Posted in Reviews on July 30th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Aesthetic continues to play a large role for UK dual-vocal four-piece Undersmile, whose second full-length, Anhedonia, is out on vinyl through Black Bow Records. The Oxfordshire outfit released their debut, Narwhal (review here), back in 2012 and since then have embarked on an acoustic side-project called Coma Wall, even releasing a split called Wood and Wire between the two bands in 2013 (they also had a split with Bismuth out that year). Because that alter ego contains all four members of Undersmile — guitarist/vocalists Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown, bassist Olly Corona-Brown and drummer Tom McKibbin — I wondered if perhaps some of that influence might sneak its way into the workings of the new Undersmile offering. Aside from a shared theatrical sensibility between them and an enduring penchant for slow pacing, both of which Undersmile already had in their arsenal, almost not at all.
I’ll note that Taz and Hel work together more dynamically as vocalists here than on the debut, but with a few years between and some considerable stage time throughout that span, there’s nothing to say that wouldn’t have been the case anyhow. What Anhedonia is, however, is monolithic. At seven tracks, 75 minutes, it dips below the 10-minute mark just once for second cut “Sky Burial” (8:02), and spends the rest of its time reveling in a near-complete wash of darkness and grueling lumber. One might be tempted to call it drone-doom for the overbearing plod it enacts on “Song of Stones” or opener “Labyrinths,” but the truth of the listening experience isn’t that cut and dry, and for all its (purposeful, useful) unipolar churn, Anhedonia creates rich atmospheres.
We could almost call those atmospheres colorful if we were talking about the deep purples and blacks of the album’s fitting Peacevillean cover art, but either way, they play into the stylized drawl of the material — Hel and Taz‘s vocals either sung clean or shouted, but almost always in a drawn-out delivery to match the nodding material behind, which opens gradually on “Labyrinths” and proceeds to trade back and forth throughout the album in massive swells of volume and minimalist spaciousness, an early flair of strings showing up on the opener that will play in again deeper into the abyss on the penultimate “Emmenagogue” and elsewhere. Rhythmically, the course of Anhedonia impresses perhaps most of all in that it manages to hold together and not — as one might be inclined to do while listening — stop halfway through, have a good cry for days gone and what could have been made of them, and go back to the rest later.
“Sky Burial” works with similar explosive tendencies, and by the time it’s done, Undersmile‘s intent to absolutely overwhelm their audience is writ large. Pushing toward the midsection, “Song of Stones” builds to a heavy push in its middle and again near the end — strings coming forward around the halfway point of the track only to be consumed by the grueling distortion captured at Skyhammer Studio by producer Chris Fielding (also of Conan), reappear, and be swallowed again for the effort. Take that, any sense of hope whatsoever. Centerpiece “Atacama Sunburn” would seem to draw together a water theme present in the band’s past works — Narwhal had its nautical moments, as did Wood and Wire, and even their 2010 debut EP, A Sea of Dead Snakes, was a sea — and a huge vision of waves remains an appropriate image for the undulating force of Undersmile‘s groove — but the real standout of Anhedonia is “Aeris,” which follows.
As one would expect of Undersmile at this point in their tenure, it’s consistent atmospherically with its surrounding pieces, but “Aeris” offers a melodic fullness all its own, and it doesn’t quite stand in contrast to what’s around it, but it marks a definite broadening of the context. It winds up affecting the listening experience for “Emmenagogue” and closer “Knucklesucker” as well, though the finale has its own intentions, which it keeps secret almost to the very end as if to see who among those who’ve taken Anhedonia on might make it that far. After an oozing linear build for its first nine minutes, feedback transitions into faster (gasp!) riffing that solidifies around McKibbin‘s drums and shifts into a more ’90s-style noise rock, the repeated lines, “I don’t feel hollow/I don’t feel sorrow/I don’t feel anything, really,” metered out over a push of growing intensity. It slows down prior to deconstructing at the finish, but even if for just a minute, Undersmile proved it’s possible to make a sound of such enduring thickness move, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find them pushing it further next time.
Of course, with that there comes a full 74 minutes of suffocating doom, but that’s precisely the point. Undersmile‘s intent isn’t to make it easy on the listener, but to challenge their audience to plunge these emotional and sonic depths with them. As a result, Anhedonia is successful because it feels throughout its course like the four-piece are dragging you along with them on their slog through this oppressive ambience. The party album of 2015 it ain’t, but in its progression beyond what Undersmile have done before, for a more personal feel throughout and for the still-monstrous scope with which it plays out, it’s hard not to stand in awe of the wide waters the band continue to cast, be haunted by the otherworldly presence in their melodies and get lost in the tidal sway of their rhythms.
Oxfordshire four-piece Undersmile released their sophomore full-length, Anhedonia (review pending), last month on Black Bow Records as the titanic follow-up to their 2012 debut, Narwhal (review here). Recorded at Skyhammer Studios with house producer Chris Fielding (also of Conan, whose Jon Davis owns both Skyhammer and Black Bow), it is a more dynamic outing overall than the debut, utilizing some of the lessons learned from Undersmile‘s operation under the unplugged alter-ego of Coma Wall, with whom they — Undersmile — released a split back in 2013.
They weren’t exactly lacking for atmosphere before, but one can hear the progression in the gradual, patient unfolding of “Song of Stones,” for which Undersmile has a new video rife with all the creepy imagery, candlelight and averted eyes one might expect from guitarist/vocalists Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown, bassist Olly Corona-Brown and drummer Tom McKibbin, and ultimately it makes them a stronger band. “Song of Stones” follows a largely linear pattern, but trades back and forth between spacious, minimalist stretches through which McKibbin‘s ride cymbal seems to be the only thing keeping it all together, and crushing, lumbering doom, the quiet, eerie vocals of Hel and Taz changing to more vicious shouts as surely as the wardrobe cuts from white veils to black dresses. Through these changes, a consistent bleakness is maintained such that, loud or quiet, Undersmile never really veer from the overarching darkness that consumes the track.
The video, likewise, is dark. Actually, it starts out dark and then it gets even darker. But you’ll just have to turn up the brightness on your screen or take my word for it that they’re all in there. Undersmile, who were positively leveling when they played Roadburn in April (review here), worked with Mondo Cheapo Productions on the new clip, which you’ll find on the player below. Dig in and get really to be swallowed whole:
Undersmile, “Song of Stones” official video
The official video for “Song of Stones”, taken from Undersmile’s second album Anhedonia (available on 12″ on Black Bow Records / CD on bttfck srprs rcrds).
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
The second hour starts a little early this time around, and what I mean by that is when you’re like five minutes into hour two and trying to figure out on the tracklisting below what improv-sounding brilliant cut you’re hearing, pay careful attention to when hour one ended. Just 11 seconds from the start of the second half of the podcast. So yeah, that 18-minute wonder gets filed under hour one instead, but it comes with a wink and a nod. I just couldn’t bring myself to file something under hour two without a one at the front of the time stamp, which shows you how sad and compulsive I am because I’ve only been time-stamping these podcasts for two months now. What a dork.
It’s good stuff this. Always is, I suppose, but starting out with Goatsnake into The Machine and then on from there, it builds a flow that makes some sense one into the next in a way that, listening back to it after I put it together, was especially satisfying. Hopefully you agree as you make your way though.
As always, hope you enjoy:
0:00:00 Goatsnake, “Grandpa Jones” from Black Age Blues
0:04:36 The Machine, “Coda Sun” from Offblast!
0:09:55 Galley Beggar, “Pay My Body Home” from Silence and Tears
0:18:51 Steve Von Till, “Night of the Moon” from A Life Unto Itself
0:25:48 Venomous Maximus, “Through the Black” from Firewalker
0:29:42 Black Pyramid, “Open the Gates” from Dead Star 7”
0:34:59 Ape Skull, “A is for Ape” from Fly Camel Fly
0:39:54 Sunder, “Deadly Flower” from Demo
0:43:53 Eternal Fuzz, “Sea Change” from Nostalgia
0:47:37 Geezer, “Long Dull Knife” from Long Dull Knife
0:53:31 Fogg, “Joy of Home” from High Testament
0:59:49 Shiggajon, “Sela” from Sela
1:18:07 Blown Out, “Thousand Years in the Sunshine” from Planetary Engineering
1:34:01 Les Lekin, “Loom” from All Black Rainbow Moon
1:47:14 Undersmile, “Knucklesucker” from Anhedonia
It was a misguided attempt at sleep that led me to bed after watching Coltsblood to round out my night. Didn’t work beyond the apparently standard three hours, which is what I’ve gotten give or take each night since Wednesday. When I lie down, my head hears parts of songs, David Eugene Edwards saying, “You don’t know me from Adam, down here in the lamp light,” or Sæþór Sæþórsson of Sólstafir‘s banjo in the back half of “Ótta,” among others. One day bleeds into the next. I dragged ass most of the afternoon and evening, to be perfectly honest, and given the tossing and turning I’ve just done and the fact that I’m up two hours before I set the alarm, I expect the trend to continue. Still, when you’re here, you have to keep going. There’s more to see and more to hear.
The weather, which had been gorgeous enough to boast some restorative effect of its own, has turned. I could just as easily call it “yesterday,” but for the purposes of review, I hope you’ll allow the editorial decision to keep current: “Today.” The weather turned today. As though it knew Undersmile, Urfaust, and Fields of the Nephilim were all on the bill and decided “enough of this sunny shit, let’s get down to business for real.” It cleared up later, but was still colder than it had been, and early in the afternoon, I looked outside at one point and saw waves of rain coming down. That was right after Coma Wall, which, you know, fair enough.
Playing as a five-piece with their usual two couples plus a cellist, the mostly-acoustic alter-ego of Undersmile started my day off at Stage01. I got there early, which you have to do, and I wasn’t the only one. Taz Corona-Brown, Olly Corona-Brown, Hel Sterne and Tom McKibbin, plus Tom Greenway on the cello spread out over the stage, McKibbin behind, pulling double-duty on drums and banjo. With Taz and Hel in dresses and quickly sliding into the sort of drawling dual vocals that are a trademark of both Coma Wall and Undersmile, there was a theatrical element to it, but the thickness of the atmosphere spoke for itself as they hit into “Summer” from their 2013 Wood & Wire split with, who else?, their other band. Off to the side of the stage, Olly sat on bass facing the others, kind of overseeing the whole thing with one leg crossed over the other. He looked managerial, but the low end filled the room well, and Coma Wall eased my way into the Roadburn Saturday better than I could’ve asked.
I’d still like to hear them take on “Rotten Apple” or “Don’t Follow” — something off Jar of Flies — which I think they’d nail in the vocals and really be able to darken the mood on, but wouldn’t you know they weren’t taking requests. Couldn’t argue, anyway. Over in the main hall, Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin were well into a live soundtrack to 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, which played on the big screen behind them, audio and all. I saw them here for a bit last year, and sure enough parts of the score were recognizable from that set as well as the movie. Like with Sólstafir‘s live soundtrack on Thursday, there were spaces without any music at all, but of course the difference is that Goblin also wrote the score originally, so to see them do it live to the film was something extra special.
Perhaps most impressive about it was the timing, which they nailed. Keeping pace to scene changes and the film’s quick cuts, they ran through various pieces and themes, the quick bursts for tension as everything goes to crap with all the zombies at the mall, the biker gang showing up and bringing Tom Savini, and so on. It’s been a while since I saw it, and I’d forgotten how many classic lines there are in the film, about Hell being full and the dead walking the earth, and “Operator dead, post abandoned.” There were some times where the balance of audio was lopsided one way or another — hard to match up a film and a live band on stage — but it smoothed out, and I can’t imagine it was many attendees’ first time seeing the movie. That said, I’ve never watched Suspiria, which Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin are scoring as part of the Afterburner, so who knows? When they were done, the four-piece came to the middle of the stage from their spread-out positions, two on one side, two on the other, the middle open to allow the eye to watch the movie, and took a bow. A few seconds before, the credits rolled past with their name listed as The Goblins. So be it.
Next up on the Main Stage was a second go for Enslaved. I tried before they went on to calculate in my head how many Enslaved-related sets there were this year in comparison to 2010, when they were the official artist-in-residence and did sets with offshoot projects like Trinacria and their collaboration with Shining. Between their set last night, the Skuggsjá collaboration with Wardruna that followed, guitarist Ivar Bjørnson ‘s BardSpec set and today, I think they might have 2010 beat. I’m not sure if Bjørnson curating with Wardruna‘s Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik counts for double or anything — you’d have to get into percentages and it proved too much for my feeble brain to take. In any case, today’s Enslaved set focused much more on newer material. Fair after last night. The recently-issued In Times (review pending) featured heavily with “Thurisaz Dreaming,” “Building with Fire,” “In Times” and “Daylight,” but there was still room to dip back to 2001’s Monumension for “Convoys to Nothingness,” or 2003’s progressive turning point Below the Lights for “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth,” and a balance was struck between the older and newer.
Further distinguishing today from yesterday, though, were the guests. When they got to “Daylight,” bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson announced they’d be joined by Selvik, Aðalbjörn Tryggvason from Sólstafir and Per Wiberg, now in Candlemassbut known also for his work in Opeth and Spiritual Beggars. The three contributed on vocals at the beginning and end of the song, and Selvik came back out for a longer, soulful guest spot on “Convoys to Nothingness,” while Enslaved proper delivered again the kind of set that brought the crowd back from last night, “Isa” tossed in as a bonus and a cover of Led Zeppelin‘s “Immigrant Song” with more guest guitar included to add even more intrigue. It was not as intense as Friday had been, their newer material offering a more intricate but decidedly less raging style, but they handled it professionally, and seemed to be having as much fun as the audience while they ran through their second of the weekend’s two full sets. The Heads, who followed, are the official artists-in-residence this year, but Enslaved always seem to find welcome at Roadburn.
Particularly having missed The Heads when they played at Het Patronaat last night — Roadburn means hard choices — I knew I wanted to see them today. They were supposed to be here last year, and played in 2008, but with Walter doing live visuals and the four-piece of lead guitarist Paul Allen, guitarist/vocalist Simon Price, bassist Hugo Morgan and drummer Wayne Maskell (the latter three who played as Kandodo on Thursday and joined forces with Loop‘s Robert Hampson at Het Patronaat), it was unmissable. A righteous set boasted jam-laden takes on “Gnu,” “Legavaan Satellite,” “U33″ and “Spliff Riff,” the effect positively molten as they enacted space rock supremacy and handed Roadburn its ass over the course of 75 minutes. For me, they were the day’s hypnotic highlight, and I don’t think I was the only one. The crowd cheered as they went into and out of jams, builds paying off and starting anew. As I stood in the back and watched, next two me, two dudes were arguing in German and a third turned around and told them, in accented English, “Please, no politics while The Heads are on.” All laughed. Peace on Earth and goodwill to all Roadburners.
As with Kandodo the other night, The Heads‘ set made me want to head over to the merch area and go, “Just give me everything,” though they have enough live albums over there that to try it and I’d be broke(r) in no time flat. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from them, knowing records like Everybody Knows We Got Nowhere, which was just recently reissued, At Last and their 1995 debut, Relaxing With…, but they were molten on stage, one song bleeding into the next in a consuming entirety that, even after they’d long since gone, kept the crowd howling. It was fucking awesome. I don’t know how many times I’ll get to see The Heads in my life, but I’m not likely to forget the first, in any case, and if I take nothing else away from Roadburn this year, I’ll take a new touchstone for heavy psych live performance. “It’s good, but is it The Heads good?” will prove a hard standard for most to meet.
Over in the Green Room, Black Anvil were finishing up a punishing set and I watched for a minute through the door as they pummeled away. Undersmile were on next in there, and I’ve been following them since their split with Caretaker in 2011 (review here), so I didn’t want to miss it. They have a new full-length out called Anhedonia, and while I’m a little heartbroken at not having heard it — I loved 2012’s lung-filling debut LP, Narwhal (review here), and thought I had a pretty good relationship with the band — it still seemed prudent to show up early for a dose of their grueling, claustrophobic-but-melodically-brilliant doom, especially as a crushing companion piece to Coma Wall earlier in the day, a sort of bookend with the same lineup minus Greenway‘s cello. They were heavy enough to feel the sound in your chest. I give McKibbin credit for being able to push the tones of Hel, Taz and Olly along, even at such a lumbering pace. By the sound alone, it seems like a task more suited to the crane outside working on the addition to the 013, but the drums do drive Undersmile‘s material forward, and they packed out the Green Room to the point where even the space to watch through the door was full. I felt equal parts lucky to see them, bummed I haven’t heard the new album, and glad I showed up early while they were setting up. It was quite an emotional rollercoaster. Maybe that’s why I had to come back to the hotel and go to sleep afterwards.
Or maybe I was just rendered unconscious by fucking Coltsblood who — holy shit — took Stage01, removed all its fillings and performed a root canal with a safety pin. It was fucking ridiculous. Hyperbole-worthy madness that even H.P. Lovecraft himself would stare at and be like, “Damn, that’s horrifying.” I watched the final few minutes of synth-heavy proggers Zoltan before the UK trio of bassist/vocalist John McNulty, guitarist Jemma McNulty and drummer Jay Plested (also of Black Magician, who played Het Patronaat at Roadburn 2013) went on, but god damn. Even before they started, as Jemma checked her guitar and John ran the line on his bass, you knew it was going to be filthy. Their 2014 full-length debut, Into the Unfathomable Abyss (review here), seemed all the more aptly named as they got underway, and even though John had some technical trouble early on, they shared a bottle of mead on stage and absolutely laid waste to the smaller of the rooms at the 013. I say in full knowledge of John‘s prior association with the band that they were the heaviest thing I’ve seen in that space since Conan made their Roadburn debut there in 2012. They were unbelievable.
And it became quite clear that they’ve earned some loyalty of fanbase as well. The front of Stage01 was crowded with UK types, one of whom took on the solemn duty of making sure that Coltsblood‘s incense (of which I was markedly downwind) stayed lit. Another dude next to me alerted John when the sound guy called for him to start checking his bass. This is a band that people are obviously taking very seriously. The deathly rumble of their extreme, dark, sludgy doom made earplugs a futile exercise, and especially in a one-two with Undersmile, they justified that reaction. With John shouting and growling into the mic while Plested slammed away behind and Jemma, entranced, riffed out a viscous, oil-thick morass, it made sense. I’d want to keep the incense lit too.
By the time I split out from Stage01, the air had more or less been driven out of the room. It was hot, sweaty, smelly — Roadburn means fart clouds — and suitably oppressive. Outside smelled like french fry grease from the food tent, but even that seemed like fresh air. I made my way back to the hotel and started to sort pictures out and get everything ready to review, but noticed after a few minutes that my head was down on the table and I couldn’t seem to pick it back up. I stared up at the laptop monitor for a little bit and decided to crawl into bed.
Wasn’t a crawl. More of a lurch. Either way, about three and a half hours later, I gave up the ghost and decided the middle of the night would be a perfect time to recount the day’s varying destructive encounters. Tomorrow — Sunday, which now that it’s after 06.00, I’m about ready to call the new “today” — is the Afterburner, also plenty busy with Lo-Pan and Abrahma and Argus and Bongripper, Anathema and The Golden Grass. Work on the final issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch starts in about four hours and it will be here and gone before I know it. At least that’s how it usually seems to go.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 11th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
The only thing I find debatable about Arik Roper‘s poster art for Roadburn 2015 is whether or not it was ethical of him to use so much awesome in one sitting. It is a gluttony of awesome. We’re getting into the high season of lineup additions, which means over the next couple months, the festival will really start to take shape around the previously announced headliners, other headliners still to come, new acts, curated picks, and so on. So far it’s looking once again like the theme is diversity. Even between the groups most recently added — Mugstar, Pyramidal, Domo, Undersmile and Coma Wall — there’s a huge stylistic variation. Hell, Undersmile and Coma Wall are on opposite ends of the spectrum alone, and they’re made up of the same people.
Here’s Roper‘s poster as big as I can make it on the page (click to make it bigger), and details on the newest bunch to join the Roadburn 2015 lineup, courtesy of the fest’s website:
Mugstar To Put Glistening And Outerworldly Sonic Glory On Display At Roadburn 2015
Heavily influenced by psychedelia, Krautrock and even Post Rock, Liverpool UK’s beloved Mugstar are in the vanguard of modern psych rock, just in case you were unfamiliar with them.
Infusing their brooding moodiness, minimal psych rock mesmerism and propulsive, hypnokraut grooves with seriously psychedelic ferocity has propelled Mugstar to stand alongside such well-regarded contemporaries as Circle, Bardo Pond and Oneida.
The band distil the wordless core of Hawkwind, Neu! and Sonic Youth and their highly recommended albums Sun Broken, Lime and Axis put transcendent, glistening and outerworldly sonic glory on display.
So, for Roadburn 2015, Mugstar will explode into an interstellar, total drugpsych tripout on Thursday, April 9 at the 013 venue, and we’re equally excited to announce that the band will also play the soundtrack to Ad Marginem on Saturday, April 11 at Het Patronaat in Tilburg, The Netherlands.
Pyramidal and Domo To Represent Spanish Heavy Psych at Roadburn Festival 2015
Spanish heavy psych has long been overdue at Roadburn, so we’re thrilled to announce that Pyramidal and Domo, both hailing from Alicante, will bring their stoner inspired heavy Space Rock with progressive and Krautrock leanings to the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival, set for April 9 -12 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.
Channeling the undiluted spirit of King Crimson, Hawkwind and Neu! on debut album Dawn In Space, and critically acclaimed follow-up Frozen Galaxies, Pyramidal will take you to the farthest reaches of outer space, propelled by otherworldly sounds, obscure psychedelia and hypnotic grooves.
Domo harkens back to the heyday of the gonzoid power trio’s of the hazy late 60s and early 70s, anchored to heavy clouds of screaming, wah wah driven psychedelia. If you love (early) Gary Moore, or you’re a fan of Tony McPhee (like most of us at Roadburn), and massively worship The Groundhogs‘ Split, then Domo will be surely a must for you.
Word on the street is that Domo‘ S/T debut album will be finally released on vinyl soon.
Sirens Of Sludge Undersmile To Bring Doom And Despair To Roadburn 2015
Undersmile will bring their hypnotic, soul crushing blend of doom and despair to the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.
Featuring the unique dual vocal interplay of singer-guitarists Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown, Undersmile combine tortuously slow tempos, discord and stomach-churning melody to create an intense listening experience, both live and on record.
Having released an EP, three splits (with Caretaker, Bismuth and their own alter-egos, Coma Wall) and 2012’s epic debut album Narwhal, the band will be supporting their as-yet untitled second album which they will be previewing at the festival.
Prepare For Despair As Coma Wall Bring Acoustic Death Folk To Roadburn Festival 2015
Coma Wall, the acoustic alter-ego of Undersmile, will bring rustic downbeat blues and folk to the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.
The very notion of unplugging a band as monstrously heavy and doomladen as Undersmile seemed almost ludicrous before we actually heard what it entailed, as the band replaced sludgy distortion with banjos and acoustic guitars in their alter ego Coma Wall guise.
Taz Corona-Brown and Hel Sterne’s haunting close harmony singing still brought a tingle to the spine as the band dredged southern gothic creeping dread and spectacularly outdid their electric selves on their split Wood & Wire EP (released by Shaman Recordings), bringing a bit of black sun gloom to sunny spring days and making for one of the most uncompromisingly powerful records to come out of Oxford (UK) in years.
Taking influence from artists such as Nick Cave, 16 Horsepower, Neutral Milk Hotel, Bob Dylan, Low, Mark Lanegan, Nirvana and Alice in Chains, Coma Wall will play songs from an upcoming EP, as well as tracks from Wood & Wire.
Roadburn Festival 2015 will run for four days from Thursday, April 9 to Sunday, April 12 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands.
Posted in Features on January 2nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ve been trying to get this one on the page for a couple weeks now — really since last year if you want to go back that far — and I finally just decided to do it. Granted, it’s already 2014, but I’m pretty used to being behind the times, so I hope you’ll indulge me on this one.
The thing is, of course we already did the Top 20 Albums of 2013, but that leaves an awful lot out in terms of quality shorter releases. Demos, singles, EPs, splits — whatever it might be — there’s a lot more to the story of a year in music than who’s putting out what full-length. That might be true now more than ever, with digital releases and artists having the ability to more or less give a song-by-song feed of new material should they so choose. Since this is the first time I’ve done this list, I’ve kept the presentation pretty basic, but there’s a lot to dig into here anyway in terms of the quality of the music and what people were able to accomplish in, in some cases, just one or two tracks.
My basis for judgment here is basically the same as with the full-albums list, and by that I mean how much I listened to something played a huge role, and it’s not just how important I think an EP or a split or a demo was that got it included on this list — though of course that stuff matters as well. Like spelling, repeat listens count. And it goes without saying these are my picks and have nothing to do with the Readers Poll, the results of which are here.
Okay, let’s do this:
The Top 20 Short Releases of 2013
1. The Machine/Sungrazer, Split
2. Dozer, Vultures
3. Mars Red Sky, Be My Guide
4. Black Thai, Seasons of Might
5. Wo Fat/Egypt, Cyclopean Riffs Split 12″
6. Young Hunter, Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain
7. Shroud Eater, Dead Ends
8. Steak, Corned Beef Colossus
9. Geezer, Gage
10. The Golden Grass, One More Time b/w Tornado 7″
11. Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, Underground
12. King Buffalo, Demo
13. Groan, Ride the Snake
14. Crypt Sermon, Demo MMXIII
15. Stubb, Under a Spell b/w Bullets Rain 7″
16. Salem’s Pot, Watch Me Kill You Tape
17. Undersmile/Coma Wall, Wood and Wire Split
18. Second Grave, Antithesis
19. Sinister Haze, Demo
20. Olde Growth, Owl
Honorable mention has to go to the Fatso Jetson/Yawning Man split, C.O.C.‘s MegalodonEP, which was right on but which I didn’t really hear enough to include. The Gates of Slumber‘s Stormcrow as well.
Just a couple notes: In the case of Olde Growth, putting them last was actually more about not being sure when the official release date of Owlwas than anything else. I actually listened to that quite a bit, and “Tears of Blood” remains my favorite work of the duo’s to date. In terms of demos, it was a good year for doom debuts, with Crypt Sermon and Sinister Haze both showing some malevolent classicism, and King Buffalo‘s demo grew on me almost immediately upon hearing it and right away made me look forward to whatever might come next from them.
I was a little hesitant to put a split in the number one spot, but The Machine‘s riff for “Awe” alone made it necessary. I’ve kept this disc on my person for almost the entire year and continue to have no regrets in doing so. For Dozer, yeah, it was a collection of older material, but I still enjoyed the crap out of it. Both Mars Red Sky and Black Thai signaled considerable creative growth in four-song EPs, and the Wo Fat and Egypt split more than lived up to its mission. The riff lives in bands like that, and as we get further into stylistic nuance and subgenre development, it’s those groups who are holding on to the Heavy.
Young Hunter are one of the most promising bands I’ve heard in the last three years. Flat out. Killer release. Ditto that in a much different context for Shroud Eater, whose take on heavy only got more sinister and more effective with Dead Ends. Steak emerge as tops among the five British bands — a quarter of the list! — here. Their Corned Beef Colossus also had the best title I heard all year, and though Trippy Wicked, Groan, Stubb, and Undersmile/Coma Wall (the latter earning bonus points for putting out a split with themselves) all thrilled, Steak‘s potential got them that spot. Time for a full-length, guys.
Not to leave out New York — though the geographical alignment is a coincidence — Geezer‘s Gagetapped into a jammier feel that I thought suited the band remarkably well, and The Golden Grass‘ debut single offered one of the most charming irony-free good times I’ve heard in a long while. The Salem’s Pot cassette was one of my most-listened-to tapes this year, last mentioned but not at all least, Second Grave‘s Antithesisprobably would’ve clocked in higher if I’d had more time with it, but was definitely one I wanted to put in here anyway.
As I said, a lot of really astounding shorter outings, and worthy of attention in their own right. If I missed anything, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 13th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
As far as I’m concerned, this one gets a twofold fucking a: It exists and you can hear it now. Disgruntled sludgers Bismuth and drone-minded nightmare-conjurers Undersmile have partnered, each with a vinyl side of their own brand of sonic madness. Put some Tony Roberts art on it, press it to tape and LP, and you’re good to go. Tartarus Records has the beast available for preorder and that’s great, but what’s even better is being able to listen to its low end drag before you make your purchase.
This is the first I’m hearing of Bismuth and it’s pretty clear from “Collapse” that I need to go back and check out their 2012 Eternal Marshesdemo. For Undersmile, they follow-up the split with their acoustic alter ego, Coma Wall, with a 23-minute behemoth of a track as tonally huge as it is melodically disturbed. It’s not easy listening, but I dig the challenge.
Preorder link, Tony Roberts artwork and the standard Bandcamp player follow, hot off of the PR wire:
TAR023 Bismuth / Undersmile split
Amp worship meets agonizing doom. Finally a split release between two of UK’s heavyweights in female fronted doom and sludge. Bismuth from Nottingham offer Collapse, a worthy follow-up to the Eternal Marshes demo tape, released last year. More bleak drone landscapes and torturous vocals by Tanya. Undersmile from Witney chose for an atmospheric approach on their side of the split and came up with Titanaboa; a dark, nightmarish beast of a track. Truly their best offering so far. The artwork was made by the amazing Tony Roberts, which fits perfectly with both bands.
FFO: Khanate, Corrupted, Bell Witch, Ensorcelor.
The LP is a co-release between Graanrepubliek Records, Tartarus Records and At War With False Noise
With a limited CD version of their Wood and Wire split with acoustic alter ego project Coma Wall forthcoming, morose UK doomers Undersmile have released a new video for the track “Soil” from the release. Wood and Wire (track premiere here) came out on Shaman Recordings earlier this year and the CD will be released by Future Noise with Coma Wall reinterpreting the Undersmile track “Big Wow.”
No word yet on preorders for the CD version, but check out the “Soil” clip below directed by M. Arthur Wickson and the PR wire info that follows:
Undersmile, “Soil” official video
UNDERSMILE Premier New Video For The Track ‘Soil’ On The Sleeping Shaman
UNDERSMILE and director M. Arthur Wickson are very happy to present the music video for the song “Soil” taken from the band’s recent split EP ‘Wood & Wire’, released on beautiful transparent purple 12” vinyl by Shaman Recordings.
The video was filmed in the spring of 2013 at various locations, but primarily in and around Shaken Oak Farm where the band recorded their half of the split with acoustic alter-egos COMA WALL. Directed and edited by M. Arthur Wickson (who also produced the band’s previous music video for “Milk”), the “Soil” video attempts to capture more of the band’s live energy – apt for a song that has recently become a staple of their live set. Check out the premierover on The Sleeping Shaman.
In other news, UNDERSMILE are also extremely pleased to announce that a limited edition CD of ‘Wood & Wire‘ is to be released in June/July on Future Noise Recordings, the label which also released last year’s ‘Narwhal‘. The CD will feature an exclusive bonus track in the form of COMA WALL’s take on UNDERSMILE’s “Big Wow,” as well as more artwork (the original concept sketches) from the talented Craig Bryant. Pre-orders will be available soon via Future Noise Recordings.
The CD tracklisting is: 1. Coma Wall – Summer 2. Coma Wall – You Are My Death 3. Coma Wall – Big Wow (bonus track) 4. Coma Wall – Cutter’s Choice 5. Undersmile – Soil 6. Undersmile – Killer Bob 7. Undersmile – Hives
UNDERSMILE and COMA WALL only have a handful of live dates left in 2013 as both bands will be taking a break, with UNDERSMILE soon to be recording a song for a 12” split with Nottingham’s titanic duo Bismuth and COMA WALL beginning to make plans for their next release. Their upcoming dates are as follows:
1st June – Gullivers in Manchester – Undersmile with Ishmael, Grimpen Mire and Bastard of the Skies *this may be Ishmael’s last ever gig 29th June – Summer Sizzler all-dayer @ the Windmill, Brixton – Undersmile & Coma Wall will be performing with a great line-up of other bands *Undersmile’s final gig of the year 21st July – The Racehorse, Northampton – Coma Wall with M E R R I N and Nick Hudson – a night of music and improvised video 9th – 11th August – SUPERNORMAL FESTIVAL @ Brazier’s Park, Oxford – Coma Wall.
‘Wood & Wire’ will be available on vinyl at all of the above dates, and the CD will hopefully be available from the Summer Sizzler onwards.