Posted in Features on August 8th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
In talking to John Garcia about his self-titled solo debut, the one thing that seemed to keep coming across was a central appreciation for the process of creation, the actual making of the album. It couldn’t have been easy to put together. Released by Napalm last month, John Garcia‘s John Garcia(review here) utilizes just one drummer, Tom Brayton, and of course just one singer, but a slew of guitarists and bassists, among them members of Garcia‘s own past outfits, including Slo Burn and Hermano, whose guitarist, Dave Angstrom, was also an essential part of the creative process. The songs come from decades of demos and penned-out pieces stuffed in a cardboard box in Garcia‘s closet, and after talking about a solo project for years, it’s fitting it should come together around material he’s lived with this whole time.
Likely I don’t need to rattle off the list of bands for which Garcia has served as frontman, but I will anyway because it’s fun: Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano, as well as countless guest spots live and recorded. He was one of two Kyuss members whose tenure spanned the entire length of the band, and no less essential to crafting their influence on desert rock than was guitarist Josh Homme or fellow Kyuss songwriter Brant Bjork, with whom Garcia reunited for last year’s Vista Chino full-length outing, Peace(review here), which, like John Garcia, was recorded at Thunder Underground Studios in the California desert with producer Harper Hug. His voice is like an unmistakable signature — a gritty, stomach-tightened soul that bursts from a subdued croon at a syllable’s notice — but on the album, it’s as much about the songwriting itself as what Garcia is doing vocally, and both impress.
And with an assortment of players involved, John Garciaalso manages to sound cohesive and fluid from front to back, opener “My Mind” starting the record with one of its grandest hooks and setting the stage for a progression varied but never derailed, even as the fast-rolling “All These Walls” gives way to acoustic closer “Her Bullets Energy,” which is distinguished by a guest appearance by The Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. For someone who’s long-since cast his legacy in stone with his vocal style and not his songwriting, it’s a particularly bold venture, but Garcia thrives on the new ground, and if his passion in realizing this material is anything to go by, a second solo outing may not be far off. He gives some hints in that regard as well.
For fans of Vista Chino, they’ll find that band on hold while Garcia and Bjork pursue their solo outfits and Mike Dean returns to C.O.C., who are also touring and have an album out. Garcia has put together a live group with whom he’ll tour much of the next year, including guitarist Ehren Groban of War Drum, and bassist Mike Pygmie and drummer Greg Saenz of desert-dwellers You Know Who. In the interview that follows, Garcia talks about transitioning out of Vista Chino and forming this new band, as well as assembling the songs and players for the record, his time in the studio and the prospect of touring a set spanning his illustrious career.
Posted in Reviews on July 7th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Over the last two-plus decades, John Garcia‘s voice has set the standard for the sound of the California desert. His work in genre-progenitors Kyuss speaks for itself — loudly, and with much fuzz — and subsequent outfits Unida, Slo Burn, Hermano and more guest appearances than one can count have kept his presence steady in the international underground he played an essential role in forging, and his first solo outing, JohnGarcia, arrives via Napalm Records following a run with the semi-Kyuss reunion outfit Vista Chino, which ultimately brought together Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork with guitarist Bruno Fevery and Corrosion of Conformity bassist Mike Dean to tour the world in support of their 2013 outing, Peace(review here), after a couple years prior on the road as Kyuss Lives!, that project born out of Garcia‘s own Garcia Plays Kyuss, which launched at the 2010 Roadburn festival. In some ways, the album John Garciais an extension of Vista Chino, particularly in terms of Garcia‘s performance and in terms of the production. An 11-track/45-minute full-length, material was culled from years of Garcia‘s own tapes, freshly arranged by the singer with some input by Hermano guitarist Dave Angstrom, and brought to bear by producer Harper Hug at Thunder Underground, the same studio where Peacewas recorded. However, since some of the source material for these songs is older, and because there are a variety of players appearing throughout, from The Doors‘ Robbie Krieger on acoustic-led closer “Her Bullets Energy” to Danko Jones, Angstrom himself, Nick Oliveri and The Dwarves‘ Mark Diamond and Tom Brayton, there’s also no shortage of diversity in the sound.
That being the case, John Garciaran a pretty hefty risk in the making of coming across disjointed, but the consistency in the production and of course the focus element of Garcia‘s voice tie tracks together neatly, the album opening with its biggest chorus in “My Mind,” a track that immediately casts the wide-open spaces in which the rest of the songs will take place. Those familiar with his work will hear shades of various Garcia-fronted bands throughout the album, from the Slo Burn-style rush of later cut “Saddleback” to the Vista Chino-esque bounce of “Rolling Stoned,” a cover of Canadian trio Black Mastiff which undercuts some of its laid-back vibe with the opening lyrical threat, “If you leave me, I will kill you.” Nonetheless, “Rolling Stoned” follows “My Mind” as part of a strong opening salvo that continues through “Flower” and “The Blvd” and “5,000 Miles” to proffer memorable hooks, compressed but warm tones and an engaging presence from Garcia, who departs from the post-lawsuit bitterness that comprised much of the thematic of the Vista Chino offering to tell more of a story, as on “The Blvd” or the following “5,000 Miles,” which resounds as a classic coming-home song set to a particularly effective riff, somewhat more open than the first four cuts, but still largely consistent in pace and quality. Truth be told, though the mood changes somewhat along the way, there really isn’t a point where John Garciafalls into clunker-ism. And neither should there be. This project was years in the making and even more years in the discussing, and with Garcia‘s experience in the studio and on stage, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that if something wasn’t working toward the benefit of the album, it would be discarded. Over repeat listens, John Garciabegins to give that impression — not of being a confessional, exactly, in the way that some “solo albums” are, but of being carefully constructed selections chosen to represent this singer and his songwriting process.
Posted in Whathaveyou on May 2nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
The PR wire doesn’t take long in confirming the release dates for former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Hermano, etc., and current Vista Chino and Unida frontman John Garcia‘s forthcoming solo debut. Napalm Records will have the disc out in Europe at the end of July and North America/Australia early in August, and along with that little calendar-worthy nugget, the cover for the album, which is self-titled, has also been revealed, with a touch of ram to go with the desert landscape. Looks pretty good from where I sit.
A Garcia solo-project is something that’s been sort of hinted and bandied about for probably over a decade. As early as 1998, a John Garcia solo track called “To Believe” appeared on the Welcome to MeteorCity compilation (discussed here) that served as that label’s introduction, and while obviously there’s nothing to say it would be at all representative of what might show up on the album John Garcia some 16 years later, it goes to show how long this idea has been in the works. Last I heard, Garcia was looking to tour the project as well, which opens up interesting prospects for who might show up in his solo band. Not sure on the level of involvement of The Doors‘ Robby Krieger, if he plays guitar on the whole album or just one song, but he hardly seems like a bad cat to have around.
Here’s how it is:
JOHN GARCIA Unveils Release Dates & Album Artwork From His Upcoming Solo Release!
Long seethed in the rumor mill of the stoner rock community, but now it’s official: On August 1st 2014 in USA/CAN & August 8th 2014 in Australia/New Zealand the highly expected solo album John Garcia by JOHN GARCIA (Ex-KYUSS, VISTA CHINO) is set to be released via Napalm Records. A few weeks ago the Desert Rock mastermind unveiled the news about his solo debut and also that the phenomenal musician Robby Krieger (THE DOORS) plays guitar on the album.
Brant Bjork is the godfather of desert rock. As drummer and co-songwriter in Kyuss, he anchored some of the thickest and most influential grooves the world has ever known. Landmark albums like 1992’s Blues for the Red Sun and 1994’s Welcome to Sky Valley are not only genre staples, but have become the measure by which the bulk of the desert-influenced heavy is measured. Ceaselessly creative, Bjork joined Fu Manchu, whose 1994 debut he co-produced, for their The Action is Go, Eatin’ Dust, King of the Road and California Crossing albums between 1997 and 2001, also putting out the cult hit Sounds of Liberationwith the short-lived Ché trio in 2000 and in that same period embarking on a solo career that to-date has resulted in 10 albums, 1999’s debut, Jalamanta, setting the course with what would become a signature blend of funk, soul, punk and heavy rock.
Bjork joined former Kyuss bandmates John Garcia and Nick Oliveri in Kyuss Lives! in late 2010, and after a lawsuit and name change (more on that in this interview), Vista Chino emerged to release one of 2013’s best albums in the form of Peace (review here) on Napalm Records, the touring cycle for which will take the lineup of Bjork, Garcia, guitarist Bruno Fevery and bassist Mike Dean (also of C.O.C.) to Australia’s Big Day Out this month. A funk-influenced instrumental solo album, Jakoozi, was also mixed last summer and is expected for a 2014 release.
The Obelisk Questionnaire: Brant Bjork
How did you come to do what you do?
I was born with a genuine love of music. Growing up, discovering The Ramones and punk rock in general, gave me the courage to try playing music myself. It turned out I had some natural talent as well as a strong conviction to continue doing the thing I love most.
Describe your first musical memory.
When I was a little kid, I had this Fisher Price record player that my mom gave me, along with a stack of 45s. One day I went through the stack and picked one because of the attractive orange and yellow label. It was the Capitol Records label and it was a Beatles 45. It had “Help” on side 1 and “I’m Down” on the B-side. I put it on and John Lennon began to scream “help!” at me through the tiny little speaker. It scared the shit out of me. I didn’t know music could, would or even should sound like that.
Describe your best musical memory to date.
September 18, 1987. It was the first real concert outside of the desert I ever saw. The Ramones, in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Palladium, I was 14 years old. It was also Dee Dee Ramone’s birthday that night and to make things super rad, my first son, Swan, was born on September 18, 2010!
When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?
I always had a firm belief that The Stooges, the MC5 and The Ramones were the most radical bands of their time and they were releasing the best and most influential records of their time as well. This belief was tested after I bought and listened to the release of Death’s record, For the Whole World to See… a record that was recorded in 1974 but shelved until its release in 2009. This record is so good; I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. It’s almost hard to imagine what might have happened to rock and roll music, or even music in general had this record came out and the band had evolved. Unbelievable.
Where do you feel artistic progression leads?
For me, there is no destination for an artist. I would define artistic progression as a journey of experiencing your life as one of creativity. If you’re a genuine artist I think it simply leads to more art.
How do you define success?
To me, success is the result of looking at your current life situation and not having to wonder how the hell you got there.
What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?
While on tour last month, I battled some boredom by watching the Star Wars sequel, Attack of the Clones. Holy moly. Super bummer. George Lucas should be ashamed of himself. And I thought Return of the Jedi was bad.
Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.
Even though I’m a musician and music is a part of my daily life, I find myself spending a lot of my time thinking about stories. About five years ago I started studying and practicing screenplay writing. I write a lot when I’m on tour… so much time on planes and buses, etc. I have a dream of creating and finishing a rad screenplay and having it picked up for a feature movie. I wouldn’t mind directing the movie as well but you know…. one dream at a time.
Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?
A night without the kids and a nice romantic dinner with my wife at our favorite Italian restaurant in Santa Monica.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
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 the 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.
Posted in Reviews on September 27th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I had a pretty set vision in my head of how the night was going to work. Having left Massachusetts the evening prior and spent the day at work like so, so many others, I left the office early to get into the city. Traffic was anticipated and delivered, but I still arrived at Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan well advance of doors opening for Vista Chino — the time limit on needing to put “formerly KyussLives!“after their name seems to be running its course now that they have an album, Peace (review here),out — Black Pussy and Kings Destroy. The plan was simple: Get up front and plant. Take pictures of the bands and then, a little while into Vista Chino‘s set, drop back, relax and enjoy the fuzz. I’m happy to report that more or less that’s exactly how it went.
No joke, it was Kings Destroy who sealed the deal on my hitting New York instead of Philadelphia to catch the tour. There was no Boston date, and if I’m already driving four hours south, what’s another two? But when Kings Destroy got added to the bill as openers, that made the decision much easier. I knew I’d manage to catch them somehow before they headed north next month, and I don’t regret doing so. Their set, as has been the case the last couple times I’ve seen them, emphasized just how far they’ve come in their sound, opening with “The Mountie” from the first album but nestling into its real groove with cuts like “The Toe,” “Blood of Recompense” — an early highlight of the show — and the always gleefully bizarre “Turul” from this year’s A Time of Hunting.
That’s nothing new. The change was the size of the stage they were playing on. Now, I know Kings Destroy has done runs through Europe, that they played the Getaway Rock festival in Sweden, that they’ve done Chaos in Tejas and others — not to mention the shows some of these guys have done in bands like Killing Time, etc. — I’m not shocked they can hold it down on a big stage. Hell, the stage at the St. Vitus bar is pretty sizable and they kill it there on a regular basis, but it was particularly awesome to watch Kings Destroy deliver a pro-grade and unbelievably heavy sampling of their material — Rob Sefcik‘s drums came across especially loud and were welcome, and I stood in front to the side of the stage by bassist Aaron Bumpus and guitarist Chris Skowronski with no regrets; Carl Porcaro‘s solos had no trouble cutting through — with vocalist Steve Murphy not making mention of the fact that he, Sefcik and Porcaro played with Kyuss at C.B.G.B. nearly two decades prior, working at the time under the banner of Mind’s Eye.
The changeover between Kings Destroy and Black Pussy was quick enough, though honestly it didn’t matter if the Portland, Oregon, five-piece took the stage and delivered the stoner rock equivalent of “Raining Blood,” there was no way their music was going to make a bigger impression than their name. I’m not sure how you get five guys to agree on calling a band something like Black Pussy, but okay. Never mind the fact that “pussy” is one of three words in the English language I wouldn’t say in front of my mother, the group says that they took “Black Pussy” from the working title of The Rolling Stones‘ “Brown Sugar,” and that they don’t condone any kind of racism or sexism or whatever else. All well and good dudes, but whether you condone it or not, you still called your band Black Pussy and here I am talking about it instead of your music, which was actually pretty cool in that ultra-groovy and relaxed heavy psych kind of way.
It wasn’t long before white dudes in the crowd were doing Dave–Chappelle-as-Rick–James voice saying the band’s name between songs, and the whole thing was both a bum-out and a distraction from their material, which again, was quality: Thick guitar and bass filled out with analog synth and Korg swirl, pusher-manned by classic rock attitude-soaked vocals and drums that were both theatrical and precise. As a privileged white guy whose only experience with cultural discrimination has been getting called fatass by, well, everyone ever, it was easy enough for me to look past the racial element and get lost in the dense fog of immersive nod, but the simple fact that it was there to be looked past seemed needless. I’m not going to pretend it’s cool just because they played well. Saying you’re not racist doesn’t undo racism, and if you need to go out on a limb and put it out there that, “we’re not racist,” maybe a harder look is needed at the reasoning pushing you to do that. If you want to say I don’t get it, fine. They were a better band than their shitbird moniker. I didn’t have cash on hand to buy a record, but I would have picked one up if I had.
Brant Bjork produced their forthcoming second album, Less Info More Mojo, so that they’d wind up on the road with Vista Chino made sense — certainly their first album, last year’s On Blonde, which was dedicated to Bjork, owed him a sonic debt as well — but the night belonged to the headliner. I saw Kyuss Lives! twice during their run with that name, in New Jersey and in Philadelphia, but with the new songs from Peace and Mike Dean of Corrosion of Conformity on bass in place of Nick Oliveri standing opposite on the stage from guitarist Bruno Fevery, the appeal of Vista Chino was fresh despite the added appeal of seeing the four-piece play Kyuss songs as well. I won’t discount the value of hearing John Garcia sing “Gardenia” and “Thumb” and “Freedom Run” live, especially as someone who never got to see Kyuss during their original run, but I was just as happy to hear him absolutely nail “Sweet Remain” from Peaceand make a home in the laid back groove of “Adara,” which opened their set leading into “One Inch Man” from Kyuss‘ 1995 swansong, …And the Circus Leaves Town.
Presumably, the hope is that as Vista Chino continues to develop as a new band apart from Kyuss and Kyuss Lives!, they’ll work more original material into shows. As of now, there’s only so much they have to put into a 90-minute set. The ratio was six Vista Chino to 10 Kyuss songs, but the division was equitable, bouncing back and forth initially only to deliver a one-two-three of classics to finish with “Thumb,” “Green Machine” and “Freedom Run” before coming back out for an encore that included the new song “Planets 1 & 2,” on which Bjork shared vocals with Garcia as he does on the album. Frankly, new or old, it all rocked. The frontman made one mention of the lawsuit from former bandmates Josh Homme and Scott Reeder that forced him and Bjork to give up the Kyuss name last year, working it into the lyrics of “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop,” but other than that, it was encouraging to see Vista Chino pairing their own work with the Kyuss songs and having Mike Dean on bass takes them to a whole new level.
I won’t say anything against Scott Reeder or Nick Oliveri. Not a fucking chance. They are tremendous bassists and hugely influential songwriters. I know it’s easy and fun for fans to pick sides in that kind of thing, but that’s not what I’m about. I like music. So to watch Mike Dean live in those parts — not just play them like a recital, but to crawl inside the new and the old material and actually make it his own — was vividly exciting, and it made Vista Chino that much more of its own entity. He owned “Hurricane.” And he made the shuffle in “Dark and Lovely” positively irresistible, Garcia‘s voice cutting through front and center of the Bowery‘s P.A. while Fevery‘s guitar seemed to fluctuate in prominence but ultimately settled in nicely. Bjork, who said recently in an interview here that Dean was his favorite rock bassist, was clearly enjoying sharing the rhythm section with him, and the swing the two concocted felt righteous and invigorated. I shudder to think what those guys and Fevery would/will be able to come up with when it comes time to jam on new material for a follow-up to Peace.
“Planets 1 & 2” fit well in the encore with a medley of “Whitewater” into “Odyssey” from Kyuss‘ genre-defining Welcome to Sky Valleyand at the end of the set, Garcia offered a heartfelt applause for the crowd who stayed till the end. It had dwindled some as they pushed past midnight — nothing like a late Thursday to turn Friday into an utter blur — but for me, however long and far they go and however many times I’m fortunate enough to see these guys play, I don’t want to miss any of it.
Posted in Features on September 5th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m going to go on a limb here and say that while it wasn’t their first choice and something that was brought about through a lawsuit from former bandmates, the name change that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was a good thing. My reasoning is simple. Kyuss is a set entity. It’s in stone. It’s done. It’s been done for over 15 years now. There’s a legacy born out of the California desert that’s influenced thousands upon thousands of bands, and without Kyuss, that just doesn’t happen. They were an integral part of setting forth a movement in heavy rock that continues to this day.
The difference is they were and Vista Chino are. Even if vocalist John Garcia, bassist Nick Oliveri, guitarist Bruno Fevery and drummer Brant Bjork — who toured and wrote songs together as KyussLives! — had been able to continue using that or just the straight-up Kyuss name, they’d be setting themselves up to fail, because even if original guitarist Josh Homme — who along with former bassist Scott Reeder brought the lawsuit that was settled with the moniker switch– had returned to the fold and they’d worked with the same lineup that resulted in 1992’s Blues for the Red Sun, it never would’ve been the same. It may have been conflict that birthed it, but with the Napalm Records release this week of Peace (review here) as the first Vista Chino studio album, Garcia, Bjork and Fevery (Oliveri having left after recording his bass parts) are moving forward in a way Kyuss wouldn’t have been able to do.
It’s a question of freedom, ultimately, and where any output under the Kyuss banner would’ve resulted in an endless stream of comparisons set to the impossible standard of a decade and a half of lionization, Vista Chino are free to progress, both on a career level and creatively. Peacefinds Bjork taking lead vocals on “Planets 1 & 2,” something that never happened in Kyuss (though certainly it’s happened plenty since), and works off a different, new instrumental chemistry and playing style from Fevery. The record isn’t about capturing something that used to exist and doesn’t anymore, and at its heart, that’s why it succeeds. I’m not sure Peacewould’ve worked as a Kyuss album, but for Vista Chino, it stands not only as an excellent debut but a potential-filled sign of things to come. It makes the listener look forward to what could be and not back to what was.
So while it may have been plenty ugly getting to this point and of course no one knows what days ahead might bring, Peace establishes Vista Chino as a band with both a past and a future. In the interview that follows here, Brant Bjork discusses some of those prospects, particularly as relates to bringing in bassist Mike Dean from C.O.C. to fill the position vacated by Oliveri and held for a brief stretch by Billy Cordell, and also creating music for the first time alongside Fevery, the legal tribulations that made Vista Chino who they are, his relationship to Vista Chino as opposed to Kyuss, when he knew that Kyuss Lives! would result in new material, the group’s plans after the US tour they’ll soon start and much more. As he spoke, I could hear a desert wind come through the line in the background.