherwise minimal. Guitarist/vocalists Kevin “Uncle Acid” Starrs and Yotam Rubinger and bassist/backing vocalist Dean Millar were backlit, their faces obscured, as the lights above switched colors from red to blue to green, orange, yellow, etc., each song in the set seeming to come with its own hue. Light-up cat’s eyes were attached to cymbal stands on either side of Itamar Rubinger‘s drum kit, and they remained on for the duration, feeding into the band’s schlock horror cultistry and malevolent mystique, the crowd eating it up from the start of “Mt. Abraxas” onward.
For a band to sell out a place like Bowery Ballroom is not an inconsiderable achievement, and NYC is far from the only city on the tour to receive the band thusly, but that it’s Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ first run through the US only emphasizes the passionate response they have received. In the UK, they toured with Black Sabbath, and after a couple shows in London, they made their official live debut at Roadburn in 2013 with a slot on the Main Stage curated by Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard. Their two latest albums, 2011’s Blood Lust (review here) and 2013’s Mind Control (review here), are among the most lauded records in this half of the decade, and their influence is already being felt in a burgeoning movement of garage doom that one expects will only continue to grow. They’ve got a lot riding on their next full-length, but Uncle Acid are already a big fucking deal, and they were greeted accordingly in Manhattan, the audience roaring like something off a live record as the first recognizable strains of “I’ll Cut You Down” emanated from the stage.
I wouldn’t dare understate the power behind that song’s foreboding swing, murderous threat and otherworldly melody, but it was one highlight among several, “Crystal Spiders,” new single “Runaway Girls,” “Death’s Door,” “13 Candles” and “Mind Crawler” doling out rapturous hooks in Starrs‘ and Rubinger‘s vocals. They finished the regular set with “Withered Hand of Evil” and made an encore out of “13 Candles,” “Desert Ceremony” and the thudding “Devil’s Work,” a catchy finish but subdued in comparison to a lot of what preceded. No doubt this was by design, as was the entirety of the presentation, but the scale and realized sensibility with which Uncle Acid conjured up their demons and those of the multitudes in attendance — who almost to a head stuck through until the end — seemed to show a band rising to the occasion of the fervency they’ve induced. That is, while their ascendancy was already well underway by the time they started playing out, they’ve more than caught up with it. It would not be a surprise if on their next US tour, they play on even bigger stages.
Walking back the couple blocks to my car, it felt good to be back in New York. It had been a full year to the day since I last went to a show in Manhattan, which I think was the longest stretch I’ve had in more than a decade. I stopped into a cafeteria with some fantastic smelling Middle Eastern food and got a bottle of water for the road and then hit it, back up the FDR and toward the drunk-driver nightmare that was I-95 North heading into the weekend.
More pics after the jump. Special thanks to Jon Freeman for making this one happen and thanks to you as always for reading.
Look hard enough amid all the vintage bikes, cult leaders and sexualized violence in Uncle Acid‘s new video for “Runaway Girls” and you might find something that surprises you: The band. They showed up in glimpses last year as well in the similarly-minded “Mind Crawler” video — no doubt also a nightmare in the editing — but they’re just a little more present in “Runaway Girls,” and fair enough. The UK garage doom forerunners are a more public entity than they were a year ago, what with a handful of live shows under their belt alongside Black Sabbath and an impending US tour beginning next month. The world already knows what you look like. Might as well show up in your own video.
Beyond that, “Runaway Girls” is all the tanlines and devil-worship one might expect from Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, who by now have converted more than a handful of bands to their cultish ways following the 2013 release of Mind Control(review here), an album that pushed the grainy riffage of 2011’s landmark sophomore outing, Blood Lust, into more psychedelic expanses. The song itself is the highlight, of course, and it pulls back on some of the spaciousness of Mind Controlto the eerie threats of Blood Lust. If it’s a leftover from the Mind Controlsessions, it’s easy to see why it didn’t fit on the record, and if it’s older, then the many who salivated over Blood Lustat the time should be all the more pleased. I don’t think it’s a brand new recording either way, but if it is, then perhaps Uncle Acid are teaching a lesson about what we can do with our expectations, even as they reaffirm them with the video.
The Runaway Girlssingle is out Aug. 25 on Rise Above, and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats start their US tour on Sept. 24 at the Underground Arts in Philly. Dates follow the clip, which was directed by Marc Morris, below.
Uncle Acid, “Runaway Girls” official video
UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS North American Tour: 9/24: Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts 9/25: New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom 9/26: Cambridge, MA @ Middle East 9/27: Montreal, QC @ Il Motore 9/28: Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace 9/30: Chicago, IL @ Subterranean 10/1: Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock Social Club 10/3: Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater 10/4: Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge 10/6: Seattle, WA @ Neumos 10/7: Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw 10/8: Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre 10/10: San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s 10/11: Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy Theater – SOLD OUT 10/12: Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy Theater
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 24th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
UK cult-psych/garage doom progenitors Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats will embark on their first US tour this fall. Already slated for European shows this August, they’ll subsequently arrive Stateside in support of their third album, Mind Control(review here). Already veterans of Roadburn, Uncle Acid supported Black Sabbath on tour in the UK and Europe this past winter, completed another full run this spring, and most recently appeared at Maryland Death Fest last month.
Dates and whatnots follow, just off the PR wire:
UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS Announce First North American Tour
UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS, one of the most talked about rock bands currently in existence, and an enigma in the international underground scene, released their third album Mind Control last year via Metal Blade Records/ Rise Above Records in North America. The reviews were phenomenal and UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS began to take North America by storm. The band recently concluded a highly successful tour of Europe and the UK as well as sold out dates in New Zealand and Australia.
In support of Mind Control, UNCLE ACID played North America for the first time this May as part of the Maryland Deathfest. After the amazing reception and breathtaking performance, UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS are set to return to North America this fall for a full North American tour. The tour kicks off September 24th in Philadelphia, PA and runs through October 11th in Los Angeles, CA. Danava will provide support on the tour and tickets go on sale this Friday June 27th.
UNCLE ACID commented on the upcoming tour: “Deadbeats of North America! We’re very pleased to announce our first tour of the U.S. and Canada. It’s been a long time coming but we’re looking forward to finally destroying your minds!”
Mind Control is a concept album with a theme that makes the acts and intentions of the likes of Charles Manson and Jim Jones seem like petty crimes. What makes Mind Control scarier than most albums is that it doesn’t seem as sinister on the surface as it really is deep down, within the core of its black acid-drenched world of pain and torture.
Imagine the original Alice Cooper band jamming in a cell with early Black Sabbath and the Stooges, whilst sitting on murder charges and you may get a glimpse into their fuzzed up world of exploding tube amps and cymbal smashing mayhem. However, this enticing act of musical manipulation is merely the icing upon a very sick cake.
Recorded at the legendary Chapel Studios over an autumnal full moon using the finest western electrical technology, engineer Jim Spencer (Bert Jansch, Robert Wyatt) has captured perfectly the bands live sound of saturated fuzz, mind-bending riffs and 60’s vocal harmonies.
UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS North American Tour: 9/24: Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts 9/25: Cambridge, MA @ Middle East 9/26: New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom 9/27: Montreal, QC @ Il Motore 9/28: Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace 9/30: Chicago, IL @ Subterranean 10/1: Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock Social Club 10/3: Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater 10/4: Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge 10/6: Seattle, WA @ Neumos 10/7: Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw 10/8: Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre 10/10: San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s 10/11: Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy Theater
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The end of any year always brings a barrage of best-ofs. Lists, radio shows, award ceremonies, and even podcasts. What no one tells you about any of them is there’s no fucking way they can ever be comprehensive. My Top 20 list? It was damn good and I worked really hard putting it together, but was I toiling under the delusion that it was going to be an accurate and complete representation of everything 2013 had on offer? Hell no. That’s why we have the Readers Poll, the Albums Unheard list (still to come) and all the rest of the wrap-up stuff.
So as you check out this happens-to-be-the-last-of-2013 podcast, please keep in mind that though it does feature a sampling of some of 2013’s most killer songs from some of its most killer albums, it’s not at all intended to be a total roundup of this year. It’s a part of it, and I’m cool with that if you are.
It’s Xmas Eve as I put this together, and it’s looking like this’ll be my only post for today, so I’ll take another opportunity to wish you a happy holiday if you’re celebrating. Please be safe and enjoy time with family, gift-giving, and of course, good music. I don’t know if grandma would really get down to some Phantom Glue, but seems like it’s worth a shot.
Clutch, “D.C. Sound Attack” from Earth Rocker (2013)
Monster Magnet, “Last Patrol,” from Last Patrol (2013)
Church of Misery, “Cranley Gardens (Dennis Andrew Nilsen)” from Thy Kingdom Scum (2013)
Phantom Glue, “Bow in the Dust” from A War of Light Cones (2013)
Pelican, “The Tundra” from Forever Becoming (2013)
Young Hunter, “Trail of Tears” from Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain (2013)
All Them Witches, “The Death of Coyote Woman” from Lightning at Your Door (2013)
Black Thai, “Doors to Nowhere” from Season of Might (2013)
Gozu, “Charles Bronson Pinchot” from The Fury of a Patient Man (2013)
Geezer, “Ancient Song” from Gage EP (2013)
T.G. Olson, “Unsung Everyone” from Hell’s Half Acre (2013)
Fuzz, “One” from Fuzz (2013)
Wooden Shjips, “Servants” from Back to Land (2013)
Fever Dog, “Lady Snowblood/Child of the Netherworlds,” from Lady Snowblood (2013)
Samsara Blues Experiment, “Brahmin’s Lament” from Waiting for the Flood (2013)
Vista Chino, “Planets 1 & 2” from Peace (2013)
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “Valley of the Dolls” from Mind Control (2013)
The Golden Grass, “One More Time” from One More Time b/w Tornado (2013)
Beelzefuzz, “Lonely Creatures” from Beelzefuzz (2013)
Posted in Features on December 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are my picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is still going on. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
It’s always strange to think of something so utterly arbitrary as also being really, really difficult, but I think 2013 posed the biggest challenge yet in terms of getting together a final list of my favorite records. As ever, I had a post-it note on my office wall (when I moved, it moved with me) and I did my best to keep track of everything that resonated throughout the year. I wound up with over 40 picks and had to start putting them in order to whittle the list down.
I wound up with a top 20 that, even though it feels somewhat incomplete, I’ve found that I can at very least live with. That’s what I’ve done for the last week: Just lived with it. Even up to this morning, I was making changes, but in general, I think this gives some scope about what hit me hard in 2013. Of course, these are just my picks, and while things like my own critical appreciation factor in because that affects how I ultimately listen to a record, sometimes it just comes down to what was stuck in my head most often or what I kept putting on over and over.
That’s a simple formula to apply, but still, 2013 didn’t make it easy. Please note as you go through that there are some real gems in the honorable mentions. I thought about expanding the list to 30 this year, but the thought made my skull start to cave in, so I reconsidered.
Anyway, it only comes around once a year, so let’s do this thing. Thanks in advance for reading:
20. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door
Traditionally, I’ve reserved #20 for a sentimental pick. An album that’s hard to place numerically because of some personal or emotional connection. This year wasn’t short on those, but when it came to it, I knew I couldn’t make this list without Lightning at the Door included, and since it was released just last month as the follow-up to the earlier-2013 Elektrohasch reissue of the Nashville, Tennessee, outfit’s 2012 debut, Our Mother Electricity (review here), I didn’t feel like I’ve had enough time with it to really put it anywhere else. It needed to be here, and so it is, and though I’ve listened to it plenty in the month since its release, I still feel like I’m getting to know Lightning at the Door, and exploring its open-spaced blues rocking grooves. All Them Witches are hands down one of the best bands I heard for the first time this year, and I’m looking forward to following their work as they continue to progress.
For a while after I first heard …Like Clockwork and around the time I reviewed it, I sweated it pretty hard. By mid-June, I had it as one of the year’s best without a doubt in my mind. Then I put it away. I don’t know if I burnt myself out on it or what, but I still haven’t really gone back to it, and while the brilliance of cuts like “Kalopsia” and “Fairweather Friends” and “I Appear Missing” still stands out and puts Josh Homme‘s songwriting as some of the most accomplished I encountered in 2013, that hasn’t been enough to make me take it off the shelf. I doubt Queens of the Stone Age will cry about it as they tour arenas and get nominated for Grammy awards, but there it is. I wouldn’t have expected …Like Clockworkto be so low on the list, certainly not when I was listening to “My God is the Sun” six times in a row just to try and get my head around the chorus.
Gorgeously produced and impeccably textured, The Winter Ward by Stockholm-based I are Droid aren’t generally the kind of thing I’d reach for, but the quality of the craft in songs like “Constrict Contract” and “Feathers and Dust” made it essential. Bits and pieces within harkened back to frontman Peder Bergstrand‘s tenure in Lowrider, but ultimately The Winter Wardemerged with a varied and rich personality all its own, and that became the basis for the appeal. As the weather has gotten colder and it’s gotten dark earlier, I’ve returned to The Winter Wardfor repeat visits, and as much as I’ve got my fingers crossed for another Lowrider album in 2014, I hope I are Droid continue to run parallel, since the progressive take on alternative influences they managed to concoct was carried across with proportionate accessibility. It was as audience friendly and satisfying a listen as it was complex and ripe for active engagement.
There was just nothing to argue about when it came to the self-titled debut from Massachusetts-based doomers Magic Circle, but what worked best about the album was that although the songs were strong on their own and seemed to have lurching hooks to spare, everything throughout fed into an overarching atmosphere that was denser than the straightforwardness of the structures might lead the listener to initially believe. It was a record worth going back to, worth getting lost in the nod of, and as the members are experienced players in a variety of New England acts from The Rival Mob to Doomriders, it should be interesting to find out what demons they may conjure in following-up Magic Circle, if they’ll continue down the path of deceptively subversive “traditionalism” or expand their sound into more progressive reaches. Either way they may choose, the material on their first outing showed an ability to craft an enigmatic, individualized sonic persona that never veered into cultish caricature.
If you’re into doom and you have a soul, I don’t know how you could not be rooting for Iron Man in 2013. Produced by Frank Marchand and the first full-length from the long-running Maryland doomers to feature vocalist Dee Calhoun and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann alongside guitarist/founder “Iron” Al Morris III (interview here) and longtime bassist Louis Strachan. The difference in South of the Earthwas palpable even in comparison to 2009’s I Have Returned(review here). With more professional production, excellent performances all around in the lineup, memorable songs like “Hail to the Haze” and “The Worst and Longest Day,” and the considerable endorsement of a release through Rise Above/Metal Blade behind them, the four-piece sounded like the statesmen they are in the Maryland scene and showed themselves every bit worthy of inclusion in the discussion of America’s finest in traditional, Sabbathian doom. May they continue to get their due.
Whether it was what the lyrics were talking about or not, the message of “The Message” was clear: Never count out a catchy chorus. Now in operation for a decade, Sasquatch practice an arcane artistry with their songwriting. Void of pretense, heavy on boogie, they are as genuine a modern extension of classic heavy rock as you’re likely to find. The Los Angeles power trio outdid themselves with IV, veering boldly into psychedelia on “Smoke Signal” and honing their craft over various moods and themes on “Sweet Lady,” “Me and You” and “Eye of the Storm.” They remain one of American heavy rock’s key and consistently underestimated components, and the three years since the release of their third album, III(review here), seemed like an eternity once the quality grooves of “Money” and “Drawing Flies” got moving, the former an insistent rush and the latter open, dreamy and atmospheric, but both executed with precision and confidence born of Sasquatch‘s familiarity with the methods and means of kicking ass.
It was hard to know what to expect from Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial, their first release with guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard at the fore with bassist Dave Gein and drummer/engineer Clay Neely, but the Massachusetts outfit flourished on tracks like “Swing the Scimitar,” incorporating a heavy jamming sensibility with marauding riffs and grooves carried over from the style of their first two albums. Adversarial took the band to Hellfest in France this past summer, where they shared a stage with Neurosis and Sleep, and whether it was the raging chorus of “Bleed Out” or the clarion guitar line of “Aphelion,” the band showed their war ensemble could not be stopped. Their future is uncertain with Neely having relocated and Gein having an impending move of his own, but if Adversarialis to stand as the final Black Pyramid outing, they will at very least have claimed enough heads in their time to line fence-posts for miles. Still, hopefully they can find some way to continue to make it work.
Even the interlude “Seasick Serenade,” just over a minute and a half long, was haunting. Electric Relicsmarked the first full-length from Nashville’s Across Tundras to be released on their own label and the first since they issued Sage through Neurot in 2011 (review here), and as rolling and exploratory as its vibe was, songs like “Solar Ark,” “Pining for the Gravel Roads” and “Den of Poison Snakes” also represented a solidification of Across Tundras‘ sound, another step in their development that refined their blend of rural landscapes and heavy tones. Issued in April, it’s been an album that throughout the course of the year I’ve returned to time and again, and the more I’ve sat with it and the more comfortable it’s become, the more its songs have come to feel like home, which it’s easy to read as being their intent all along. Guitarist/vocalist Tanner Olson (read his questionnaire answers here), bassist/vocalist Mikey Allred and drummer Casey Perry hit on something special in these tracks, and one gets the sense their influence is just beginning to be felt.
Initially a digital self-release by the Washington, D.C. riff purveyors, Oculus just this month got a tri-color, tri-label and tri-continental vinyl issue, and the fanfare with which it arrived was well earned by the five songs contained on the two sides. Borracho‘s second album behind 2011’s Splitting Sky(review here) also marked a lineup shift in the band that saw them go from a four-piece to a trio, with guitarist Steve Fisher (interview here) stepping to the fore as vocalist in the new incarnation with Tim Martin on bass and Mario Trubiano on drums. The results in songs like “Know the Score” and closer “I’ve Come for it All” were in line stylistically with the straightforward approach they showed on their first offering, but tighter overall in their presentation, and Fisher‘s voice was a natural fit with the band’s stated ethic of “repetitive heavy grooves” — a neat summary, if perhaps underselling their appeal somewhat. Oculusshowed both that the appeal of Splitting Skywas no fluke and that Borracho with four members or three was not a band to be taken lightly.
Like the bulk of Ice Dragon‘s work to date, Born a Heavy Morning was put out first digitally, for free or pay-what-you-want download. A CD version would follow soon enough on Navalorama, with intricate packaging to match the album’s understated achievements, taking the Boston genre-crossers into and through heavy psychedelic atmospheres added to and played off in longer pieces like “The Past Plus the Future is Present” and the gorgeously ethereal “Square Triangle” by thematic slice-of-life set-pieces like “In Which a Man Daydreams about a Girl from His Youth” and “In Which a Man Ends His Workweek with a Great Carouse” that only enriched the listening experience and furthered Ice Dragon‘s experimental appeal. Ever-prolific, Born a Heavy Morningwasn’t the only Ice Dragon outing this year, physical or digital, but it stood in a place of its own within their constantly-expanding catalog and showcased a stylistic fearlessness that can only be an asset in their favor as they continue to chase down whatever the hell it is they’re after in their songs and make genuine originality sound so natural.
It seemed like no matter where I turned in 2013, Devil to Pay‘s Fate is Your Musewas there. Not that it was the highest-profile release of the year or bolstered by some consciousness-invading viral campaign or anything, just that once the songs locked into my head, there was no removing them, and whether it was straightforward rockers like “This Train Won’t Stop,” “Savonarola” and “Tie One On,” the moodier “Black Black Heart” or the charm-soaked “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife” — which might also be the best song title I came across this year — it was a pretty safe bet that something from the Indianapolis four-piece was going to make a showing on the mental jukebox if not in the actual player (it showed up plenty there as well). Devil to Pay‘s first album since 2009, first for Ripple and fourth overall, Fate is Your Musewas a grower listen whose appeal only deepened over the months after its release, the layered vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (interview here) adaptable to the varying vibes of “Wearin’ You Down” and “Already Dead” and soulful in classic fashion. They’ve been underrated as a live act for some time, and Fate is Your Musetranslated well their light-on-frills, heavy-on-riffs appeal to a studio setting.
9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below
Such devastation. Even now, every time I put on Beast in the Field‘s The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below, it makes me want to hang my head and wonder at the horror of it all like Marlon Brando hiding out in a cave. If anything at all, there wasn’t much I heard in 2013 that hit harder than the Michigan duo’s fifth long-player, released on CD in March through Saw Her Ghost with vinyl reportedly on the way now. Toward the middle of the year, it got to the point where I wanted to go door to door and say to people, “Uh excuse me, but this is absurdly heavy and you should check it out.” I settled for streaming the album in full and it still feels like a compromise. I tried to interview the band, to no avail — sometimes instrumental acts just don’t want to talk about it — but what guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr were able to accomplish tonally, atmospherically and bombastically in expansive and overwhelmingly heavy cuts like the 22-minute “Oncoming Avalanche” or the noise-soaked riffing of “Hollow Horn” put The Sacred Above, the Sacred Belowinto a weight class that it had pretty much to itself this year. It’s a good thing they had no trouble filling that space. I still feel like I haven’t recommended the album enough and that more people need to be made aware of its existence.
When I finally listened to Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled debut, I was really, really glad I had seen the three-piece — its members based in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania — play some of the material live. I don’t know if otherwise I’d have been able to distinguish between the progress elements of effects and looping and the live creation of layers and organ sounds through the guitar of Dana Ortt (interview here) and the simple humdrum of studio layering one finds all the time. I almost think for their next record they should track it live, just the three of them, and heavily advertise that fact to help get the point across that it’s actually just three players — Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (also of PaleDivine) — creating the richness of sound on “All the Feeling Returns” and the eerie, gleefully weird progressive stomp on “Lonely Creatures.” The album became a morning go-to for me, and I don’t know how many times I’ve been through it at this point, but “Reborn” and “Hypnotize” and “Lotus Jam” continue to echo in my head even when it’s been a few days. That said, it’s rarely been a few days, because while I appreciate what the trio accomplish on their first record on an analytical level, the reason it is where it is on this list is because I can’t stop listening to the damn thing. Another one that more people should hear than have heard.
7. Samsara Blues Experiment, Waiting for the Flood
One of the aspects of Samsara Blues Experiment‘s third offering that I most enjoyed was that it wasn’t the album I expected German four-piece to make. After their 2011 sophomore album, Revelation and Mystery (review here), shifted its focus away from the jam-minded heavy psychedelia of their 2009 debut, Long Distance Trip (review here), my thinking was that they would continue down that path and coalesce into a more straightforward brand of heavy rock. Instead, when the four extended tracks of Waiting for the Floodshowed up with no shortage of swirl or sitar or open-ended expansion in their midst, it was a legitimate surprise. Repeat visits to “Shringara” and “Don’t Belong” show that actually it’s not so much that Samsara Blues Experiment turned around and were hell-bent on jamming out all the time, but that rather for their third, they took elements of what worked on their first two LPs and built lush movements on top of those ideas. As a happy bonus, this having grown more and more into their sound has helped push the band — guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, guitarist Hans Eiselt, bassist Richard Behrens and drummer Thomas Vedder — into their own niche within the wider European heavy psych scene, and they’ve begun to emerge as one of its most enjoyable and consistent acts.
Kind of inevitable that there would be a lot of comparisons made between Mind Controland the preceding Uncle Acid album, Blood Lust. Certainly the newer outing — their third and first for Rise Above/Metal Blade — is more psychedelic, more tripped out and less obscure feeling than its predecessor. It didn’t have the same kind of crunch to the guitar tone, or the same kind of horror-film atmosphere or psychosexual foreboding, but the thing was, it wasn’t supposed to. The UK outfit continue to prod cult mentality even as their own cult grows, and as I see it, Mind Control made a lot of sense coming off Blood Lustin terms of the band not wanting to repeat the same ideas over again, but grow from them and expand their sound. Of course, with the strut at the end of opener “Mt. Abraxas,” they’ve set a high standard on their albums for leadoff tracks, but where Mind Controlreally made its impression was in the hypnosis of cuts like the Beatlesian “Follow the Leader,” the lysergic “Valley of the Dolls” or the maddening “Devil’s Work.” The deeper you went into side B, the more the band had you in their grasp. It was a different kind of accomplishment than the preceding effort — though “Mind Crawler” kept a lot of that vibe alive — and it showed Uncle Acid had more in their arsenal than VHS ambience and garage doom malevolence while keeping the infectiousness that helped Blood Lustmake such an impression.
Of the ones reviewed, Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcomewas the most recent inclusion on this list. Having worked with Lumbar multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Aaron Edge (interview here) in the past with his band Roareth releasing what would be their only album on The Maple Forum, this was a project to which I felt an immediate connection given the circumstances of its creation: Being written almost in its entirety and recorded in everything but vocals during a bedridden period following Edge‘s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The contributions of YOB/Vhöl frontman Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle of TAD and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth were what got a lot of people’s attention for Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome, but with the situation are the core of the seven tracks named “Day One” through “Day Seven,” what stood out to me even more than those performances was the utter lack of distance and the level of rawness in the album’s presentation. It puts you there. What you get with Lumbar is the direct translation of a range of emotions from hopeful to hopeless, angry, sad, beaten down and wanting answers, wanting more. There’s no shield from it, and as much in concept as in its execution, there’s no other word for it than “heavy.” The intensity Edge packed into just 24 minutes — and not all of it loud or over the top doomed or anything more than atmospherics — was unmatched by anything else I heard this year.
From just about any angle you want to view it, the situation that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was unfortunate. However — and I know I’ve said this before — I really do believe that becoming Vista Chino, that furthering the distance from the Kyuss moniker, brand, legacy, and so on, was for the better of the band creatively. And not because the songs don’t stand up. I doubt it helped their draw much, but for vocalist John Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork (interview here), working as Vista Chino for the creation of Peace, and especially or Bjork working with guitarist Bruno Fevery for the first time in the writing process, it allowed them to step outside of what would’ve been insurmountable expectations for a “fifth Kyuss album” and create something honest, new, and ultimately, more true to the spirit of that now-legendary band. Let’s face it, you hear John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri are working on a project together, you’re immediately comparing it to Kyuss anyway. At least with Vista Chino, they’ve given themselves the potential for growth beyond a preconceived idea of what Kyuss should sound like. Well what does Vista Chino sound like? It sounds like whatever the hell they want. On Peace, though many of the lyrics dealt with their legal battles over the Kyuss name, the vibe stayed true to a desert rock ethic of laid back heavy, and the round-out jam in “Acidize/The Gambling Moose” left Peacewith the feeling that maybe that’s where they’ve ended up after all. Fingers crossed Mike Dean (of C.O.C. and the latest live incarnation of Vista Chino) winds up playing bass on the record, but other than that, wherever they want to go with it, as a fan, I’m happy to follow along.
The second outing from Gozu on Small Stone, The Fury of a Patient Man tapped into so much of what made the Boston band’s 2010 Locust Season label debut (review here) work so right on and just did it better. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig on “Meat Charger,” but with tracks like “Snake Plissken,” “Bald Bull,” “Signed, Epstein’s Mom” (note: it was “signed, Epstein’s mother” on Welcome Back Kotter) and the thrashing “Charles Bronson Pinchot,” Gozu put forth a collection of some of 2013’s finest heavy rock and did so with not only their own soulful spin on the tropes of the genre, but a mature and varied approach that was no less comfortable giving High on Fire a run for their money than reveling in the grandiose chorus of “Ghost Wipe,” which was also one of the best hooks of the year, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (interview here) delivering lines in crisp, confident layers, perfectly mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios and cutting through the fray of his own and Doug Sherman‘s guitars, the bass of Paul Dallaire (who split duties with J. Canava; Joe Grotto has since taken over the position) and Barry Spillberg‘s drumming. What the future might hold for Gozu with the recent shift in lineup that replaced Spillberg with drummer Mike Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) and added third guitarist Jeff Fultz (Mellow Bravo) remains to be seen, but with European touring on the horizon for 2014 and appearances slated for Roadburn and Desertfest, the band seem to be looking only to expand their reach, and with the material from The Fury of a Patient Man as a foundation, they’ve got some major considerations acting in their favor. Another album from which I simply could not escape this year, and from which I didn’t want to.
Billed largely and at least in-part accurately as a return to the group’s psychedelic roots, Last Patrol was Monster Magnet‘s ninth full-length, their first in three years and their second for Napalm. The New Jersey outfit led by guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, founder and, in this case, co-producer Dave Wyndorf (interview here) did indeed delve into the space rock side of their sound more than they have in over a decade, and the effect that doing so had was like a great shaking-off of dust, as though the Bullgod in the John Sumrow cover art just woke up after a long slumber. Perhaps even more than tripping on the Donovan cover “Three Kingfishers” or on the more extended freakouts “Last Patrol” and “End of Time,” what really made Last Patrolsuch a complete experience was the depth of emotion. Wyndorf wasn’t just standing above an overproduced wall of distortion talking about how he’s the best lay in the galaxy or whatever — fun though that kind of stuff is and has been in the past — but songs like “I Live behind the Clouds,” “The Duke (of Supernature),” “Paradise” and “Stay Tuned” offered a humbler take, a spirit of melancholy that rested well alongside the unmitigated stomp of “Hallelujah” or the driving heavy rock of “Mindless Ones.” Even in its most riotous stretches, Last Patrolwas a humbler affair, with a more honest vibe than their last four, maybe five albums. A Monster Magnet release would’ve been noteworthy no matter what it actually sounded like, because that’s the level of impact they’ve had on heavy psych and underground rock over the last two decades-plus. The difference with Last Patrolwas that it was a refreshing change from what had started to sound like a formula going stale, and it was just so damn good to have them be weird again.
Finally, an album that asked the question, “What it was I’m going to do I haven’t done?” I knew at the year’s halfway point that Clutch‘s Earth Rockerwas going to be the one to beat, and that it wasn’t going to be easy for anyone else to top the Maryland kings of groove, who sounded so reinvigorated on songs like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle and Go,” “Unto the Breach,” and “Cyborg Bette,” and on funkfied pushers like “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” and “The Face.” They’d hardly been in hibernation since 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West, but four years was the longest they’d ever gone between albums, and it was past time for a new one. To have it arrive as such a boot to the ass just made it that much better, the band shifting away from some of the blues/jam influences that emerged over the course of 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodusand 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion — though those certainly showed up as well in the subdued “Gone Cold” and elsewhere — but thanks in no small part to the production of Machine, with whom the band last worked for 2004’s Blast Tyrant, Earth Rockerwas huge where it wanted to be and that gave Clutch‘s faster, more active material all the more urgency, where although the songwriting was quality as always, Strange Cousins from the West languished a bit at a more relaxed pace. The difference made all the difference. Whether it was the hellhounds on your trail (what a pity!) in “D.C. Sound Attack!” or the Jazzmasters erupting from the bottom of the sea to take flight, Clutch‘s 10th album was brimming with live, vibrant, heavy on action and heavy on groove, and on a sheer song-by-song level, a classic in the making from a band who’ve already had a few. At very least, it’s a landmark in their discography, and though vocalist Neil Fallon (interview here), guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster always change from record, but it’s the unmistakable stamp they put on all their outings that have earned them such a loyal following, and that stamp is all over Earth Rocker. Front to back, it is a pure Clutch record, and while I’ll happily acknowledge that it’s an obvious pick for album of the year, I don’t see how I possibly could’ve chosen anything else. Like the best of the best, Earth Rockerwill deliver for years to come.
The Next 10 and Honorable Mentions
I said at the outset I had 40 picks. The reality was more than that, but here’s the next 10 anyway:
21. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
22. The Freeks, Full On
23. Luder, Adelphophagia
24. The Flying Eyes, Lowlands
25. Black Skies, Circadian Meditations
26. At Devil Dirt, Plan B: Sin Revolucion No Hay Evolucion
27. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar
28. Naam, Vow
29. Mühr, Messiah
30. Uzala, Tales of Blood and Fire
Further honorable mention has to go to Pelican, Endless Boogie, Earthless, Phantom Glue, Goatess, Windhand, Gonga, TonerLow, Jesuand Sandrider.
Two More Special Records
I’d be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t note the release in 2013 of two albums that wound up being incredibly special to me personally: I vs. the Glacierby Clamfight and A Time of Hunting by Kings Destroy. Since it came out on this site’s in-house label, I didn’t consider the Clamfight eligible for list consideration and while I didn’t help put it out, the Kings Destroy I also felt very, very close to — probably as close as I’ve felt to a record I didn’t actually perform on — so it didn’t seem fair on a critical level, but I consider both of these to be records that in a large part helped define my year, as well as being exceptional in and of themselves, and they needed very much to be singled out as such. These are people whom I feel whatever-the-godless-heathen-equivalent-of-blessed-is to know.
Before I end this post, I want to say thank you for reading, this, anything else you may have caught this year, whatever it might be. To say it means a lot to me personally is understating it, but it’s true all the same. I’m not quite done wrapping up the year — I’ll have a list of the best album covers, another for EPs and singles and demos, and of course the albums I didn’t hear — so please stay tuned over the next couple weeks, but it seemed only fair to show my appreciation now as well. Thank you.
I’ve had occasion over the last 24 hours to listen to both 2011’s Blood Lustand this year’s Mind Control by Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, and aside from underscoring just how psychedelic they became on their third album (they made their debut with the just-itching-to-be-reissued Volume 1in 2010), it’s basically resulted in my humming catchy melodies about murder and cult worship under my breath all day.
The more joyful the coincidence, then, that Uncle Acid — who in case you were wondering have gotten to the point of huge that, yes, they’re opening for Sabbath in the UK — should today unveil their new video for the song “Mind Crawler” from Mind Control. As you’ll see, the clip is fitting the band’s whole cultish aesthetic, with clips that look drawn from VHS tapes in the first place loosely tied together — you’ll note how well Charlie Manson syncs up with the track — and run through a filter to make them look even more like they’re from VHS tapes. I don’t know how many sources they used, but between the cleverness of tying them all together and the sheer amount of ritualistic ass it contains, somebody was bound to have busy for a while making it.
So as they ease you into sensory overload, enjoy the song and Uncle Acid‘s continued infection of the greater public consciousness.
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “Mind Crawler” official video